the short story project


Adolfo Mazariegos

In the middle of the crowded avenue

Carmen did not see it coming. It happened to her when she was driving down Seventh Avenue, towards the city center. She had bought the car a couple of months ago and was just starting to pay off the letters of the credit: “forty-eight months,” she thought, as she turned on the radio to listen to one of those joke and youth music programs where they usually perform contests and parodies of almost anything. She ran a soft hand through her silky black hair, and observed, in the rear-view mirror, the features of her face with recently applied make-up, fresh, lush, with that spark of life that can only be given by youth and the early hours of every morning.

On the streets, passers-by ran from one side to the other, trying to catch a bus, a taxi, or simply hurrying up because they were already close to the place of their destination and time is pressing; all embedded in their own world; many, oblivious to the constant evolution of human life in a city of noise and high contrasts; a cosmopolitan metropolis that has not really become one and that denies that possibility to itself; a latin american city as many that becomes a point of arrival and departure at the same time; a complicated book to read, written based on simple things and distant pains, unreached goals, dreams, deep inequalities that do not end and that seem to have settled to stay.

Suddenly, an insistent and abrupt tapping on the car window brings Carmen out of her morning reverie. She wants to think that she has imagined it, that it has only been some sound effect made with ingenuity in the parody that she is listening to on the radio. But it’s not like that. She has not imagined it. Slowly and with infinite anguish, she turns her face to the left, refusing to acknowledge what she already knows, refusing to see that cannon that is threateningly pointed at her from the other side of the glass. She does not understand what the man on the motorbike yells at her, she can only see his saliva splashing on the window. She simply deduces that he is asking her for something, to lower the glass immediately, perhaps, or to give him the purse and the mobile phone … who knows.

From the next corner, high up, an impassive traffic light observes everything with the light in an eternal red. While a traffic officer, facing the other way and undaunted, parsimoniously looks at his wristwatch, perennially directing traffic with the other hand, blowing with stubborn insistence a faded whistle barely audible between all the honking and engine roars.

Carmen did not see when the motorcycle approached. She did not see the man stop next to her and “calculate everything”. She knew nothing and heard nothing until she began to feel her body tremble with helplessness and anguish. Visibly flustered, she rummaged in that old faux Gucci bag that seemed to be traveling as a co-pilot in the next seat. And instantly she thought of her little Matthew: he would soon be two years old. She also thought of the forty-eight months to pay for the car; she thought of her mother, and her father who had passed away some time ago; she thought about the section that she still had to go through to finally reach her workplace … She thought …

Slowly, she lowered the glass in the car window and, with her eyes filled with tears, asked quietly for forgiveness for who knows what. She trembled spasmodically, her heart pounding, about to spring out of her mouth.

Without thinking twice, she closed her eyes and stretched out her hand. And she shot several times at the assailant’s humanity, until she completely unloaded the weapon she had taken from that imitation Gucci. Then, as in a movie played in slow motion, she noticed how the man fell to the ground without understanding what was happening, without ever imagining, perhaps, that this could happen to him someday, or maybe imagining otherwise, who knows.

Time suddenly stopped. The street noise stopped abruptly, and the traffic officer looked back, his whistle about to slip out of the corner of his mouth. No one moved for an instant. No one knew what to say, although everyone knew perfectly well what was happening. “Leave, nothing happened here. That guy deserved it, don’t be silly”, she heard someone say. But she was unable to assimilate the moment and articulate any thoughts. She dropped the pistol that she never thought she would use, and put her hands to her head, crying uncontrollably at the wheel of the car whose engine had just been turned off, in the middle of the crowded avenue.


Photo: “Panning photo of yellow car”
By Alex Powell (Public domain pictures: Pexels)


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