With great frequency, climbing the two hundred and three stairs to our house in Guanajuato, I see young A. sitting with his friend on the stairs just outside his very modest house—crude stone walls with dirt for mortar, metal laminate roof. A. is young and shy. Over the years, I have engaged him by asking him questions about mathematics. It started out as two and two, then two and two and two; then, more complicated additions. We used to call him The Accountant, and he seemed to like that. He’s a bright kid. Maybe six or seven now.
His sister I. used to sit a little higher on the stairs with her next door neighbor M. At first, they just tittered when we spoke to them. I used to say, “I’m hearing what you’re saying,” because their heads were always very close together, as they chatted, and their eyes gleamed with pre-teen secrecy. Of course, I couldn’t hear; they knew that; but just being addressed sent them into a pre-teen tizzy. Especially by an old guy who was a gringo at that. Then, abruptly, I. had a boyfriend and M. sat alone on the steps, looking abandoned. The boy was older. I. needed the attention. She had probably just turned thirteen. Many girls are pregnant at that age, giving in to the pressure of an older boy. Now I notice she is no longer around. I don’t know what has become of her.
The Accountant and I. are brother and sister, I think. I am not sure. Their father’s name I never quite learned. When I went off in the morning to write at the Café Antik, I used to see him returning from the mine—I’ve never learned which one. He was on the night shift. And then he had his accident. Something fell on his head, and chances are it was part of the mine. He seemed different afterward. He drank more, he made less sense when he talked and he began asking for handouts. He was out of work a lot, I am told because he went on binges, and perhaps because the mine wanted sober miners who were not a danger to other miners in the sense of not being able to carry out basic responsibilities.
He began hanging out with the Usual Suspects, in the privada—side alley—just down the steps from us. We are currently traveling, and so I do not know exactly what happened, except that two days ago—according to the police—he was attacked in broad daylight (noon) by someone coming out of the privada. The person came up behind him and I suppose struck him—possibly on the spot where the mine had struck him earlier.
And now he is dead.
I have not used the word murdered. If someone killed him, I am fairly sure it was not premeditated. In one previous incident, which I have already written about—the incident of the brick fight, one of my first posts on the neighborhood—I was standing six feet from a neighbor when Q. walked up to him—minutes after the brick fight—and struck him on the head four times with a light metal pipe. In another incident, much later, I saw T. come up behind his drunk father, who had climbed up from the privada to rail against a public neighborhood organizing meeting. T. stood behind his father holding a good-sized rock, poised, it seemed, to bash him on the head, if there was no other way to control him. A very curious behavior for an otherwise obedient son. So in our barrio, bashing someone on the head is not an unusual recourse for punctuating disputes.
The Police—through their own connections—have a recording of the attack, from the surveillance cameras. There is not much more I can say at this distance, or want to say. Whoever attacked the victim must have been high on the usual substances: paint thinner, MagicMarker, airplane glue, etc. The effect of those chemicals is that you are aggressive and have very poor judgment—such as carrying out the act right in front of the cameras.
The neighbors are lying low, because now we enter the period when the privada realizes they’re in trouble again—with the police—and they are sending out their aunts, mothers and wives to find out who knows what. Of course, no one is saying very much—including, at this point, myself.