An overthrown Latin American ruler, Mr. President, is exiled to Martinique. The 73-year-old man develops a peculiar pain in his ribs, lower abdomen, and groin. He travels to Geneva, Switzerland in search of a diagnosis. After extensive medical testing, he is informed that the problem resides in his spine. A risky operation is recommended to relieve the pain.

The President meets a fellow countryman, Homero Rey, who works as an ambulance driver at the hospital. Homero schemes to sell an insurance plan and funeral package to the sick man, but the President is no longer wealthy and lives frugally. He is reduced to selling his dead wife's jewelry and other trinkets to pay the cost of his medical expenses and operation.

Homero and his wife, Lázara, grow fond of Mr. President. They provide financial assistance and care for him after he is discharged from the hospital. The President returns to Martinique. His pain is unimproved but no worse either. He resumes many of his bad habits and considers going back to the country he once ruled, only this time as the head of a reform group.


One of the morals of this short story is that someone is always out to take advantage of people. Even the sick are fair game. With manipulation ever-present, the story poses a sensible question: Whom can you really trust?

Exile plays an important role as does the true meaning of "home." The story calls attention to three significant problems: the cost of health care, medical confidentiality, and chronic pain.


Translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

Primary Source

Strange Pilgrims



Place Published

New York



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