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Ghost House

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The stories of the kidnapped always begin the same way.

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Oscar_Mu_oz_L_nea_del_destino_1_600.jpg
Oscar Muñoz, Línea del destino, 2006. Video still.
Courtesy the artist and Sicardi Gallery

There were stories of how the kidnapped were never brought back. You gathered the money, you paid the ransom, you gave the guerrillas what they wanted; but the kidnapped never returned. There were many kids at our school in Bogotá, Colombia, whose family members had been kidnapped. When it happened, the kids didn’t come to school and often we forgot they even existed. Then one day they came back with grim faces and bags under their eyes. Nobody asked questions.

Once, it happened in our classroom. The principal provided buses for us to go to the funeral of our classmate’s father, who had been disappeared. The casket was empty and that’s what the family was going to bury because they had nothing else. Some people buried the orphaned body parts sent back by the guerrillas in the mail as proof of whom they had: a shriveled ear lobe, a hacked, bruised finger, a lock of hair.

My classmate’s name was Laura. Everyone was afraid to talk to her, but the rumors were enough to paint a picture: he was driving across Colombia, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, the family could not come up with the ransom.

At the funeral I did the thing we were taught to do in the third grade the first time a kidnapping happened in our midst: I handed Laura a single rose and said, “Mi más sentido pésame,” and bowed. We all knew the same trick. All of us, one after another after another, saying: My most heartfelt condolences. My most heartfelt condolences. My most heartfelt condolences. Laura slowly collected a bouquet.

The stories of the kidnapped always begin the same way. The person was expected at a certain place at a specific time, and then they were late. The person is missed. The hours grow long.

Except this story is a little different, because in those days, while we were waiting for Papá to come home, the biggest manhunt in history was taking place. There were a lot of things I was afraid of, but Pablo Escobar was number one. That was why I paid attention with every cell in my body when his name came up. That was how I found out that in addition to being called los Extraditables, Pablo Escobar and his group were also referred to as los narcos, and anything that had to do with Pablo Escobar began like that: narco followed by a dash—narco-paramilitary, narco-war, narco-lawyer, narco-congressman, narco-estate, narco-terrorism, narco-money…

On television, they said it was the biggest narco-conspiracy in history, Pablo Escobar had escaped from prison—except what we had thought for one whole year was a prison was in fact a mansion. Every channel on the TV was showing specials of the jail: reporters in front of waterbeds, Jacuzzis, fine carpets, marble tiles, the bar with a discotheque, telescopes, radio equipment, and weapons: grenades, machine guns, and pistols. There was footage also of a pile of quartered body parts the police had found buried underneath the mini-soccer court—no heads; just arms, legs, and torsos. The body parts peeked out from under white sheets.

The reporters said that when the government decided to move Pablo Escobar to a real prison, Pablo Escobar disguised himself as a woman and waited until the hour of the fog. Then Pablo Escobar and his men, enveloped in fog, slipped past the army surrounding the prison, ready to apprehend them, and went out into the mountains—a row of ladies walking into the clouds.

That’s how come we didn’t notice at first that Papá was late. He was making a short drive from San Juan de Rioseco to Bogotá, a car trip of no more than three hours. At first, we thought there was traffic. Then we thought maybe there had been an avalanche, a common enough event that plagued the roads leading back into the city. We thought of car accidents and hospitals, women in distress, and hitchhikers.

I awoke from dreams of waiting for Papá into other dreams of waiting.

The TV droned in the background: Pablo Escobar this, Pablo Escobar that. Cassandra and I huddled with Mamá on the couch. Night fell. Mamá’s eyes stared in front of her. The drum of rain banged on our roof and windows, and the howling wind crept through the bottom of the front door. Mamá rose to her feet and went about the house moving things from one table to another. Her white gown ballooned about her as she bent and picked things up from the floor. She dropped the dictionary into a cabinet drawer and said, “Your father’s car probably broke down on the highway.”

My sister Cassandra didn’t miss a beat, “Did you call his work?”

Mamá scrubbed her face with her hands. For the first time I noticed the color. Her forehead was white but her cheekbones and overlip glistened a sickly green. I tried to imagine Papá’s car breaking down. Maybe there had been a nail in the middle of the road. I imagined Papá on one knee, swiveling the crossbar, undoing the hubcaps, neon orange triangles flashing by the car, reflecting passing headlights. Then I imagined Papá bursting through the front windshield of his car in an accident. I closed my eyes, but the image remained. The tips of my ears tingled.

“Go to sleep,” Mamá said. “I’ll wake you when your father comes.”

“I want to wait, Mamá.”

“I’m sure your father is fine. Go and I’ll wake you.”

Cassandra and I threw ourselves on our beds, the sound of rain tapering over the world of our dreams. I remember trying to remain awake. I passed the time thinking about Papá. After a while, I saw him walk past the bedroom door and went after him. I pursued him down halls with mirrors, and then I realized I was dreaming. I awoke from dreams of waiting for Papá into other dreams of waiting.

Mamá was smoking on the sofa in the living room, the television still on, showing a static image of a weather map.

“Mamá, did Papá come?”

She narrowed her eyes until they closed. She sucked her cigarette lengthily and then seemed to swallow the smoke. It came forked out of her nostrils.

“Mamá,” I shook her shoulder.

Her eyes broke open. “What is it?”

“Did Papá come?”

“What time is it?”

“It’s seven.”

She sat up and put out her cigarette in the ashtray. She rushed to the telephone, picked it up, and then held it in her hand. The telephone buttons lighted fluorescent green in her hand and the dim sound of the dial tone filled the room.

“Mamá, why don’t you dial?”

“I’m thinking.”

“Mamá, dial! What are you waiting for?”

Mamá’s cheeks turned fiery red but she did not cry. She replaced the receiver and repeated, “It will all be okay. Your Papá is okay.”

*                      *                     *

Every few hours the police in Medellin found another Pablo Escobar hideout. It all started because a young cop turned a shower knob. What he wanted to know was whether the apartment where suspicious activity had been reported had running water, but what happened was that the shower wall swung out like a door, revealing a small apartment. Everything was in disarray. Pablo Escobar’s coffee, left on the nightstand, was still warm. Pretty soon half the police force in Medellín was going to every suspicious apartment, turning knobs. One cop turned on the stove and almost fell through the floor as it slid away, revealing a staircase. Secret tunnels led from each hideout into a neighboring house, which meant the people of Medellín were all conspiring to keep Pablo Escobar free, but there was no surprise there, because everyone knew Pablo Escobar drove around the slums handing out stacks of money to the poor. Meanwhile, Pablo Escobar’s car bombs exploded in public places all over the country, because he wanted the government to back off.

At night Mamá turned into a black widow. She holed up in her bedroom, and stripped the bed. I found her sitting on the mattress, cross-legged and clasping a candle. She was braiding the air with her fingers, mumbling prayers. When I touched her, her body crumbled under my fingers. She bowled over and rocked on her thighs and howled.

It was a pained, low, guttural howl. It washed through my entire body. Everything was terrible. My eyes sprung with tears and my sight doubled: Mamá with four hands covering her face, saying, “What are we going to do, Chula? What in the world are we going to do?”

We howled together on the lap of the scratchy mattress, then Cassandra came running in. “What’s wrong? What is it? What happened?”

“The guerrillas have him!” I cried, because deep down I knew.

“Mamá? Give them what they want. What do they want?”

“They don’t want anything from us!” Mamá pulled her hair. “They want the oil company to pay for his release.”

Then Mamá and Cassandra screamed back and forth, Cassandra crying, “Mamá, do something!” and Mamá screaming, “I can’t!”

Late at night, there was a sharp pain in my stomach, and my hands trembled as I stuffed them under the pillow. Mamá said that the oil company said they did not negotiate with terrorists, being American, but that they would explore all their options. In my bed I thought of what it could mean and I kicked my feet in sudden anger and my voice stuck in my throat, then tears ran down my cheeks.

We stopped going to school. I stared at the walls and overheard Mamá’s conversations on the telephone. Sometimes the voices on the phone, echoing dimly against Mamá’s ear, were prim and elegant. There was a policeman, someone from the American embassy, a lawyer. At other times the voices were short and alarming: “We’ve got that hijo de puta, we’ll send you his balls in the post.”

One morning, Mamá stared at her pale hands clasping the dining table and said, “We are selling everything and we are going away.”

“But we can’t, Mamá. What if Papá comes home? We have to wait.”

“Why don’t we drive to San Juan de Rioseco?” Cassandra asked. “That’s where he was last seen.”

“We can’t, Cassandra. They will kill your father if we do that.”

“But is the oil company going to pay, Mamá? They have to pay, how else are they going to let Papá go!”

“We are going away and we are selling everything,” Mamá said. “Your father will know what is happening and he will meet us. You can each pack a suitcase.”

“Mamá, we can’t leave,” Cassandra said.

“Mamá, he won’t find us!” I cried.

“Pack everything you want tonight,” Mamá stood and walked calmly to the telephone. “Because tomorrow, everything that is not packed we are selling. We will buy tickets and get out of here. Your father will find us.”

Mamá lifted the telephone and Cassandra cried out, “Mamá, I’m not going!” but Mamá called everyone she knew and said we were leaving the country and we were getting rid of everything we owned.

In Cassandra’s and my bedroom there were two small suitcases, unzipped on our beds. I packed some clothes, but then I went about the house snatching treasures: a small handheld radio, pastel plastic bracelets, a tiny crystal elephant, a wooden spoon, Mamá’s black eye shadow, and Papá’s red wool sock.

Cassandra picked at the clothes in her closet. She packed her clothes and a chessboard, and then packed the contents of her drawer, crying. I felt very tired of everything and after my suitcase was full I crawled underneath my bed and slept.

The neighbors arrived at dawn. They perused our house with their noses up in the air as if our house were a market.

I dreamed of Papá. As Cassandra and I waltzed in an empty ballroom, Papá watched us from outside the window. He banged on the glass, but we didn’t turn our heads. Papá stood in the garden, saddened, but then I noticed that he wasn’t standing in our garden at all, but some field over which the stars shone brightly and black firs rose in the horizon.

The neighbors arrived at dawn. They perused our house with their noses up in the air as if our house were a market. They brought big shopping bags and deep wicker baskets and, keeping close to the wall, they turned our table lamps off and on, blew the dust from Papá’s records, rolled up our Indian rugs, rattled the paintings hung on the wall, questioned the authenticity of Mamá’s porcelain, and in the kitchen women bickered over the pots and pans.

One woman threw her money at Mamá as she went out the door with a stack of Papá’s books—I saw the book spines of Arabian Nights, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, The Motorcycle Diaries, Plato—and then I saw Mamá bend down to pick up the roll of pesos from the floor like she herself had dropped it. The looking-down-their-noses at us was partly because we had fallen from grace, but also because it fitted with their idea of who we had always been, one family in a long line of poor families.

Cassandra and I sat on the living room couch, watching the neighbors hoarding our belongings, depositing them into piles to be guarded by their children. “Don’t let anyone take anything from this pile.” The children—kids who had once played with us—pretended not to see us. They stared over our heads at the crowd of adults, snapping objects from under each other’s noses and hiding things under their arms. A man hooked our umbrella on his arm and pointed at a painting depicting a storm.

“This one would look good in our hall.”

“That ugly thing?” his wife asked. She had filled a large glass jar I recognized as our rice container with Mamá’s collection of small crystal elephants. “Let’s ask about the price, anyway.”

Other women were descending the stairs with boxes filled with Cassandra’s and my toys, smiling. La Soltera even came from her house next door to see what she could buy. We hated la Soltera. Everybody called her that because she was forty years old and single and still lived with her old mother. She was nothing but a busybody. When she saw us, la Soltera gasped in delight. “Pobrecitas,” she said. “So young and already dragged under the mud.” She touched my cheek and then she was struck by a thought. She widened her eyes and caressed the couch on which Cassandra and I sat. “Lovely” she said. Then, “Run along, girls. Go sit on the stairs where you can’t damage anything.” Cassandra pulled me away and made me sit on the stairs and I had to bite my tongue. Cassandra even called Mamá so Mamá could negotiate the price for the couch la Soltera so obviously wanted. I looked on, counting to one hundred, the details of our lives disappearing. At some point I saw la Soltera exiting. When she saw me she bowed exceedingly, then turned on her heels. She seemed to float out the front door, touching the white, pointy tops of her ears. Later a few men came to carry all the furniture away.

When it was quiet again, I said to Cassandra, “I can’t believe all our things will be in other people’s houses.” I looked around at the house, larger than I had imagined with most of our things gone. “It’s like we’re dead.” Cassandra nodded. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

At five in the afternoon, Mamá sold our car, and as the day darkened, our few remaining belongings made their way out through the front door. Slowly the house became deserted.

On the bottom floor, one of three things that belonged to us was an amulet. It was four aloe leaves strung together, hung above the door. It twirled even though there was no wind. The amulet was supposed to absorb the bad energy that came to our doorstep, but now we knew it was useless.

There was also a small television nobody had wanted. I dragged it from the kitchen and turned it on. The reporters were still talking about Pablo Escobar, but now they were saying that Pablo Escobar had so much money, he probably had altered his appearance. Posters took up the screen for minutes at a time. There were grids of Pablo Escobar faces—with mustache, without it, with head shaved, with nose altered, with the beard of a pilgrim, with the chin thinned out, with the cheeks deflated, with the cheekbones pulled up. I sat by the television, learning the black and white lines of the many faces of Pablo Escobar: the parenthesis by his mouth, the fat nose, the sideways commas of his eyes, opposing each other, as if they were bulls getting ready to charge. Only the sepulchral black, beady eyes repeated themselves down past rows and sideways past columns. Pablo Escobar eyes.

I asked Cassandra, “Can Pablo Escobar change his eyes?”

“Pablo Escobar?” she said. “Pablo Escobar can do anything.”

The third thing we owned was the telephone. Mamá kept it upstairs in the second floor, and it rang incessantly. She picked it up mid-ring and then she was quiet and breathless as she listened into the receiver.

My mind kept returning to the fact that if anybody found his body, they would find our portraits, and then they would know that this dead man had once belonged to someone.

I pushed all thoughts of Papá away, but the one thing that kept coming back was how Papá kept small portraits of Cassandra and me in his wallet, how he could look at us with just the flick of his wrist. My mind kept returning to the fact that if anybody found his body, they would find our portraits, and then they would know that this dead man had once belonged to someone. Our portraits were behind the clear plastic meant for an ID. They had been taken in the park, with a background of tall trees and clouds. In her portrait, Cassandra appeared without her glasses. We would be able to pass off as twins if it weren’t for some minute differences: my eyebrows were messier, Cassandra was lighter-skinned, her forehead was grander, my lips were smaller.

Papá had once said that he showed the pictures to his workers so often, he wouldn’t be surprised if they could recognize us if they saw us walking down the street. Papá was always showing our pictures to everyone he met: the elevator man, the guards, the guy at the grocery store. Anyone could have noticed how much he treasured us; the way he faintly ran the tips of his fingers on the faces of the portraits, the way his eyes fell back into memory, the way he enunciated, “Mis niñas.”

The hard, possessive hum of Mis, the misty aspirated vaporousness of Ñasss; how the S trailed behind like the tail of a long snake.

“I present to you mis niñas.”

My loved ones, my pirates, my small queens.

That’s what he used to call us.

I sat in the garden and watched the wind push lightly on the gate. At any moment, Papá could turn the corner past the pine trees and finally come home. At last, at long last. I sang the song Mamá had once taught us:

Mambrú se fue a la Guerra.
Que dolor, que dolor, que pena.
Mambrú se fue a la Guerra y no se cuando vendrá.
Do-re-mi. Do-re-fa.
No se cuando vendrá.

Papá would turn the corner into our yard, walk down the stone steps, and look up. Forever changed. The hours shortened and lengthened, sagging and tightening like strings. I stared at the black gate past the garden. The gate swayed with wind, mourning metallically. I gagged from imagining Papá return. The phone rang incessantly and the four aloe leaves twirled.

I discovered that I sympathized with Pablo Escobar’s family. They were also trying to get out of the country. The Cali Cartel was trying to kill them. The news followed them as they went from embassy to embassy—American, Spanish, Swiss, and German. The embassies denied asylum, arguing that Pablo Escobar’s children were underage and needed a notarized letter from their father. A notarized letter meant that Pablo Escobar had to show up at a public notary, give his signature, thumbprint, swear an oath in front of an official, and then so much time would pass between one thing and another that he would eventually be captured and sent off to the Americans, who believed they could imprison him. It seemed cruel, especially after they aired a message from Pablo Escobar’s daughter to him: “Papi, I miss you and I send you the biggest kiss of all Colombia!”

When Mamá said we were going to America, bile rose to the back of my throat.

“And Papá? How will he find us?”

“You must trust me, Cassandra. What good are we to him dead?”

I hid in the kitchen and held my head in my hands. The only thing we knew about America had to do with Singin’ in the Rain, because it was always on reruns on TV. In Singin’ in the Rain, the rain was sleek on the black-tar street and the police were well mannered and filled with principles. Mamá always got out of tickets by batting her lashes, begging, and slipping policemen bills of veinte-mil. The Colombian police were easily corrupted. So were the officials at the notaries and the court, whom Mamá always paid so she could be ushered to the head of the line and her applications put at the top of the stack. Often, during the commercial break, Cassandra held her nose in front of the television and spoke like Lina Lamont, the beautiful blonde actress cursed with the horrible, nasal voice. She said, “And I cayn’t stand’im,” and we giggled. She said it over and over until we quivered with laughter and we lay on our backs overcome.

I went down the hall to Cassandra’s and my bedroom and I opened the windows. I wanted to say goodbye to somebody, so I searched the empty lot at the back of our house, looking for the cows that had always been there for as long as I could remember. I saw them, standing by each other, chewing grass in the near distance. I bit my lip and mooed at them. There were so many things I wanted to tell them. I was leaving. My father was kidnapped. I would miss them. I named one cow Roberto, after Papá, and I tried to get across the fact that he needed to be a good cow, and honor my father’s name. I mooed, trying to tell them everything through the lonely sound. The cows looked up in my direction and threw their heads, but they were only getting ready to lie down on the grass. Maybe they were saying goodbye. I fell on my knees and I did not wipe the tears that came.

At night the walls ran high and bare to the ceiling, and the mirrors throughout the house multiplied the emptiness. The mirror in Mamá’s bedroom, facing the bare wide windows, reflected the slate clouds. The windows were open.

I sat in the space where Mamá’s bed had been, and when the storm came, instead of getting up to close the window, I watched the surface of the mirror trembling from the wind. If I looked at myself in the mirror, my face shook as if I were in an earthquake.

I looked into the mirror for a long time. For a while, I started to believe I really was in an earthquake. But when I looked away, everything was still. I was still. Great huffs of wind lifted my hair and I listened to the howl of the storm.

The rain reached me and I got up to close the window. But I could not bring myself to close it and I stared at the bruised and bulbous sky. My shirt was wet. The young trees of our garden were blowing in the wind, up-skirted. I reached for the window handle.

“What are you doing?” Mamá asked from the bedroom door.

“Closing the window.”

“We have nothing to save from the storm,” she said. “There’s no reason to close the window. Let the storm come in if it wants.”

“We are leaving tomorrow at night,” she added.

I turned to Mamá. She was leaning on the doorframe and her eyes were closed against the handle of a broom. My heart was beating fast. I walked past Mamá, swallowing everything, and then tiptoed around the empty house. There were no runners in the hall, no tables, no paintings, but I pretended they were still there. I walked through the house, sidestepping the imagined dotted outlines of our furniture: the paintings, the vases, the lamps, Papá’s books. I visited each bedroom and traveled up and down the stairs.

The air around the ghost objects was charged with inviolability. Space held in place compact over ghost tables, chairs, and bed frames. In the dining room, the carpet dipped in creamy light circles where the table legs used to be. That was how I knew where the ghost table was, the sofa chairs, the glass cabinet that had once loomed over us as we ate. I thought of all the objects in relationship to Papá. The chair Papá had sat in. The runners where his feet had walked. The rails he had rested his hands on.

I left the bottle behind the fridge, and I staggered up to my room crying, crawling to avoid the ghost objects.

Then, I found the last of Papá’s belongings in the house hiding in the dark corner by the refrigerator, overlooked, forgotten, dusty.

It was a scarlet-tinted bottle of whisky, sequestered in the darkness. I reached for it, and holding it against my breast, I ran and took it to the indoor patio.

Papá’s whiskey.

When I uncorked the top I breathed in the scent greedily. The smell was bitter and churned in my throat. I took a small sip, imagining I was Papá. I remembered Papá’s wooden-scented breath laughing over his whisky. It was a gagging feeling, but I continued to take sips until I felt the floor rising up to meet my feet. I couldn’t think straight, but there was nothing to think. I left the bottle behind the fridge, and I staggered up to my room crying, crawling to avoid the ghost objects.

I imagined Cassandra couldn’t help but feel the ghost objects, like me. When I came into our bedroom, Cassandra was sleeping in the rectangle that used to be her bed. Her chest heaved, and she was snoring quietly; Papá’s black wool coat, which Mamá had saved, wrapped around her legs. She looked so peaceful sleeping: her shiny black hair in waves about her head, and her skin with twitching, muscular secrets underneath it. I walked around her ghost bed and I went to lay down in mine.

I spun lying down. I could see the night sky through the window. I stared at the stars shining in the black sky. Like brilliant pearls. I sped forward but they vibrated vertically. They popped and popped.

Only the crescent moon stood in place.

The crescent which Nona said was God’s nail. His hand or his foot.

*                      *                     *

Waiting for sunset, the assigned time of our departure, was torture. So I sat in front of the small TV. There were cartoons for many hours, but then they were interrupted by an image of a man face down on a roof, bleeding his life out. I brought my hands to my mouth, trembling; then the reporter was speaking over the images, saying, “What you will see now is the police preparing to take his body to the medical center for an autopsy.” Him who? I couldn’t breathe, thinking what if it was Papá. Policemen came, and when they turned the body to place it on a stretcher, I saw it wasn’t Papá. On the stretcher, Pablo Escobar’s hair fell long over his ears, and his shirt was tight over his great stomach.

There was a whole crowd of people on the street, waiting, as the stretcher was lowered from the roof. Everyone was so quiet as the stretcher made its way to the ambulance, people in the crowd just reaching their hands to touch the body and then tracing a cross over themselves. The people touched his hair, his bloodied shirt, his arms.

Then the news cut to live footage in the cemetery of Medellín. Rivers of people chanted Pablo, Pablo, Pablo! They pressed against the pallbearers carrying the silver casket, trying to touch it, to carry in their hands the last of Pablo Escobar. The thousand mourners called together: “Se vive, se siente, Escobar está presente!

The camera showed the scene from above as the casket was lowered. Many hands held onto the casket. Someone flipped open the lid, and for a moment the news camera caught Pablo Escobar’s face. Red roses framed that pale face, his eyebrows splayed themselves at rest over his swollen eyes, and a thick beard grew out of his chin. He died fat, another man. Then the silver casket clicked shut and it was lowered. A tractor dumped a mountain of fresh dirt over it.

I didn’t tell Mamá or Cassandra that Pablo Escobar was dead. When the taxi arrived, I cried incessantly. I rocked, waiting for Papá to show up at the last hour, the last minute, the last second. Now he might be lost to us forever. We were on the highway and the rain streaked our windows. That’s when I saw Pablo Escobar out of the rainy car window. He was waiting at a streetlight. He was wearing a hat and a trench coat stained black by rain. I jolted up and pressed my hand to the window and Pablo Escobar stared at me, frozen, and then he spit and turned on his heel, burying himself in the shoulders and umbrellas of pedestrians.

Then I saw Pablo Escobar holding a wet newspaper, crossing himself at the sight of a church, struggling with an umbrella turned inside out, running in the rain with his chin tucked close to his chest and a book under his arm.

I remembered Cassandra said that when Pablo Escobar found out someone had betrayed him, he sliced the person’s throat and pulled the tongue out and left it hanging out the slit. I got the pressing desire to touch my tongue then, squeeze it in between my fingers. I wondered what not having a tongue would be like. You would probably forget you didn’t have a tongue, and would try to move the red, lean muscle, but there would be nothing to move. Just the empty dark hall of your mouth. You would be alone with your thoughts.

At the airport I puked in the bathroom. When we boarded the airplane it was night, and my chest congested with tears. The air lengthened in long, stretchy strings inside me. I couldn’t breathe. There were terms for what we had become: displaced, refugees, destitute. I clicked my seatbelt on and from the airplane window I saw the lights of the city shrinking. It was cloudy, and the city of Bogotá disappeared behind the clouds.

From above I saw how red and blue fireworks exploded throughout the city. They opened like thundering umbrellas over the dark. I realized it was people celebrating Pablo Escobar’s death.

Behind the clouds, down below, was San Juan de Rioseco.

Behind the clouds, down below, was our deserted house, with the ghost imprints of furniture on the carpet, ghost imprints of memory, and the television left on.

Behind the clouds, down below, were Papá’s fingers traveling in the mail. And even though we wouldn’t know it right away, Papá’s fingers would be left at our doorstep in a cardboard box, waiting, nobody to receive their homecoming.

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Author Image

Ingrid Rojas Contreras is the recipient of the 2014 Mary Tanenbaum Award for Nonfiction. You can find her writing in Wise Latinas and American Odysseys: Writings by New Americans, among others. Currently, she is working on a nonfiction book about her grandfather, a medicine man who could move clouds. Her work will be featured in a two-person exhibition, Lo Real Maravilloso, at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts in San Francisco in January of 2015. She lives in San Francisco with her books.

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