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Voices of Time: A Life in Storiesby Eduardo Galeano
We are made of time.
We are its feet and its voice.
The feet of time walk in our shoes.
Sooner or later, we all know, the winds of time will erase the tracks.
Passage of nothing, steps of no one? The voices of time tell of the voyage.
Oriol Vall, who works with newborns at a hospital in Barcelona, says that the first human gesture is the embrace. After coming into the world, at the beginning of their days, babies wave their arms as if seeking someone.
Other doctors, who work with people who have already lived their lives, say that the aged, at the end of their days, die trying to raise their arms.
And that's it, that's all, no matter how hard we strive or how many words we pile on. Everything comes down to this: between two flutterings, with no more explanation, the voyage occurs.
The professor and the journalist walk in the garden.
The professor, Jean-Marie Pelt, stops, points, and says, "Allow me to introduce you to our grandparents."
The journalist, Jacques Girardon, crouches down and finds a ball of foam peeking out from the blades of grass.
The ball is a town of microscopic blue algae. On very humid days, the blue algae allow themselves to be seen. They look like a wad of spit. The French journalist wrinkles his nose; the origin of life isn't what we might call attractive, but from that spittle, from that mess, come all of us who have legs or roots or wings.
Before there was a before, when the world was barely a baby, without color or sound, there was blue algae. Streaming oxygen, they gave color to the sea and the sky. Then one fine day, a day that lasted millions of years, some blue algae decided to turn green. And bit by tiny bit, the green algae begat lichens, mushrooms, mold, medusas, and all the color and sound that came later, as did we, to unsettle the sea and the land.
Other blue algae preferred to carry on as they were.
And still are.
From the distant world that was, they observe the world that is.
What they think of it we do not know.
When the sea became the sea, the land was still nothing but naked rock.
Then lichens, born of the sea, made meadows. They invaded the kingdom of stone, conquered it, turned it green.
That happened in the yesterday of yesterdays, and it is still going on. Lichens live where no one lives: on the frozen steppe, in the burning desert, on the peaks of the highest mountains.
Lichens live only as long as the marriage lasts between an alga and her son, the mushroom. If the marriage breaks up, the lichens break down.
Sometimes, fighting and disagreements lead the alga and mushroom to part. She complains that he keeps her hidden from the light. He says she makes him sick, feeding him sugar day and night.
A couple was walking across the savannah in East Africa at the beginning of the rainy season. The woman and the man still looked a lot like apes, truth be told, although they were standing upright and had no tails.
A nearby volcano, now called Sadiman, was belching ash. The rain of ash preserved the couple's footprints, from that moment through time. Beneath their gray blanket, the tracks remained intact. Those footprints show that this Eve and that Adam had been walking side by side; at a certain point she stopped, turned away, and took a few steps on her own. Then she returned to the path they shared.
The world's oldest human footprints left traces of doubt. A few years have gone by. The doubt remains.
Copyright © 2006 by Eduardo Galeano
Translation copyright © 2006 by Mark Fried
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