Being of a solitary disposition, I have ventured alone in my small boat to the most distant shores, but I had never before set foot on such a barren island. At the far ends of the yellow line of sand, the rocks appeared to have been rent asunder, as if by axes, and from the depths of the forest emerged raucous cries. The beach was littered with bitten-off fish cadavers, their crushed backbones the sole vestige of any former life. The dense canopy of trees cut off the skyline; but on looking up, I could make out spidersí webs that hung from the branches and mesmerizing eyes, perhaps those of birds or bats, that returned my stare fixedly.
As opposed to the colony of seagulls that had flown over my boat, looking in vain for scraps of food, I noticed one, far apart from the others, that lurched along the sand. Its plumage resplendent with a velvety sheen, I acknowledged that I had never before seen such a specimen. But, on closer inspection, I observed that this outlier, with one of its legs missing, fell far short of perfection.
Noting that a path led to the forest, I concluded that there must surely be people living nearby, and not white colonizers who had arrived from Europe, but no doubt autochthonous people with their own curious practices and customs.
I walked, weighed down by my rucksack, for more than an hour. The low-lying vegetation, running riot across the track, scratched my legs, but I finally arrived at a forest clearing. There before me lay an altar bedecked with wooden carvings of birds, wild beasts and a man-like figure, perhaps a local deity, his back wrapped in a cloak made from an animal skin, and with one leg missing.
More intrigued than ever by what I had seen, I could hardly wait to happen upon the island's main settlement.
On arriving there, I noted that the huts, makeshift in nature, had been cobbled together from straw, mud and wooden posts. The men, short but well-built, behaved as if they were well-disposed to me. But I did not understand a single word that was said, as they all spoke at once, and with the women uttering a stream of high-pitched gibberish. However, I discerned that while my arrival had prompted a general surprise, the voices that hailed me were welcoming.
Touching me, as if to reassure themselves that I was human, the islanders regaled me with fruit and water before offering me a hut with my own straw bed. I elected to spend a night there, or even two, the better to get to know these strangers. After all, this was the mainspring of my voyages: to see the world beyond the safety of my home, and the motley characters that peopled it.
Assailed by the aroma of wild flowers, I perceived not only that the leaves were gigantic and succulent, but that the grass grew unhindered in all parts, and even in my hut.
When the natives took me to a square and looked at me in silence, I surmised that it was the cue for me to speak.
They clearly did not understand any of my gist, but applauded me nonetheless. I could only imagine that my voice, more melodious than their own strident strains, was pleasing to them.
I felt sheepish, as if I were speaking to myself, and so I decided to break into song. The islanders listened to me receptively and, although they would occasionally exclaim something or other and burst into gales of laughter, nothing appeared to be amiss.
Some animals loitered among us: a pig, a creature that might well have been a cat although it was larger than any feline found in the city, and a cub, but I was at a loss to know if it was a tiger cub or the offspring of another wild species.
It did not prove difficult to sleep on the straw bed but after a few hours I was awakened by a noise, metallic and insistent, coming from nearby. Fumbling for my lighter, I saw that mammoth red ants ran all over the ground, carrying weeds, pieces of wood and leaves larger than their own bodies, while yet others devoured the biscuits they had found in my rucksack.
That morning, on leaving the hut, I found that a group of men was waiting for me. They touched my shoulder gently to make me understand that I was expected to go with them, leading me to a hinterland beyond the village where sown fields and fruit trees abounded.
Some of the men stretched their arms towards the forest, imitating the sound of roaring, while others, clutching their hands like claws, hit the air. The danger lurking nearby became all too apparent when the forest fauna, as if infuriated by the menís feeble parody, unleashed their feral clamor.
Returning to the settlement, I beheld a man, different from all of the others, larger in stature and with more refined features that were not entirely concealed by his thick white beard and the tangled mop of hair that covered part of his face. I could see that a large tiger skin hung from his back.
A plague of elderly viragos, sporting the same hideous appearance as all the beldams I had come across in the hamlet, surrounded the man, touching at will each part of his anatomy.
At first I thought that he looked at me with pity, but I later assumed that his expression was solely one of displeasure on account of such an onslaught by these crones, intent on molesting him.
When their quarry stood up to enter his hut, I witnessed that he had only one leg.
I determined that it was time for me to return to the coast but my hosts, having other plans, sat me down before a tree-trunk laden with fruit and meat. I sensed that if I refused to eat, I would offend them. Drinking a pungent juice, I was overcome by a desire to sleep for part of the afternoon.
I could not make head nor tail of the sequence of events but, before I knew it, I found myself beleaguered by a mob of lascivious hags, gabbling discordantly as they stroked me all over. I wondered if these were the selfsame women who had beset the man I had seen earlier that morning.
I could barely summon the strength to reject their advances, notwithstanding the disgust that they engendered, as one slattern after another drooled over me, taking hold of my manhood, by now erect only because of an ointment that was used, and pressing it into service until each of them was sated. Mounting my loins, one of the vixens laughed jubilantly, opening wide her toothless mouth.
Exhausted, I slept for not only the rest of the afternoon, but the whole night. I was besieged by nightmares, phantasmagoric as all dreams are, but on emerging from my slumber I recalled the withered harpies, the din that emanated from the forest, and the one-legged seagull that I had seen on the shore.
I got up, having resolved to return to my boat, even if to get there I had to use violence against the islanders.
It was certainly heedless on my part not to have brought any weapon with me. I can hold my own if I have to join battle with an adversary, but on leaving the hut I realized that I was outnumbered, finding myself confronted not only by all of the men, but also the harridans who had violated my dignity the day before.
In unison, they shouted exultantly. I stretched out my arms, to bid them adieu, but they gazed at me proprietorially, as if I were too precious to them for them ever to let me go.
I did all that I could to disengage myself, but the crowd, beaming knowing smiles as if they were about to bestow a surprise upon me, prevented me from inching forward.
And it was not long before their farewell gift was proffered to me: a magnificent tiger skin that they placed on my shoulders.
I expressed my thanks, that were met with a general hubbub of approval, before the islanders led me down the path towards the beach.
I was happy as I crossed the forest, returning as I was to my boat, to commune once again with the ocean, to behold each night with its infinite array of stars, and I was taking with me the tiger skin, a just reward for my preternatural restraint when set upon by the phalanx of hoary termagants.
The natives accompanied me, all the while singing, if I could with such a term exalt their grating chorus.
Every few steps, the old shrews pinched one of my arms, then one of my legs, and my buttocks. As one or other of them squeezed my unresponsive member, as if it were a trophy, I told myself that they could do as they wished, as all I cared about was to return once and for all to my boat.
We stopped in the forest clearing with its altar adorned with wooden carvings of birds, wild animals and a man-like deity perched on his only leg. Perhaps my retinue was about to dedicate a prayer to me to speed me on my way. I was led up to the altar.
I simply did not know what I was expected to do. Some of the men made me lift one of my legs.
An axe lay on the altar.
Read Peter Robertson's translation of Gustavo Bossert's story, "HOTEL"
The Power of Prose