by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)
A man enters a restaurant, searching for someone he wants to see. Outside, packed sidewalk tables: coffee drinkers gather here everyday, taking a few moments to stick it to the government, to the noise, to the city, craning their necks as moving monuments of femininity stepped by.
Noise comes and goes. Thundering, breaking waves losing themselves in the waters of the Pacific, silent then at peace. And loud again, fighting between themselves against the rocks, foaming, noisy, roaring, snared up together. And so the babble rises and falls, the murmurings, the shouts.
The crockery clinks, spoons stir in cups. The coffee swirls, waiting. They talk, say “hello” then embrace. No matter if they saw each other only yesterday or just this morning. They follow the custom of celebrating friendship, conversation, talking out loud, sharing insults that mostly turn into arguments about politics, the environment, music, women, violence, entertainment.
The man barely knows any of them. He greets them, moving his right arm. There are journalists, men of leisure, daydreamers, environmentalists, experts in ignoring schedules, slaves to coffee and cookies, conversationalists and loud talkers, retirees that never worked, forty-year old experts in pensions. The whole city and its raucous wildlife, a lively bar with no alcohol. Over there, in that corner of the café.
The man enters, taking a couple of steps down the hallway and a half step more when behind him they start to push, to shove, to crash into each other. A shootout, a shootout, somebody shouts. Gunfire, says another. Somebody closer to him says he heard a machine gun.
One of the older men managed to crack open the entryway door. Two more followed, in the same position. Squatting, crashing into each other, elbowing, shoving, shouting, and searching for somewhere to hide. There’s bullets, somebody in the crowd says, wide eyed. They fall on the floor, face reddening. They keep on fighting among themselves to reach the hallway the door, trying to hide behind the old building’s thick walls, reaching the inside patio, feeling their clothes, their bellies, between their legs: making sure they were unhurt.
The three journalists in the place got up to survey the scene. Two traffic officers looked on, aghast. Over there. Workers left businesses. Onlookers transfixed. Some drivers stopped, already telling tales. They were shots. You could hear two or three. Pa pa pa. No, no, no it was gunfire. You could hear ta ta ta ta. Loud, very loud. Yet everybody knew: an old car, sputtering because of the change in the weather and because it needed tuning, made its getaway.
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, “Balacera,” available at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/balacera.
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.