CuencaHighLife editor David Morrill recently sent me a copy of a story he read in the Quito newspaper El Comercio. He said it was quite a sad story yet newsworthy and asked if I would rewrite it in English for our readers. I read the story twice but I heard a different tale. I could not find any sadness at all; instead, there were moments of tenderness, enduring love, and success surging through the entire piece.
“Of course,” I said.
Felipe Eugenio Galán, better known as Suco de la Cenacle, will go down in history. He is part of a long line of memorable Cuenca characters such as El Atacocos, María la Guagua, Suco de la Guerra, and Carlitos el Bicicleta — all beloved in the floating opera of our street life.
What these people have in common is their dignity. What they have shared with us is how to live gracefully after being hammered on the anvil of mental disability.
Galan always walks quickly and sports a big jacket in every kind of weather. In his pockets, he carries plastic bags to collect trash, and bottles of water to wash his hands before every meal. His hair is wavy and blond (“Suco” is Spanish slang for blond); he is often unshaven. He likes cashmere pants, is 55 years old, does not talk to strangers and is afraid of sudden noise.
From early morning until mid-afternoon six days a week, Galan, of his own accord, spends his time recovering litter carelessly discarded by others.
Last Monday, he was in Miraflores where he filled two trash bags with rubbish he found on the street. On Tuesday, after mass, he patrolled Totoracocha for hours looking for garbage, on Wednesday he cleaned in El Valle, Thursday was spent picking up litter around Baños, and on Friday he was busy in Sidcay until quite late.
He reserves Saturday for his own neighborhood. Sunday is devoted to prayer.
Although he is occasionally challenged beyond his capability, he is usually able to traverse the city on buses and is familiar with many routes. He still wants to pay his fare with coins so fellow passengers assist him with their cards. I’m told that the more kindly bus drivers have been known to look the other way when he climbs aboard.
Galan was awarded a nickname many years ago by the people of Cuenca. He is, Suco of the Cenacle, Blond of the house of the Last Supper. It arose from his practice of several decades — attending mass at Santo Domingo, El Cenáculo, San Alfonso and San Blas church every Sunday.
On Tuesdays, he attends but one mass at the church of San José de El Vecino.
The Suco of the Cenacle’s room has a single bed and a dresser topped with a small television set. When he gets up in the morning he cleans his room, plus the living room and the dining room of the house he shares with his mother-in-law who he has lived with, and called mamma, ever since his own mother died earlier this year.
His most treasured possession is his family photo album; it contains memories of people gone somehow and times surrounded by a loving and extended family that have included him in all of their activities for as long as anyone can remember.
I did not find sadness in Galan’s story. Instead, I read an inspirational creed of communion.
Felipe Eugenio Galán has taken his place among those crowned with a nickname by the people of Cuenca, “for the elegance of his simplicity and the importance he lends to the community.”
He is celebrated and immortalized as the Suco of the Cenacle and joins the parade of others too special for our daily doings, and instead, make their indelible mark on Cuenca not by means of outwardly measured accomplishments, but by adhering to a far more difficult story: the practice of living as purely as one is able to.