Between the Furrows (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was first published in RíoDoce on 23 February 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Between the Furrows
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

José’s only childhood memories are of green, leafy furrows and more furrows. The bush has so many leaves that parts look like an attractive fist, fragile, and inviting. In between the furrows of the always humid, exposed, ready soil, waiting for rains and seed, his sister plays dolls and he plays with cars, the spinning top, or marbles.

José finds himself in a dilemma. José does not know if he is going to sell this year’s harvest to the village above or the one below. He doesn’t explain his doubt. He is overwhelmed by a heartache that makes the other type of furrows grow: those bottomless ones, those on the brow.

It’s pot. His parents, uncles, and neighbours – all the villagers – once grew marijuana. Over there, on top of the mountain, on hillsides, on patios, on the roadside, beyond the mountain, in the forest, a few meters from river, above the ravine down below.

His youngest sister made dresses for her black, blonde, skinny, and fulsome dolls. She stripped them and then she began to dress them again with clothes she made from castoffs discarded by her mother when she sewed pillowcases, curtains, quilts, or some dress or another.

He bought marbles from Doña Chona’s store. Misty marbles colored green, orange, and red in the center, or black like the rumbling thunderclouds bringing rain for the furrow celebration: the weed, the harvest, the plant with its many festive fists.

He only had a few toy cars. Some were wood, others iron. They had all been roughed up, beaten, chipped paintwork from so many play crashes. They were his toys. Pursing his lips, then blowing out air like a never-ending fart. Mimicking the sounds of an engine. The sputtering sound of the wooden car, his oldest.

Now, though, he’s a tired old man. Those furrows are waterlogged from the abundant summer rains. Right there, on his land, on other people’s land, too, where the water builds up now they are constructing a dam: they will bring tourists for rides, buy launches to rent, and devote themselves to farming freshwater fish.

And he is seated on a board. Close to what he used to have and has, and now no longer belongs to him nor to anybody else. He recalls and his eyes mist up, surrounded by new wrinkles, even more bottomless: those furrows, that weed, his sister playing with dolls and giving them paper for food, him with his toy cars, the marbles.

But now nothing’s left. Just two tons of his hidden marijuana: if he sells it to the villagers above him, the villagers below will kill them. And, if he sells it to the village below, the others will kill him. And then he won’t have cars or money.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “Entre los surcos,” and is available at

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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