This article was first published in RíoDoce on 27 April 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).
by Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)
His mother followed him everywhere. At secondary school, she pulled him from the lure of the smokers, the ones who had already started to swig from bottles, downing beer. She pushed him to study, goading him to improve his grades. She made him do chores so he wouldn’t hang out in the street.
The years passed. The ones who once smoked Raleighs now hit on weed and listened to AC/DC. The pungent smell of pot traveled in the air, permeated patios, bedrooms, the primary school, and basketball courts. His mother still followed him around, pulling him away from them. She did it for him and when she did it she never said a word. She took him by the arm and tugged at him, dragging him home to the living room, sitting him down on the couch. She told him off. Curtly.
Study. Work. Get a hold of yourself, Betito. That’s what his thirty-year old mother told him. She still looked like she was twenty-five. Selfless. Undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. A housewife and university professor. At work she acted like a professional but at home she was a mother.
Betito hit back, dug his heels into the floor. Kicking the sofa and the little wooden table, punching the door. You’re always moaning at me. Get out your homework and do better at school. Bring yourself down a peg, he warned. But she didn’t calm down: he came out with a handgun that she saw immediately. She took the gun and in minutes she had disarmed it, put it in the trash. Then she threw it out.
Betito was dumbstruck, mouth ajar. His mother knew about guns. A few days later he came home. She found him with a bag with white powder. She hid it. He didn’t know where. The next day, Betito desperately hunted for it. He threw himself on the ground and began to wail. Mom, if I don’t hand it over, they’re going to kill me. It was worth a lot of money. She warned him what would happen. When she finished, he promised her that he would leave it all behind.
One day his boss called him. The big cheese needs to see us. We’re owed a bonus and so we’re going to see the old guy. The gang got into the truck and the boss looked them all over. We’re going unarmed, he said. Surprisingly, he told Betito to get out. Why? Kid, your mother always looks for you. We’ll catch you later. He cursed his mother. He kicked and screamed.
He didn’t go home for two days and then some. He disappeared with his friends, drowning himself in bottles: downing one after another, then another. When he finally went home, his mother kissed him, rapidly smothering his cheeks and his forehead. Back in the living room they learned that everybody from the truck had turned up that morning, beheaded. He left the gang. And went back to school. But she still followed him around.
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, “A toda madre,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/toda-madre.
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.