- Tribute to Gabriel Garcia Márquez, 1928 – 2014.
The closest thing to it – that firm-fingered salute – was the barely three year old John Kennedy Jr’s heart-stopper to the flag-draped coffin bearing the remains of his assassinated father, an honour that would imprison the imagination of America for years and build him a cult following larger than his iconic father’s.
But this salute, this four finger air slicer to the one in the bier, was not from fledgling carpals. Neither could it have come before the invention of the turbo engine. No. Not even Colonel Aureliano Buendia could have mustered the power to unleash a 180 degree tornado through the limited space between the right femur and right ear, and still manage to stop short of splitting that ear in a Kung-fu fury. Instead, arriving at the ear, the saluting set of fingers did a series of pendulumed swings before finally halting only a nano inch to it.
The Saluter must be a spirit to be able to carve out that kind of salute, the crowd agreed. And then they served arroz con pollo in a Colombian dish. But nobody could touch it until they served kola, also in a Colombian vase. Then Obando Bravo stepped up to pray the resident of the bier into eternity. It was in delicious Latin tenor, said to much applause, to the ignored protest of a small band of mirth-makers who shouted that prayers over kola could only be said in Igbo. But the Liberation theologian told the dissenters that he was not praying over the kola, but for the soul of the one in the bier to reproduce itself in a million maestros. The kola itself turned out a seven-lobe cracking short at perfection, igniting what many thought was a smile from the one couched in the bier. He lay there, dressed in Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevera fatigue. Cotton wool-defying ears, eyes like meteorites suspended in midflight. 24 karat moustache scouring the air for whiffs of vintage wine. He lay impervious to nectars and flowers hauled at him.
At last the kola was pieces-ed, and shared to the merrymakers. When the serving dish got to the Saluter, he remained still, in his salute pose. Like a cactus. ‘Have your kola, sir’. No movement. ‘Please sir’. No movement. The crowd joined in the plea: ‘Eat your kola, sir. You cannot honour the one in the bier if you shun the kola on the day of his last respects.’ No ice. So they buried their hero and went home to make more merry.
The next day those who had missed their flight arrived to write on the condolence book of the writer. The man was still there, hand still in acute-angled salute, like Stalin’s top brass. One week after, a young woman whose great grandfather had witnessed the 100 years of solitude came, with her flowers, to pray him into the embrace of the Lord. She met the saluter. On the same spot. Same pose.
One full year later, a crowd of revelers threw flowers shouting ‘Viva Gabo’, ‘Estimado amigo’. ‘Viva nuestro héroe’. The saluter was still there, but he had turned to an anthill. A bird flew through the space between his saluting hand and torso, bearing a twig.
More birds joined, bringing twigs and diverse flowers, all yellow. And a cacophony of raucous cries. For 99 years. On the 100th year, a team of researchers arrived. The landscape had been clothed in yellow floral vestments. There were no wreath layers. No women in long shawls intoning prayers. There was no anthill. In its place was now a concrete sculpture – a monument of unwavering salute to Gabo.