Viejo Antonio hunted a mountain lion with his old gun (a flintlock rifle). I had made fun of his weapon a few days before:
“They used such weapons when Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico,” I told him.
He defended himself: “Yes, but look now in whose hands it is.”
Now he was pulling out the last bits of meat from the hide, to tan it. He proudly shows me the hide. It does not have a single hole.
“Right in the eye,” he boasts. “It is the only way for the hide not to have signs of mistreatment,” he adds.
“And what are you going to do with the hide?” I ask.
Viejo Antonio does not answer me, he continues scraping the cougar’s hide with his machete, in silence. I sit at his side and, after filling my pipe, try to make him a cigarette with a “roller.” I set it down for him wordlessly, he examines it and undoes it.
“You’ve got a ways to go,” he tells me while he reforms it.
We sit down to participate together in that smoking ceremony.
Between puff and puff, Viejo Antonio goes spinning the story:
“The cougar is strong because the other animals are weak. The cougar eats the flesh of others because the others let themselves be eaten. The cougar does not kill with its claws or with its canine teeth.
The cougar kills watching. First it approaches slowly…in silence, because it has clouds on its feet and they kill the noise. Then it jumps and gives its victim a shove, a blow which knocks down, more than out of force, out of surprise.
Then it remains looking at it. It watches its prisoner. Like this… (and Viejo Antonio furrows his brow and fixes the gaze of his black eyes on me). The poor little animal which is going to die ends up just looking, it watches the cougar which watches it. The animal no longer sees the same, it watches what the cougar watches, it watches the image of the animal in the cougar’s watch, watches that, in the cougar’s watching it, it is small and weak.
The animal did not even wonder if it is small and weak, well it was an animal, neither large nor small, neither strong nor weak. But now it watches in the cougar’s watching it, watches fear. And, watching that they are watching it, the animal becomes convinced, on its own, that it is small and weak. And, in the fear that it watches that the cougar watches it, it is afraid. And so the animal no longer watches anything, its bones become numb just as when we get caught in the rain in the mountains, in the night, in the cold. And then the animal gives up just like that, it lets itself be, and the cougar wolfs it down without hesitation.
That’s how the cougar kills. It kills watching. But there is an animal which does not do this, that when it comes across the cougar it pays no attention to it and continues on as if nothing, and if the cougar strikes it, it responds by scratching with its hands, which are tiny but the blood which they draw hurts. And this animal does not let itself be taken by the cougar because it does not watch that they watch it…it is blind. ‘Moles,’ they call these animals.”
It appears that Viejo Antonio has finished talking.
I venture a “yes but…” Viejo Antonio does not let me continue, he keeps telling the story while he forms another cigarette for himself. He does it slowly, turning to look at me each while to see if I am paying attention.
“The mole was left blind because, instead of seeing outwardly, it began to look at its heart, it started to look inwardly. And no one knows why the idea of looking inwardly found its way into the mole’s head. And there the mole foolishly is looking at its heart and so it does not worry about strong or weak, about large or small, because the heart is the heart and it is not measured like things and animals are measured. And the practice of looking inwardly only the gods can do it, and so the gods punished the mole and no longer let it look outwardly and in addition they condemned it to live and walk underground. And that is why the mole lives underground, because the gods punished it. And the mole did not even mind because it kept looking inwardly. And that is why the mole is not afraid of the cougar. And nor is the man who knows how to look at his heart afraid of the cougar.
Because the man who knows how to look at his heart does not see the cougar’s force, he sees the force of his heart and so he watches the cougar and the cougar watches that the man watches it and the cougar watches, in the man’s watching it that it is only a cougar, and the cougar watches that they are watching it and it is afraid and runs away.”
“And did you look at your heart to kill this cougar?” I interrupt.
He answers, “Me? Nah, I looked at the aim of the rifle and the cougar’s eye and right then I fired… I didn’t even think about my heart…”
I scratch my head like, according to what I learned, they do here whenever they don’t understand something.
Viejo Antonio sits up slowly, takes the hide and examines it thoroughly. Then, he rolls it up and hands it over to me.
“Take it,” he tells me. “I’m giving it to you so that you never forget that the cougar and fear are killed knowing where to look…”
Viejo Antonio turns around and goes into his hut. In Viejo Antonio’s speak that means, “I’m done now. Goodbye.” I stuck the cougar’s hide in a nylon bag and left…
Originally published on August 24th, 1994.
English translation copyright © 2014 by Henry Gales. All rights reserved.