Flash Fiction and Soundscape by Julián Esteban Torres López. CW: Mentions of colonization and homophobia.
Editor's Note: this piece is now published in Julián's experimental spoken-word album Hirˌīth(Ē)Ə, linked above.
Where the neighbor’s pet monkey can still be found in the tree picking mangoes… where the parrot whistles at beautiful women… on the hill, where the playground now rests, we used to throw rocks at the cars and buses passing by. We took refuge behind a wall and fence separating them from us. This is how we learned of every car manufacturer in Colombia, Byron and me. Renaults were our favorites, mostly because both our families had one—you know, the old ones, first models—and because we thought they were Colombian cars. (We did not know they were French.) Each one was worth five points because we thought it was homegrown. Foreign cars were only one point but could be worth five if the rocks caused the foreign car to swerve or crash or malfunction or even get the driver to stop on the side and look for the maldito throwing them. If he flicked us off, well, that was worth ten points no matter the car’s nationality.
But this did not happen too often, and though we made it part of our point system, and though we told one another we were aiming for the windshield on the driver’s side, we often just aimed for the roofs or trunks to startle the passengers instead of trying to hurt them. We were very accurate and even thought we should move to Venezuela or the Dominican Republic, where béisbol was more popular than fútbol, but decided against it not because we were only seven and were under the whims of our parents, but because we did not want to betray our homeland. And so, one day, we decided against throwing rocks at Renaults. We thought ourselves defenders of Colombia… guerrillas hiding in the jungles… and it was our responsibility to run out all imperialists from our country. They were taking our jobs, our resources, marrying our sisters, taking them from our homes, and leaving them with babies and divorces (even though they were not recognized by the Church). Then, another day, I think it was the day when everyone in our Vista Alegre neighborhood found out I had a crush on Catalina (she was a year older and, unfortunately, had the same name as my sister), and they teased me for it … and it was that day that Byron told me that some branches from our family trees, too, were once foreigners from Spain, hence our surnames, and that these conquistadores took the land from indigenous nations—our erased and forgotten great-grandparents—and that these settler colonialists kidnapped, took hostage, and enslaved people from Africa—our erased and forgotten great-grandparents, also—en el nombre de España, Dios, y El Dorado. This forced us to stop throwing rocks and question our manifesto. We no longer knew who was responsible, who was to blame, who to fight for, who to fight against. We felt badly … ashamed … wanted to remove our skins … wanted to paint ourselves darker, tan a bit more so we would not feel European … so we would feel more West African … so we would feel more Tairona, more Muisca, more Emberá, or any of the tribes from the Aburrá Valley. We changed our surnames that day. I became alias ‘jeɗako’ and Byron ‘ɓeda’and stopped chasing girls around Vista Alegre who would not disengage from their Spanish names, but it became difficult (not gonna lie) to find a girlfriend, so we made it okay to chase girls named Cristina, Marilín, and Isabel, only—our new constitution was constantly being amended—and we were no longer guerrillas but revolutionaries. We wanted to bring things back to the way things were. We drank mate de coca like our indigenous ancestors. We decided not to use the wheel or even create any art that would appeal to Europeans, like the Kogi tribe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Santa Marta. We even tried to communicate telepathically with one another—again, like the Kogi—and stopped writing things down.
We failed our courses that Autumn, and simply told stories about our souls and how I used to be a brave warrior who lost his life fighting off Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada y Rivera and his men as they searched for El Dorado… and ‘ɓeda’ said he could have sworn he was a woman whose husband died in battle… and we pretended that we used to have been married and that I was that husband… and we put our arms around each other reminiscing of the good old days before the conquistadores came… but our fathers… our fathers called us maricas and homos and forbade us to put our arms around one another again. It was that year that my parents decided to take my sister and me away. To the North. The other Ámerica. For years, I thought it was because our fathers did not want us to be gay together, ‘ɓeda’ and me, but now I know it was because they did not want us to throw any more rocks at cars and buses. I have not been back home since, but I still throw rocks every now and again… and that monkey, I am told still picks mangoes… and the parrot from Vista Alegre still whistles at Catalina… and ‘ɓeda’ writes to me to tell me that 30 years on, he still has not found another friend, like me, who would change their surname for him… and I have never looked at my skin in the same way again.
Now, I now rarely look into broken mirrors—they remind me too much of my ancestors, and I wish to remain dismembered. A phantom limb, untethered.
Julián Esteban Torres López (he/him/él) is a bilingual, Colombia-born storyteller, public scholar, and culture architect with Afro-Euro-Indigenous roots. For two decades, Julián has worked toward humanizing those Othered by oppressive systems. He is the founder of the social justice storytelling non-profit organization The Nasiona, where he also hosts and produces The Nasiona Podcast. He’s a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominee; a Trilogy Award in Short Fiction finalist; and the author of Marx’s Humanism and Its Limits and Reporting On Colombia. Julián's work appears in PANK Magazine, Into the Void Magazine, and The Acentos Review, among others. His poetry collection, Ninety-Two Surgically Enhanced Mannequins, is available now.
Image by Tom Winckels