At the beginning, I confused them for a flock (a gang) of birds, because they called them “Los Loica.” But their wings were so full of filth that it was a miracle they could fly. They would melt in the sun like many Icaruses over fields of land. After that, I realized they were scavengers. Although they tended to act collectively, this clan’s modus operandi was just a coincidence. They go about provoking horror because that’s what they learned. They would spark the same fear that was sparked in them. From being abused to becoming the abusers. I imagined them populating ashes, with the voices of those who know death from a young age, becoming immune to its perpetuity and offspring. They had the same talent as those they say have the right blood to kill.
But in that part of the world nothing mattered, everyone came from a similar place. If someone has the chance to fly without falling, it is thanks to a prensado straight to the sky, inhaling a bag of glue, falling downhill off a piece of paper and following it with a bottle of pisco. When one starts the flight, one never gets that high. At least that’s what they say, the ones who lay the best plans between clouds and hell. Dodging bullets while doing acrobatics, scrunching up the sky with their skillful flapping. When one starts to fly, a sad cumbia is heard at the edge of the canal.
It is always summer here. The stench of the sewage escapes from all sides and the suffocating heat of the asphalt bounces off our bodies. Fires on the hillsides. Fires on the landfills. Every morning, barely past twenty degrees, the faucets start the transparent transformation of their surfaces.
Our biggest challenge is getting rid of the mosquitoes that come with the immense summer heat. This landscape is not so different from the landscapes of abandonment. The description of piles of cardboard forming a house is useless here; or the metal made up of countless hours between roof and wall among the eternal rubble that once sought to be some type of construction. You give it a name marginalized by the center, a common name in the news on crime. Here we call it El Desamparo: “Helplessness.”
I had heard the name of the gang several times as a neighborhood rumor in the streets. A murmur of chirping toward the cordillera: it was a nice way of mentioning that they lived in Camp Lautaro. Little bony bodies that would look at strangers with the perfect perseverance of someone who is plotting a plan. The trick of the carrion bird is to arrive and wait for death, when someone else does the hunting first. Here, things have changed, and more than a plan, it was done out of pure impulse. When fury burns in the blood in order to survive, the maniacal agitation of the virus inhabits them, like a birthmark ready to become a lineage.
Let’s say this is the part where it all begins. We have seen many reborn or come back from the dead. Family names are written daily as a trademark. However, here we were ready for the movements of a single flock of small infants, undivided masters of the city. Ready for the gear of what may or may not have happened, but did and continues to happen:
“Hello, hello!” a thin young girl shouted, whom I had seen a while ago trying to look through the plastic of the windows.
“What can I do for you?” asked a lady in the corner. It seemed to be la Marina, but from where I was, I could hardly see her face, just her silhouette and her broom in ruins, as if she were sweeping and chatting at the same time.
“My name is Tamara, I’m from social services,” she answered. I heard her say something like that, because just as I passed by her, the evangelical woman was interrupting my curiosity, passing me the pair of marraquetas she had gone to buy.
“Mmm, nobody lives there anymore. They won the subsidy last month and sometimes the kids from Villa Cancha or Camp Lautaro come in to play,” said Marina.
“Ahhh, thank you,” answered Tamara. When she noticed the group of scavengers abandoned inside the house, her whole body was dripping with kerosene and her hair was on fire like a revolutionary postcard.
Then, two scenes:
- The woman is screaming in flames, rolling on the ground, trying to put out the fire. While the group of winged infants circles her body. Dancing and detaching jewels and coins.
- Tamara’s wallet floats in the canal, along with a couple of plastic cards from commercial stores and passport-sized photos of children the same age as the flock.
It wasn’t even noon yet.
The same impetuous sun was over our heads. During the day, the temperature never dropped below thirty degrees, and I used to walk, dragging my feet in the tap water to cool off. The hot life of that sector got us out of bed early in the morning. It’s terrible to sleep with those flames burning the skin, there was never any ventilation under the hill, a false valley was the only thing we had left. The population was even more suffocating. The usual crowd on the corners or those who flew over the field could not be seen so easily and it was difficult to get a joint to carry on with the day. I walked back and forth, keeping an eye on which eyes were watching me. It was hard to walk safely these days. I didn’t even trust myself; my tongue was loose, and guilt corroded the dreams I had perspired in the night.
We heard about the poor cabra1 on TV. They were broadcasting the news all afternoon, the doctors said she had life-threatening burns. They said she was on the border between life and death. That phrase rang out like an echo among the swirling earth.
They put a curfew on us and the tanks arrived. All of El Desamparo spoke in whispers, fear immobilized us again. We had been raised under blows, and even if we started, our bodies were trained by panic. That’s why we flew every now and then, to survive and forget.
In the following days, new versions came out. I spent several afternoons shut in watching TV, listening to the stories they invented about our home, but only a few knew the truth, only a few could call themselves witnesses. Only we lived here.
From the hill to the canal, the soldiers changed. Instead of small birds who sold, now there were military patrols and drones that took off vigilantly over us, mechanical birds ready to shoot us at the slightest movement. I still managed, my dose of pisco and joint remained the same. Between sips, my head would pound, the shadows of the house would transform and Cholo, my dog, would say: “You are a witness, say what happened,” while wagging his tail.
I could not sleep, the hallucinations of my brain broken by pisco. From hangover to bile. And the hill in flames as always.
Meanwhile, I had a dream where I was flying high and calm over the field. There was a pichanga between Las Águilas and Los Cóndores. The girls were winning, three goals ahead of the boys. Then, suddenly, I forgot how to fly and fell over the canal. While I was trying not to drown, I heard a voice. I saw one body, then two, then a thousand, like when you fix your eyes on one star and they all appear at once, twinkling. The voice told me they were there, I had to save them. Then the scene changed and I appeared in an abandoned house, a house similar to the one where Los Loica lived. It seemed I had been living there for some time, because I had a factory for grinding up people. I sold them for five hundred pesos per half kilo. I shredded the pieces and put them in an ice cream cooler. Then I would keep the meat fresh for the neighborhood’s homemakers. I was doing pretty well, until the heads started talking. That was the end, nobody wanted their food to tell them it had died. Then Cholo would say, “I told you so.” I woke up, but the smell of death followed me. I couldn’t get the smell of blood off my hands. I had to talk, there was no point in babbling about my hangover.
From the new accumulated information, the government said the woman had been attacked by a group of migrants. The news reports were betting that she had been assaulted by a gang of drug traffickers and, in their eagerness to save themselves, they had doused her with fuel to set her on fire.
At the end of the week, the police found two suspects who could be linked to the crime. Apparently they had a tip, or someone let their tongue flap. When they showed the images of the alleged attackers, the TV journalists, incredulous, saw that they were a couple of children, no more than eight years old.
Breaking news, national channel:
“They found the criminals who committed the terrible attack. It was a group of children, they call them ‘Los Loica.’ At least seven minors, between eight and fourteen years old. They come from Camp Lautaro de El Desamparo and were allegedly involved in the crime. Arrest warrants were issued to initiate their capture.”
Nobody was quite sure how the fame our home had acquired was going to end. Nobody here wanted to become famous, we liked the shadows. Now we were militarized, watched by drones and cameras. On the other hand, on TV every now and then there was someone who wanted to give an opinion on the fate of Los Loica, just fancy names to talk about and justify juvenile detention.
We knew what would happen to them, they would return to the womb. An eternal return, coming and going to the place from which we all escaped. You don’t have to be very bright to know the world of vandal kids in the penitentiary universe. Torture for absence. Blowjobs for drugs. Antidepressants for rape.
Dropping off kids and picking out corpses. Or birds. That was our fear, and it was back.
Pretentious news was repeated almost throughout the press, half truth, half fiction. In the questionable investigation, some dates of birth were mentioned. Logs of schools they had attended, and other crimes caused by the flock. But no one was interested in the story of their abandonment.
A few days later, a statement from a Loica was leaked. It was in a TV report with a crazy cuica talking about crime. In the background, marginal rap. Images of hard-working people versus birds. Journalists in disguise as if our home was a guerrilla camp. Infiltrators recording the language of our birds. Our dirt fields, the blocks, the cardboard houses, the hill, the garbage dump, the canal. All of El Desamparo is under siege. The cabras are screaming, “Go to hell.” The birds are sniffing, smoking, snorting, consuming, and flying. The dose, the dose. The Eagles with the Condors against the TV, the police, the milicos and the drones. The flags of the cabras and their beautiful hoods, their barricades, their stones.
At the end of the report, the Loica appears with his face covered, shouting: “We were just hungry!”
But here we are all hungry. Hungry for death, hungry for fire, hungry for paste, hungry for joints, hungry for pisco, hungry for liberation. We are the only ones who know that hunger never comes alone.
Translated by Mariana Mata
1 Colloquial expression for “girl” in Chile.