Like this man we see by the Autopista under the 129th Avenue Bridge, on our first day back in Bogotá after two years in the U.S. He’s wearing a white shirt and a thin belt; he holds a boy by the arm with one hand and this splintered stick with the other. I’m twelve, jetlagged, and dazed, and it takes me a moment to see it. First, my older sister’s face. The expression ripples out from her eyes. She squints, then opens them wide, teeth gritted and a gasp. She turns away as she does when the wind carries sand. I turn to see the man raising the stick and swinging it hard against the boy’s hip. Up again, against the boy’s knee. Then against the back of his thigh. The boy twists under the man’s grip but he only yelps once, when he’s not expecting it. The boy reaches down and puts his hand on his hip, he reaches around and clutches his knee, and then he doesn’t make any other noise. He shudders and turns solid with tension and practice just one second before the next strike, and then again on the next, and again. Like dancing, or swimming, all about breathing and tempo. No one looks and no one flinches. Not looking takes practice too—and we practice. They are waiting for a bus beneath the bridge so they stay; we are looking for a place to eat familiar food after a two year stint in Los Estados Unidos, so we keep walking.
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