You are sitting outside watching the last beams of sun disappear behind the mountains when the news reaches you. The man who brings it expects nothing more of you than simple acknowledgement, yet curiosity brings you to the communal building where all are gathered. A woman has died today, and a vigil of silence is her gift from the village.
She is wrapped in a sheet to preserve her modesty. Her passing was nothing more than old age, you are told. You nod, take a seat near the door, and join the vigil.
As the opaque blanket of evenfall reaches Santa Rita, four candles are lit around her body and others are placed around the bench where she lays for the last time.
About eighty are seated in the circle, yet more flow into the room as the news continues to spread and others come to pay the respect of silence. Some begin to talk quietly amongst themselves, but disapproving looks from the others bring the room to stillness once more. A woman weeps and her daughter softly puts a hand on her arm.
The room is filled not with sadness, but with a reserved homage. You feel the energy of the people around you and suddenly realize that you’ve lost track of time.
The flames dance and the wax drips to the floor, pooling in uneven circles around each candle. The brother of the deceased sits next to you and thanks you for coming. You nod once again and accept the candy sweet he offers.
More minutes pass. More arrive to sit. More wax drips. A gust of wind through the window blows out a candle, but nobody moves to re-light it.
You have an idea.
You ask the brother if you could play your guitar for the woman. Antonia is her name.
He hesitates. You wait. He consents.
You nod in thanks, leave to retrieve your instrument, and return.
You sit on the bench next to the woman. An even more palpable hush fills the room. All eyes are on you.
Every move is measured. Every breath is noted. Every blink is a year of blindness. All eyes are on you.
You begin to play. All eyes are on you.
The first line comes out like a whisper, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone can hear. All eyes are on you.
I look at you all and see the love there that’s sleeping, while my guitar gently weeps. All eyes are on you.
The notes continue to come forth, from guitar and from throat. You sing in time with the flames. All eyes are on you.
The pluck of your fingers across the six strings, the reach for the final note, and the last stroke of the guitar fall to silence. All eyes are on you.
You wait for approval, but it doesn’t seem to come. You silently stand up, walk to a corner, and sit. The eyes return to the woman wrapped in white.
A second later, the first woman begins to cry.
Then another. Then another. Then another. Then all.
The tears fall as you sit in awe. Not a single word was understood, but literal comprehension was not necessary.
The faces turn to you once again, suddenly different. Appreciation. Approval. Acceptance.
They smile, and you smile back. Relief. Pride. Belonging.
You leave in silence, receiving nods and touches upon the arm from every person you pass. The cries of Santa Rita are swallowed into the blackness of the surrounding forest, gone almost as quickly as they came.