“In August the Revival tent went about half a mile from Aunt Ruth’s house on the other side of white horse road. Some evenings while Travis and Ruth sat and talked quietly, I would walk up there on my own to sit outside and listen. The preacher was a shouter. He’d rave and threaten, and it didn’t seem he was ever going to get to the invocation. I sat in the dark, trying not to think about anything, specially not about Daddy Glen or Mama or how much of an exile I was beginning to feel. I kept thinking I saw my Uncle Earle in the men who stood near the highway sharing a bottle in a paper sack, black-headed men with blasted, rough-hewn faces. Was it hatred or sorrow that made them look like that, their necks so stiff and their eyes so cold?
Did I look like that?
Would I look like that when I grew up?
I remembered Aunt Alma putting her big hands over my ears and turning my face to catch the light, saying, “Just as well you smart; you an’t never gonna be a beauty”.
At least I wasn’t as ugly as Cousin Mary-May, I had told Reese, and been immediately ashamed. Mary-May was the most famous ugly woman in Greenville County, with a wide, flat face, a bent nose, tiny eyes, almost no hair, and just three teeth left in her mouth. Still, he was good-natured and always volunteered to be the witch in the Salvation Army’s Halloween Horror House. Her face hadn’t made her soul ugly. If I kept worrying about not being a beauty, I’d probably ruin myself. Mama was always saying people could see your soul in your face, could see your hatefulness and lack of charity. With all the hatefulness I was trying to hide, it was a wonder I wasn’t uglier than a toad in mud season.
The singing started. I leaned forward on the balls of my feet and hugged my knees, humming. Revivals are funny. People get pretty enthusiastic, but they sometimes forget just which hymn it is they’re singing. I grinned at the sound of mumbled unintelligible song, watching the mean near the road punch each other lightly and curse in a friendly fashion.
You son of a bitch.
The preacher said something I didn’t understand. There was a moment of silence, and then a pure tenor voice rose up into the night sky. The spit soured in my mouth. They had a real singer in there, a real gospel choir.
Swing low, sweet chariot… coming for to carry me home… swing low, sweet chariot… coming for to carry me home.
The night seemed to wrap all around me like a blanket. MY insides felt as if they had melted, and I could taste the wind in my mouth. The sweet gospel music poured through me in a piercing young boy’s voice, and made all my nastiness, all my jealousy and hatred, swell in my heart. I remembered Aunt Ruth’s fingers fluttering birdlike in front of her face, Uncle Earle’s flushed cheeks and lank black hair as they’d cried together on the porch, Mama’s pinched, worried face and Daddy Glen’s cold, angry eyes. The world was too big for me, the music too strong. I knew, I knew I was the most disgusting person on earth. I didn’t deserve to live another day. I started hiccuping and crying.
“I’m sorry. Jesus, I’m sorry.”
How could I live with myself? How could God stand me? Was this why Jesus wouldn’t speak to my heart? The music washed over me… Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. The music was a river trying to wash me clean. I sobbed and dug my heels into the dirt, drunk on grief and that pure, pure voice soaring above the choir. Aunt Alma’s swore all gospel singers were drunks, but right then it didn’t matter to me. If it was whiskey backstage or tongue-kissing in the dressing-room, whatever it took to make that juice was necessary, was fine. I wiped my eyes and swore out loud. Get that boy another bottle, I wanted to yell. Find that girl a hardheaded husband. But goddam, keep them singing that music. Lord, make me drunk on that music.
I rocked back and forth, grinding my heels into the red dirt, my fists into my stomach, crooning into the dark night and the reflected glow from the tent. I cried until I was dry, and then I laughed. I put my head back and laughed until my voice was hoarse and the damp fog came to cover the lights from the revival. If Aunt Ruth had come out to me then, I would have apologized for everything, for living and not loving her enough to save her from the cancer that was eating her alive. I didn’t know. For something, surely, I would have had something to apologize for, for being young and healthy and sitting there full of music. That was what gospel was meant to do -make you hate and love yourself at the same time, make you ashamed and glorified. It worked on me. It absolutely worked on me.”
Bastard out of Carolina
Penguin, 1992 (publicado en España con el título de Bastarda, Alfaguara, 2000)
**** Este es uno de los mejores libros que he leído en toda mi vida. Pasa de inmediato al Top 20 absoluto. No se lo puedo recomendar lo suficiente. Dedicaré el resto de mi existencia a que se reedite en nuestro país.