Guayaba con Papelón

A heartbreaking everyday story. Translated by Javier Liendo.

On Tuesday morning, a security guard asked me to please buy him something to eat. He hadn’t had anything since Monday’s breakfast and was feeling dizzy. I turned back and bought two empanadas, those I don’t buy for myself anymore, because their price reflect the prodigy of their making: cooking oil, corn flour and, at this point, any filling. I specifically asked for the sweetest juice they had and a cup appeared smelling of guayaba, without a straw because there weren’t any.

When hunger trumps shame and a man cries over a couple of empanadas, emotions stir inside of you. He took one of them and wrapped the other, first in the brown paper bag and then in the plastic one. Before he started eating, he rubbed the wrapping saying: “for tonight, thank you so much.” He cried before and after he started biting. He tried to speak, but it complicated things, because his crying got stronger and through tears, gasps, snot and bites, he choked for several reasons. Words don’t always relieve sadness, but I tried to distract him anyway, talking about my nephews, my work and Sunday’s traffic.

Calmer, he spoke about the way he prioritizes his children at mealtimes, about the almost intuitive deal he made with his wife about it. That’s why they’re both eating much less, but making a habit out of insomnia takes energy and this morning he knew that if he didn’t eat, he’d faint. So he grew bold and asked me for the favor. Napkins shouldn’t be used to dry the tears of a worker who can’t buy the food he needs. Despite that, he thinks about the future and has been buying some school supplies and talked to a cousin -whose children are exactly one year older than his- to keep the books and some clothes because she “washes her clothes even better than my mom.”

I was moved by his tenderness when speaking about his children. He sums it up saying: “If we gave birth to them, it was to care for them and protect them.” It’s the first time I hear a man talking about childbirth in plural. When I reach my office, I told this story in three tweets, with all the indignation I felt about it. Without sizing the weight of my words, I insulted Nicolás four consecutive times. Several scoldings later, I chose to delete the tweets, to reestablish good judgement and exercise prudence instead of anger. I know that harder days are coming, that listening to him was more important than buying him some food, that we’ll see each other differently, that he’s one dad among millions who are going through the same circumstances. “Uy, it has papelón, so tasty!” he said while slowly sipping the juice, like we all do when we don’t want something to end.

Naky Soto

Naky gets called Naibet at home and at the bank. She coordinates training programs for an NGO. She collects moments and turns them into words. She has more stories than freckles.