I thought through and carefully analyzed the alternatives that were offered to me and the benefits that were going to be derived from all this and, even though the time they had given me to respond had expired, I went before them and told them yes, that I accepted. I was ready to risk it all. I had to face them or keep on being the defenseless victim of the Group. If I won, if I triumphed, I would be fully accepted. Besides, Manolito's greetings would stop; he always welcomed me with a whassup fool, when you gonna do it, tell me fool, tell me; or you so scared of falling from that height and breaking up into a thousand pieces, tell me, fool, tell me; and Pepe's free offers would stop; when he pushed me on the swing, he would annoy me with I'll let you ride my bicycle for a whole day you fuck if you pass the test, eh, whaddya say, you fuck, eh, whaddya say; Tono's impenetrable, doubly crooked looks would finally cease; cross-eyed, he was more resourceful with his fists than with his eyes; Meme's unfounded fear would stop, with his nervous walk and yearning expression, who, as soon as he saw me, wouldn't stop yelling don't get too close, damn it!, if you don't want me to deck ya, damn it!; and Lolo's protest in my defense would probably be more effective, the calmest stutterer I've ever known in my entire life, l-l-l-l-leave him already, don't b-b-b-b-be such a pain, l-l-l-l-leave him already.
Every one of them had passed their test, and I had to take mine. At least theoretically, the tests ought to be difficult for the candidate, and whoever failed was rejected, or not admitted until he succeeded in passing the test. Every member of the organization proposed a special feat, a demonstration of courage, strength, perseverance, or endurance, which had to be accomplished in a certain way in order to be valid. The most original proposal was put to a vote, although sometimes Manolito's influence prevailed. As the Group's natural leader, recognized for his ferocity and his ability to come up with challenging adventures, and for his nasty character, Manolito tried to impose his will on the others. However, the majority's decision was respected; inside the Group, democracy was a fact. The Group knew that I was incapable of looking down from a third floor balcony, and they knew it because of Magaly, Manolito's sister, who had seen me turn pale, lose my balance and become dizzy the first time I went up to Julie's apartment the day I went to help her cut up some maps to glue into her geography notebook. Someone called me from outside and I went to look, and that's when I felt a blow to the stomach that went directly to my head, and I felt everything spin. I was going to fall and Julie--really scared--had to grab me by the arm and rush me back inside. It wasn't the first time something like that happened to me. It had also happened at Aunt Altagracia's who lived on one of the upper floors of a house in our neighborhood. Since the Group hadn't thought of anything special for me, when Magaly told Manolito about the incident, their leader started thinking about a good test that would involve heights. That's how it was proposed that I climb to the top of an enormous, old mango tree, its great trunk rising covered with tentacles, on an abandoned lot known to all, and that from the highest point I should bring down a bunch of golden mangoes which the Group would eat to celebrate the initiation of the new member. I would fail the test if I dropped or bruised the mangoes.
We had to go down from San Carlos to the old lots on Avenida Independencia, where at that time the villas still hadn't been swallowed up by the city. I would have preferred that my test consist of something else, for example, running a long distance without showing signs of fatigue, like letting my tongue hang out or stopping; or winning a swimming race in Guibia. But this wasn't about what I wanted, not by any means, because the Group knew very well that asking me to do any of those things wouldn't be undergoing an authentic demonstration of courage. I had to overcome my fear of heights or give up. Some of them had already been through quite an ordeal passing their tests, like Pepe, who had to ride his bicycle on the street without slowing down at the corners, with his heart in his throat, risking being run over by a car or truck in the middle of the street; or Tono, who had to fight three older guys--all at the same time--and win; or Meme, who had lost a tooth trying to prove he could run on top of a wall without losing his balance; or Lolo, who had to eat a dozen carob beans, one right after the other, without drinking water, reciting in between each one some tongue twisters the Group had composed especially for him, like the one that went Teucer-transported-from-Troy-three-hundred-thirty-three-thousand-thirty-three-Trojan-togs.... If all of them had passed their tests, why the hell was I going to let myself be intimidated at the last minute?
On the way to the mango tree, the Group split into teams of two so as not to arouse police suspicion or general panic. Each team kept a reasonable distance from each other. Manolito had his slingshot with him and as soon as we were out of San Carlos and into the streets lined with poinciana trees near the Capitol, he began shooting with pleasure and determination at the birds he saw, crying out to himself, as if to savor the shot more, yeah, I almost gotcha, almost gotcha. With him was Tono, who was happily destroying the branches of bushes he found along the way, knocking over plants, and ripping off flowers that he later threw into the gutters. We passed by workers fixing up houses, whitewashing walls or untiringly removing the hardened, useless peeling paint on the walls; gardeners determined to trim the bride's tears or prune the trees perfectly; large, old houses that looked like abandoned mansions, buried in foliage, almost destroyed by time, as if no one lived inside; houses partially hidden by high gates, or fences thick with vines. Every once in a while, we would come across a purebred dog that would bark itself hoarse behind the bars of some gate, and Manolito would make it growl throwing stones at its wet, shiny snout. Pepe was unfortunate enough not to bring his bicycle and this annoyed him to the point of vexation, since he had on the shorts he wore whenever he went bike riding (this was supposed to console him), and didn't tire of knocking Lolo's cap off; Lolo would mutter unintelligible things and put his fist up to Pepe's face, making death threats while Meme cracked up. I was behind them, tangled up in my thoughts, trying to prepare myself mentally, gathering strength for the test.
As we walked on and approached the selected site, the guys were feeling freer, the houses were further apart, there were more trees, and we could more keenly smell the freshly wet grass, content in the sunshine. Lolo had to fillip Pepe on the head a few times, who kept on knocking his cap off, and said to him, if you k-k-k-k-keep on f-f-f-f-fu-c-c-c-c-cking with me, I'm g-g-g-g-gonna c-c-c-c-club ya, y-y-y-y-ya hear me, but Pepe would pay him no mind and would knock it off again with amazing confidence. I felt a genuine curiosity in front of some houses and fell behind a bit as I stopped to think about all the luxuries that must have been inside them. I also thought about how pleasurable it would have been to lie down in the sun at the foot of a coconut palm in August, with a lemonade in one hand, sunglasses to offset the intense glare, far from the noise of the cars and from the filth on the street corners, watching the dogs play in a large grass-covered yard. Manolito snapped me out of my daydream with a yell from far off to which I responded quickly.
We finally arrived at our destination. The tree was waiting in silence, although the wind blew through the branches and the leaves made a slight, rhythmic sound. There it was, impassive, serene, the powerful mango tree that had resisted the pounding of the furious, vengeful winds every hurricane season, year after year, and had witnessed, according to Manolito (although maybe this wasn't anything more than his fabrication because a mango tree can't survive that long), the assassination of a president of the republic and numerous battles before the U.S. occupation of 1916. Everybody stood around the tree except for Pepe and me. He was helping by giving me a leg-up. We failed on the first two attempts because I couldn't grab hold of the branch I had to climb onto. Twice I fell to the ground and set about my task again. Pepe lost patience and began yelling this fuck up won't go up, fuck I'll bet on it, he won't. We kept on trying unsuccessfully; then Lolo came along and he too formed part of the human bridge. Just when they least expected it, I was able to grab the branch tight, and then Pepe grabbed one leg and Lolo the other and they both gave me the one last push I needed. I was suspended in midair for a few seconds, swaying back and forth, while I heard their voices and the uproar, their come on fool... go on, fuck... hold on, you fuck... hold on for your life... hold on... hooooold ooon.
I began climbing slowly, making sure not to get worn out before reaching the top, because then I wouldn't have any strength to climb down gracefully without having to be ashamed of my weakness. I had already started sweating, although it wasn't very hot. In fact, it was cool, and that helped. Climbing a mango tree is really something extraordinary, another world where you dream in green. The branches of the tree are thick, and the bark is rough; its network of branches is dense, and if it's the season to harvest the fruit, with each step you come across a bunch of green mangoes and red mangoes and gold mangoes and mangoes with their skins broken by palmchats and woodpeckers and even mango blossoms that would never develop. That's why I made believe my climb was like ascending into the unknown tropics. I couldn't stop until I reached the top, and with each step up, I noticed the branches got thinner and more fragile. I had left the sturdier ones down below, where the Group's murmuring had died out, but I didn't dare look down for fear of getting dizzy. The truth was I couldn't look down, not even for an instant; if I didn't, I could reach the necessary height, grab my mangoes, and climb down without looking too much. I held on to a branch thinking it would hold me and I almost fell out of the tree. I was already about eight meters up. I heard a confused uproar, but I saw nothing because I was concentrating on not falling. Before falling, I'd rather die right then and there and have them give my mother the news. But to go down in defeat was not acceptable. I had to give it my best shot.
Total silence followed the uproar, broken only by the sound of vehicles passing by and leaving the same total silence as before. Little by little, I regained control of the situation and used my legs to hold on to a nearby branch. With great difficulty, I climbed from one branch to another, carefully, slowly, making sure to keep my balance. Every once in a while, I thought I was going to fall. I felt the sun beating down on my face, a shaft of sunlight that filtered through the treetop. The sunlight reflected off the green leaves and, all at once, I felt an intense redbluevioletyellowwhite that blinded me and burned my face. I gained control. I only had a few more feet to go, and there were the golden mangoes, the only ones that are completely golden, because the gangs that attack this part of the city from the beginning of summer don't let the ones on the lower branches ripen, these lots where mangoes and star apples and medlars and Spanish limes abound, the favorite fruit of any real poacher. Climbing became more and more difficult because of the risk of a sudden fall. At age twelve I weighed seventy pounds and the new branches weren't likely to withstand such a burden. I didn't think about it; I only had another foot to go and I would have a bunch of golden mangoes in my hands. I was thinking about the looks on the Group's faces when I climbed down without a scratch and with my mangoes: Manolito with an expression of dissatisfaction that was nothing but his way of saying we wanted to give you a hard time, but you had to have it your own way, you coward; Pepe offering to lend me his bicycle on Sundays; Lolo not knowing what to say but expressing peace of mind because he understood my agony was over; and Tono and Meme, greedily eyeing the few precious mangoes realizing they weren't going to pig out as they had wanted because there were so few mangoes. I got hold of the mangoes. I picked them off carefully. There were seven, seven golden mangoes. At last, I had my prize. They were big mangoes, the so-called juicy type, which burn your mouth and leave it sweet-smelling after eating them, but give indescribable pleasure. They're mangoes with a tough, very resinous skin, with a strong turpentine smell, and abundant pulp, more abundant than in any other variety: neither the Bani mangoes, nor the "tablita" mangoes, nor the warrior mangoes, nor the she-mangoes surpass the juicy ones in the purity of the juice or the fragrance. With my prize in one hand, I began my laborious descent. Through the openings in the canopy, I could see all the flowerpots on the balconies of the nearest houses; on the roofs of nearby buildings, girls hanging up clothes to dry, black girls dressed in white, and shiny girls humming popular songs. To the south, I could see the greenbluewhite ocean that ended in a perfectly straight line and whose colors merged with a paler blue that slowly grew darker.
In order to see the distance I had yet to go, and without considering the consequences, I looked down. Right then and there, my head went empty. I felt faint, a jolt that pulled me down forcefully. I thought I was going to fall and go tumbling down without recourse. I wanted to scream like crazy, but didn't. It would have been stupid of me and so I restrained myself. I went down quickly, like a puppet, I don't know how many inches, without letting go of my prize. I hit my knee and turned an ankle, but I was able to get a tight grip on a branch, and held on with all my strength. I held on there for a few seconds, still feeling panicky and breathing heavily. The Group told me to come down at once, and that's what I did. When I reached the ground, I had already thrown the bunch to one of them who eagerly caught it. Everyone came toward me and no one said anything, but I knew that I had passed the test and that I could now consider myself a member of the Group. Then we began throwing rocks at the tree and dozens of juicy mangoes fell to the ground. That completed the ceremony.
We didn't go back the same way we had come. We went down Avenida George Washington, eating the juicy mangoes, throwing peels onto the street and sticking our tongues out at the curious passers-by in their fast cars and at the pedestrians who stared at us in startled surprise. When we finished eating, we simply wiped our hands on the seats of our pants and stopped to look at the ocean near Guibia Beach. The sea was lovely there, calmer and quiet. It was a relief for me because my leg had begun to hurt and my ankle to swell. We didn't say a word for I don't know how long, looking at some naked kids playing close to the shore, among the waves that came to die, unwillingly, on the sand. We looked at Manolito who wouldn't stop throwing rocks into the water, while everyone focused on the spot where the rocks hit. Relishing my victory, I felt they didn't say anything because it was tough for them to admit that I had passed the test.
This is my second translation of a story by the Dominican author Jose Alcantara Almanzar published in Delos, the other one, "Enigma," having appeared in vol. 34.1. "Enigma" proved challenging because not only are there passages that use both the first person and the third person, but the third person is sometimes the voice of the protagonist describing her husband, and at other times that of an omniscient narrator. The end result is that the narrative voice of the wife, which sometimes speaks very colloquially, at other times is more poetic. It is also worth noting the absence of quotation marks or separate lines for the dialogue in this story. The absence of these conventions contributes to the creation of an atmosphere of alienation.
I offer here some reflections on the particular experience of translating "La prueba." Despite the urban setting, "The Test" is filled with vivid descriptions of tropical flora and fauna. It was especially this, and the creative, playful use of youthful language, which posed several problems for me as a translator.
For the tongue twister in "La prueba," the challenge came from finding a semiological equivalent that would preserve the alliteration. I decided it would do justice to the original if I kept the initial sounds of "trajo" and "traje" and did not deviate too much from the original meaning. "Trajo" literally means "brought" and I settled this with "transported." "Traje" means "dress" and I resolved it with "togs." I also wanted to find the name of a figure associated with Troy and the Trojan War, but loosely so, for my rendering of "Tancredo." The Illustrated Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology was a helpful resource in this regard. Thus, I composed a tongue twister rhyming in "t" the meaning of which is not far removed from the original. The result was my rendering of "Tancredo-trajo-de-Troya-trescientos-treinta-y-tres-mil-trescientos-treinta-y-tres-trajes-troyanos..." (El sabor, 219) as "Teucer-transported-from-Troy-three-hundred-thirty-three-thousand-thirty-three-Trojan-togs...."
When it came to the plant names, my strategy for handling them had to be decided on a case-by-case basis. According to Tropical Plants of the World, "coralillo" referred to two distinct plants. I ascertained that the "coralillo" referred to in "La prueba" is Antigonon leptopus because "the plant needs to be cut regularly to control it." (1) The text referring to it in "La prueba" reads, "jardineros empenados en dejar un acabado perfecto en el corte de los coralillos o en la podada de los arboles" (El sabor, 219-20) [gardeners bent on leaving a perfect finish in the cut of the bride's tears or in the pruning of the trees]. Among the several possibilities for the English name, I chose the one used for the main entry.
Also in "The Test," "limoncillo" could not be found in any dictionary. From growing up with Dominican Spanish and having lived in Puerto Rico, I knew that the Puerto Rican equivalent is "quenepa." In The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, I found "Spanish lime," which I knew from having lived in Key West for two years. The NSOED also gives "guinep," which is used in the English-speaking West Indies. I settled on "Spanish lime" because I think it will be more readily recognizable to readers in the United States. Were I a translator in the Anglophone Caribbean, I probably would have chosen a local equivalent from among the latter and "genip," "ginep," and "kinep," all of which are also listed in the NSOED.
For the names of the mangoes in "La prueba," again, these had to be decided according to the specific case, although I did translate most of them. The Spanish names are descriptive, for the most part, and indigenous to the Dominican Republic. Although the prevailing scientific and culinary literature leaves the names for varieties of fruit in the local languages, (2) I decided on descriptive or evocative translations such as "warrior mangoes," and "she-mangoes," instead of trying to find equivalent names for the mango types in English or leaving them in the source language. With "banilejos," I decided on "Bani mangoes," naming them after the city whose name they evoke. I decided to leave "tablita" in Spanish because I could not find a seamless English equivalent. "Little-board" seemed too literal and clunky. This is one case where the local language for the variety of fruit prevailed.
Lastly, in my translation of "La prueba" I replaced the name "July" with "Julie." Since this is a girl's name, I did not want the pronunciation of the name to echo that of the month in English. "Julie" sounds closer to the way "July" was intended to be pronounced by the author in Spanish.
Translated from Spanish by Luis Guzman Valerio
Jose Alcantara Almanzar, "La prueba," in El sabor de lo prohibido: antologia personal de cuentos (Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993).
(1) Jens G. Rohwer, Tropical Plants of the World (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2002), 200.
(2) For examples of how the names of varieties of mangoes are used in culinary and botanical works, I referenced: Re Litz, ed., "The Mango: Botany, Production, and Uses," Biology Digest (1997): 587; Julia F. Morton, Fruits of Warm Climates, ed. Curtis F. Dowling, Jr. (Miami: Julia F. Morton, 1987), 221-38; Wilson Popenoe, Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits (New York: Hafner Press, 1948), 132-45; Christian Teubner et al., Das grosse Buch der Exoten Obst aus den Tropen und Subtropen (Fussen [Germany]: Teubner Edition, 1990), 21-27. It would have been in keeping with conventional usage not to translate the names for the varieties of mangoes, had this been a scientific or culinary translation.