By William Reese Hamilton
You hear them long before you see them, coming in a long procession, bending first around the corner at Eduardo Blanco’s Ferreteria and then again at Posada del Pueblo: first the truck with the thundering tambores and the strong throaty voice rising in a primal song to San Juan, saint of the fishermen, then the old hearse covered with wreaths of flowers, and finally the plain coffin with Negrito, the teenage son of Maritza, on the shoulders of brothers and friends. They all come out for the young.
At the cancha, the cement basketball court with the metal backboards, his team is waiting in their bright blue and white uniforms. They lay the coffin under one of the backboards and each player throws in a basket in honor of their dead teammate. There are crowds all around the court, clinging to the fence. I look into his older brother’s dark eyes; he looks straight ahead, unseeing.
They pass down the narrow river road past El Gallo’s liquor store and Liberato’s fish market toward the beach, the tambores still pounding and the hoarse voice echoing off the close buildings. They lower the casket onto a fishing launch and push the boat out to sea. It circles the harbor twice with his big brother standing at the bow, passing along the malecón in a great parade of skiffs bobbing among the waves, the fishermen chanting across the waters, because Negrito was also a fisherman like them.
Last night we were at the velorio―crowds of people drinking and talking, crying and laughing, around the small cramped house―and Maritza rose to speak with us, but Negrito’s grandmother would not leave her bed. She lay there against the wall, moaning. We heard that he had been at a party in Ocumare, drunk on beer and riding his moto, skidding under a truck. That simple. When I looked down at his face through the glass of his coffin, he appeared unmarked by death, at peace with his new world. Someone had placed a half-drunk bottle of beer at his head.
William Reese Hamilton lives in Choroní, a fishing village on the coast of Venezuela, butted up against a mountainous cloud forest, in a region that produces the finest cacao in the world. His stories have appeared in The Paris Review, The North American Review, Puerto del Sol, Review Americana, Adirondack Review, Night Train Magazine, Eclectica Magazine, In Posse Review, Steel City Review, Loch Raven Review, Ink Pot/Lit Pot, Smokelong Quarterly and elsewhere.