Woman with no name

By Mario Vargas Llosa


I don’t know what my name is by now, I’ve forgotten over the years. Because–just take a look at me–I am a tired old woman. I don’t remember how old I am, either, but who’s going to care? The important thing is that I was born here in Paucartambo, and here I am going to die–if in fact I die some day. Sometimes I think that God Our Father has had me live so long because he wants me to be immortal like Him.


You see this hat I’m carrying in my left hand? I made it myself, when I was a girl, when we still had the hat factory that later closed and left all eight of us women who worked there out in the street. We had to go back to the fields: work the land and tend the flocks. The point being that this hat is as old as I am, or almost. I have taken it off because right now I’m passing in front of the saint; he has a little shrine on this corner. He is not really a very powerful saint, and he almost never performs the miracles we ask for, even though we always hold his procession every year, and light candles to him and bring him flowers. Sometimes, he gets things mixed up. He sends rain when we ask for sunshine, or a terrible drought when we pray for a little rain. But even though he’s lazy, and isn’t past playing a trick, he is our saint, and what can we do? we love him.


In my hundreds, maybe thousands, of years of life, I have seen everything in this village. Rebellions, killings, earthquakes, wars, epidemics, visions, and a whole parade of governments. Things never get better, they just go from bad to worse. But I guess, as far as I can tell, that doesn’t matter to anyone. I’ve seen plenty of misfortune, but I’ve also seen beautiful things. Like when Jesus appeared in the body of a lamb. He appeared to me, just to me. I was coming back from the stream where we go in the afternoon to do the wash. That day I was alone, sort of daydreaming and humming, carrying the folded wet clothes on my head, when the little lamb, who was Baby Jesus in person, appeared on the path and stood in my way, looking at me with those pain-filled eyes. I instantly knew who it was, and fell to my knees. Then the lamb bawled, and I knew Jesus was warning me about something. But you know, I was so thrilled at the vision, that I didn’t get the message very clear. Afterward, I’ve often thought that He came to warn me not to marry the person I married, that brute Anselmo who beat me all the time. No loss that he died young, run over by a truck when he was drunk.


I could tell thousands of stories like this one. Because even though I’ve forgotten my name and how old I am, I still remember a lot of things. For example, that tomorrow is market day, and that I’ll spend the whole day beneath a canvas tarp, selling cuyes and roasted corn.