Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Human Comedy

This is the captivating story of an American Schoolboy who in the evening also worked as a messenger of the telegraph-office in the Second World War.
Here follows  a part of the story:
The messenger got off his bicycle in front of the house of Mrs Rosa Sandoval. He went to the door and knocked gently. He knew almost immediately that someone was inside the house. He could not hear anything, but he was sure the knock was bringing someone to the door and he was most eager to see who this person would be - this woman named Rosa Sandoval, who was now to hear of murder in the world and to feel it in herself.
The door was not a long time opening, but there was no hurry in the way it moved on its hinges. Then the door was open, and there she was...
To Homer the Mexican woman was beautiful. He could see that she had been patient all her life, so that now, after years of it, her lips were set in a gentle and saintly smile. But like all people who never receive telegrams the appearance of a messenger at the front door is full of terrible implications. Homer knew that she knew the message was not a welcome one.
"You have a telegram"?  she said. It wasn't Homer's fault. His work was to deliver telegrams. Even so, it seemed to him that he was part of the whole mistake. He felt awkward and almost as if he alone were responsible for what had happened. At the same time he wanted to come right out and say, "I am only a messenger, Mrs Sandoval. I am very sorry I must bring you a telegram like this, but it is only because it is my work to do so."
"Who is it for?" the Mexican woman said.
"Mrs Rosa Sandoval, 1129 G Street", Homer said. He extended the telegram to the Mexican woman, but she would not touch it. "Are you Mrs Sandoval?" Homer said.
"Please", the woman said, "Please come in. I cannot read English. I am Mexican". She paused a moment and looked at the boy, standing awkwardly as near the door as he could be and still be inside the house.
"Please, " She said, "what does the telegram say?"
"Mrs Sandoval", the messenger said, "the telegram says..."
But now the woman interrupted him. "But you must open the telegram and read it to me", she said. "You have not opened it".
"Yes ma'am", Homer  said as if he were speaking to a school teacher who just corrected him. He opened the telegram with nervous fingers.The Mexican woman stooped to pick up the torn envelope and tried to smooth it out. As she did so she said: "Who sent the telegram - my son Juan Domingo?"
"No, ma'am", Homer said. "The telegram is from the War Department".
"War Department?"
"Mrs. Sandoval", Homer said swiftly, "your son is dead. Maybe it's a  mistake, Mrs. Sandoval. Maybe it wasn't your son. Maybe it was somebody else. The telegram says it was Juan Domingo. But maybe the telegram wrong".
The Mexican woman pretended not to hear.
"Oh do not be afraid," she said. "Come inside; come inside.  I will bring you candy". She took the boy's arm and brought him to the table at the center of the room and there she made him sit.
"All you boys like candy," she said, "I will bring you candy". She  went into another room and soon returned with an old chocolate candy box. She opened the box at the table and in it Homer saw a strange kind of candy.
"Here," she said. "Eat this candy. All boys like candy'. Homer took a piece of the candy from the box and tried to chew.
"You would not bring me a bad telegram", she said. "You are a good boy - like my little Juanito when he was a little boy. Eat another piece."
Homer sat chewing the dry candy while the Mexican woman talked. "It is our own candy", she said, "from cactus. I make it for my Juanito when he comes home, but you eat it. You are my boy too."
Now suddenly she began to sob, holding herself in as if weeping were a disgrace. Homer wanted to get up and run but he knew he would stay. He even thought he might stay the rest of his life. He just didn't know what else to do to try to make the woman less unhappy, and if she had asked him to take the place of her son, he would not have been able to refuse, because he would not have known how. He got to his feet as if by standing he meant to begin correcting what could not be corrected and then he knew the foolishness of this intention and became more awkward than ever. In his hear he was saying over and over again. "What can I do? What the hell can I do? I am only the messenger." The woman suddenly took him in her arms, saying, "My little boy, my little boy".
He didn't know why, because he only felt wounded by the whole thing. He didn't dislike the woman or any body else, but what was happening to her seemed so wrong and so full of ugliness that he was sick and didn't know if he ever wanted to go on living again. The woman forced him into another chair and stood over him.
"Let me look at you", she said. She looked at him strangely and, sick everywhere within himself, the messenger could not move. He felt neither love nor hate but something very close to disgust, but at the same time he felt great compassion, not for the poor woman alone, but for all things and the ridiculous way of their enduring and dying.
He saw her back in time, a beautiful young woman sitting beside the crib of her infant son. He saw her looking down at this amazing human thing, speechless and helpless and full of the world to come. He saw her rocking the crib and he heard her singing to the child. Now look at her, he said to himself.
He was on his bicycle suddenly, riding swiftly down the dark street, tears coming out of his eyes and his mouth whispering young and crazy curses. When he go back to the telegraph office the tears had stopped, but everything else had started and he knew there would be no stopping them.
"Otherwise I'm just good as dead myself", he said, as if someone were listening whose hearing was not perfect

from : The Human Comedy
by : William Saroyan


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