God Does Not Exist (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce.mx)

This column first appeared in RíoDoce.mx on 2 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

God Does Not Exist
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas

That’s what Cholo says: “God doesn’t exist. Just like my mother doesn’t exist, and neither do my father, family, or my house.” What Cholo has is a life lived on the street – since he was six years old. Street living has given him long hair, like the style worn by cholos in the ‘80s, with loose ringlets longer than the rest of his mane, baggy clothes, a sailor’s gait, a way of street talking.

Cholo shines shoes. He carries a wooden box with him and a backpack and a bag. Among his hiding places, he has a small knife that bears teeth when he brings it out. “So I don’t get fucked with,” he says. He has his clients and even a business card: luxury shoeshine, call me, guaranteed service, then a cell phone number.

It’s almost Christmas. For him it’s just winter. December without a 24th or 25th nor a 30th nor 31st. January without New Year’s. Christmas doesn’t exist. The cold on the street corner comes for those waiting for atole or gorditas, or a shot of brewed agave. All help them bear the cold’s brunt.

Cholo accepts everything. If it’s given, he’ll accept it. He’s in no position to refuse. From where he’s at, it’s a luxury to turn down a beer, a soft drink, some taco, a salted beef soup with chile and lime. “I can’t say no, especially if I haven’t eaten.” And already it’s six thirty in the afternoon. Cholo’s hands fly, polishing with the rag over and over again until the shoe and the rag both squeak, burnishing the shine.

His body carries a map of wounds. His life is a graveyard of injuries. Cenotaphs on his sides, on his arms. His head, inside and out, made from four punches, many kicks and cuffs, two blows that his absent father didn’t give him, several tons of forgetting, kilometers of heartbreak, nautical miles of I-love-yous, hugs, how-great-you’ve-comes, and don’t-go-I’ve-missed-yous.

The four punches came from hitmen, he explains. They punched him because they weren’t carrying axes in their hands. Punches and blows. They wanted him to betray another who had robbed them, fenced the product. But he did not know a thing. Yet they gave it to him bad anyway, so bad that he had to go to hospital, and barely recovered. The only thing he knew was that they found who they were looking for. And they knocked him off.

It’s December. “Is it Christmas?” he asks. The only thing he knows is that it’s cold and that he needs to find another coat. Drugs, matches, cigarette butts, broken glass from bottles, absences, a roof, his own bed, falling down, getting taunted and beaten up in jail, another set of hands: all of these wounds from a war that began when he stepped out on the street, and that still mark his mind, his skin.

He rubs and rubs, squatting. He’s been crouching his whole life, training for the world to end, which for him happens every day. “God?” he asks. And then he answers himself. “God doesn’t exist, and that’s why I don’t have any parents. I don’t want any.”

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, “Dios no existe,” available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/dios-existe.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist based in the Americas. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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