Archive for March, 2009

The Life of Sisyphus – Part Three

March 24, 2009

She finishes getting the children ready and they head out on their daily rounds.  First the older one to school, after that, backtracking, the little one to the daycare center.  Going past the building, the sound of the pump announces that the water has arrived.  After a brief chat, she leaves the girl at the center and walks back.  Each time it’s harder to convince her…I wonder what happened that she’s rejecting it again, she asks herself.  Nevertheless, the answer is right there in front of her, and she knows it.

Who’d want to, she thinks, spend a third of the day in a place with peeling walls, painted with a white powder that sticks to your skin and clothes; where the doors and windows are disintegrating because of the termites, sitting on noisy furniture made of iron bars and wire that are being attacked by rust, competing for faded and boring coarse wooden toys, with not even enough to go around.  A whole third of the day wriggling around in a churning crowd, exchanging bites, lice and colds, tended to by shouting women with bitter faces who, with equal lack of care, teach how to recognize colors, basic shapes, the photos of those who died in some long-ago war and of those who now govern us.

Much is said about the parents’ sacrifice for their children, but this is a sacrifice by children for their parents, that is what she believes.  Nobody can imagine how the children suffer when subjected to such treatment.  And though it may hurt them to see how their children’s childhood slips through their hands, hurrying them in the mornings so they can be on time, hurrying them in the afternoons to take their baths and to do their homework before dinner is ready, and hurrying them to eat and go to bed early, so as not to wake up tired and not to have to hurry in the mornings; though the impotence overwhelms her for not being able to counteract the influence of the violence, the vulgarity and the four letter words that they are absorbing each day; though she suffers because she can’t dedicate the time to them that she would like to on weekends because she has to do the shopping too, wash and clean; though she doesn’t know how to be creative so that the money will stretch every once in a while to fix them up with a toy or some candy that’s only sold in convertible pesos; she knows she has no other option, she can’t afford the luxury of not working.  She didn’t want to do it when she was married, and now that she’s alone, she simply cannot.

While climbing the stairs to her apartment, she starts to sweat.

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Life of Sisyphus – Part Two

March 17, 2009

She buys the bread and faces the dilemma of returning to the house to see if the children are already dressed and to get some things done, or to go back for the milk. As she still hasn’t heard the water pump, she decides to get back in the line for milk. On the path she runs into two girls, dressed in their uniforms and singing. Surely they are rehearsing for the morning meeting at school, she thinks, because they are singing a political song, with that artificial voice that all children in school uniforms use when they’re singing political songs in public. Noting that in the almost thirty years that have passed between her school years and now, the topics have changed but not the tone, and she wonders why so many patterns are repeated. To think that soon her own children will join this interminable chain gives her the chills.

The line for milk hasn’t changed, except that the young woman with the pierced navel in orange lycra is no longer there. In her place, there’s a lady with big glasses who’s talking with the old woman carrying the flowered bag. The bald guy, who is definitely an errand runner, is buying milk for six ration cards and is slowing down the line. She observes, fascinated, the robotic movements of the clerk who writes in the ration book, making notes on some large sheets laid out on the counter, opening the package, letting the powder fall little by little onto a used X-ray film set on the balance plate, until the arm raises, folding the film to create a channel for the powder to slide down into the sack the bald guy holds open. The sack into the bag, the film on the balance plate, and starting again. The voices that rise to a murmur return to the line.

The old woman with the flowered bag complains that before the cyclone there was a scarcity of food, how are they going to manage now, she asks. The one with the big glasses answers emphatically that there must be solidarity among the provinces most affected, that we don’t have to give away everything but must share what we have. It feels like she’s hearing a message repeated on television, said with almost the exact same words and in a triumphalist tone. My God, how monotonous, she says to herself, this habit of repeating the same words. All around her people show worried faces, some shake their heads and others murmur quietly. The big glasses woman looks insistently from side to side but no one responds. She turns to her looking for support, repeating her words, but it’s her turn to buy and she goes up, hiding behind the ration book and the sack, without saying anything.

While she buys the powdered milk she can feel at her back the words of the big glasses woman, who has continued speaking in her direction. She walks away and the words continue to fall around her like pirate hooks, trying to attract her attention, we can’t be selfish, we must show solidarity with others. But for her this flood of words is a blast that drives her away more quickly. What this old woman embodies, my God, she says to herself while remembering the litanies her grandmother would pray whenever there was sickness in the house, or trails of clouds in the sky. There are so many people who need to protect themselves with ideas, she thought while playing with the bag in her hands until it formed a ball, almost the size of a baseball. Let’s see what we can come up with for breakfast tomorrow.

Life of Sisyphus – Part One

March 10, 2009

His hands caress her, the morning sun filters through the curtains, instrumental music makes the atmosphere perfect for love. She closes her eyes and is happy. Suddenly, the music is swept away by a car horn and shouts calling for Vicenteee, up on the third floor. The hands no longer caress, they are just one, small, shaking her shoulder. The hand has a voice: Mommy, wake up, the sun is already up.

She wakes up walking to the bathroom, once again the alarm didn’t go off, she’ll have to check it. There’s no water, she uses the two buckets she filled last night. She makes coffee, and breakfast for the kids. Makes the beds and goes out to buy milk. She’s in a rush thinking about the line. From the corner she sees the truck; instead of plastic boxes with bags there are sacks falling over. When she gets there she learns the milk came in powdered form and they have to wait to open the shop until they can weigh it before selling it.

To wait or not to wait, that is the question. She has an image of the four people ahead of her in line, a mulatto in flip-flops and a mesh shirt, an old woman with a flowered bag, a girl in an orange lycra outfit with a ring in her navel, and a bald guy with three big bags, with the look of an errand runner. She speaks to the one behind, I’ll be back in a minute, and goes to the bakery.

Passing near the building she learns they haven’t started the pump, so it follows that there’s still no water. In the bakery there’s an enormous line, just seeing it raises her blood pressure, but it’s not for the rationed bread, it’s the line for “the bread of glory.”

This is an interesting story, as she remembers, while asking who’s last in line, and unavoidably smiles, they’ll think she’s nuts, laughing in a line. The “glory bread” is bread exactly like the rationed bread, but it’s freely sold at six times the cost of the other, and comes with added syrup, dry sugar, or nothing, depending on the level of intransigence of certain anonymous defenders of the status quo. When they began to sell it, the glory bread came out syrupy as if God sent it, but the people didn’t care for it and suggestions were heard to make it a little bit or totally dry, and yes, without changing the price.

One fine day the bakers were encouraged to try and they didn’t add anything and all the bread sold very quickly. The people of the neighborhood were very happy, because they might have a little more bread for a snack for the kids, to make a pudding, or to eat before going to bed in the cold season. And word spread through the neighborhood and the lines for the glory bread started to grow, until it attracted the attention of the status quo defenders, who must be people who don’t need any more bread than what is rationed, so they started to complain and make anonymous calls to certain places, places from where they sent certain inspectors to the bakery.

And because bakers are people who above all love their profession and are sad to be away from it, they returned to the bread soaked in syrup for a while, until the inspectors were gone and the status quo defenders focused their eyes and tongues on more important matters that claimed the attention of their modest efforts. The cautious bakers waited for a while before returning to ordinary bread, today they added a little syrup, tomorrow a little dry sugar, which you could brush off with your hand, until a cycle of plain bread started, along with the enormous lines. People are happy and take it easy, we have to seize the opportunity, because you never know when the anonymous ones will return, along with the inspectors and the unnecessary syrup.

It would be funny if it weren’t so fucked up, she thought. Everyone knows what goes on, the absurdity of the situation, but nobody can do anything. Nobody tries to change the status quo. It’s incredible how there are people who need to cling to the rules in order to live. And she advances toward the counter, her smile fading away.