Vicente Riva Palacio was born in Mexico City in 1832, studied law and became a lawyer in 1854. He became interested in politics, but joined the army, from which he retired as a general in 1865, two years after the Mexican victory over the French at Puebla in 1862. He dedicated most of the rest of his life to writing and published several novels about the colonial era in Mexico, including the influence that the Spanish inquisition had.
He also wrote a number of short stories and anecdotes, and these are perhaps his greatest contribution to the literature of the time. He died in 1896 at the age of 64.
The Donation (La limosna)
Perhaps there are many who are not interested in what I’m going to say; but it touched me deeply, and nothing in this world will make me shorten the story and I have to publish it, whatever happens to it in the long run and at the peril of experiencing the intricacy that some call excessive sensitivity to sentimentality.
But the facts are like musical chords: some of us listen to them without emotions and there are others, who have unexplained resonance in the most delicate cells in the heart or the brain, and of whom we say, or think without saying: these notes belong to me.
Julian lived in in one of the towns in the northern part of the Republic of Mexico. I don’t know his surname, because Julian didn’t know, but he was a happy man. .A blacksmith, honest and hard working; a big strapping, healthy fellow, who in his work earned more that he needed to support his family. Of course he was not rich, or as one would say- wealthy. He had a little house in the suburbs of the town. There, like in a pidgin’s nest, lived his mother, his wife and his son, Julian. There everyone got up before sunrise; there they worked, sang and ate their daily bread of joy and honesty.
Julian returned each Saturday bringing the earnings from his weekly work; he gave it all to his wife, and she knew how to allocate it successfully and with such good economy, that the money seemed to multiply in her hands. It was the unvarying miracle of the five loaves repeated without interruption, and she never forgot cigars for Julian or a glass of brandy for her mother-in-law before the meal.
The boy was called Juanito: fresh, clean, happy and with his two years acting as if he was eighty, excitedly running after the hens in the pen or pulling up the flowers in the little garden by the House. But he was so loving and so adorable, that each one of these mischief’s were rewarded with a Rosary of kisses from the father, the mother or the grandmother, whom he was laughing out loud at, showing his uneven and still growing baby teeth.
One afternoon, Julian was waiting at the workshop for his weekly pay check. Suddenly he heard the parish fire alarm, and felt his heart jump. There was no cause for alarm. The parish was a large rural community, and, however, he felt that it was not his house that was burning. He ran hastily, but it was true: the flames were devouring his house that just a few hours before had been his blessed home.
All efforts had been futile: nobody was able to escape the fire. Julian did not ask for details; in one hour he had lost everything he owned. It was pointless. A loving family took him in, and for more than six months he was not heard from.
Four years passed by and Julian, always sad, went to work at the shop with his usual punctuality. He took from his salary only what he strictly needed for his own upkeep, and distributed the rest to the poor of his parish. Saturdays, however, he had a strange habit. . He went out in the streets with a guitar; entered houses and sang, with a very sweet voice, quite unknown songs, so melancholy, that the men shivered and the women cried; and afterwards, when one of them, filled with emotions, solicited around to give him some money him, he said with a deeply sad accent;” No, Madam, I don’t want money; you have already paid me, because I only came to beg for alms of tears. “
Translated by Kenny Beechmount