Read Among Strange Victims Online

Authors: Daniel Saldaña París

Among Strange Victims (4 page)

I've got it: it's called clucking. The sound the hen makes is called clucking.


My childhood, excepting the above-mentioned absence of pets, was pretty normal, if anyone's childhood can ever be normal. In Cuernavaca, in my father's house, I amused myself torturing beetles,
tying their legs to watch how they flew in circles, burning them with a magnifying glass, or asphyxiating them with the fuel from a lighter. I also used to make waterways out of the
tubing I found in the Thicket, that other vacant lot that may have inspired me in the search for the one that now lies below my window. I would assemble long sequences of tubes, the joints perfectly sealed with Play-Doh, through which I would run the water and then throw in my toys. This ludic activity suggested the fruitful career as a civil engineer I had the good judgment to avoid, to the disappointment of some of my relations and the great disgrace of my savings account.

At school—it was a Montessori school—I liked lying down at the back of the classroom and falling asleep in the middle of the lesson, something that was perfectly allowable and even encouraged by certain ultramodern teachers. These same teachers, who had probably once, or more than once, gotten a divorce, and fancied themselves as artists—one painted in oils; still lifes, I seem to remember—had legs covered in hair, and staring at their calves was like observing the wild, impenetrable depths of the Thicket.

College meant a return to the capital, to my mom's house. Dad had fallen in love with a woman from Chiapas and had settled in San Cristóbal de las Casas, taking with him his modest workshop for the manufacture of “artistic aromatic” candles and its three or four employees. The designs for the candles included symbols like the yin-yang or Viking runes, and in a San Cristóbal, which—in the final years of the last century—was making its debut as the destination of choice for revolutionary tourism, those New Age details were well received by the floating population of Italians. My dad's artistic candle business flourished in this context, as did many medium-sized and small businesses that took advantage of a niche in the market produced by the neo-Zapatista movement (the woolen Subcomandante Marcos figures made by the indigenous people, the baggy
-shirts with slogans and motifs related to the struggle, the traditional medicine clinics, et cetera). With the passage of time, my dad got fed up with the candles and delegated the management of sales and manufacture to his wife, returning to academia, if only peripherally, to give a couple of classes in a forgotten political research institute in the center of San Cristóbal.

And as I said, I returned at the beginning of term to the capital, where I was received with hostility, as if the city were reproaching me for having left. Coapa showed its only—negative—side, and I had the misfortune to fall in with the most unsuitable people in the neighborhood. Very soon, at the age of just fifteen, the only conversations that interested me were those related to drugs. Unconsciously subverting the natural order of things, I first tried cocaine at the insistence of the older brother of a well-to-do close friend, and then pot, which touched something more intimate in me. However, my inability to take drugs in the company of others very soon became apparent: when I wasn't beset by completely unjustified paranoia, irrepressible laughter and sudden attacks of autism alternated in taking control of my nerves. From then on, I decided only to take drugs for purely experimental purposes, which in the end saved me from turning into a foul-mouthed addict like the rest of my neighbors and classmates. Experimentation, as I understood and practiced it, involved always looking for a completely new situation in which to consume: I swallowed a tab of acid in physics class on the day they were explaining the first law of thermodynamics—I've never since been able to forget it; I did coke on a school trip to a farm with cuddly deer; I snorted ground ecstasy pills before entering a natural sciences museum; and finally—my master stroke—I ate hallucinogenic mushrooms during a family dinner, under the quizzical gaze of my grandmother.

Despite all this, the resulting experiences were hardly worth mentioning, and if they truly marked my character, it was in making me understand that one of my strengths is an ability to enjoy the most trivial situations intensely, and not because they gave rise to an air of extrovert magnetism. It's possible that if it weren't for those experiences, I wouldn't now be an office worker, or so thoroughly enjoy such an obvious piece of stupidity as asking the museum's security guard about the previous Sunday's soccer match between two mediocre provincial teams. A match that, of course, I hadn't seen and had never had any intention of seeing.


Leaving home, on my way to work, I decide to buy a lottery ticket. “Yesterday I spent my money on a cup of tea, and now this,” I think, absurdly, since the sum of these two whims is tiny in relation to the margin of whimsicality my salary allows. But I've always felt guilty about spending money on insubstantial things, as if an austerity chip had been implanted into me at the fetal stage. And on top of all that, last week I bought a shirt to replace another, very similar one that had been left unrecognizable by an accident with a dish of black mole sauce. Yes, I feel guilty about the expense, but then I tell myself the rent on my current apartment is a lot lower than what I used to pay for the one near Zócalo, so when you come down to it, I can invest the difference in small trivialities, like a cup of tea in the evenings and a lottery ticket in the mornings, and even more serious things (a trip from time to time, if I liked trips). On finding that fallacious arithmetical balance, I feel less guilty. I'm in the habit of seeking out the exact transaction to redeem myself. I choose the lottery ticket without giving much thought to the numbers, though I do manage to include a six, for which I've always had a particular affection.

In fact, and this is a symptom of a solidly middle-class childhood, monetary questions don't usually bother me much, apart from the guilt certain financial outgoings spark. Saving isn't so much an effort as a natural consequence of the life I lead, frugal and boring. My salary at the museum is meager, but it's regular, and the institutions I worked for before the museum still occasionally ask me to proofread the odd program or catalog, so I pocket a few extra pesos every now and then. If I've decided to buy a lottery ticket, it's not for any desire to become a millionaire, but because I know perfectly well that the simple fact of having a lottery ticket in your pocket stimulates the imagination, and that I can spend the day mentally hatching ridiculously dandyish plans, the extravagances I'll commit in the unlikely event that I win.

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