John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


Azalea of the Andes


Octavio Delarossa

e-mail: Octavio Delarossa











Azalea is a thirteen year-old Chilean girl who lives in the orphanage of a town called Chillan. She is completely blind. The year is 2003. It’s autumn in Chile. She loves reading in Braille. One night, she reads a strange book written by an unknown author, titled ‘The Legend Of The Andes.’ This book is going to change her life forever because the writer describes a place high up in the Andes where an old wise man lives, the only one that knows how to get to a mystical place called the chamber of diamonds.

The legend has it that whoever touches the diamonds will be filled with light. Azalea believes that if she touches the stones, she will be able to see― so she decides to find the old man. The book is very specific to where he lives. His hut is near the mist of the lost, on the creek that overlooks the Andean village of Los Pellines; a place located 60 miles east of Chillan town.

One morning she leaves the orphanage without telling anyone… Her quest to find the wise man has begun.

She knows that the chances for a blind girl to find him are almost next to none – that if she manages to cross one road! But she meets a boy. José. He’s is also thirteen, a poor boy, a beggar and a thief whose drunken parents send him into the street to get money so they can finance their vice. He decides to help her to get there after she tells him where she is going. But first, they must rescue his sister, Filomena, who is still in the house, living in terrible squalor and filth, her very life threatened by violent drunken sprees.

After they rescue her, they meet the most wonderful Doberman in the world. The dog is going to be their companion during most of the way…

Their journey is plagued by dangers, their lives transfigured by emotions, by teenage love, by deep feelings that would become the hallmark of a trip that is transformed into an incredible odyssey. For two days they struggle, for two days they risk their lives, but they manage to find the old man right up the creek of Los Pellines. He welcomes them and receives them in his hut. And after Azalea tells him why they are there, he decides to help her.

The real quest begins when the old man takes them beyond the mist of the lost, through the land of ice and fire and across the valley of thoughts. It’s a magical land where everything is possible, but also full of deadly dangers they must avoid.

They finally arrive at the place where the chamber is and Azalea touches the diamonds…

What happens next is unpredictable. Maybe, her sight is restored… Maybe not. Perhaps, many things that are not supposed to happen briefly become normal occurrences when the order of our relative reality is altered by something we could not possibly comprehend. Or perhaps the whole quest is just a dream, an illusion, a chimera― a daydream of a blind girl who is trying to find the light… Okay, I don’t want to tell you the ending yet. I want to keep you intrigued, don’t I?






Hello. My name is Azalea, I am thirteen years of age and I live in a far, far away country called Chile, which is at the very end of the world. At this very moment in time, I am sitting on my bed listening to the birds outside. They are roosting in the trees, getting ready to spend the night. It’s nice to hear them flying and rustling between the branches, ruffling their feathers, rowdily singing to the dying sun, getting ready for bed.

All this seems nice, peaceful – the perfect end for another day.

But it is not.


I am alone…

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got friends – they are here with me – and I have grownups that look after me, tenderly and devotedly. My loneliness is different because I feel alone inside. Yes, inside my mind. All day long I hear my own inner voice saying things, asking questions, teaching me stuff. I feel that the expansion where my thoughts wonder is infinite yet its impenetrable essence is in front of my eyes, permanently, unchangeable. It has trapped my mind throughout my entire life – and I have never been able to imagine what is out there, beyond the enclosure of my thoughts.

Within this universe, my loneliness is absolute.

I need to find somebody inside my mind, anybody – a friend. But although I have tried to find one for as long as I can remember, I have never been able to – even my prayers stay lingering within the mist of my solitude, fading, bouncing back unanswered, echoing my own inner voice.

So I have created an imaginary friend…


That’s right. You.

A bit too old for imaginary friends you might think…

In my case, I am not. You will see why in a minute.

I will not name you because I want you to represent all the teenagers of the world, all those boys and girls who, like me, are experiencing this immense loneliness within. Yes, I want to reach across that vast expanse and embrace you all, tell you of my feelings, my fears…

First, let me introduce you to my environment, to the world where I do exist, to the place where I ―

Oh, must tell you the date, so you have an idea of when this is happening. It’s Monday the 4th of April of the year 2003, autumn in Chile.

Bear with me, share my world, be with me – don’t ever leave me.


Vibrations travel through the air. I sense the waves before they reach the organs that control my awareness. Sound. It’s sound, I know. Sister Dolores is talking to me – she always does. She said that she’s coming in a minute. Oh, and I know exactly where she is – standing on the threshold, isn’t she? I can hear her breathing; I can almost hear her heartbeat… Wait – movement, the friction of her clothing against her body makes a distinctive sound as she moves towards my bed. Yes, she is coming to see me like she does every night – like she has done for the last thirteen years.

And when she sits on my bed and touches my face I will be sure then that it’s indeed night time.

Her steps get closer and closer, the smell of her perfume tickles my nostrils, the warmth of her breath touches my forehead. She kisses my left cheek, and then I feel her right hand caressing my hair…

She sits on my bed.

It is night time.

‘How are you, my darling Azalea? You knew I was in the room, didn’t you?’

Strange name, isn’t it? It’s the name of a flower, I know. Don’t laugh – it is a nice name because all flowers are nice! I have touched them and smelled their beautiful perfume. Sister says that they called me like that because my parents abandoned me in the front garden of the orphanage when I was two weeks old – on top of a patch of shrubbery azaleas! Sister has told me many times that I looked like a flower – like the garden itself had produced me. That’s why we gave you that name, she said, did she not?

Maybe, you might think that having been abandoned by my parents has affected me. No, I don’t think so. I have no notion of them. It’s – I mean, I don’t remember anything about them. Don’t even know who they are! Sister Dolores is my mum and dad… Anyway, answer her―

‘I am OK, sister Dolores. You used Lux soap again. I can smell it.’

Sister Dolores. I’ll describe her for you. Right, let me touch her face… There, I can feel her features: she is pretty, her cheekbones are soft and round, and her jawbones are prominent, as it’s her small chin, which – ah, she is not that young anymore; the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth tell me of her many years of hard work. And the bags below her eyes tell me about her worries and of her sleepless nights.

Touch this… touch that― Yes, you’ve guessed. I am blind.

I was born blind.

So how can I describe myself? Well, Sister says that my skin is dark, I am slim, my hair is fine, straight and it’s so long that reaches my hips. She told me that I am tall and – oh, mustn’t forget to tell you that she said my hair is raven black. You know what raven is but I only know blackness, for I have lived in it all my life. OK, this sounds terrible, but don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t. I have managed to perceive the world by drawing the shape of figures inside my mind. And thanks to sister Dolores, who taught me to read in Braille, I have read many different books and consider myself to be like any normal schoolgirl of my age. Good old sister, hey! Well, she had no choice but to teach me. There are no schools for the blind in Chile and nobody would adopt a blind girl because we need a lot of care. She is stuck with me!

What else – ah, my eyes: sister says that they are dark-brown. It doesn’t matter to me, really. I can’t imagine colours. I have tried but it’s something that is not possible to achieve for a blind person who has never seen the light. But you can see them. There – see? I am opening my eyes wide, very wide. Look into them. You know what dark-brown means.

Am I pretty? My fingertips have traced my face many times. My features are fine, bony; my cheekbones are angular, my eyes feel very large but my nose, compared to sister’s, is small. But that doesn’t answer the question, does it? Sister says I am very pretty. She means it, I know – she wouldn’t lie to me. I do believe her.

Sorry I keep saying ‘sister says this, sister said that,’ but she is my eyes, the source of all my knowledge―

‘I brought you a new book my darling…’

She is always bringing me books, is she not?

‘… I know you like to read in bed.’

An understatement of course. I love it.

‘―this one is very different. It’s called "The legend of the Andes." Mrs Quezada sent it from Santiago. She is such a good lady, you know. Without her charity trust for the blind in the capital, we could not have provided you with any of the books you have read… Anyway, she always sends a letter with a brief synopsis inside the parcel and after reading it, I realised that the story is about an old wise man of the Andes. Would you believe it if I tell you that they have made a book out of the well-known legend the people of this province have always known? Don’t understand why I didn’t tell you about this before… Indeed, my darling Azalea, legend has it that way up in the mountains, about 60 km east from our town, there is a place called Los Pellines. It’s a creek overlooking the river Chillan, not far from El Nevado volcano, from where one can see the entire valley in the west. Well, an old man lives up there in a little mud and straw hut. He’s a wise man, a magic man who has all the answers and has the power to heal the sick… But the thing is, my love, folk say that when the Andean mist withdraws from Los Pellines creek, nobody has been able to find the hut or the old man – it’s like he had never been there! Other days, however, he is there, feeding his chickens, milking his goats and working on his vegetable garden… Oh, oh, sorry my love, I shouldn’t tell you too much. I am spoiling your reading, am I not? You have a good read now. I am sure you’ll like it… Night-night my sweet Azalea. Come here… Kiss-kiss. See you in the morning.’

I feel her soft lips kissing my forehead.


Then she goes away. I can hear the sound of her steps clicking against the hard tiled floor. There – can you hear it? She’s going to the other girls’ beds… I am not alone here, you know. Sister brings books for them, too. The sound of her lips caressing their foreheads arrive to my ears every time she kisses them goodnight. Now she is at the threshold again and she is turning around to look at me, making sure I am all right. I wave to her – my fingers could almost touch the big smile on her face.

And when she definitely leaves the room, I can sense her absence, I can feel the emptiness she has left behind. Oh I wish she stayed with me all the time! But she has a family of her own – she goes home every night.

I stay here, for this is my home, my world – everything. This room is my universe; it’s where I am.

I am. My thoughts, my knowledge – they tell me that I am. Yes, the knowledge I have, and the awareness of my surroundings: these ‘feelings’ tell me that I am alive and I am travelling through the dark, dark cosmos of time. To where, though? And if – oh, don’t take any notice of these fancy thoughts. But my thoughts are the only reality I have. Sometimes I like to play with them, in fact, I play with them all the time!

Indeed, I play with the knowledge I have stored through the years. I really do. Sister taught me everything I know; she taught me about the difference that exists between things that I can feel – heat and cold for example, what produces them. And she gave me a good education: nature and biology for instance, a time when I learnt the difference that exists between boys and girls!

My learning expanded from every detail of this room I share with Soledad, Fresia and Matilde – who are also blind – to the streets of this town where we live, Chillan; from my infant days when sister’s was the only voice I heard, a voice that taught me our language, Spanish, to this day, a time when I can read about anything and imagine the whole world by tracing my own drawings in my mind… By the way, I’d better start reading this book.

But first, I would like to describe this room and this house to you, so I can share with you every corner of my home. As I said, it’s where I live – where I have always lived… Come, come with me, I am going to take you to meet my roommates – they are good girls. And don’t worry about me getting up when I am supposed to be in bed. I do it all the time – so do my friends! We are naughty, aren’t we? But, after all, we are barely teenagers. You do that, don’t you? We – anyway, follow me, I’ll show you around.

Show you around

Sounds funny coming from a blind person, doesn’t it? But you’d be surprised by what I know about my place!

Seven paces in a straight line away from my bed. There. I am standing next to Soledad’s bed. My bare feet feel the uneven plank of the wooden floor. It’s always been there, next to her bed.

She has washed her hair again. I can smell the shampoo she uses, Rexona. ‘Hi, Soledad,’ I say. ‘Are you reading?’

‘Hi, Azalea – uh, yeah, I am reading "The selfish giant" by Oscar Wilde… Aren’t you supposed to be in bed?’

You came to see me last night, didn’t you?’

‘Well… OK… ye – yeah. It was a brilliant pillow fight, wasn’t it?’

‘What do you mean? You never scored a hit, you blind bat!’

‘I did, you blind spot!’

I touch her face. She has a very small face; short hair – and she says she has brown hair. But how does she know about her hair? Sister told us you might think? No, Soledad saw once, she saw the light, her memory kept the last image of her own image on a mirror…

Saw once… I wonder what would it be like if I saw once. Would it be better – or worse? Don’t know, really. Actually, the other day I was thinking about that. Maybe it’s better to be born blind. If I never saw the light, I wouldn’t miss it, would I? Then again, if I saw the light once I could always treasure the – oh shut up! What am I talking about?

Soledad’s parents died in an accident only a year after she lost her sight. Without relatives that could look after her, she ended up in this orphanage… When did she come here? Two years ago. Yeah, that’s right. She is now twelve years of age.

‘Shall we have another pillow fight, Azalea?’

‘Not tonight… Maybe tomorrow when – ’

Too late. She has just whacked me with her pillow. I can smell the cotton fabric, the duck feathers and even Soledad’s shampoo! ‘You little devil! Wait until I get the other pillow…’

I jump on her bed. She is not there. I know. She sneakily stood up and guided by the sound of my voice, her blow scored an excellent hit! Right on my face… The cheeky little thing –

The pillow, where is the other pillow? There. Got it. Well – where is that girl? I am sitting on her bed now and I can’t hear her. Isn’t she clever? She stands stock-still so I can’t detect where she is. ‘Soledad – where are you? I am going to get you…’

Nothing. Not a sound.

A little rustle. I heard something – her nightgown touched the bed. That’s it; I know where she might be. Let me home in. Listen… listen… Got her! I just detected her breathing… She’s next to the right-hand-side of her bed. These are old-fashion beds, heavy, and all timber – eucalyptus timber. You know where she is? Exactly? Standing beside the bed’s wooden headrest. Fine, fine… I am climbing out of the bed, pretending I am giving up… I am sitting down on the mattress. Gosh, I can now feel her body warmth! Very well, here we go…

Bang! I lash out… Yes! Bull’s eye! What a strike!

‘Got you… you little pest!’

‘How, how – you got me again!’

The sound of Soledad dropping backwards, flat on her bed, arrives to my ears, as well as her laughter. It’s so easy to get her, believe me…

‘OK, see you later, Soledad. I am going to see Fresia now – and don’t throw your pillow at me, you silly girl.’

She doesn’t, so I walk to the left now, towards Fresia’s bed. Four paces. Right, I am there… ‘How are you, Fresia? Why aren’t you asleep yet, you naughty girl? I can hear your fingers sliding across the Braille.’

‘I am reading "The old man and the sea." It’s great!’

‘I read it. Hemingway is one of my favourites.’

I touch her face also. The warmth of her body hovers along my skin; her smell is different from Soledad’s, musky but pleasant. Her features are wider than mine. She has a round face and plump cheeks; her hair is long, thick and curly. Fresia is fourteen, the oldest here. And she saw once, too, but cannot remember the colour of her own hair. Sister says it’s black – a very easy thing to imagine for us, the blind!

‘What are you reading, Azalea?’ She touches my face also.

‘The legend of the Andes – I haven’t started yet, though.’

‘Because you are messing about and wondering around the room, aren’t you?’

Fresia is the strict one. She is very serious, really – and very religious. But she is a nice girl and always smiles when I touch her face. In fact, as I touch the bony structure of her face, her soft temples and smooth jawbone contract and distend at the moment she smiles. Good girl. She has also spent all of her life here, just like me.

‘… and haven’t you read Genesis yet, Azalea?’

Fresia is teaching us the Bible. In fact, she is in charge of us on that subject, preparing us for our First Communion next year. We have our own chapel you know. It is here, upstairs, in one of the largest rooms. You just go through the door, turn left and walk thirty paces and – hold on, you are not blind! Right, walk until you see the last door at the end of the corridor. That’s the chapel’s entrance. Open the door and you will see a very large window on the west wing… OK, how do I know there is a window there? Occasionally, when we assist to our evening RE sessions during a sunny day, we can feel the warmth of the sunset on the back of our neck and shoulders.

‘Haven’t started yet, Fresia. I was meant to read the first pages today but sister brought me this very good book.’

‘The Lord will not be pleased with you. His book is more important, isn’t it? We talked about that last Sunday, didn’t we?’

Should I tell her that I am not pleased with the Lord? Shall I ask her the question I wanted to ask her for a long time?

Why was I born blind? Why have we been condemned to live in the shadows? We never sinned, so why the punishment? I don’t understand – but never mind, don’t ask her anything; she might wonder herself sometimes. Besides, sister Dolores will get cross if I upset Fresia – and sister reads the Bible every single night!

What would you do? You wouldn’t know because you are not blind. How can I – oh just shut your eyes for a whole day and you’ll know how I feel!

Sorry, I am not making any sense. But I get angry when I think about God and all that stuff. I hope you do understand… If you don’t I wouldn’t blame you – all this is too complicated for a girl of my age.

By the way, I made you my imaginary friend but I don’t know your age. Let’s say you are thirteen – just like me.

How convenient, hey.

Have I created you a boy or a girl?

A boy, I think.

How convenient again!

Don’t laugh – I am thirteen, am I not? I have wondered about boys lately. It’s a feeling that has come from deep inside myself – it’s like I long to touch a boy’s face. But I have never met one! Sister has described them to me. Yeah, you’re right. It’s not the same.

Anyway, enough of boys – answer Fresia:

‘We did, Fresia. Yeah, you are right. I must make a start on Genesis. It’s important for our First Communion, isn’t it.’

There – I said it. Fresia must be smiling now. Let’s see. Well, I mean ‘see’ with my fingers. Right, I am touching her face again. Yes, she is smiling. Bless her. If Bible studying makes her happy I won’t argue with her. No, I won’t – ah, she is touching my face now; her fingertips trace my own smile. Good. That’s the main thing – we are happy now.

‘It’s time you went to bed now, Azalea. You are naughty.’

I am. Definitely.

‘Good night, Fresia, have nice dreams.’

‘Night-night, Azalea, be good.’


Some people say that, in our dreams, we build a backdrop of the faintest of lights.

Rubbish. I have never seen anything – not even a dot of light!

Matilde reckons that she sees colours in her dreams. We don’t believe her, though. She makes it up, I am sure. Anyway, I am going to her bed now. Maybe she is asleep.

Maybe she does see colours in her dreams. I hope so anyway.

Four paces to the left again. I am there. Matilde is snoring. I thought I could hear her before. Let me touch her face. Don’t worry, she won’t wake up – she sleeps fast, you know! I am caressing her hair now, which is very short and spiky. Sister had to shave her head, for she was ridden with lice the poor thing. Bless her.

Matilde is the baby one – she even smells like a baby, sweet and tender, because sister still rubs her skin with special infant oils. She is only eleven and she was also born blind. She was brought here only two months ago. Her parents died in an earthquake when she was three. Her only relative, an auntie, looked after her the best she could, but she was very poor and Matilde suffered a lot.

The social Services brought her to the orphanage after a tip-off from one of the neighbours. They found her in the most appalling conditions: dirty, covered in lice, full of blisters due to malnutrition. She is fine now, aren’t you baby Matilde? There, there – sleep my darling.

She told me the other day that she remembers that earthquake. Is that possible? Could you remember anything that happened to you when you were three-years-old? Mind you, I think I do recall some events at that early age, like when sister took me to the handcraft room for the first time – not to work but to get familiar with that area. And I remember when she took me to the town’s square, La plaza de armas. I was scared, wasn’t I? All that noise; the cars, people shouting, children crying… It was cold too.

Cold. A funny thing, hey. It was my first exposure to winter temperatures outside. Shivering, I held on to sister like a leach. She buttoned my tweed little coat, lowered my woolly hat to cover my ears and wrapped her own scarf around my neck. Yes, I do remember; and if I do, so could baby Matilde.

Sleep tight, Matilde. I hope you really dream of beautiful colours.

OK, I have a weak spot for her. So what?

She was born blind like me.

Time to go back to bed now. I turn around and if I walk in a straight line, I’ll reach my bed. I know this room well. I even know its dimensions: ten long paces by seven; it has a large window on the east side – to the right as I sit on my bed – and a wide door on the west side. Sister taught us that the sun rises in the east. She even takes us to the window when the sun is shining so we can feel its rays on our face. We call that window the sunny one.

Right, I am on my way back to my bed. Follow me – ah, you might want to know whether there is any furniture in the room. Yes, there is one large cabinet where we keep our books. You could see that the books are placed in perfect Braille alphabetical order. There, on the wall where the sunny window is. See? Sister has me in charge of the cabinet. I am the only one that knows where every book is…

OK, to be perfectly honest with you, I am proud of it, so what – I should be! Uh, and we have a Telefunken wireless, which is in between my bed and the door (it’s off now because it’s reading time you see). It’s a very old German-made radio, 1950’s style. It’s huge and mahogany encased with a ‘magic eye,’ which is a tuning device sister said – pity we don’t have magic eyes! Anyway, we listen to our local radio stations as well as other towns’ broadcastings – and we can tune on foreign programmes using short wave. That radio is our window to the world. By listening to it, we are up to date with music and the news (although we don’t like the news because all they do is talk about wars in far, far away countries, and wars are nasty – folk get killed and hurt). But above all, we are very fond of our favourite radio soaps! Yes, thanks god for the soaps…! Anyhow, must not lose count of my steps or I am going to trip on my bed!

Too late. My knees hit the bed’s edge and I fall face down on the mattress. Lucky, hey! My mattress is very soft, old fashion feather-filled. My covers smell nice – sister washes them twice a week using an industrial washing machine some country in Europe donated to our orphanage… Italy, I think. Yeah, that’s right, sister told us – it was Italy.

Right, I am getting between the sheets now. Aaah – nice and warm! It is a nice feeling, don’t you think? Oh, did – did I go toilet before bed? Didn’t. Never mind, we have a tin potty under our beds – for emergencies (don’t laugh)! We don’t wet our beds except for Matilde, although she hasn’t lately. She is growing out of that problem I think – she even wakes me up in the middle of the night so I can help her out! Bless her.

Wake up… Apart from being awakened by Matilde, I wake up on my own sometimes. And I get scared. You know why? Because I don’t know whether I am sleeping or not, because I don’t think I have dreams. Actually, I am sure that I have never had dreams. It’s scary I tell you – it takes me a while to realise that I am awake…

To realise that I am.

Anyhow, must get started on my book. I’ve got just one hour left. Sister comes at ten o’clock to tuck us in and make sure we stopped reading. We have to get up very early in the morning, you know. Duties, see? Being blind doesn’t mean we are going to stay in bed all day! There are floors to be mopped, potatoes to be peeled in the kitchen, books to be tided up on the cabinet, dead leaves to be brushed in the garden – all that before breakfast at eight o’clock. Then we got on with morning activities; pottery, basket weaving and knitting…

Did you think we didn’t work for our living? Bet you did! Well, we do and our products are sold in the market in order to finance our place. And we attend to our school classes in the afternoon. We have a specialised teacher that comes to give us lessons. She is Señorita Quevedo.

Did you also think we didn’t go to school?

Well, you were wrong.

Right, where is that book? There, on top of my bedside cabinet. Got it. Say, its Braille letters feel large and very defined. The author? Strange, can’t find the author’s name – OK, never mind, first page, chapter one, ‘Los Pellines’… Here we go:

‘Feel the sun on your face in the morning. Feel the power of this old star that rises between mountains and the sky, and then find the old man of Los Pellines… He’d take you to the chamber of diamonds. It is beyond the mist of the lost; it is where everything began, and if you touch its essence, your life shall be filled with light…

‘Seek… and you shall find. Knock… and all the doors shall be opened for you. Ask… and you shall receive.’





Sample Chapter

Chapter One - The Back Door

It’s morning. I know it is. How? Sister Dolores has switched the wireless on. She always does at exactly seven o’clock in the morning – to wake us up. And as usual, it’s the breakfast show on radio La Discusion. Sister likes it because they talk about everything and anything. Folk phone up the DJ, Lorenzo, to speak about their personal experiences and stuff… Listen to this:

… The boys and girls that go to the Lit bar on Arauco street have just requested Queen’s ‘it’s a kind of magic.’ You know why folk? They reckon they are magic themselves! Are you listening to this? Some people out there… I don’t know, do you? I guess they are going to feel strangely vanishing from reality if they keep going to that bar!

What do you think? Personally, I think it’s a bit tacky – though the soaps we listen to are even tackier. But the music is OK I suppose. Well, it is good, really – international pop. I like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias. They are excellent.

Anyway… Good morning to you.

Ah, before anything: it’s good to have you as a friend; I feel much better this morning. Honestly.

Tell you what; I hardly slept last night. Why? Read the book, didn’t I? All of it. My fingers feel cramped, sore and tired. Had to finish it… Wow! Never read anything like it! Never. To be honest with you, I am stunned by it – especially after learning what the unnamed author says: that what he, or she… Anyway I’ll refer to the author as HE… What was I saying? Oh, he says that what he is narrating did really happen!

If you touch the chamber of diamonds, your life will be filled with light, he says.

What did he mean?

Light? If I am filled with light, could I – could I see then?

‘Come on, girls. Time to feel the sunshine. It’s a lovely morning!’

Sister is determined to wake us up. Gosh I am so tired! I could sleep all day now – but I am starving so I mustn’t skip breakfast. Mmmh, think of them doorstep toasts and a cup of tea! Right, I am getting up…

Getting to the sunny window it’s easy. We all know the exact direction, where to turn, and how many paces. There. We are there – the sun is already bathing our bodies, I feel it through my nightgown.

‘Embrace and say good morning, my lovelies…’

We do. We form a group and hug. Our fingers trace smiles and soft cheeks, recognizing facial features, ‘seeing’ with our minds. Good morning we say in each other’s ears. Then sister joins us and hugs us one by one. After that we all feel her face and then we line up in front of the large sunny window, holding hands.

Feel the sun on your face in the morning, wrote the author.

Why did he say that? How did he know we always do this?

I face the sun when it’s shining. The girls face it, too. We all feel it, warm, pleasant. We can actually stare at the sun with open eyes. You can’t. Sister says that a normal person would go blind after doing such a daft thing. The sun is very, very bright, she says. It’s so hot that, even though it’s 92 million miles away, we can still receive its warmth! We do understand that, for we have a very good physical perception of heat and cold apart from –


Something moved across the darkness – something NOT dark.

There. It moved again. Have I created it myself by tracing a geometrical shape? No, it’s different; it’s like a hole has appeared in the middle of the blackness that has always enveloped me. What is it?

It’s a very small circle.

I know it’s a circle because I have felt geometrical figures with my fingers and I can also draw them in my mind.

This is different. I can see it.

In the middle of the absolute darkness? Impossible.

The sun? Has its brightness finally penetrated the dense shadows of my world? Would you believe it if I told you that I saw that circle – a circle that was completely opposite to the black universe that has surrounded me since my birth? Please believe me… I saw it. I did. I am still seeing it now, fixed in front of me. Would I be able to touch it? What am I thinking! The sun is far, far away.

What if it’s not the sun?

The author says that within the blackness of the nothing there are bright diamonds that have light of their own. Is this circle I am seeing one of those diamonds? And if – no, no, it’s fading. Oh no, please let it stay in the middle of the darkness. Please, please, God I beg of –

It’s gone.

I saw it… You don’t believe me, do you? Yeah, you are right. I am blind and I it’s not possible for me to see anything at all. Then, did I imagine it? How can I? I have never seen the light; I don’t know how it looks like. No, I can’t imagine it; I could never imagine it.

So, what if –

‘Come on, girls, enough of sunshine. Time to wash now.’

Well, that’s the end of sunbathing. I’d better had a good wash and then a good breakfast… Anyway, come with me to the washrooms. I’ll show you around. And you know what? I’ve just had a wonderful idea and I am going to tell you about it during breakfast. Come, come – follow me.

We have hot water, you know – only recently, though. Our charity in Santiago sent a modern boiler a month ago. Pedro Gonzalez, the local plumber, fitted it. He drinks too much wine, sister says, but when he does a job, he does it to perfection – and he doesn’t charge too much. He talked to me once, when he was fitting the radiators in our room, and he really stunk of wine! How disgusting.

I am in the washroom with the girls… Listen to them chatting away! Are you OK, asks little Matilde, who is next to me. I am fine, I answer, caressing her hair… Come on; wash your face. I don’t hear any water running, do I?

Sister is helping even though she knows we can wash by ourselves: we know where the soap and the toothpaste are, we can find the towels, the brushes, we know where every particular washing basin is, the water taps, where the toilets are, the toilet tissue – everything. We walk freely in this large twenty by fifteen feet room without even counting our paces. We ‘feel’ our way without any trouble at all.

The mirrors are dirty, though…

That was a joke. OK? There are no mirrors of course!

Sometimes I wish we had mirrors. You are going to laugh, but for some reason I would like to touch one. Don’t know why. It’s stupid, I know. How could I explain it? Right, it’s like this: I think I could sense my image on a mirror, in fact, I am sure I could touch my own reflection! I believe so – by the way I also believe that the small circle I saw in the middle of the darkness is one of the diamonds the author mentioned in his book. He writes that these gems are so powerful that their brightness would go through the blackest of all nights. My night is a perpetual one, total, impenetrable – yet I saw something. I did. I am completely sure. Yes, I am completely sure that if I touch the diamonds, my life will be filled with light – and if that light flows inside me, my eyes will live. Then I will be able to see.

So I am going to tell you now about an idea that has been cooking in my mind:

I am going to find the old man of Los Pellines.


He knows where the chamber of diamonds is.

I know… You could say that this is silly, that it’s only a legend an unnamed author wrote about it god-knows-when, that when I get there I am going to find out that the whole story is just the myth sister mentioned when she gave me the book, a folktale that has been changed and exaggerated from one house to another, from one village to another.

And you are right.

It is a very silly idea. Very. But I must do it. I want you to understand that, even if it’s a legend, there is a possibility that some elements of the tale might be true. Yes, what if – what if the whole story is based on the truth? The author said that he wrote about his own experience up there in the Andes. Why did I see the circle of light precisely the morning after reading the book? We have felt the sun on our faces many, many times – yet I never saw anything but the impenetrable shadows that have always been with me.

Sorry for saying it again but I saw that circle of light. Believe me. Didn’t imagine it. I have tried to imagine the light all my life. Couldn’t do it. Some of the girls say they have dreamt being inside the dimmest of lights. Not me… Not me.

Do you believe me?

You do. I can sense it. Good. I think I like you.

This is what I am going to do:

After breakfast we are going to the handcraft room. We start at nine o’clock. Once there I’ll get my money from one of the tools’ draws, which – ah, I forgot to tell you that we are given a bit of money for personal expenses. I’ll need it, won’t I? It’s not much but it’ll pay for my bus fare and food. And how do I get to the bus station, you might ask? I know the way. We have been taken there a few times for out trips around the valley. It’s not far.

Sister leaves us alone when we are in there. I know that room very well, for when I was little I used to wonder away touching everything. Once, I opened a door and stood there. And you know what? It was the back door! How did I know it led outside? I stood there feeling the fresh air. It was winter, so my arms and face nearly froze with the icy wind! And I’ve learnt now that cold winds come from the north. Sister said that Libertad Avenue is at the north side of the orphanage. And that road leads directly to Arauco Street, where I turn right. Once on that road, I follow it straight and I will find the market. The bus station is next to the market square. See? I know my bearings, don’t I?

Are you with me? Basically, I am going to open that door and go.

The trouble is, I don’t know what is beyond the door. As a back door, it should lead to a yard – or garden. What if the area is fenced? How do I get out then? Well, backyards fences normally have a gate, don’t they? But that gate could be locked, couldn’t it?

I’ll have to find out, won’t I?

‘Ready girls? Let’s get you dressed and then we are going down for breakfast.’ Sister has looked at her watch. I know – I heard the typical sound that her watch makes when she lifts her arm close to her face.

About flipping time, hey… I am starving.

Breakfast at the large oak table. We are now wearing our working kit: pullovers, bib-and-braces and doctor Martens shoes – all donated by our charity. It’s only this week we are wearing pullovers because it’s getting a bit cold.

OK, pretend you are sitting next to me. Right… I’ll explain to you what we have here. You can see, so it’ll be much easier for you:

The table is huge – ten by five feet. It’s in the kitchen… Ah, mustn’t forget to tell you that this house, where this orphanage is, belonged to a very rich Lady who donated it to our charity many years ago. It’s a large colonial house, which originally had seven bedrooms before being converted into what we know today. Sister told us that the building is a legacy left by the Spaniards who ruled this country during the 17th century, a time when – OK, I’ll drop this; I don’t want to bore you with all that stuff about architecture and history – that stuff is for grownups, isn’t it?

The kitchen is downstairs of course. We came down very carefully after having a wash and using the toilets, holding tightly on the hardwood stairwell banister, following sister’s every step. When we arrived at the ground floor we walked seventeen paces to the left and presto, we are there, entering our favourite room, the place where our food is prepared by Señora Salazar – and from the threshold we know that the table is only five paces in front of us.

Little Matilde sits next to me – to my right. Fresia and Soledad sit opposite. Sister sits at the left end of the table. She always has breakfast with us every morning. I am holding Matilde’s hand now. Bless her. She doesn’t say much. Are you hungry, Matilde, I whisper in her ear…? Yes I am, she whispers back.

We are waiting for Sister to bring the pile of toasted bread. Wow, I can smell them lovely toasts! Señora Salazar is spreading the butter on them. Her buttering knife makes a distinctive noise as it runs on the bread. Good old Señora Salazar. She is old. I have touched her wrinkles many times – especially when she used to hold me as a toddler. How many grandchildren did she say she has? Twelve, I think. Two of them, Maria and Patricio, eleven year-old twins, come to play with us on Sundays. They are OK but a bit loud. Señora Salazar tells them off all the time! She takes them back home Sunday night before retiring to the room she has been given upstairs – the one between sister’s office and the washroom.

‘Did you finish your book, Azalea?’ Soledad voice sounds somewhat husky. Is she getting a cold?

‘I did. Couldn’t stop reading. It was great! What about you…? Did you finish "The selfish giant?" You must have. It’s a short story.’

‘Yeah, finished it. I cried, you know. It’s so sad!’

The bread has arrived. I can feel the heat as sister brings the grub and puts it in the middle of the table. ‘Be careful with the tea. It’s hot!’ She always says that – every day. ‘Now, now, wait for me. That’s it. I am sitting at the table. OK, join hands while I ask the Lord to bless our food. Right… Dear Lord…’

Dear Lord help me on my quest (that was my own inner voice, you know). I do feel scared of what I am about to do, but not that scared. It’s kind of exciting, really… OK, you are right again; this sounds stupid. I agree. A blind girl travelling up the Andes Mountains all because she read a book that tells about an old man who knows how to get to a certain chamber of diamonds that have the power to fill one’s life with light? Yes, it sounds silly. Definitely. But I saw a circle of that light when I faced the sun in the morning. I saw it. I swear to god. The book mentions an enchanted land. Perhaps its pages carry a little bit of that enchantment and by reading such a wonder, it allowed me to see that light – so that’s why I must try to find the old man of Los Pellines.

Enchantment apart… Must eat now. Sister’s prayer is over and I can hear her passing the bread. Matilde’s got one; she is biting it – her teeth make a familiar sound when she sinks them into the lovely, tasty dough. I wish you really were here and tasted this lovely bread. It’s so nice! There. I’ve got one… Taking it to my mouth now. Mmmh! The flavour of hot buttered toast is supreme. But enough of this chatting. Let’s have breakfast. I’ll take you to the handcraft room in a minute.

You don’t believe that I am going to the Andes, do you? Neither do I. But I know that I am going… And I am sorry to repeat myself again but I saw a little circle of light when I felt the sun on my face. It’s the dimmest of lights and it only lasted a couple of minutes, but it is everything to me. Everything. You understand me? I hope you do. Let me put it this way. I want to see. You blame me? Wouldn’t you try to find a way out of this world of darkness I live in? I want to see the sun and the colours it produces all around me. That author wrote about the legend of the Andes. He saw something – something wonderful. And what he saw has given me hope.

It will fill your life with light.

I am going to chase that hope until the ends of the earth.

And I am not going to bore you with the same old thing that I am blind and how could a blind thirteen year-old girl ever find a place high up in the mountains, a place she is not sure it does exist. Just bear with me, be with me… By the way, I am now in the handcraft room. This is it.

After breakfast, we crossed the kitchen floor diagonally and entered the handcraft room. It’s just there, next door – literally. It’s a large wooden construction – an extension, really. And it is large: twenty-five paces long by fifteen! It has a huge window on the west wing and a small toilet on the right wing. We call that window the sunset one because sometimes, after school, sister takes us there to feel the last rays of daylight. Feeling the sun gives us a sense of time if you know what I mean.

Despite that this wooden extension was built many years ago, we can still smell the eucalyptus timber the carpenters used. It’s a lovely odour believe me… Anyway, I’d better take you for a tour around. Sister is not here yet, so come with me – to my left first.

Wait― I think I’ll show you the back door first. It’s important – it’s just in front of me. Right, come with me. Fine, I am crossing the room. Don’t worry, it’s clear, there are no objects in between. See how confident I am? Fifteen paces… That’s it. If I stretch my arm now I’ll touch the door. There. I am touching the smooth hardwood. OK, I – I’ll open it a little bit to make sure it’s not locked.

Opening it now. Click. The sound tells me that the door handle has gone down all the way. It’s not locked. Excellent. Pulling it now… Good. It opened very quietly indeed. I just felt the fresh air on my face. Right, closing it again. Click. It’s done.

I’ll be going through this door in a little while. It’s crazy, I know. You don’t need to remind me of that. Actually, this is more than being crazy: it’s madness! But I am going to do it (whether I reach the street or not it’s another story). And I know you understand me. It is something I must do regardless of anything else in my life.


Your life will be filled with light.

Don’t get me wrong; my life in the orphanage is fine – no problem. My needs are all covered; a wonderful human being that has been like a mother to me has looked after me; I have three brilliant friends I share my life with; we have books, an old, reliable Telefunken radio with a magic eye and the sunny window. Sister told us that when our education is completed, our charity would give us jobs in the capital. They have small factories that exclusively employ blind people.

But I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

That has become more important than anything. I have questions no book has answered for me, so I must find the old man of Los Pellines.

I keep going on about this, don’t I?

But I can’t help it.

OK, tell me once again. I am a blind teenager that is not sure that she is going to get out of the backyard let alone find an old man who probably is just part of a legend, an old fairytale!

Fine… Say it: I imagined that light.

Inside the perpetual darkness of my world, I created that light.

And I say it again to you: impossible. How could I create something I have never seen? Rather, how could someone that has been blind from birth form an image of the power, which is the very origin of all the colours of that visible universe you can see?

Sometimes I think you might not be able to understand me. Maybe I have read too many books and my words are somewhat fancy. Perhaps you think – and I don’t blame you for it – that I live in cuckoo land. But I am going to tell you one thing: I am going to do it – for real. And after thinking hard for many hours, I am going to give you the reason why; a reason that I hope makes sense to you:

If I don’t find out the truth about the Legend of the Andes and the chamber of diamonds, I would not be able to live the rest of my life in the absolute darkness. Yes, I could not carry on living, even if I had the best education in the world and the best job in the city with Matilde at my side, if I didn’t try to find the diamonds that fill life with light…

If I didn’t, I might as well stop breathing and die.

I am at the east wing now. Soledad and Fresia work here. They have a six-by-four solid oak table where they sit at. What do they do? They knit – and I’ll tell you they are the best in the world! Wow! How quick they are! I can hear their knitting sticks going. Sister gives them the details of the pieces they have to do, the material and everything. And she―

This is radio La Discusion. Are you ready for the best music of the day? Well, be ready because it’s the morning show with Lorenzo, your cool DJ… and I am telling you, whatever you are doing… stop! Why? How can you even ask why! I’ve got Enrique Iglesias for you now. Girls, girls, calm down… This is ‘Bailemos…’

What! A wireless! Did they bring the Telefunken up here? ‘Fresia… What’s going on? Talk to me…’

‘Surprise, surprise, Azalea! Señora Salazar gave us her old transistor radio. It’s only little and uses batteries, but it does the job… and be quiet now because Enrique is on!’ Fresia sounds excited for a serious girl like her. Bless her. Say, she knows about Enrique Iglesias… Well, well, she must like him. Oh we all love his voice! It sounds so smooth and deep… Sister says he is ever so handsome – better looking than his dad, who was a huge star all over the world! OK, I can’t appreciate that but we can ‘see’ the beauty of his soul, for he transmits it through his voice and it goes right through ours…

Soul… my inner voice.

Did that sound weird to you?

To be perfectly honest with you, it does sound a bit weird: through this, through that. But it’s the way I can sense someone’s personality, someone’s character if you like. Right, I know what you are going to say: bear down, girl – oh, never mind! Let me show you the west wing now. ‘See you, girls… I am going to sit with Matilde now. Bless her; she is all by herself down there… Don’t forget to turn up the volume if you hear a good song, will you not?’

I don’t have to count the paces any more. Somehow I know exactly when I am next to Matilde…

Something is bothering me, though.

Should I take her with me?

You don’t need to say it. I know your answer. She is only eleven; it’s a dangerous world out there – especially if you are blind. OK, I’ve got your point: one blind girl seeking for answers, chasing legends, is more than enough. Yes, I’ve got it… I won’t take her with me.

‘Hi, Matilde, how you doing my darling?’

‘I am fine, Azalea. I like the new radio. It’s good, isn’t it?’ Little Matilde is busy, too. I can hear the sound of basket weaving. Yes, you guessed; the two of us are specialist on baskets. This is our corner, next to the sunset window. We also have a large, solid seven-by-four eucalyptus table… Oh, I am going to tell you again that I love that hardwood; it smells so nice, its aroma opens my nostrils and air feels great inside my lungs! And I like the smell of wicker branches too. Sister says that wicker grows next to rivers and lakes. I have never been next to such large amount of water. We almost went to the seaside last month, but the orphanage’s minibus broke down, didn’t it? Don’t worry, said sister, we are going next summer anyway – for a whole week!

And the sea, she said, is immense – almost infinite.

Have you seen the sea?

Is it greater that the dark expansion of my mind?


This is it. I am in front of the back door again. Sister came to see us briefly to make sure we were all right and see that we had enough material for our work. She also said that it’s still very sunny so we won’t need our jerseys when we go on garden duties outside. But it’s getting colder during the evenings, she added, as autumn is advancing into winter. Keep your jerseys at hand because Señora Salazar said that, according to a television weather report she saw, we are having a little bit of a frost tonight.

So I have done something naughty.

I have ‘borrowed’ Pedro Gonzalez’ donkey jacket. It isn’t too big for me. Pedro must be a small guy… He hangs it on a hook, which is next to the toilet. Told you I know everything about this place, didn’t I? Sister washed it for him after he finally finished his last job in the summer, so it’s nice and clean – it would normally smell of fags and beer!

There you go. I’ve got the jacket on, got my money from my draw and as I said, I am ready to open the door and step into the unknown territory of the backyard…

I know… I know. Should I do this?

Should I tell the girls about it?

Yes, I am going to do it. I must; and no I won’t tell anybody because they would try to stop me. This is very silly… you don’t have to repeat that to me. I know… Besides, I am not running away, am I? Don’t take me wrong, I love my friends, I love sister Dolores and Señora Salazar – especially her cooking!

You think I am not going to miss them, my warm bed and the sunny window, the big old Telefunken radio with the magic eye, the tacky DJ Lorenzo’s morning show and the even tackier soaps?

I will miss all that. Badly.

But I must go, for the reason I saw something that has penetrated the shadows of my mind after reading the Legend of the Andes. I did, I swear to god. You do believe me, don’t you? I keep asking you that, I know… Sorry. But I need you to understand how important it is for me to find the chamber of diamonds…

And touch them.

Then I will be able to see, for the light shall destroy all darkness, allowing my thoughts to identify the definition of all the colours of the world, allowing all my senses to finally escape outwards and meet what I have been missing all my life.

And my inner loneliness will come to an end.

Anyway, I will be back soon. Somehow I will find my way back. I’ll be easy: I just tell somebody that I am blind and I am lost. The police will be called then and they will bring me back. Clever, am I not?

Not so fast. First, I have to make it out of the backyard!

Right, I am opening the door now…

Click. There… It’s open. I feel a little breeze on my face. It’s not so cold. Strange smells come to my nostrils… Don’t recognize them. OK, let’s step outside. Come with me… By the way, I can’t show you around anymore, can I? This is uncharted territory for me. In fact, everything now is completely alien to me – but bear with me, don’t leave me.

I am in the yard and I have closed the door behind me. I told Matilde that I went toilet. She knows that I spend quite a while there, reading novels I always keep inside the towel cupboard… Oh, I didn’t show you the toilet-bathroom, did I? No time for that now. Never mind, I’ll show you when I come back. My current ‘toilet’ little novel is ‘The machine-gunners’ by what’s-his-name, that British writer… Blast! I can’t remember it now… Doesn’t matter. Must concentrate on the way to a gate I hope it’s there.

I can feel a paved path under the sole of my shoes; it feels quite even actually. Also, I have tread outside the path and it is not paved. I think it’s some sort of coarse gravel – that tells me that what I am walking on is definitely a yard’s lane leading somewhere… Fine, I am taking one step at the time. If there is a back gate, it should be at the end of this path.

The sunrays are strong; they irradiate the right side of my face and part of my neck. Gosh, it feels warm… So, if the sun is on my right-hand-side at this time of the day, then east is on my right, west on my left and south is behind my back… Need I say that I am facing north?

Careful. I have taken thirty paces, holding my arms in front. You blame me?

Something strange: haven’t heard any birds’ singing. That means only one thing – there are no trees out here. No trees, no birds! That’s why I can’t smell any sort of vegetation. There is a strong smell of oil, though – like when Pedro Gonzalez is cleaning the pipes with something he calls paraffin. Maybe they store old machines down here – a vehicle or something. There… The odour is clear now. It is the smell of rusty metal! Has Pedro Gonzalez kept all the old pipes and other bits he changed when he fitted the new boiler somewhere in this yard? I bet he did…

Thirty-five paces…


My fingertips have just touched something. It’s wood. The back gate? I hope so. Feel it – it’s rough timber, and there are heavy bolts or rivets… Smell it… Oil. The wood has been dubbed with some kind of oil a long time ago and the odour has almost gone. Maybe I have just mistaken it for the general smell of oil substances around here― No, I am now pressing my nose against the wood. It’s coming from it. Definitely.

A door handle. I have found it.

It is the gate that leads outside.


It is not lockedOh my god it’s not locked!

I have just pulled it and it opened easily.

Why it’s not locked? Why are both doors unlocked? Is this a fire exit we have not been told? Frankly, I was expecting it to be locked… Wait a minute… If Pedro Gonzalez is storing some of his stuff in the yard, it is he who leaves the doors unlocked, so he can freely come and go during his business. Does sister know about this…?

Whatever the reason, I have been able to open them.

And I am now ready to go outside.

I have no idea what is on this street. Am I scared you might ask? I am bloody scared out of my pants! Look at me. I – I am tre-trembling like a leaf! But here I go. You coming? Please come… Please, I need you. Look, you can see that I am almost through the gap I have opened…

Sorry sister Dolores, sorry girls. You will be worried, I know. But I need to do this… I’ll come back. I promise…

I have closed the gate behind me. I am afraid.

Very afraid.

I am outside.