Herbert Herrero

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NONFICTION

Three Places to Find a Man

The horizon is diluted of its color. The overcast conceals the plains but has smeared the sky from afar. Light reaches through though on the foreground. The length of the shadow it casts suggests dawn. Boulders reveal roughened surfaces and chiseled edges. Fragments scatter.

A man is seated. His feet, barely covered by the frayed hem of the undergarment, are set firmly on the ground. Days of walking tire, form calluses, and wrap the feet with dirt. He appears unable to groom himself. His beard and hair, loose and unkempt. No furrows show on his forehead. His nose and brows are prominent, his cheeks, sunken, his chin, receding. His lips are together, absent of utterances. His skin is pale, the kind of paleness attained for lack of sleep. His hooded eyes are deep and blackened too, most likely for the same reason. He stares downward at nothing, as if loneliness has engulfed him, as if he is resigned, as if defeated and in despair. His face is weathered like the rocks that surround him.

Thin arms and hands tightly clench between his knees, enduring the cold. Hunger and thirst make one resentful and vulnerable to whispers he can only hear. There is a need to keep something together and not let go. A cloak drapes over his shoulders. Shoulders which are neither lifted nor dangled, just slightly leaning forward, a posture of resolve. Shoulders should not be deprived of the load it can carry. His confidence is diminished, but not lost. He is exhausted, but not consumed. The man is nearly wilted and wanting for replenishment. But he sits as if it is bearable.

***

The moonlight cowered behind the thicket. Its luster lit the stone wall but could hardly get past the branches. The shrubs traced an opaque silhouette of its spines. The absence of moisture allowed only vegetation of this kind to grow. The city in the distance kept silent underneath the faint twinkling of its stars. It was difficult to tell how deep it was into the night. But not everyone was asleep.

The shadows imposed themselves upon the secluded place and marked their veins on the dust. A gleam pierced through and struck a rock. Its slab was narrow and cold, but a suitable seat, nevertheless, for the tired and the weary. Many frequented the place, finding momentary refuge for their troubled selves. But not everyone who sought solace was comforted.

On the ground, a man lay, motionless as his surroundings. His arms extended and reached at nothing, his hands unclasped, fingers not firm, their tips on the dirt, his hair unrolled over his head, his face not seen, and his entire body fused to the earth, like a fallen tree, drawn of its will to be upright and left without recourse, but to accept its fate. His wails could not be heard even if he tried.

The evening permitted darkness to wield its emptiness. A noiseless deluge which drowns everything, and spares nothing, not even the faintest flicker. It removes all sense of dimension and direction. There is nothing in darkness, nothing to clench, nothing to embrace. The night is at its darkest when no one replies to one’s cries or heeds one’s call for help. A voice plunging into an abyss.

***

The creases on the blanket were like rippled frozen waves of the desert, folded by time. The gaps, though, were not uniform, a few were narrower than others. It flowed to the sides of the foot-high bed, took the form of the edges of the frame, and spread the length of its ends to the floor. The flat of his feet would have been exposed if it were not completely covered by the sheets. His toes were upright, pointing upward and not rotated, because his ankles were not together but placed slightly apart. The cloth between his thighs, knees, and shin sagged. He was only covered from the waist down.

His hands calmly rested on his chest but were not placed with one on top of the other. His torso was bare and slightly elevated. He is leaned against the headrest. He looked neat and clean, with his well-combed hair and groomed moustache and beard on his chin. His face showed no visible signs of tension, no scowled brows, or wrinkled forehead. His eyelids looked naturally closed, and his lips gently pressed together.

He was not sleeping. The place was lit well enough to reveal who he was, but there was no indication where it was. He certainly suffered, as suffering is known to be a prerequisite of dying. He endured suffering, as there were witnesses to how he dealt with the pain. He was quiet all throughout his ordeal, as if he knew all along what was bound to happen. His family saw him breathe his last, but they were not able to take him or have his body cleansed.

***

Christ in the Wilderness is an 1870s oil on canvas painting. It was believed to be one of the most important works by Ivan Kramskoy. It depicts Jesus alone in the desert. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is an 1870s work by painter Vasily Perov. It depicts Jesus praying on the night before his execution. The Christ in the Tomb is a rare transparent artwork authenticated as an 1840s creation by iconic artist Karl Bryullov. It depicts Jesus laid in the sepulcher.


Herbert Herrero is a 51-year-old Filipino, a fellow in the 2019 National Writers Workshop of the University of Santo Thomas. His work was included in the 39th issue of Anak Sastra Online Literary Journal, and the 16th Issue of the Likhaan Journal of the University of the Philippines.


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Artwork: “Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoy, Public Domain; “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” by Vasily Perov, Public Domain; “The Christ in the Tomb” by Karl Bryullov, Public Domain.

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