by María Alejandra Barrios
While locked in my boyfriend’s closet I think about what the bruja told me earlier this year. “Nena linda,” she said, in that particular cartagena accent of hers, her tongue fixed to her palate. She was standing up straight, and her uncovered black shiny shoulders looked imposing under the sunlight that entered from the window. “Baby girl,” she said, “that smile is going to be your downfall.”
In the closet, I hold on to the rosary my abuela gave me. Although it is a typical Bogotá cold night, I’m sweating. Guillo picked me up from an university party I was invited to. He didn’t come up. He just texted: I’m downstairs. As soon as I got in the car, Guillo didn’t even say hi, he just ask: Did you tell your mama?
I did not. I’m supposed to be moving in with him, tonight or soon. I’m supposed to have all of my stuff packed already. I think about mami over the phone at home in Barranquilla saying that she can’t take this. First, her husband, my dad, getting murdered. Her father, gone too because of violence. And me, living with a guy out of wedlock.
“Do you want to kill me?” I imagine my mom asking me. “Am I a burden to you? Because you would be responsible for leaving your brother, Dios lo proteja, without a mother. Is that what you want?”
I don’t want to kill anyone. I want to get out of this closet, untouched. But Guillo left shortly after he picked me up. He went out and said:” I’ll be back. This guy I know wants some snow.”
“Snow?” I think after he closes the door. I didn’t know dealers in Bogotá would refer to it as snow. I wonder if he picked up that word from watching Narcos.
An hour after he is gone, someone opens the door. “Guillo? Guillo?” He is looking for my boyfriend. “Guillo,” he says finally, more softly.
I hide in the closet and I wait. Guillo shouldn’t be long. Although, people think I am, I’m not an idiot. I know perfectly well who I am dealing with and I know that the people looking for Guillo are probably looking for him to kill him or at least hurt him really bad. I make the sign of the cross and recite in my head prayers I remember from catholic school. I don’t make the virgin any promises because I know I’m not to be trusted. I promise her to try. I promise to try really hard.
A flashback comes to my mind. I see mami when I was nine describing papi’s dead body to my abuela. I see her taking breaks for sobbing, telling her that his shirt was completely covered in blood. I see her clearly, younger, paler and with fuller cheeks. She tells abuela that she doesn’t know how to tell me. I see me hiding on the top of the stairs, listening to everything and understanding that nothing would ever be the same. The memories get interrupted by an image of my mom holding my lifeless body. The tight black dress I’m wearing tonight covered in blood. I see her crying and shouting: “viste niña pendeja? Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I raise you better?”
I hear a gunshot. I hear two. Guillo’s visitor has grown bored and has started shooting stuff. He knows Guillo loves his art. It dawns on me that this man wants to leave a message. He wants to hurt things that Guillo loves, he wants to break them until their particles dance in the air like dust. I wonder if the bruja in Cartagena was so literal, if downfall meant that I was going to die because of Guillo. I close my eyes and pray that this man won’t shoot me in the closet. That he doesn’t shoot my face or my arms. I pray that I have a better fate than the one that I deserve.
One thing Guillo loves is to collect art and expensive things. Guile collects the kind of porcelain his mom liked before they lost everything. Paintings that are bright red and evergreen. Collages. The porcelain breaks after one bam! trá trá. More gunshots. I hear the glass break and imagine the delicate glass making a little mess on the floor. Am I breathing heavily? I put my hand on my mouth in an attempt to contain my fear.
“Maldita sea,” he says out loud. And shoots something else before finally leaving. Trá. I hear the door close behind him. I wonder if he left a hole in Guillo’s favorite painting.
The vecinos are not going to come and look. No one is going to call the police. They know they wouldn’t do anything and they know what Guillo does for a living. Everyone is afraid of Guillo. Sometimes, I am afraid too.
I leave the closet gasping for air. My black dress is covered in sweat. This is not the first time that Guillo almost had me killed but the other time wasn’t that bad, it was just a shooting in a club. “It happens, sometimes.” Guillo said that night, putting his hand on my knee. We were sitting in a taxi and we had just left. When the police saw Guillo they didn’t even stop to question us.
“It could have have happened even if you weren’t with me.” He said, “Even if you were with one of those sons of politicians that you go to college with. A couple of missed bullets can happen to anyone. ”
My friends say that I don’t have to be dating someone like Guillo and I really don’t. But it’s not like that. Guillo and I met at University. It was our first semester and we met in an international relationships introduction class. He was the first person I met and Guillo wasn’t selling then, he wasn’t organizing groups to pressure people to pay, he wasn’t spreading drugs and fear in the city. Guillo back then was just a student, like me and my friends. He called mami “doña,” and picked me up on Sundays in his parent’s car. Guillo back then was just the son of some rich people just like everyone else at our university.
I hear the door opening and I can tell this time it’s Guillo. I run to him. I’m still trembling from the gunshots and the lack of air in the closet. I hug him, knowing that seconds later, I’ll be wanting to hit him. To hurt him. To take his gun and shoot some stuff around here too to see if he listens.
Guillo looks around and sees the destruction. He puts a hand in his hip where his gun is for comfort. There’s no one to shoot here, not tonight.
“Hijo de puta,” He says. He knows who did this. “Are you okay, amor?”I’m still holding on to him and he kisses my hair. “I’m so sorry, mi amor, I know it must have been scary.
But scary doesn’t cut it. What words can you say when you almost had your girlfriend killed? There’s not many, there’s not probably even one. So Guillo shuts the fuck up for a while. After some minutes pass, he lets go of me to pick up the pieces of broken porcelain from the floor.
The porcelain that the estranger made explode on the air is unique. Guillo wipes a tear from his face quickly and examines the biggest piece in his fingers. He bought that porcelain because he knew his mom would love it. When she rejected the gift, he put it in his living room hoping that one day she would come back to the apartment and admit that she wanted it after all. The piece would be waiting for her, shiny and untouched. Now, all hopes of that moment happening rested on the floor, broken.
“It’s okay,” I say, “it’s not over.” I wonder if I picked up that expression from movies about drug cartels and vengeance. Guillo covers his mouth and he trembles. Tears stream down his face and he starts to sob. Guillo is kneeling on broken glass now, sobbing, like the little kid he never gives himself permission to be.
I hug him from the back and kiss his wet cheek. I hear the trá trá of my heels stepping on the tiny pieces of porcelain, breaking them ever more. “We’re in this together,” I think but I don’t say it.
trá trá I hear the glass break even more while I squat to be next to him. Guillo is sitting in glass but I don’t join him. I squat until my legs get tired and my back almost can’t take it. I do almost everything in my power to not be sitting in the glass with him.
I notice there’s a little bit of blood in his hand when he caresses my cheek. I brush my cheek afterward and examine my hand looking for blood. I wonder if the blood on his hand has stained my face.
Croissants, coffee and orange juice for breakfast. Sweetbread for latter. He kisses my cheek and tells me: mi amor, I never want to lose you. The bruja said that we were amarrados, that there was a love there that was bigger than my understanding. While resting my head on his chest I think that I want to understand. If I’m going to die for this, at least I want to understand so I can explain to my mom later, long after I die.
Guillo stands up quickly from the bed and tells me to get dressed. He wants to get a new porcelain, something bigger and shinier than the one he lost last night. Guillo can replace all the porcelains that anyone dares to shoot. I go to the closet and look for a pair of jeans and a sweater I left there last week. I see the space where I hid last night, sweaty and afraid. Where I prayed that the gunman wouldn’t shoot me. I push my long black hair back and make the sign of the cross.
“Dios,” I whisper, low enough that I can hear myself but that Guillo, who is on his phone, won’t. “give me the strength to pray for more.”
I pick up my phone ready to dial my mother’s number. Más. I wonder. Más, más, más, I wonder if there’s something more than fate.
María Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a Masters degree in Creative Writing from The University of Manchester. She was selected for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program: Performing & Literary Arts for the city of New York in 2018. Her stories have been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, Bandit Fiction, Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review and her fiction is forthcoming in Shenandoah Literary. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center. Find her online here and on Twitter here.