The Quiet Parade

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More than any other story in the conversations section, ‘The Quiet Parade’ will be understood more by those who have read the works of Gabriel García Márquez. Those who have not read Márquez’s works yet, then darlings, what are you waiting for?

I watched the quiet parade with Gabriel García Márquez yesterday.

It was to start during the ghostly hour of the afternoon, when the people in his village go inside their homes for their siesta. The street was a desert of sighs; we were the only ones awake, sitting in the shade of the almond and chestnut trees surrounding the porch of the house we were at, with its doors and windows left wide open.

I was sitting on the front steps, in my white short dress which allowed for a breeze to skim between my legs, while G sat on a wicker chair in his shirt; his grey-white curly hair wet with sweat and his thick moustache moving to the rhythm of the wrinkles on his face.

“I have wanted to do this for a very long time G.

“I know Madeliene Rose, I kept hearing someone chanting my name.”

“I’m sorry about that…oh, it’s starting!”

We sat up straight as we heard the first melodic notes that would open the quiet parade being chirped by birds resting in clusters on windowsills and balcony rails. It was the anonymous song they were chirping, the one which everyone in the village knew and sung by heart except the general sir.* “There comes the general crying green with his hand on his chest” G and I sang, as the general himself opened the parade.

He was not in his denim uniform, no, he was dressed as his mother Bendición Alvarado had been proud of seeing him — in dress uniform, velvet gloves and adorned with his gold medals. I searched for the sadness in his eyes, as one of his people had said to have seen. The general waved absentmindedly to those who were watching the parade, an audience which consisted of G and I, and the cow which had come out on the presidential balcony two houses down from us when the general had started marching, slowly, heeding to the time of the comets.

You would think the general would be the climax of a parade G.

“You know how he is Madeliene Rose.

The smell of liquorice hit us, and our eyes searched for Manuela Sánchez, beauty queen of the poor, the woman who had made the general keep his hand on his heart, Manuela Sánchez of my shame, but she was nowhere to be seen. We did hear echoes however, strong ones that reverberated the pots of begonias that were sitting on our surrounding fence. G and I bowed our heads in reverence to the children.

“Do you ever buy a lottery ticket Madeliene Rose?”

“Ah G, the general always wins, no?”

He smiled, animating his bushy eyebrows, but it was only for a moment, as we both jumped when we heard the sudden tolling of the Cathedral bells — an impossibly strong sound even though the Cathedral was a long way off from where we were.

“Do you think Bendición Alvarado will show up in the parade G?” I asked, while looking at the general sir, who had stopped his slow march to look up at the sky for a moment.

“She’s a saint now Madeliene Rose, I’m sure she won’t be joining her son.”

The general proceeded with his march, slowly, with less confidence than one would expect from a person of his rank. He was followed by a few chickens scathing through the dusty ground and birds, until his ghostly figure vanished in the heat of the afternoon.

The tolling of the cathedral bells ceased with the general’s exit, and as soon as they stopped, G and I started hearing the sound of bats screeching. A funereal, effeminate man began his march, walking straight on an invisible line while bats flew around him.

I was astounded by his pallor, even though I knew that the bats drained his blood while he slept. He looked like he belonged in a cold and dreary era; in the closure of a warm home and not in the heat stricken world of G, where windows and doors are left wide open, and where love and other demons are summoned with the heat of the summer sun.

Marching a few paces behind him was the bloated figure of a woman wearing a silk tunic with nothing underneath. G and I looked at each other and giggled while holding our noses, as Bernarda Cabrera broke wind in pestilential explosions.

“Really G, you could have left her running around naked because that silk tunic is hiding nothing!”

We couldn’t stop laughing, tears running down our faces and the pungent smell of Bernarda Cabrera consuming us on the porch when we let our noses go. We did sober up abruptly, when we saw the first hint of shiny copper hair streaming on the body of Sierva Maria, who was marching with all the confidence in the world despite her young age, and the heaviness of the sixteen beads of various gods around her neck.

There was a young man walking behind her, wearing a habit of raw wool, and carrying a flask of holy water and a casket with sacramental oils. His eyes were fixed on the girl with the sixteen beads, adoring every inch of her untainted body with a deep longing and an intensity that would make anyone who does not know his story believe he was stricken by a disease.

They kept marching to the slow paced hour of siesta until the screeching of the bats ceased, the pungent smell went away and the last inch of the girl’s shiny copper hair was gone, as they all vanished to a world where love is as much of a demon as the next beast.

“Why can’t love ever be sane G?”

“Madeliene Rose, you saw the forthcoming death of a love that is sane. The love of these two would not have been as strong if they had had their way when they were young.”

He was referring to a young Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. They started their march, walking side by side, with an older woman walking between them but a few steps behind. Florentino Ariza was very thin, with Indian hair plastered down with scented pomade and eyeglasses from myopia, which added to his forlorn appearance and his crowned goddess was pale, with serene skin and straight hair. He was reciting poetry to her, lines he had learned by heart, while she looked at him with eyes holding an untainted naiveté.

As the three marched slowly to the rhythm of the quiet parade, the scent of bitter almonds coming from the trees that were shading us, marked its presence on the parade, but we did not see the figure of Dr Juvenal Urbino. Instead, we saw approaching a much older Fermina Daza, wearing stylish attire that suited her figure — long-boned and still slender and erect, her resilient hands without a single age spot, her steel-blue hair bobbed on a slant at her cheek. She was carrying as many eggplants as she could handle in her arms.

There was not a hint of naiveté about her now; her clear almond eyes and her inborn haughtiness were all that were left to her from her wedding portrait with Dr Juvenal Urbino. An older Florentino Ariza was marching right beside her. His body was bony and erect, his skin dark and clean-shaven, his eyes avid behind round spectacles in silver frames, and he wore a romantic, old-fashioned moustache with waxed tips.

“So much time wasted.”

“No Madeliene Rose, it was time spent longing; a time of unrequited love. Look at this guy, he is, at ninety, alive, with love’s pain to prove it.”

He was referring to his unnamed protagonist coming from the world of his melancholy whores, who was marching as fast as his age would allow him.

“You know Madeliene Rose, that he would not have traded the delights of his suffering for anything in the world. Fermina Daza and Florentino Ariza would not have been who they are, if they were married when young, and you would not have been here if you had stayed with the one you fell in love with.”

I was about to answer G when the explosive laugh of a woman frightened off the birds, and brought G’s and my attention back to the parade. It was Pilar Ternera; she had lost the strength of her thighs, the firmness of her breasts, her habit of tenderness but the madness of her heart was still intact.

As her laugh died down, we started hearing a cloc-cloc-cloc sound, as a young girl began her march, carrying a canvas sack from where the cloc-cloc-cloc sound was coming from — the sack where she carried her parents’ bones.

“It will be a while before she will be encased in black down to her knuckles, heeding only to her solitude,” G said.

I watched, as the young Rebecca marched her way through the parade, but it was the gypsy with the sparrow hands that held my attention, as he started his slow march — the one who had been through death, but he had returned because he could not endure the solitude.

“I never knew you could do such a thing before Melquiades did so G.”

The latter had turned towards the trees that were shading us, to look at José Arcadio Buendía, who could now be seen sitting in the shade under the chestnut tree, heeding to nothing of this world. When we heard the floor under us creak, we both turned towards the front door of the porch we were sitting at, and found Ursula in the doorway, indifferent to us and indifferent to the cannon shots that had opened up a hole in the front of the house next door all of a sudden.

G and I both turned our faces back to the parade as we heard the rolls of music Pietro Crespi had persisted on playing in Amaranta’s memory, knowing all the while that the strong presence of Ursula was behind us. Amaranta was marching now, tall, broad shouldered, proud; she seemed to carry the cross of ashes of her virginity on her forehead. In reality she carried it on her hand in the black bandage, while Santa Sofía de la Piedad was marching behind her.

“Stealthy, impenetrable woman,” G said as he saw the latter.

“I love saying her name,” I said admittedly.

The sound of a pistol shot from the opposite house made us jump. A trickle of blood came out under the door, and went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the house we were at, passed from under Ursula’ feet who was still in the doorway and continued its route from there.

Everyone in the quiet parade stopped for a moment, to summon the memory of the burly man whose trickle of blood had just stained the street, except one semi-naked beauty who kept marching to her own rhythm, unaffected by the blood, even when she stepped on it.

“You might not want to look at her G, hmm? Let’s not take the risk,” I said, as Remedios the beauty marked her presence on the parade.

G turned to look at José Arcadio Buendía until Remedios passed our porch. I told him it was safe when I saw Fernanda and her invisible doctors marching after Remedios, followed by Mauricio Babilonia and the slew of yellow butterflies that were flying around him.

As the last yellow butterfly disappeared in the ghostly hour of that afternoon, there was an unstillable silence, except for heavy footsteps coming from the house — ones we both knew belonged to Colonel Aureliano Buendía who must have been working on his little gold fish during the whole of this parade. We turned to find Ursula still in the doorway, looking towards the street. The woman was blind but she had still seen most of the parade, except us, as we sat on her porch. She turned and went into the house, the one which had seen so many Buendías, and others, come and go.

“I will never forget this parade G, thank you.”

“Come back again, Madeliene Rose. Let me give you some banana before you go.”

“Oh no, no, no.

“Come on Madeliene Rose, put it in your purse.”

“Really G I’m fine, I’m having some eggplant later on for dinner tonight.”

He grinned, the ends of his moustache hiding in the wrinkles of his face. I knew, as I determined never to forget that smile, that it would not be the last time I would see this man.

*All italics are quotes taken from the works of Gabriel García Márquez.

Story credits: Gabriel García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch, Love in the time of the cholera, Memories of my melancholy whores, Of love and other demons and One hundred years of solitude.

Image by Nicole Bentley for Marie Claire Australia.

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