Roanoke Review

Santiago, the Shepherd

He came to the hospital, to visit my father, at five in the morning. He didn’t wear a watch, Santiago el pastor, Santiago the shepherd. Watches made people crazy, he believed. He came with the first sunlight, August tenth, aquel diez de agosto, the day my father died. Santiago the shepherd opened the only window in my father’s hospital room and whistled a song, softly. A song my father used to whistle when he looked at the sky searching for signs. Clouds, winds, smells, signs for the rain. La tierra pide agua. The land wants water, he always said. Santiago el pastor whistled, thin lips over the city that was waking up. He whistled. I knew the lyrics. Nadie le teme a la fiera. Nobody is afraid of the beast. A nurse entered to check the morphine drip. She stopped and listened. Santiago kept whistling. I wanted to believe my father opened his eyes for a moment. Nadie le teme a la fiera, nadie. Nobody is afraid of the beast, nobody.

Santiago el pastor closed the hospital window, stopped whistling and walked to my father’s bed. I could still hear the song melting on the walls. He hugged me, two lost animals in a wind storm. I smelled my father on his shirt, my father on Sundays. Rosemary and bread. Santiago’s hands on the back of my neck, rough and real, every man in these hands, every failure, every hour together.  The nurse changed the morphine drip, we both watched. No signs, no clouds, no rain. We were alone in this long drought. Santiago el pastor whispered something in my father’s ear, kissed his forehead and left. Nadie le teme a la fiera, nadie. Nobody is afraid of the beast, nobody.