I met a man recently, a farmer in the oil fields, who told me of his life. It was the start of dusk, and the man was across the road from me, hunched in work. He was with a small boy. I presumed it was his grandchild. I watched from afar, the way they worked in silence, beneath the light and heat of the gas flare. After a time he signaled to me, a pleasant welcoming gesture. We began a conversation which was light and sad, and lasted only a short while. At one point, as happens when there is warmth between strangers, I touched his arm as I was speaking, and I felt only bone. The boy had disappeared, almost unnoticed.
The man spoke in a way that resembled singing. At times, he would close his eyes in the act of remembering. His son died many years ago from a disease the man could not remember the name of. There was an industrial accident too. His son had been burned by hot liquids at an oil production station. There was not enough money for hospital bills. The man went silent, trying to recount the sequence of events, the big details in the life of his son.
Later he spoke to me about the government: “Maybe the government will decide to help us one day.” The sound of his voice, more so than his words, spoke of unbearable humility and resignation. It felt almost religious, as if the government answered to prayers.
It was the middle of dusk, and the insects — the mosquitos and the invisibles — had begun their brief ravenous existence. The man had only come out to check on his cacao seeds — to see how quickly they were drying under the heat of the flare. It was time to go home. He told me that he would like to find a market in the United States for his cacao, “where they pay a good price for products.” He didn’t seem to recognize the insurmountable obstacles, or take into account that he was drying his seeds under the noxious fumes of a flare. He didn’t seem to notice the dead insects littered around the base of the industrial candle. He said that he was sick, that he couldn’t eat, and that the price of cacao here was too low for survival. And it sounded, all the while, like he was singing.
As he was leaving, I asked if I could take a photograph and write about our brief encounter. He agreed. And then he posed, giving a dignified look towards the horizon. “Que dios te bendiga,” he said. And then he started down the dirt road towards his home, and I watched him disappear.