Written by Javier Zamudio*
Translated by Anabel Torres*
I walked down the earth path leading to the sea. Buenaventura is not big, just a handful of run-down houses that keep caving in as if they were constantly being hit by an earthquake. I thought about the cat my sister Isabel had brought home while I walked. They had named him Ronaldo like the football player. Mom loved it and I felt lousy because it wasn´t me who gave it to her.
Going past the Olympic grocery store, I saw the ticket booths and the boats to Ladrilleros leaving the port. Cangrejo was sitting on the seafront. He held a bag with the stuff in his right hand, and in the other hand, a joint that he would puff on once in a while. I bought three folds of crack and began rolling a joint.
“Things are going bad,” I said.
Cangrejo shrugged his shoulders and I sat down next to him. We stared at the sea. A few feet away, a couple of fishermen were hauling up the body of a man. Some kids were playing in the water beyond, laughing so loudly we could hear them loud and clear.
Once in a while, Cangrejo would turn his head to make sure the police weren´t around, or just in case a client showed up. I finished rolling my crack joint and lit it. Cangrejo sat still, looking ahead, and I started telling him about my mom having cancer. Her illness was pretty advanced. She had metastasis and it had spread throughout her body.
I finished smoking and cheered up somewhat. Started joking about what the fishermen would do with the dead man while I watched them pull him into a small launch.
“Let´s go find Marco Aurelio,” Cangrejo mumbled in a thick voice, slowly connecting the words.
We got into the dilapidated Chevrolet and started to drink like crazy, slopping down big slurps until we could feel our tears stinging. In less than ten minutes, we had finished the bottle. Cangrejo stopped the car and we took a couple of deep snorts to sober up a bit. I didn´t have a clue why we were looking for Marcos, but I didn´t care either: the only thing I didn´t want to do was to be by myself and keep fretting about Mom.
We stopped by Chino´s house and sat on the couch for a while. His sister did her homework while it sounded like their father was skinning someone alive in the back room. We could hear the screams but played deaf and dumb.
Chino was cleaning his pistol and started to tell us he was going to become a hired killer, a sicario. He had already killed a few people but now he wanted to turn professional.
“I’m tired of working for free,” he said. “They always call me for tricks but then they never pay me right. Now if they want me to get rid of someone, they have to stuff some dough in my pockets first.”
From his voice and his gestures, I knew he was for real. He pronounced the words without raising his head, while he swabbed the cannon of his steel gun with a small brush. We nodded our heads and Cangrejo took out a bag and we had a bit of everything. Chino´s sister didn´t so much as look at us. She kept her eyes fixed on her notebook and read to herself, as if the world around her didn´t exist. She probably wasn´t more than 12 years old. She wore shorts that clung to her curves making her picture-perfect.
God knows why I started to puke and I asked to borrow the bathroom. The man in the back kept screaming until Chino´s dad shot him. The bang felt like it had gone off right next to my ear, as a bullet went through the bathroom wall, grazing my face. I peeped through a hole in the wall and saw that the body had crashed down, a gash in the man´s forehead, and a puddle of blood beginning to surround his head.
I returned to the living room and found Chino´s father there. He greeted me with a handshake, inhaled two passes of cocaine, and started to tell us the plans the Mayor had to make the City of Buenaventura a safer city.
“We are the cornerstone of this process,” he said, as he sniffed yet another line. “The idea is to make Buenaventura the safest city in the country, and why not in the whole world.” He spoke like a politician and his mouth filled with saliva as he pronounced his words; I assumed his tongue must have been feeling paralyzed. “This is nothing short of a sacrifice for the greater good.”
Chino kept right on cleaning his gun, but you could tell he was pissed off listening to his dad. He was curving his mouth and smiling softly, but from his lips, a wicked expression was spurting out, like the very devil from hell.
Chino´s father said good-bye and went back to the room at the end of the hall. Then we heard an electric saw start and we knew it was time to leave.
“Do you have a phone number?” asked Cangrejo.
Chino passed Cangrejo a piece of paper and after a few phone calls, we tracked down Marco Aurelio.
Then we got plastered again and Cangrejo started talking about his girlfriend, a girl who was fifteen and didn´t go to school. She spent her days at home taking care of her brothers. Cangrejo would visit her at noon and when the little ones were out playing in the backyard, they would lie down on the only bed there was in the house. Then he would have lunch and leave to sell the merchandise.
“I plan to get her pregnant,” he said, while we were walking towards the place where Marco waited, “to get the little boy to work with me.”
We heard screaming and started to run. It was a wooden house right next to the beach. Music blared at full volume. Marco was outside smoking and singing. Next to him, there was a blonde girl, dancing as she slapped her thighs. He saw us and waved his right hand. We weren’t really that close to him, but we smiled and quickened our steps. We went up the stairs and reached a balcony. The blonde looked us up and down and said that if we wanted to screw her we had to pay the extra fee. I didn´t understand what she meant, but I let Marco hug me. He was drunker than we were and he began to cry, weeping over what was happening in the world – poverty, death, food going to waste in the jungle, the paramilitaries, the killing of whales and our destiny, so screwed up from the start and us not having any chance to fix it.
I went into the house and felt the smell of death mixed with rat piss and old trunks. I turned my face to see where Cangrejo was, but he was already doing the blonde on the balcony. I figured that was why Cangrejo had been looking for Marco. I sat on an armchair in the corner of the room.
Marco walked towards me, but before he reached me, he threw himself down on the floor and began to beat his chest. A song by the Lebron Brothers drowned out the pounding of his fists. I thought he might be breaking his ribs, because his knuckles were clobbering his flesh, as his face became distorted as if he were in the throes of dying. It was an expression very similar to the one Chino had, or to the one Cangrejo wore when he sat on the seafront peddling his stuff.
I concluded that´s how we all must look like, me included. I stood up and cased the place, looking for a mirror. Walking through the hallway, I saw two bedrooms, barely furnished with a plain chair and some tools. They were windowless and smelled of rotten meat.
There was a bathroom with a mirror in another room that was easy to overlook. The door had no doorknob so it blended in with the wooden panels on the walls. I went in and looked at myself carefully, lest I missed out on something very important which was about to take place. I was drunk and pepped up with drugs, and my pupils had grown almost to the size of my eyeballs. I saw a smile springing from my face just like the one I had spotted minutes back on Chino´s face: a sordid gesture that seemed unreal, and yet at the same time, it let a dark, unsettling reality seep through, very much like those houses in Buenaventura that kept bowing down before the force of the water yet didn’t quite disintegrate.
We all have the face of an evil deity who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything anymore, I thought, while I patted my cheeks and my forehead.
I returned to the living room and I looked for Marco again, but he was fast asleep. I walked over to Cangrejo, whose head was stuck between the blonde´s buttocks.
“I´m leaving,” I said. “Marco fell asleep.”
Cangrejo shook the keys of the Chevy out of his trousers and threw them at me. He didn´t say how he was planning to get back. I took the keys and left.
While I was driving, I got to thinking about Mom and whether I would find her alive, smiling, or mummified, dead and ready to drift out with the sea.
Cangrejo´s car was full of garbage, but under the driver´s seat, I found a bottle of rum that I quickly gulped down. Then I hit the accelerator to find the seafront, murky waters lashing over cement and the lights of ships at a distance.
*Javier Zamudio (Cali, 1983- ). His novel “Hemingway en Santa Marta” was published by Lugar Comun Editorial (2015) and his short stories book “Espiar a los felices” was published by Eafit (2016). His short stories have appeared in magazines including El Malpensante, Número, Odradek, Luvina and Latin American Voices. Some of them have been published into English and Italian languages.
*Anabel Torres (Bogotá 1948) is a poet and translator, with a B.A. in Modern Languages from Antioquia University in Medellin, and an M.A. from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She was Sub-Director of Colombia´s National Library between 1983 and 1987 and has lived in Holland and Spain ever since. She has published nine poetry books and a book of humor. In 2000, she won the Literary Translation Competition run by the British Centre for Literary Translation at East Anglia University, for her version of poet Jose Manuel Arango’s “This Place in the Night”, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2001.