The history of the unfortunate Ireneo Funes is told by an unnamed narrator who, hearing of Funes’s death, determines to put something into print about a very remarkable and, in one sense, disquieting man. Although he encountered Funes not more than three times, each meeting stamped itself on the narrator’s memory.
The first, he tells the reader, was in February or March of 1884: He and his cousin were riding on horseback to his family’s farm. As they rode along, hurrying to outpace a storm, they rode in a lane between high walls. On the top of one of the brick walls appeared an Indian boy. The narrator’s cousin asked the boy what the time was, and the boy replied, “In ten minutes it will be eight o’clock.” The cousin later explained, with some pride in a local curiosity, that the boy, Ireneo Funes, had the peculiar talent of always knowing the exact time without a watch.
Several times in the years that follow, the narrator asks about “the chronometer Funes,” whenever he is in the area. In 1887, he hears that Funes has been thrown from a horse and crippled; unable to walk, he has become a recluse. The narrator glimpses him several times, but there is something strange about each occasion. He sees Funes behind a grilled window in the boy’s house, unmoving each time, once with his eyes closed, once simply absorbed in smelling a blossom of lavender.
On a subsequent visit to the farm, the narrator brings along several books of Latin, the study of which he is beginning. During his visit, he receives a letter from Funes, asking if he might borrow one of the Latin texts and a dictionary. The narrator sends the books with some amusement that the small-town youth would think he could teach himself Latin with no more help than a dictionary. He forgets about the loan until he receives a telegram from Buenos Aires informing him that he must return immediately. He goes to the small ranch of Funes’s mother to retrieve his books.
When he arrives, the woman tells him...
(The entire section is 826 words.)