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The salt desert covers the horizon. The scattered animals gasp in the void. The sun burns the squalid faces of the cattle and gathers the children in the shadows of the few trees.

The train pulls slowly into the station at Añatuya. It is not on time. Few people get off. One of them is Roberto Arlt. He wears loose clothing, has a cigarette in his hand, and a loose-leaf notebook. He still does not know what he is going to write for El Mundo. But he already senses the sharp heat of poverty in his blue eyes.

He descends the stairs and treads, in silence, the white earth. The heat envelopes him forcefully, and hunger cries out from the shadows of the station. Arlt looks at the desert and remembers, absently, the dry soil of Africa.

After touring the farms, he realizes that water is a faint mirage. The cattle, the children, the gaze of the children, the trees: all are a sullen echo of the drought.

Those waiting for him take him to the hotel. Even on the first night Arlt does not sleep soundly. A dagger wakes him: the desperation of the malnourished people.

The following day a car takes him through the sparse Santiago bush. The stress and pain in his eyes dull his gaze. The sun stubbornly burns the happiness of the people. Arlt, gets out of the car, tirelessly. He speaks with schoolteachers, with old people, with politicians, with the sick.

When the twilight is lurking they offer to take him back to the hotel. But Arlt says no. He wants to sleep close to the hunger, under the stars. That night he sleeps in a homestead, amid the cow-dung, on the spiny salt of the bush.

This text is an excerpt from the book «El Instante,» Ed. Raíz de dos, 2011 Argentina 

Translated by: John Caffrey

Text in Spanish: Añatuya

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