Half-Dead – by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Ríodoce)

~ This essay was originally published by Ríodoce on August 30, 2015 ~


Raúl worked as a gasoline thief. They would give him the information about the precise hour when the gasoline would be passing through the pipe so they would be ready: almost always at night or in the early morning, with the spigot that they had installed on the ducts and the permission of the narcos who controlled that town.

At the moment of the siphoning they were ghosts, shadows. The police went off to other operations, far from the men pulling the high-octane gas from its tube. The army stopped patrolling, the Marines stayed in their barracks. Not even the crickets chirped, perhaps only a confused owl. The bats felt disoriented, as though their terrain had been invaded.

The two-hundred liter jugs waited in the trucks. An interminable line of vehicles seeking supplies to sell on their own, deliver to the bosses, or distribute to others who would resell it. Booming business, a small fire in a community that had ceased to smell of the gunpowder from AK-47s and had started to fill up with an invisible blanket of gasoline: in the patios, the schools, the plaza, the corner stores, the cornfields, and the bedrooms.

One day they told him to stop pulling. He asked why, and they said they didn’t know, orders from the chief. But he needed money, he had to recover from the time he had been in jail. You can’t, loco. No means no. Listen to us. But he could not just sit in front of the television, drinking a 40, knowing what time the green was going to go through the duct. All he had to do was put his hand on the spigot, turn it and open and. Gold. Green gold, bluish, reddish, liquid, hot. And it was all for him alone.

Two days later they found him strangled and with bullet in the back of the neck. I told you. Those were the three words from the guy who had warned him not to siphon, with his hand on the .38. Jorge, his younger brother, cried for him so much that he dried out inside. A tiny death was born in his entrails: it began in the liver, rose to the stomach, took hold in his gastric juices, conquered the esophagus, became a cry, reached the sinuses, and went mute in a tearless cry.

Jorge siphons now. He Works for the same people, those who pulled the trigger, who have gunpowder on their hands and distribute bills and nourish the blanket that smells of gasoline: the same people who destroyed Raúl. He knows it, but he wants money, and a lot of it. He carries a vengefulness that has hardened his face and killed his gaze, and he neither forgets nor dreams: only nightmares visit him at dawn.

His mother told him, get out, son. No, I can’t. They’ll kill you, for god’s sake. God? There is no god if they killed my brother. But son. Nothing, mom. I don’t care anymore. Honestly, with what happened to Raúl, I already feel half dead.

[fruitful_sep]Journalist Javier Váldez Cárdenas edits Ríodoce, an investigative news website based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is a prolific author, with a new book, Con una granada en la boca (Aguilar, 2014) (With a Grenade in the Mouth — as yet unavailable in English). This Malayerba column for Ríodoce first appeared in Spanish under the title, “Media muerte” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/media-muerte.

Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute.

About Michael Lettieri

Program Officer at the Trans-Border Institute

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