September 25, 2010
Rewritten version of the short story “Cuando fui punk”, included in the book Desde el caleidoscopio de Dios.
for Frank Gavidia, friend of a friend
Don’t ask me how, but I found a chunk of pure, uncut coke. A piece of chalk. It was more or less the size of my index finger. They gave it to me all bundled up in saran wrap and I put it in my pants pocket as though it were my keys. I found a payphone and called Morocho. It was ringing when a hand covered by a black glove tapped my shoulder. Hang up the phone, sir, I heard someone say to me. I hung up, turned around with my hands held up, and saw a policeman: the hood covered his entire face. In one hand he carried an M-16 and with the other he was making signs at me. The bullet proof vest, the two nines in the belt, the camouflage pants and the boots made him seem solid. Give me your ID and follow us, I was told by the man with half his mouth hidden. You’re going to be a witness for a raid. Behind him I saw two other policemen, dressed in the same way and with the same arrogance oozing from their pores.
Trembling, I got into a crimson SUV. After we got going, everyone took off their hoods. For the first time I saw their faces. All three had mustaches. Are you scared, kid?, the one driving asked me without taking his eyes off the road. I didn’t answer. I was thinking about the barrel of the other cop’s M-16 that was practically in my ear and about what I had in my pocket. We were heading south on avenida Las Américas, the same route that would take me to my house. At the entrance to La Linda a Bronco was waiting for us with a man dressed in grey and a woman with a man’s face who was carrying a folder. They immediately joined our caravan and followed us. Where are we headed?, asked the one driving. Right up calle Dos. A house called Santa Eduviges. Shit, I screamed in silence. That was Mr. Orlando’s address, my neighbor, a Colombian who lived just two doors down from me. I hadn’t stopped thinking about it when we pulled up in front of the house.
The masculine woman was the one giving orders. Everyone called her Fonseca. The first thing she did was take down my information. Juan Salvador Vaquero, she said looking at my ID. What do you do? I study, I lied with my hand in my pocket. Then she ordered me to knock on the door. I raised my eyebrows in an interrogative gesture and she answered with her eyes that she wasn’t going to repeat it, and that if I didn’t knock on the door at that very moment they would fuck me up between all of them right then and there. So I knocked, of course. Mr. Orlando opened the door. He didn’t recognize me and he seemed unfazed by the presence of that detachment. He actually seemed to have been expecting them for months. They entered without violence and slowly checked out the entire house. They found several kilos in some mattresses and in the kitchen cabinets. Mr. Orlando was drinking coffee and smoking while Fonseca asked him questions and wrote down his answers in some forms she kept pulling out of her folder. I was accompanying the agents through all the rooms watching what they moved and what they didn’t. When all the merchandise was gathered onto a table, Fonseca began giving orders. You all, get going first. And you, she said to the one in the grey suit, take those two with you, pointing to the Colombian and me. So we got into the Bronco. I was riding shotgun and Mr. Orlando was in back, handcuffed. As soon as we got in he asked me if I lived around there. I nodded and clumsily apologized, saying I was only a witness. Don’t worry, man, he answered through his teeth and began looking out the window at the road.
We got to the station. They put us in a room with just a couple chairs, a door that led to a bathroom, a mirror that surely displayed us in some parallel chamber, and a table where they organized the drugs, the money and a couple cell phones they found in the house. The Colombian smoked lifting his two hands. You took too long, he said staring at the floor. The smoke drew a line from the cigarette up to a fan that was turned off, hanging from the ceiling. I’ve been selling the same shit for fifteen years, he said and took a drag from his cigarette; the movement made the line turn into a scribble. Suddenly the door we came in opened and a giant guy stepped into the room. From what I read on the badge hanging from his jacket he was a captain and his last name was Lara. He was sweating like a beast. He was accompanied by one of the cops who took me to witness the raid. They entered and closed the door. Fuck!, said the captain with surprise when he saw what was on the table. He pulled out a pocket knife and punctured one of the bags. With his fingers he took a little and placed it on the tip of his tongue. His face revealed surprise and satisfaction. He loaded the blade and inhaled an inhuman amount up his nostril. It left him impeccable. What’s wrong, Colombia, aren’t you gonna have some?, Lara offered Mr. Orlando. The Colombian tossed what remained of the cigarette on the floor, squashed it and grabbed the knife, always handcuffed, to bury it delicately in one of the bags. Then he lifted it to his face with both hands and sniffed. Enjoy, Lara said to him, because over there in El Rodeo you’ll be smoking pure rocks. The scene was repeated twice with Colombia and once again reached the captain’s face. The agent dressed in black served himself. He did it with the ease of someone in a backyard with friends serving coffee into a little cup. Now we’re warming up, Lara said, rubbing his hands. What are we gonna do with you Colombia? Do you know how many years you’re facing? At that moment, I suppose obeying an impulse, I stood up and spoke. Can I go to the bathroom? Lara moved his hands and wrinkled his face in a gesture that asked who I was. He’s the witness, answered the agent after he sneezed. The captain pointed to one of the doors. In the bathroom, I washed my face with a piece of blue soap and unwrapped the finger, cut into it with my keys and tasted it with the tip of my tongue. I couldn’t make too much noise so I flushed the toilet several times to camouflage the sound. Normal. I checked myself in the mirror and repeated the operation. Ready. When I was done, I covered the finger in the saran wrap again and put it back in my pocket. I walked out whistling a song that in English says I’m the antichrist.
In the room, I found Mr. Orlando collapsed into a brutal wail. He was talking about his daughters. He was theorizing about how transitory money turns out to be and we all listened without moving. The only one who moved every once in a while was Lara, who kept taking portions out of the bag and was alternating them between his nose and the other two’s noses. Watch out for the police, they kept joking each time Lara brought the knife close to the bag. We were there for a very long time. Before we left, I went into the bathroom again. That’s it. They took me to my house at dawn and the only thing they told me was that I had to show up at the station on the day of the hearing.
One, two, three, four weeks went by.
One afternoon someone knocked on my door. It was a Colombian woman. She offered me millions to change my statements. I accepted. Later on I found out the Colombian had given me less money than what I was due. So during the hearing I told everything exactly how I remembered it. A snitch but serious.
Many months later, while I was hanging up at a phone booth, I heard someone yell my last name. I looked toward the corners all paranoid and saw Fonseca and the captain in a Bronco. Sir, she said, we need you to accompany us. You’ll be a witness for a raid. They both started cracking up. I gave them my middle finger and they responded by simulating a gun in their hands. They pointed at me and shot, making little sounds with their mouths. Then they sent me big kisses, waved goodbye and took off.
Translated by Guillermo Parra
Carlos Ávila (Caracas, Venezuela, 1980) has a degree in Literature from the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He has published the short story collections Desde el caleidoscopio de Dios (Equinoccio, 2007) and Mujeres recién bañadas (Mondadori, 2009). He is in graduate school studying Spanish and Latin American Literatures at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, in Argentina.