There is only one thing more complicated than living in Venezuela and that is dying in Venezuela. Caribbean bureaucracy has a predilection for making people’s lives as miserable as possible, even beyond the earthly boundaries. Lencho was well aware of this, as was everyone else in the country. But after his daughter’s death, he was naively hoping for some sort of institutional mercy. Or, truth to be told, he wasn’t.
He had learned from a very early age not expect anything from anyone, particularly from those in charge of signing and stamping paper. Those, under the supervision of others who also had to sign and stamp some other papers but never without previously obtaining a different stamp and signature from someone else above.
Despite all this, he couldn’t help but lose another piece of his infinite source of hope in his fellow countrymen when the guard at the morgue told him that he could not see his daughter’s corpse until he returned the certificate plus two copies, another copy of her I.D, and two of his own I.D.
It was times like
these when Lencho liked to imagine people were kinder to each other in foreign
lands. Lands like Bolivia were Avelino, the affable drunkard who owned the only
copy store in Guayabones was from. It was Saturday night and Avelino would not
open his store until Monday at noon, visibly hungover and smelling like he was
wearing used sheets from a brothel instead of clothes.
At first, Lencho tried begging. Then he pleaded. He was so persistent that the young guard went through the trouble of removing his headphones and lowering the volume of what he was listening to: a reggaeton song that preached about the hardships of being in love with your best friend’s wife.
Lencho asked his name. “Ramses, like the Pharaoh” he said. The sense Lencho had that he was speaking to a superior figure increased. He took out his small can of aniseed tobacco paste, made a little ball with his finger and put it in his mouth. “The thing is, Ramses, that I want to see her before I die”.
Ramses stared at Lencho’s brown teeth. The smell of aniseed made his stomach turn. Whatever empathy he had felt for the grieving man had just faded. “Well let’s just hope you don’t die before Monday”. Ramses put his headphones back on. Lencho spat chewed brown paste to the floor, dangerously close to the guard’s feet and then tapped him on the shoulder. “Mijo, the thing is that I’m going to die before Monday”. Ramses thought he didn’t hear well. “¿Cómo?” Lencho said it again. “I’m going to die before Monday”. Ramses didn’t take his headphones off this time. He was particularly fond of the song he was listening to, the one where they sing about “wiggling your pear” and Ramses knew “pear” meant “ass.” “Well, then you also have to bring your birth certificate, two copies of it and one more of your I.D”. Ramses smirked.
Being a guard at the morgue made him feel smart and powerful. He had a gun, he had a uniform and a badge with his last name. People brought him gifts and bribes. No one that he did not want to could go through that door. And as he bragged to his friends, grieving women were “mansitas”. Docile. So were the nurses, four of them, not too pretty but not quite ugly, all of them cuckoo over the pathologist, Doctor Urreiztieta, who Ramses constantly accused behind his back and in front of the nurses of being the type of man that “likes other men to breathe on his neck”.
Yes, Ramses was the king of the morgue, the custodian of an average of 12 bodies per week, the Gatekeeper before THE gatekeeper.
“¿Usted no tiene hijas?”, Lencho insisted. “Si, pero ninguna es puta gracias a Dios”. A small puddle of Lencho’s saliva mixed with chewed tobacco hit Ramses right in between his nose and his mouth.
The impact of a
cold object against his forehead was all that Lencho could remember when he
first woke up on the sidewalk. Then it all started to come to him. No one had
ever called his Omayrs a whore. Not to his face. Not anyone that was not her
Lencho sat on the sidewalk and noticed he was still a few meters away from the entrance of the morgue. As the night grew older, cars and people kept piling up in the driveway. A white Malibu cab pulled over. A man with swollen red eyes awaited in front of the entrance and opened the car’s door. A woman stepped out of the cab just to collapse into his arms. Lencho thought again of his ex-wife. What would she have done tonight? What would she have said?
The way Lencho remembered it was that as soon as Omarys learned to talk back to her, Luz started to hate the girl and maybe to hate him as well. There sitting by himself, he laughed out loud like he wished he had done it back
Lencho was never a cruel man. He would listen horrified
and quietly to the stories that Candido Tejada would tell casually at the
Taguara about tying up his wife when he was not home. Suddenly, he felt
terribly sorry again for Tejada’s wife and for Omarys, who had met her fate
when she married her third husband, Barahona, a fat, pale, balding city man,
who everyone knew had another wife in the city who suspected nothing of his
double life in the fields. Lencho felt a paralyzing desire to hug her, her
body, whatever was left of her.
Sunday sharp at 10:00 am Lencho knocked on Avelino’s door. He was carrying a brown folder filled with documents. The smell of urine and the empty bottles of beer on the sidewalks were the only evidence that anyone had ever inhabited those streets. Lencho knocked again. Two, three, times. A semi-naked boy, still wet from swimming at the river, drove past Lencho in his bike, giving him the middle finger, yelling an obscenity and smiling. When Lencho reacted, the boy was only a distant bump in the plain. Lencho murmured all the curses he knew and wished with all his heart that the boy would crash his bike and break all his teeth. He pictured with great detail the insolent brat’s face bathed in snot and blood, walking back in his direction begging for help and crying out loud for his mom.
A full hour passed and the
street was still post-apocalyptic. At this point, Lencho had lost all hope to
see Avelino and even though he wouldn’t admit it to himself, he was just
standing there, holding a big empty bottle of rum, waiting for the boy to drive
by again. The first spicy rays of the summer noon sun started to hit him hard.
He could feel it toasting his body. He remembered he had not eaten in hours.
Lencho reached for the small can of aniseed tobacco paste in his pocket. It was
empty. He thought of his ex-wife. He pictured Barahona beating his daughter. He
pictured Barahona, Tejada his Ex-wife and Ramses, all of them beating his
Lencho slammed the bottle of rum with all his might against Avelino’s store window. The parts of the window that the bottle didn’t break, Lencho cracked with his fist. He placed the bloodied documents on the copy machine and hit start. The old loud machine and his state of mind prevented him from hearing the heavy steps behind him, crushing the little bits of glass. A bullet buzzed his ear, hitting the glass cabinet of medicines and spilling bottles and boxes all over the floor. Lencho ducked behind the copy machine and turned around to see Avelino holding a gun a few meters behind him, so drunk he could barely stand or keep his pants up. “¿Dónde estas, hijo de puta?” Avelino waved his gun in all directions. Lencho sneaked up behind him and went for the gun. Both men struggled for a few seconds, mostly because Lencho felt like Avelino had a right to defend himself. But as soon as he decided to, the uneven fight was over. Lencho took the gun and elbowed the Bolivian man on the face, who fell flat onto broken glass. Lencho took the machete tied to Avelino’s waist and then collected his documents from the copy machine. He went behind the counter, where he grabbed a can of aniseed tobacco and a yellow folder, he placed all the original documents and its copies inside the envelope, turned and left.
Sunday was Ramses’ favorite day. He started at 12:00 pm by buying empanadas,
At 1:00 PM, he would check up on all the nurses. Juana and Migdalia watched with fervor “La Bastarda” on the small TV at the reception. The most watched telenovela in the country, it told the story of a beautiful, almost Scandinavian woman who grows up in poverty with her dark-skinned family. She never questions where she comes from until by a twist of fate, she falls in love with a rich, Hitler-youth looking young man, who happens to be her biological brother. Sarita liked to take a nap in the locker room and Malala just sat and read.
1:10 sharp he would sneak
into the darken room and lock the door. He liked the smell of formaldehyde
since the first time he walked in there. In a way it made sense. Even when he
was a kid he had always enjoyed strong odors others dislike, particularly
He would walk through the rows of metal tables, caressing blankets and reading the name tags on the toes. His system was simple: he sought out females between the ages 15 and 21. Anything older than that he could find outside.
At 2:00 pm he unlocked the main door. Although he bathed himself afterwards in the same baby cologne he bought for his daughter, the smell of formaldehyde still lingered. He put his headphones on, lit a cigarette, and smiled, pleased when the pear-shaking song came on the radio.
The blade hit him right in the middle of the grin. People screamed, horrified, as Lencho walked past the doors, holding the machete in his bloodied hand and the yellow folder under his arm. Migdalia and Juana stood there, paralyzed with fear, while the end theme of “La Bastarda” played in the background. Calmly, Lencho put the machete on the ground. He took the yellow folder from under his arm and laid it on the counter. “Miss, I would like to see my daughter. I’m going to die today”.