“Fear not,” says the man who emerges from the sandstorm. “For it is I, Juan Pablo Hernandez, and I come offering a story in exchange for your kindness.”
“Why would you offer a story?” says the bald man, he is holding a stick and he scowls against the barrage of sand.
“Why do I offer a story?” says Don Pablo Hernandez. “For I have nothing else to offer, amigo, except for the clothes on my back, which are torn nearly to pieces. And in a desierto such as this… tell me, what is left but stories?”
The bald man with the stick says nothing, nor does his face show any emotion. “Follow,” he says and leads Juan Pablo Hernandez through the sandstorm one step at a time. If the bald man were to walk any faster, he would soon disappear and Juan Pablo would never see him again.
They come to a mound of rocks and in the side of the rocks there is a tiny crack through which they can enter. Surrounded by stone the sound of the wind is not so loud. There is a small fire crackling in the corner and a gap in the rocks through which the smoke can escape.
“This is very nice place,” says Juan Pablo. “Consider me impressed, amigo.”
“Sit,” says the bald man, gesturing with his stick. There are two worn-out rugs on the floor of the cave, not far from the fire. Outside the wailing continues to wail; the end continues to end.
The two men sit in silence for a time until the bald man finally speaks: “Begin,” he says.
And so, Juan Pablo Hernandez begins:
Do not doubt that I have many stories to tell. For I, Juan Pablo Hernandez, have done many things and seen many places. You do not need to tell me you are suitably impressed, amigo. For Juan Pablo Hernandez knows this already. Of course you are impressed. I am impressed!
But, I am not going to tell you a story about Juan Pablo Hernandez. Instead I will tell you a story that was told to me by a man in a bar, not so long ago.
I did not see him at first for he blended with the place, almost as though he was a part of it. And then he is there and I am introducing myself—Juan Pablo Hernandez—and he is telling me that he has a story to tell.
The old man is crazy, I am thinking. But who left is sane? We meet at the very end of everything. As to what exact letters we form in those two words, I cannot say.
But then the old man begins his story and it is that very same story I am telling to you now.
“It’s his fault,” says the old man. He is turning his glass in circles on the red-checkered tablecloth and then he looks up at me and is very serious when he says: “This is all because of him.”
“The Interloper,” says the old man. He takes out a cigarette and stuffs it between his lips, but does not offer me one. He lights it and pungent smoke rises, hovering above our table. “The Interloper ruined everything.”
“Who is this… interloper?”
“Just a man. Perhaps it would be fair to say a very foolish man. Or very evil, depending on who you ask,” the old man continues. “The Interloper did a lot of things, but mostly he did one thing. He killed her.”
The old man is sad, as well as mad, then.
“No,” he says and he shakes his head as though clearing it from cobwebs. “It started before that: with a kid. This is his story as much as it belongs to the Interloper. Just a dumb kid messing with forces he didn’t understand. Ah… perhaps I am too hard on him.”
And so it is quickly becoming clear to me—Juan Pablo Hernandez—that we are speaking again about a story-within-a-story, amigo. Much like the one I am telling to you now. And who knows how many layers deep this story might yet go?