Cartagena by Nam Le

Book: Cartagena by Nam Le Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nam Le
    IN CARTAGENA, LUIS SAYS , the beach is gray at dawn. He points to the barrel of his G3 when he says this,
steel gray
, he says. He smiles. The sand is white, he says, this color, tapping his teeth. And when the sun comes up on your right, man, it is a slow-motion explosion like in the movies, a big kerosene flash and then the water is sparkling gray and orange and red. Luis is full of shit, of course, but he can talk and it is true that he is the only one of our
who has seen the Caribbean. Who has been to Cartagena.
    And the girls? Eduardo asks.
    Luis tosses back his greasy black hair. He knows we will wait for his answer. He is the oldest of us (except for Claudia, who doesn’t count because she is a girl), and he has told this story many times with pleasure.
    The girls, he says. He looks at me and it is proper, he is showing respect. Together we smirk at the immaturity of Eduardo.
    No, says Claudia. The fishermen. Tell us the part—
    The girls, Luis says, speaking over Claudia, they are the best in all of Colombia. They wear skirts up to here, like on MTV, and boots up to here, and it is not like the country, where the
will shoot them for it. They are taller and whiter and have beautiful teeth and can talk about real things. Nothing like here.
    He pauses. Luis has grown a mustache that looks like it has been drawn on with wet charcoal, and now he strokes it with his thumb and finger. I remember a line from a movie.
    With that mustache, I say, you look like a shit-eating faggot. Eduardo laughs happily. And it is you who would be shot for your long hair.
    Luis ignores me. He says, speaking slowly, In Cartagena, everything is nothing like here.
    We are five, including Claudia, and we are going downtown to do some business on behalf of Luis. Apart from me and Luis and Claudia and Eduardo, there is little Pedro, who walks behind the group with his hands in his torn pants pockets in order to fondle his testicles. It is not even funny anymore.
    I have not seen any of them, except for Claudia, in the last four months. Claudia—the only one who knows where I have been staying—told me yesterday about this business. I did not want to come but she told me how strongly Luis had insisted.
    They look younger than I remember. Only Pedro has grown—he looks like he has been seized by a fistful of hair and stretched up two inches. I wait for him to reach me and say to him,
, you are almost a man now!
    Ask him if he has any hair on his
, says Eduardo.
    Pedro keeps his hands in his pockets and does not react.
    See, even now he is molesting it!
    Come on, says Luis. He sounds distracted. Claudia is smiling to herself. I look away from her.
    To do this business there would usually be more of us, but our old
, the core of it anyway, is three short. Carlos was shot in the throat outside the Parque del Poblado: it was night and he was selling
to the crackheads when the rich kids came in their yellow jeep and cleansed him. Salésio joined his elder brother in the local militia, where he sent back a photo of himself in a balaclava, holding an Uzi sub and a Beretta .45. You could see the shape of his stupid smile through the black cotton.
    And then there is Hernando. I do not want to think about Hernando now.
    We stop at the border of our barrio, in a dump at the bottom of a ridge. A thin ditch of water runs through the debris. Without a word, Pedro and Claudia take lookout positions. Luis and Eduardo straddle the sludge, one foot on either bank, and clear away the moldering cardboard and plastic junk. Soon they uncover the nylon three-seater that we stole, months ago, from a public bus. They tip it forward to reveal the large concrete tunnel into which the water runs. I stand sentinel as they crawl, one by one, into the hole.
    This is one of our old
. Only the five of us know its location. It is a runoff from the main storm sewer, but smells like a sewage pipe. I am glad it is

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