Gregorio López y Fuentes
The house – the only one in the whole valley – was up on one of those flattened hills which, like rudimentary pyramids, had been left by a few tribes as they continued on their pilgrimages… amid the cornstalks, the beans with their purple flowers, an unmistakable presage of a good harvest.
The only thing the land needed was some rain, at least one strong downpour, the kind that leaves puddles among the furrows. Doubting that it would rain would be the same as disbelieving in the experience of those who, by tradition, determined the specific day of the year on which the seeds were to be sown.
The whole morning, Lencho, who knew the land well, and adhered with dogged belief to the old ways, had done nothing more than stare at the sky in the direction of the northeast.
“Now the rain really is on its way, woman.”
And the woman, who was preparing the midday meal, answered:
The bigger children were clearing the weeds out of the crops, while the smaller ones were scampering around near the house, until the woman shouted out to all of them:
“Come in and get it!”
It was during the meal when, just as Lencho had predicted, fat drops of rain began to fall. Great mountains of clouds rolled in from the northeast. The air smelt of fresh water.
“Just imagine, lads,” exclaimed the man while he revelled in the joy of getting drenched, using the excuse of picking up some belongings left on a stone wall outside, “that they’re not drops of rain that are falling; they’re new coins. The big drops are ten peso coins and the little ones are five…”
And he ran his eyes with satisfaction over the field ready to ripen, adorned with the leafy rows of beans, all sheathed now in the transparent curtain of rain. But suddenly, a strong wind began to blow and amid the drops of rain began to fall hailstones the size of acorns. The hailstones really did look like newly minted silver coins. The kids, out in the rain, scampered around and picked up the biggest of the frozen pearls.
“This is bad, very bad,” exclaimed the man. “Hopefully it’ll pass soon…”
It didn’t pass soon. For an hour, the hail pelted the house, the garden, the hillside, the cornfield and the whole valley. The ground looked as white as a salt mine. The trees were stripped of their leaves. The corn was torn to shreds.
The beans left without a flower. And Lencho, with a troubled heart.
When the storm had passed, standing amid the furrows, he told his children:
“A cloud of locusts would have left more behind… The hail hasn’t left a thing. Not a single cornstalk will give us a cob, not a single bean plant will give us a pod…”
It was a night of weeping and wailing:
“All our work, wasted!”
“And nobody to turn to!”
“We’ll go hungry this year…”
But in the very depths of the souls of those who lived in that solitary house in the middle of the valley, there was one hope: that God would come to their aid.
“Don’t whip yourself over it too much, as bad as it is. Remember that nobody every dies of hunger!”
“That’s what they say: nobody every dies of hunger…”
And as dawn approached, Lencho thought a lot about what he had seen in the town church on Sundays: a triangle, and inside the triangle an eye, an eye that looked huge, an eye which, he had been told, sees all, even what lies in the bottom of our hearts.
Lencho was a rough man, and he himself always said that life in the country dulls the senses, but he wasn’t such a brute that he didn’t know how to write. And when daylight came, and taking advantage of the fact that it was a Sunday, having convinced himself that there really is someone who looks out for us all, he began writing a letter that he himself would take into town to deliver to the post office.
It was no less than a letter to God.
“God,” he wrote, “if you don’t help me my family and I are going to go hungry this year. I need a hundred pesos to buy new seeds to sow and survive until the next harvest, because the hail…”
He wrote “To God” on the envelope, put the letter inside, and headed off to town, still with a worried heart. In the post office, he put a stamp on the letter and dropped it into the mailbox.
An employee at the post office, who was mailman, clerk and everything else, laughed out loud as he took the letter to his boss. He showed him only that the letter was addressed to God. Never in all his years as a mailman had he seen a letter addressed this way. The postmaster, a fat, affable man, also began to laugh, but shortly thereafter he drew his brows together and, as he tapped the letter on the table, remarked:
“Faith! Whoever wrote this letter has faith! Ah, to believe like he believes! To hope with the conviction that he has! To maintain a correspondence with God!”
And so as not to betray this treasure of faith revealed in a letter that could not be delivered, the postmaster came up with an idea: to answer the letter. But once he opened the letter, he realized that the answer would require something more than good will, ink and paper. Yet he did not let that sway him from his purpose: he called upon his employee to make a donation, put in a part of his own salary and asked several other people to make a small contribution “to a most worthy cause”.
He was unable to raise the hundred pesos that Lencho had asked for. He had to settle for sending the farmer what he had been able to collect, which was a little more than half. He put the money in an envelope addressed to Lencho, along with a sheet of paper that had but a single word by way of a signature: GOD.
The following Sunday, Lencho came to ask, a little earlier than usual, if a letter had come for him. It was the same mailman who delivered him the letter, while the postmaster, besieged by the joy of a man who has done a good deed, spied at him through the frosted glass of his office door.
Lencho showed not the slightest hint of surprise on seeing the money – so assured was he – but an expression of fury clouded his face when he counted it… God could not have made a mistake, nor could he have refused what he had asked of him!
At once, Lencho approached the window to ask for some paper and ink. He settled down to write at the table for customers, his forehead furrowing with the effort to put his ideas down on paper. When he’d finished, he went to ask for a stamp, which we moistened with his tongue and then fixed on the envelope with a punch of his fist.
As soon as the letter fell into the mailbox, the postmaster went out to collect it. It read:
Only sixty pesos of the money I asked you for reached my hands. Send me the rest, because I really need it; but don’t send it via the post office, because the employees there are a bunch of thieves.
Translated by Martin Boyd
Gregorio López y Fuentes (1897-1964) was a Mexican writer of novels, poetry, journalism and chronicles of the Mexican Revolution. He was a contemporary of the legendary Mexican novelists Mariano Azuela and Martín Luis Guzmán. He was born on a ranch in the Huasteca region of the state of Veracruz, and began writing at the age of fifteen, at the time of the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution, which became a recurring theme in many of his books. The name of the municipality in Veracruz where he was born has since been renamed Zontecomatlán de López y Fuentes in his honour. The story “A Letter to God” was first published in Mexico in 1940.