By Javier Valdez Cárdenas
He was a model son. From home to school, then back home from school. Afternoons for homework and listening to music in his room. He spent free time with his friends on the basketball court. They played football, baseball, and sometimes hoops. Pleasant, he could carry a conversation. They held cigarettes between their fingers, burning the wind and their lives.
But he didn’t partake, not in front of them, not while they drank ice-cold beer or caroused until dawn. He used to say, “I’ll pass,” forgoing trips to the sea, nights of schmoozing on the playing fields, the house parties, and their endless benders: outings to nightclubs, dark, neon-lit places, crimson caverns, a sea of skin and desire, moshing, shaking shoulders, wriggling hips.
I have a lot of homework. Tomorrow I am going to help my father. Mid-terms are coming. Those were his excuses. No smoking. No drinking. Barrio pals labeled him the lookout and school friends called him altar boy. The guy was upright.
His mother was a housewife. The furniture was so clean it squeaked. Crockery in its place. The food was the best. She was a doer who denied herself things. Neat and tidy. Well spoken and well to do. Mass on Sundays, rosaries, and barrio rituals for the parties in front of the neighborhood church. His father was a carpenter. Fresh faced, standing tall, likeable, efficient, honest, a worker with few words, but precise, well chosen. All his clients said he completed his work. On time.
He learned from his parents. From the rites of struggle and denial he drew lessons about responsibility, honesty. He went to school, returned at the right time, did his homework, and scored good grades in all his subjects. That was his unsurprising story known to all. One night he didn’t return. His mother clutched her rosary and pressed her palms together. After a while she put them on her breast. She prayed for him. Concern grew in his father’s eyes. He prayed. They called his friends, the school, a teacher, people on the block. Nobody knew anything. His father said he didn’t answer his cellphone. He must be out with his girlfriend, they told his mother.
They found him the next day, in the trunk of a car. Torn apart by shots, tortured. His parents were the same. Or worse. Some light inside them went out. A part of them died. The mother wouldn’t go into his room. It pained her to open the bedroom door. I can’t, she repeated. Her husband took her on his shoulder, held her. Until her spirit returned.
I must clean. To take this head on. She moved clothes and furniture. She sat on the bed and wept. When she calmed down she moved the mattress. Flattened dollars nestled next to the base, touching the wood, close to the quilt.
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, “La Recamara,” available at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/la-recamara.
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.