Epiphany was the silly one I had

This is a tale about someone lost in time and place. A person who is there and not there, who comes back from time to time and leaves again.
Epiphany was the silly one I had

Everyone knows that the parties truly begin when I get excited and, somewhat macho, start singing. The thunderous sounds from my lungs signal that timid introductions, as well as weather and health discussions, are no longer necessary. Pauses serve as cues for laughter, jokes, anecdotes, and scorching gossip that ignites fires in the ears of their victims.

Food recedes to make way for revelry. Meats, potatoes, and salads diminish, while guitars, drums, and erques start appearing. Women, girls, and boys tend to vanish from the scene; sometimes, never to return. And, of course, why would they come back when many townsfolk seem to have been born with a bottle in one hand and a fist in the other?

I've rhymed the phrase about Epiphany so many times that they nicknamed me 'Epifanio.' The oddity of the word reduced it to 'Epe,' and over the years, I earned the title 'don.' My real name is a secret; it lingers in my childhood memories, on my mother's lips, and in the memory of the departed. For the rest of those who know me, even for my children, I am and will be 'don Epe.'

I hail from Suipacha, one of the many cradles of American independence and the place where we won the first battle against the Spanish Crown. I state it as if I had participated in the fight because that event forever marked those arid mountains. Thus, all men born in that land are baptized as 'chicheño' males; we adorn ourselves with hats, dark boots, and vivid ponchos before mounting a horse and posing for the postcard; the rest of the time, we cultivate the land and raise goats that seem to live in a perpetual state of happiness.

Of course, all that is in the past. Many years ago, fate brought me to the city of La Paz. I exchanged the vastness of the countryside for a few square meters of a room. The only animals I now see up close are the dogs and cats that insatiably feed on their owners' affection. I no longer need to live adventures; now, I can watch them on television. Yes, I am a prisoner of comfort.

Although I may exaggerate a bit. Comfort allows me to indulge in some pleasures, like the time I got to know Buenos Aires. I remember perfectly the day I saw a sign displaying the name of my hometown on a street in the heart of that city. How my chest swelled with pride on that occasion! That memory brings me a sweet mix of pride and nostalgia. What a contrast, darn it! My town is so small that even a bicycle is superfluous, while that city seems never-ending. It's streets, streets, and more streets; surely one of those streets has my name or my brother's, who went to live there. There must be streets with every existing name. I wonder if Porteños are happy living so squeezed together. What an oppressive thing it must be to have so many neighbors!

I sigh again, just remembering my homeland. That blessed independence battle left such a mark on our history that Suipacha remains exactly the same as it was 200 years ago. It's as if the town wanted to pay homage to such a courageous act by being crystallized in time. In the church, the same benches where Argentine and Bolivian colonels knelt remain; the houses retain the same mud on their walls; even the faces of the inhabitants are identical to those of the time, as no one else came, and many left. All of us born there are direct descendants of that conflict. Generation after generation, repeating the same story; the forms change, but the fundamentals are identical.

Although I am a person of clear habits and marked routines, the city of La Paz — more like a labyrinth of bricks than a city — turned my customs into quirks. For example, I buy clothes at a store on Loayza Street; shoes, at the corner of Potosí Street. On Sunday mornings, I always have salteñas for breakfast, and no one but Pendorcho can cut my hair. Now that I think about it, I've always been like this; why would I continue exploring the world if I've found the things that satisfy me? I wouldn't dare step into another barbershop other than Pendorcho's. We've been friends for so long that he knows, almost by heart, the shape of my head and the haircut he should give.

Now, when my past is much more interesting than my future, I realize that one makes more mistakes than successes. I imagine the balance is rarely even; perhaps that's why you need to accumulate regrets to enter the blessed heaven, the kingdom of kingdoms, the divine paradise, or whatever other names it might have. It doesn't matter what it's called; I just know that my dear Paulina is there, eager for me to tell her everything that has happened since her departure.

Obviously, more mistakes than successes are made. Today, I made one: I got lost. I left home alone this morning for my barber to cut my hair (in reality, it was an excuse to give him a gift and break my routine). It's the devil tempting this poor old man with dreams of independence. At my age, I can't afford to live; enduring the wait should be enough.

So, in the end, I am an old man who got lost. It happens all the time, no reason to get worked up. I am tired of walking, looking for my house. I've been tired of everything and nothing for several years. My body is so fatigued that I have no other option but to take refuge in memory: I can't stop thinking about Suipacha and my late wife. It's been three hours where all the streets look the same, and all the houses resemble each other. The minibuses are now lights and shouts of young people repeating names of areas I don't recognize. I curse the moment I decided to break the routine.

Maybe I'm in a nightmare, and I'll wake up soon in the silence of my room. Maybe I'm in purgatory, which takes the form of an unknown and infinite city. Suddenly, the pain in my feet extinguishes all uncertainties and brings me back to reality. Daylight is left behind, but it doesn't matter. I'll keep walking a little more. Eventually, I'll reach somewhere. My bed will be heaven, and I'll sleep like a log, or I'll die: crossing ninety, both verbs are more or less synonymous...

— Mr. Villena disappeared today. The family, on behalf of the missing man's daughter, proceeded to file a report at Police District 4 in the southern zone. Despite the investigations conducted and the family's mobilization during the afternoon hours, the mentioned gentleman could not be found. However, around ten o'clock at night on the same day, as if it were an epiphany, he appeared.

— Thank you, lieutenant, you may leave.