The first casualty

(Something about this short piece by Héctor Torres really touched me. I guess it stirred up the conservative that lives within me. I’m taking the liberty to translate...

(Something about this short piece by Héctor Torres really touched me. I guess it stirred up the conservative that lives within me. I’m taking the liberty to translate it. These are the real Caracas Chronicles – read it and weep)

The first casualty, by Héctor Torres for Prodavinci

The girl at the register has a pretty face, one that clashes with her monument to indolence made up of the combination of the tiny triple-S lycra blouse and the profusion of flesh that pours out of the edges of the fabric. “Decorum” is obviously not in her vocabulary. Outside, at the corner, inside a box of paper towels that sits underneath a canopy, a three-year old child sleeps. Next to him, his mother eats a plate of pasta with ketchup and grated white cheese, dangling her flip-flop with the ugliest foot any human being could dare show in public, yelling, with her mouth only partially occupied:

Guareveryouwannfortenbolivar, guareveryouwannfortenbolivar!

Her male colleagues have the habit of folding their undershirts in two, as if they were tank tops, so that everyone can admire their perfectly compressed spheres covered in brown skin that pass for abdomens. As soon as they sell their first Chinese alarm clock the beer bottles start swiveling. And since beer is diuretic, one wonders how … Never mind, let’s just skip the sanitary details and leave it at that, beer and dominoes all day long. And they’re working. And the right to work is sacred.

In a Metro car at four thirty in the afternoon, two young men talk as if relating noble deeds about the many motorcycles they have “lit up” and those they have yet to. It’s a  euphemism for stealing. Same car, and a man hops on. He is not yet forty years old. He is asking for money by showing an oozing ulcer in his abdomen. He lifts his shirt in front of each of the passengers. He gets off and another person hops on with a wrinkled sheet of letterhead. It’s supposedly a medical report detailing a sad state of affairs, and the urgent need for an operation. That person gets off and another hops on, one claiming to be a psychiatric patient with a desperate need for money – his treatment is expensive. That one gets off and “la Pidepide” –  a Caracas Metro celebrity panhandler – gets on. “La Pidepide” gets off and a guy gets on riding a skateboard. He has no legs, so he yells “watch out for the cripple!” The “cripple” gets off, and another hops on, begging because “he doesn’t like stealin’ no more.”

Venezuelans once seemed so proud. So vain. They would glance at those underneath them in the map as if actually looking down on them. For a while, they really believed they were up and everybody else was down. They seemed so haughty. But one day, any day, one of those permanent days in which they lived on what’s immediate, what’s easy, on the philosophy of “I buy everything made,” they lost paradise. They lost it because they lost their sense of beauty, just like they lost their sense of decorum. And without any dignity, without that conscience of his human condition, without the tacit agreement that regulates our truce, the Venezuelan lost all hope.

The first sign of poverty that permeated Caracas was the absence of the habit of cultivating beauty. That was the first casualty, and by beauty I include demureness and decency. Everything else came later. That is where our end may have begun: this poor country with oil ended up respecting only money. That is the only element of success Venezuelans are able to recognize. And with it comes resentment. And corruption. And crime. And the thousand ways of whoring yourself. And the disdain for the infinite possibilities life offers when we stop living through what we see, and start living through what we dream.