In this #ownvoices story by Diego Salinas, “Scar/City,” we glimpse a very real world in disarray — with stunning illustrations by María Octavia Russo.
By Deigo Salinas with illustrations by María Octavia Russo
It is dark. No moon; no nothing. They are hugging in his mom’s beat-up Fiat Uno. Her hair is dark. Long and wavy. They can barely see each other, but her hands keep touching his chest. Feeling him. The car is small. Their bodies, cramped in the backseat, contact in an almost painful way.
Her fingers cease moving; her arms draw away. The faces move, noses touch. They do not kiss.
“That’s not true.”
It is, though. He has gotten slimmer; he isn’t eating alright. He’d always been fat. Losing weight, until a couple years ago, had been a fantasy. Things were so much better before; everything was cheap, available. A crime-ridden socialist paradise.
Her hands go on. They both can feel his ribs, exposed.
“You’re skinny. You know it’s true.”
His hands go for her body. She stops him.
“Have you been eating alright?”
He can’t. He doesn’t wanna stand on a food line. His mother makes a living for them. She wants him to go to school; she wants him to graduate. Food lines are an ever-present sight, a vision that constrains him. It’s unbearable to watch rivers of people, all with battered clothes, staring at their shoes, mumbling and clutching their belongings. Even those who laugh, the happy faces on the line — those are the worst. He wonders how they extract happiness from humiliation. There, in the back of his mother’s car, he is infinite. Outside, he is nothing. He shifts uncomfortably in the seat, sweat covering his back. His voice fills the car.
“We don’t queue.”
Staple foods are out of his reach. She knows; she ought to know. He goes to school and back. He is a good kid.
Her hands, sticky, grab his face. She looks straight into his eyes and past him before opening her mouth.
“My mom does.”
He feels the humiliation in her voice. Defiance, hurt. She is caught. He is still free. His freedom has a price his body is paying. Neither of them can win. Nobody can. Each pound he’s lost marks a lost battle.
In the darkness, he traces her. Her figure is still full. He hopes it will last. He wants it to last. They cling to each other. He is now a flyweight boxer: skinny and wiry. Tense and swift. He casts his eyes down. His gaze betrays a confession he can barely utter.
“I should queue, too.”
Maybe he should. Queueing: sun, bodies, heat. Defeat. Bending his back. Waiting for the lashes. The food lines. Dreaded human lines, dots of misery. The car’s metal frame shields him against reality. Inside it, he is good.
Her hands resume. She embraces him.
“Don’t. Keep skinny.”
He holds on to her.
He takes the bus every day. Crosses the street, holds his ground. Astriction: verb. Bind. He’s bound.
The bus arrives. Filled. Sardines. Another one comes. Free space. He sits. Attentive. Ready. All ears. He watches. Waits. Two women, one row ahead. They are talking to each other.
“I heard he got out.”
The words awaken him. Jail. Here, everybody’s been in jail. He fears jail. Lockdown. The big house. Prison is everywhere. The man whom the women are talking about is probably an athlete; that’s what all mothers say about their sons when they get killed. Boom. It takes a well-placed bullet to make saints out of sinners. Maybe not.
The mom vouches for her son. Her son was jailed. He wonders what the son did, whom he killed. The other woman assents.
Guns: pistols, sub-machine guns, rifles. Automatic; semiautomatic. He knows them all. Gunshots and night. A shot in the dark.
The bus stops. The women exit. Metal sounds. Screeches. The machine moves. Its belly is always open, flowing with individuals. The man stops every two blocks. Sometimes even twice at the same one.
The driver speaks, “Bájense, pues. Get out, fast.” The women flush and step outside.
A motorcycle zooms in, its mangled exhaust sounds like a starting pistol — Pop. The driver smiles. A new woman sits. She strikes a pose. Eyes rip clothes. Eyes are darts thrown at cleavage. Bullseye. A hundred points.
Another stop. The bus shrieks; it’s in pain.
Cops are everywhere. Specks of humanity. Orange vests in the asphalt. Beretta 9mm. Nobody sees them. Everybody’s calm. Firearms are natural. He pretends he is calm; he longs to be like the rest, at least for some minutes.
Outside, at his right, a line. Four blocks full of people waiting for food that will never come. Some sit on the ground, casting shadows. Others sit on cardboard boxes and plastic chairs. He can tell those are regulars; they’ve come prepared. They’re equipped to withstand the sun, the smell, and the humiliation. They’re new men and new women, crafted by the revolution. Soldiers armed to the teeth stand around. They don’t even look martial. They flirt, exchange, and gossip. Their FAL rifles and AK-107s shine under the sun. Five pounds of useless metal; guns pointed at people queueing to get corn meal. Guns pointed at their own people. A man leaves the supermarket with a bag.
From his seat on the bus, he cranes his neck, scanning to see what is inside the bag. He can’t stop himself. Three packages of flour. He longs for arepas, but he won’t queue. Not him. Not his mother. They will stand their ground. They won’t humiliate themselves. They can resist. He wonders how many pounds he’s got left before he caves in.
Each time the driver steps on the brake pedal, he remembers a train; metal against metal. The bearings should be lubricated. Santo Niño de la Cuchilla, protégenos. Drivers are Catholic. The rearview mirror sports a rosary; on top of it, a little girl’s picture, probably the driver’s daughter. He wishes baby Jesus would protect him too.
The machine howls. Last stop. School. The driver halts. The metal roars.
He pays the fare.
He walks. Attentive. Ready. All body.
Hands in the comforter. Wet. Her skin against his. Weight: matter, substance. A sum of bones, flesh, muscle, and blood. Pulse: ninety beats per minute. He is alive. His face lit up; hers too. Fur at their feet. Warm. Purr. Light returns.
Sound resumes. She gasps in his ear. Her breath against his cheek feels moist; when she talks, her words carry heat.
“Do you think this’ll ever end?”
Them. Us. No. It can’t. He stays silent. An unmovable object. His silence gives him away; she must know.
“Not us. This.”
The lines. Violence. Screams. Homeless children holding makeshift Styrofoam weapons. People that were once healthy now looking for food in the trash cans. The newcomers are squeamish; they are still repulsed by the scent and the texture. The bags leach a gray liquid on the street. Resignation. They zero in on the trash and start seeking. The faces contort into something akin to a smile. Like gold diggers who find nuggets. Non-rotten, edible foods are their nuggets. Homeless children holding makeshift Styrofoam weapons. Close-cell extruded polystyrene cut into the form of a sub-machine gun: that is a toy. A weapon is a toy. Soon the polymer will become iron and gunpowder. Soon the sounds will not come from the children’s mouths but from revolvers. The situation won’t end. Once it starts it never ends.
“It won’t end. Not really.”
He cannot see her face; he just feels her presence. Sadness. She still harbors hope. Her heart is bigger than his. He should’ve lied. He can’t. Lying would be deceitful.
“I wish this would stop.”
We all do. It is hard to understand. Nobody knows what happened. Not even when. A few years ago, everything collapsed. It was like waking up.
An alarm blares. Its sound can’t dim the voices outside: the ever-present City. 6 P.M. Time to leave. Her parents are inbound. They don’t know he’s there, at least not when she’s in the house alone. He stands; picks up his things. There’s not much to carry.
The elevator awaits. Hungry. A hungry mouth. Just like him.
Diego Salinas is a 26-year old Venezuelan currently living in Argentina. He loves cats and will be alive until he
dies. He seldom posts things on his Tumblr. You might want to follow him. dsalinasgardon.tumblr.com