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7th July 1996

And speaking of great gods, now Old Antonio appears, accompanied by the first gods, those who gave birth to the world. Always smoking, walking, talking from time to time, Old Antonio sits down with me tonight, as he sat down with me one night ten years ago. With Old Antonio, all the great-hearted, brown-blooded men and women sit down with me too. They sit with me and finally, they find a voice to talk about their struggle. To tell us about it, they say, not to impose on us, not to force us, not to absorb us. To tell us about the struggle and that night ten years ago, when the rain and cold darkness were like a wall and roof. The night when Old Antonio walked with me through the mud, machete in hand.

Did I say Old Antonio walked with me? Well, if I did, I lied. He did not walk with me. I walked behind him.

That was not how we began our walk that night. First, we got lost. Old Antonio had invited me to hunt deer and we did, but we did not catch any. When we realised that, we were already in the middle of the jungle, under the rain, surrounded by night.

'We are lost,' I said uselessly.

'Well, yes,' said Old Antonio, who did not seem very worried about it, because at once he used one hand to shelter his match-flame and, with the other, lit his cigarette.

'We must find the way back,' I heard myself saying, and added, 'I've got a compass,' as if I were saying, 'I've got transport should you want a lift.' 'Well, yes,' said Old Antonio again, handing me the initiative and indicating his willingness to follow me. I accepted the challenge and declared myself ready to show off the guerrilla expertise I had gained from two years in the mountain. I retired under a tree and took out map, altimeter and compass. Speaking in a loud voice, but really boasting to Old Antonio, I described heights above sea level, topographical features, barometric pressure, degrees and minutes, landmarks etc, what we military types call 'terrestrial navigation'. Old Antonio said nothing. He stayed beside me, not moving. I suppose he was listening because he did not stop smoking. After a bit more technical and scientific showing off, I stood up, and compass in hand, pointed decisively towards a corner of the night and began walking in that direction:

'It's that way.' I hoped Old Antonio would repeat his 'Well, yes', but Old Antonio said nothing. He picked up his rifle, his bag and his machete and set out behind me. We walked a good while, without getting anywhere we recognised. I felt ashamed at the failure of my modern technology and did not want to turn round and see Old Antonio following me in silence. After a time, we came to a hill of sheer stone, like a smooth wall barring our way. The last fragments of my pride shattered when I said out loud: 'What now?'

Up till then Old Antonio had not spoken. First he coughed a little and spat out a few shreds of tobacco. Then I heard him say behind me: 'When you don't know what is in front of you, it helps a lot to look back.'

I took him literally and turned round, not to see the direction from which we had come, but to glance with a mixture of shame, pleading and distress at Old Antonio. Old Antonio said nothing. He looked at me and understood. He took out his machete, and clearing a path through the scrub, he made off in another direction.

'Is it this way?' I asked feebly.

'Well, yes,' said Old Antonio, cutting back lianas and damp pieces of the night. Within a few minutes we were back on the main path and lightning flashes revealed the silhouette of Old Antonio's village. Wet and tired, I arrived at Old Antonio's hut. Doņa Juanita set about making us coffee and we drew near the fire.

Old Antonio took off his wet shirt and put it to dry beside the lamp. Then he sat down on the floor, in a corner, and offered me a little stool. I resisted at first, partly because I did not want to move away from the fire, and partly because I still felt ashamed of my useless boasting with map, compass and altimeter. Eventually, I sat down. We both began to smoke. I broke the silence and asked him how he had found the way back.

'I didn't find it,' answered Old Antonio. 'It wasn't there. I didn't find it. I made it. You have to make it for yourself. By walking. You thought the road was already there somewhere and your gadgets were going to tell us where it was. But no. And then you thought I knew where the road was and you followed me. But no. I didn't know where the road was. We had to make the road together. And that is what we did. That's how we got where we wanted to be. We made the road. It wasn't there.'

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