(2007 story) MURDER AT 503 LA ROSA

“It looks like he had a heart attack! Run and call an ambulance or a doctor!”
”There are no doctors at the policlinic?”
“The man is dead!”
People scream around Francisco’s body. Now he’ll never again steal the light bulbs from my building, nor the motor to pump water. There will no more thefts in the building.

One thief less.

I’m not afraid to come out of the pit in the middle of the street. This huge trench must be the hole at the corner of Ayestarán Road and Lombillo Street, in front of the dilapidated pharmacy, with its empty shelves. So I’m only a block from home. I crawl up the rocks until I believe I’ve reached the surface. I paw at the loose stones around me that should indicate wet asphalt. There’s no sign of a bus or car that might illuminate me and possibly hit me; bikes pass in the distance. I crawl and carry my broken bike with me, its wheels destroyed. Now there are only three more flights to go up in the dark … a few more steps … a breather, 12 more steps … another pause. I take care not to hit what remains of the bike against my neighbors’ doors. This stairway is such torture! I place the key at the same height as my navel, and this makes it easier to find the lock.

It was much harder to find the key to graduating from Law School. It had been an incredible sacrifice to study at dawn, after each blackout, beating back sleep with abundant quantities of bitter tea.

From my balcony, the buildings and the street and the sky around me all seem beautiful, black like a great ocean of ink. That’s also how I see my future, and that of my family. Why not try and find a bit of light, even if it’s not so early in life?

In the months that followed, the streets remained littered with craters, ever darker, covered with trash, reeking. People walked by aimlessly, their eyes blank, resting in line after line, going from frustration to frustration.
Cats and dogs almost reached the point of extinction as adolescents discovered their flesh was edible, and the only ones seen on the streets were the most famished, abandoned pets dragging along their own torn tufts of skin.
A girl faints next to me on the bus, a woman drops to the sidewalk one morning as I’m looking out my balcony. I’m told about an elderly woman who committed suicide because she couldn’t take the cries of her little grandson begging for another piece of bread, just as the radio broadcasts announced that ours is the best fed nation on earth, with the lowest infant mortality and the highest life expectancy. My friends and acquaintances are dying so quickly, at early ages.
“We’re so lucky to not live in any other country,” my young daughter says to me as she watches the haunting images from the rest of the world on our TV.
But I can’t believe it when I see two neighbors dive into a dumpster to scavenge through the fermenting garbage that had been previously feasted on by a myriad flies. Why is it that this country’s fertile soil is so sterile? Why don’t women want to give birth and young people don’t want to live? What makes people support so euphorically that which they in fact hate? Why do they work against themselves? Why do they experience such joy as they dig hopeless tombs for their grandchildren?

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