by Ares Demertzis (March 2008)
(The following narrative will be included in my book, “Mexican Stories.”)
“I raise four pesos,” growled the Chief, tossing his coins with a pretended arrogant disregard to the center of the table. He was still dressed in his police uniform; shirt collar open, tie askew.
“I fold,” timidly sighed a frail young man, thin fingers worriedly clasping his now useless cards.
“I’m out,” added another, unconcealed disgust warping his features. He narrowed his eyes irritably, straining to sharpen an indistinct vision as he looked about at the other players. Squinty worked as a welder; the occupational damage to his eyesight was irreversible.
The fourth man, Shiner, held a forefinger against his nostril; snorting forcefully, he expelled thick mucus to the firm earthen floor. “You’re bluffing,” he whispered, drying his tacky hand against the coarse material of his trousers. Then he added his remaining coins to the squat metallic mound with fingers that revealed his profession: they were permanently stained with the multiple colors of shoe polish.
The Chief shifted his weight to one buttock; a thunderous roar erupted, filling the room with an offensive stench. The two men seated on either side of the discharge, Squinty and Shiner, swiftly pushed away from the table, turning their faces from the source of the unexpected, revolting flatulence. Only the young man sitting across the table was witness to the Chief’s hasty and furtive maneuver as he slipped a hidden card into his hand. They held each others gaze for a brief moment, the young man ultimately capitulating to the Chief’s confrontational stare by looking away.
“Aaayy, carbon!” “Puta madre!” the two men most affected by the stink collectively protested.
“Ah, what a pig you are!” complained the only other person present, besides myself, who was lethargically swaying in a hammock strung up across a corner of the room. Her name was Lillith, but she was known to all as “Whale.” It was a mocking acknowledgment of her substantial, corpulent dimensions; a determined, malicious intent to be offensive.
“Better to fart and be ashamed, than hold it in and be in pain!” singsonged the Chief, notwithstanding he was not in the least embarrassed, as demonstrated by the raucous howl of his amused laughter.
The poker game was held every Friday evening as an activity, much like other such diversions, intended by its practitioners to pass that transitory interval between birth and death. The location was the Chief’s hovel, a haphazardly assembled structure surrounded by countless other dilapidated shacks that constituted an ostracized community of manifest poverty on the outskirts of the sprawling metropolis.
A bewildering mass of snarled and tangled wires fell away from the long line of sturdy concrete posts that supported heavy cables traversing the area. Their original intent was to supply electricity from a remote generating station to the residents of the city; they now served additionally to provide complimentary energy to each arbitrary construction. The visual consequence of the resident’s inherently impulsive disregard for their surroundings was that of spider’s webs ensnaring the underprivileged inhabitants below.
The Chief’s decaying hovel, like the others, was constructed of wood planks and covered with a rusted corrugated tin roof. Newspapers were firmly pressed into the cracks between the planks to afford a modicum of privacy, and to reduce access to the swarms of mosquitoes that bred in the stagnant, foul-smelling pools of water collected by the garbage inconsiderately discarded along the unpaved pathways separating the dwellings.
A soiled blanket functioned as a makeshift door, near which gaunt dogs, their ribs marking slender flanks, waited patiently with perpetual anticipation for any edible scrap that would by chance be tossed in their direction. They never dared to venture inside, knowing from harsh experience that they risked being whacked by a machete, as confirmed by the scars and severed ears of their companions, some of whom additionally displayed squat stumps where long tails were once attached.
Within the barely habitable cavity there was a square broken table with plastic soft drink crates serving as chairs on which the four men sat, there was also a glass covered coffee table, recovered from a garbage dump, on which a battered radio stridently played raucous music. The only other items that could possibly qualify as furniture was a hammock reserved exclusively as the resting place for the Chief, and two bundles of blankets on the earthen floor that were unfolded each night for the young man and Whale.
When I first met the young man, several months ago, he was introduced to me simply as Nica, a reference to his Nicaraguan origin; I knowingly made no further inquiry. Within this impermanent, treacherous society, precise identification is considered an ill afforded recklessness.
In an unsurprising, habitual prank of a cynically pitiless Nature, the young man was destined to mature into a slender, almost effeminate individual, while his sister’s fateful proportions were more evocative of a Sumo wrestler. Both Nica and Whale had as their ultimate destination the crossing of that fabled, legendary border into the
The Friday evening ceremony always began in the same manner: the first bottle of tequila, for the purchase of which all had contributed, would be opened and the desultory, insignificant conversation would commence; that exchange of obligatory dialogue which in more refined circles is generally referred to as “cocktail conversation.”
On these occasions, Whale always flaunted a scandalously short skirt and a shabby, revealing pistachio tinted decollate sweater over a lumpy and frayed red lace brassiere which she considered sensual. The brassiere pushed her ample, flaccid breasts together into a mountainous cleavage unambiguously displaying the bald suggestion of her genitalia; her high heeled, open toed shoes a cryptogram serving an equivalent pudendal objective.
As the cards flowed around the table and the men imbibed their alcohol, she would pretend at an inadvertent temptation by bending over the knapsack containing all her possessions to expose herself. Since adolescence, she instinctively understood the fundamental principle of enticement. Whale removed a small bandana, the object of her rummaging, to initiate a meticulous ritual by carefully sprinkling tiny, dry cut leaves across rice paper, subsequently rolling and moistening the resulting cigarette with her saliva into a suitable joint.
At the start of the evening the men would invariably chuckle and snicker at each others crude, unkind remarks about her elephantine thighs and wobbly, overflowing breasts, but Whale was patient, and knowledgeable of masculine defenselessness at overt physical provocation. As time passed, the alcohol and marijuana combined to provoke sexual appetite, stilling the malicious commentary which evolved into lascivious, furtive side long looks; ultimately culminating in their taking turns fornicating with her on the hammock. Before settling on her back, she would fussily reach into her sweat moistened cleavage to remove a soiled, knotted handkerchief into which she carefully deposited the folded bills of her current consumer. Although the diverse services available were not formally itemized, there existed an acknowledged, familiar menu; each position eliciting a corresponding, appropriate fee. The Chief always collected a commission for the use of Whale, and his hammock.
In the accepted, superstitious tradition of her people, she would thank God for providing the first customer by kissing the folded money and making the sign of the cross, with the bills firmly clutched in her fist, against her torso.
“Ey, Squinty! Hurry up an´ finish! We’re waiting.”
“Shut up, Shiner! I’m paying for this, and I’m gonna take my sweet time!”
“Tell me, Nica. When you fuck your sister, do you pay for it? Because if you do, you owe me my commission!”
The young man grinned shyly in response, embarrassed by his fragile impotence; hoping the conspiratorial smirk on his face concealed his resentment.
Whale impulsively increased the volume on the radio, and sang along with the tearfully maudlin, sentimental torch song lamenting unrequited love and betrayal. The lyrics were unspecific, as all lyrics; designed to make the song universally applicable.
Ay, como sufre mi pecho
Por Diós que no hay derecho
Que tú seas asi…
“Ay, ay, ay! Me duele!”
“How is it that a mother fucker like you can have emotions?” a drugged and inebriated Whale contemptuously inquired of the Chief following his mawkish outburst.
“I’m through playing,” announced Nica, “I’m going for a walk.”
The Chief again stared menacingly at the young man. “Sit down!” he ordered. “The game isn’t over.”
“No. I need to go for a walk.” Nica stood up and unsteadily moved toward the door, the alcohol making his movements erratic. He lurched against the glass topped coffee table, which fell over in a loud crash, breaking into jagged shards; the radio abruptly silenced.
“You son of a bitch, you broke my table!”
“You son of a bitch, you broke my table!”
“I’m sorry; I’ll pay for it.”
“You son of a bitch, you broke my table!” With his service revolver, the Chief fired one shot; Nica crumpled to the ground.
“I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I swear I wasn’t going to tell anyone. You didn’t have to shoot me!”
“Shut up! You son of a bitch, I’m going to kill you!” With those words the Chief fired two more rounds into the young man’s torso. The explosions were deafening; a piercing ringing in my ears temporarily impeded my hearing. Although the shots had surely reverberated throughout the neighborhood, no one emerged to investigate. Better not to know. Don’t get involved. It’s not our problem.
The Chief brusquely pushed the inert body with his foot; Nica´s corpse twisted over on its face, a pool of blood forming on the rutted, hard earth.
“Hey, you! Whale! Get a blanket and wrap him up. Everyone stay here. Don’t any of you leave, understand? Don’t go anywhere!”
Whale and Squinty turned Nica´s pants pockets inside out; a disappointment, they were empty. Obediently, they rolled the cadaver into the blanket. Shiner untied the laces of the dead man’s shoes and removed them.
“He won’t need these anymore.”
The Chief staggered into his neighbor’s house. “Compadre, I need to borrow your truck. I just killed the Nica and have to toss him in a ravine before sunrise.”
The three men, accompanied by the woman, carried Nica´s tightly swathed corpse; I followed a short distance behind. Two supported the torso, two others Nica´s lifeless, stockinged feet that protruded from the end of the rolled blanket. They hurried through the maze of pathways as curious, albeit indifferent neighbors and their children silently observed the procession.
In an open space that served as a parking area for those fortunate residents wealthy enough to own a vehicle, and guarded continuously to assure the cars would not be missing parts or disappear in their entirety, the three men pitched the cadaver into the open back of a rundown pick up. Whale climbed in to accompany her brother, and squatted on the hard steel beside him; she made a hurried sign of the cross above the blanket. The three men slipped into the cab, and the vehicle sped away.
I walked back through the narrow, now empty footpaths to the shack, all the spectators had disappeared; nothing more to see, go back home and watch TV. Leaning against a concrete post, inhaling deeply on a cigarette, I watched as the hungry dogs slinked into the hovel to scrap amongst themselves as they hungrily lapped at the accumulated blood pooled on the uneven, hard earth floor.
It wasn’t the first time I had witnessed the tranquil finality that is death. Nothing is written, nor predetermined; there is no fate, no karma, only the accident of being, which bursts forth as unexpectedly as it comes to an end. Nica was now “as cold and lifeless as a rock.”
The argumentative riddle concerning existence as being defined by the corroboration of an observer is the product of a presumptuous, narcissistic contemplation. Had no one heard the tree fall in the forest, it would nonetheless have made a sound; protozoa were a certainty, regardless of the absence of Man to bear witness. Had no one heard the final protestations of Nica, the reality of his existence would nonetheless be undeniable; his annihilation, a consequence of the lethal toxin surrounding him, incontrovertible.
Years later I by chance encountered the Chief directing traffic at an intersection in the city. I stopped to chat, and it was he who brought up the killing. He told me that because of his unnecessarily paranoid concern that any one of those who were a witness to the murder would accuse him, he confessed the crime to his supervising officer, imploring assistance.
“The department transferred me to a distant precinct with the same rank and pay,” he chuckled without remorse.
“And Nica´s sister?”
“Disappeared. Probably died.”
He reacted to the look on my face. “Ey, everything dies, amigo!”
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