Scoundrel Time


Translation from the Spanish by Tyler Gebauer

The building super told me that a pair of white men, looking like businessmen and speaking with upper-class accents, had shown up at the boarding house late one afternoon inquiring about my brother. He told them he wasn’t around, just to be safe, but looking out his window the next morning he saw my brother and those same guys getting into a red pick-up truck.

Your brother seemed calm. The super said something else, but I wasn’t listening anymore. My full attention was on the street out front, and even though the thick fog would have made it impossible to see, I started to imagine a red pickup truck parked between the other vehicles.

In between the books that were in my brother’s room, I found a list of names I recognized. They were last names from our community. Most of them were friends from college. Others had some connection to the defense and the resistance.

I spent the entire afternoon making phone calls. In some cases, I was able to get a hold of the listed individuals; other times I received, through acquaintances, their addresses and where they worked. Why make a list and put people at risk who had nothing to do with the violence committed in our community? Rather than make my search easier, was the list perhaps meant to confuse and take me further away from my brother? The second possibility would make more sense if it was someone else, not me specifically, who had the list in their possession.

It seemed foolish and dangerous to create a list with those names. What the names all had in common was their support for the uprisings, as well as their critical stance in opposition to the interests of the State. Not compromising at all. I crumpled the paper into a ball, but before I could burn it with my lighter the super grabbed my arm and said it wouldn’t hurt to visit the people on the list. Do you have any other clues or information?, he asked me.

It was also his idea for me to memorize the names that same night and destroy the list immediately after. A few hours went by when, noticing my worry and desperation, he offered to memorize a part of it. Because of my paranoia, I hesitated to share half the list with him then, and I told him there were only a few names left, even though I hadn’t even gotten through a quarter of it. The truth is, I still didn’t completely trust him. The source of my suspicion was the fact that he didn’t use the mother tongue to communicate with me. I asked him why, and he told me there was a deeper reason.

Have you ever tried to pull a henequen plant out from the root? It’s a scary thing; the threads seem endless. Just imagine the superconnections that exist in a plot of henequen! It’s all a network. Everything is connected. I would need many years to give you an honest answer to your question. If you’re not in a hurry, I promise to tell you in a few years.

His answer didn’t erase my doubts, and I stuck with the story that I only had a few names left, but later that night I saw him reading poetry in the mother tongue with the aid of a dictionary. I was moved by a such a scene. Why poetry? I asked him.

Because it’s the only thing that’s written in our language, isn’t that wild? he said. He closed the dictionary and went to the kitchen. I heard drawers being opened and the sounds of glassware. I was still paranoid, so I made as little noise as possible until I got to the edge of the door separating the dining room from the kitchen. I leaned in and saw him take a bottle out of the cupboard. I went back to the dining room feeling ashamed. He set down two glasses and poured honey liquor into each of them. Heavy shit, he said, fucking wicked, I said, after we had drank the liquor.

The super asked me if I celebrated the local Finados version of Day of the Dead, or if I preferred that propagandistic bullshit they advertise everywhere.

I told him that the celebration of food offerings for the dead is for fools. The Finados celebrate memory, the other thing is for people who really are stupid, I replied. Without asking, he poured out another round.

We smoked a while in silence. He then gave a long account of his family’s migration to this city. When he finished his story I started to visualize and tried to understand his infra-image of the henequen plant. It was absurd to keep doubting him, so I divided the list in two and gave him half.

I visited everyone that appeared on the list, but no one could tell me the whereabouts of my brother. I also talked to the owner of the bar my brother used to visit after work, and the girl he usually saw on Sunday afternoons, but no one could give me any clue as to where he was.

The super let me stay in my brother’s room without paying rent till I found a job. I started going to the bars downtown. In those places I discovered that chatting with people with the same color skin who spoke the same language as me made my search less disheartening.

I decided to work at the bar my brother was a regular at, since it gave me the chance to be in contact with lots of people, and I’d be able to hear what they were chatting about.

A few months passed before I decided to print some t-shirts with his picture on them. The afternoon I wore one, several people came up to me at the bar to say “Sáansamal ku p’ikil,” a phrase that, out of context, means nothing. It took me a few seconds to realize that the context was my brother. The people approaching me offered to cover the cost of having the t-shirt made, and once they were printed out I could distribute them, and that way they’d be able to wear the image of my brother’s face at all hours and everywhere.

On November 2nd, as I stepped out of the boarding house, I came across the super standing under the roof of the veranda. An unusual thing, especially at that hour. He rested his right shoulder against one of the columns. I assumed he was waiting for someone. A light fog dragged itself through the streets. I leaned discreetly against the other column and also started to smoke. As I was about to leave the boarding house, the super told me that a lot of people from our community would be coming over that day.

They started arriving. The guests made their way straight to the inside of the house. I stayed out on the veranda. Every time the door was opened, the yelling came through loud and clear. I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening inside. The only thing I thought of was the red pick-up, my brother, and the guys who took him away. Then, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was the super.

“You and I are next.”

“For what?” I asked. He didn’t answer.

We walked through the foyer and into a room I’d never been in before. The furniture was arranged in a corner. Some twenty guys were waiting for us. Some of them drank, others were smoking. Because of the excitement of the moment, it’s hard for me to remember what followed, but I believe this is how it happened: the first thing I noticed was the look on the super’s face; his lips had stiffened, his eyebrows were furrowed and the lines on his forehead well-defined. I hadn’t been in a fight since elementary school. He started pushing me. I didn’t react. The crowd remained silent. He kept pushing me. When I put up my guard I looked to either side of me because I had the feeling that people were yelling into my ears. He took advantage of my carelessness to strike me with a headbutt to the nose. I instinctively lifted my hands to my face. He lowered his guard to check on my condition, and I took advantage of that moment to hammer my fist straight in between his eyebrow and his ear. From that moment on my memories are images advancing in slow motion. My fist landing square on his mouth, saliva flying out of it. Him hitting my chest, and every contact like the booming of a muffled drum.

When we were done it felt like my bones were knocked out of place. Blood flowed from my nose. But at the same time I felt happy, light, as if I had cast off a heavy load.

Today marks four years since that fight. The same number of years my brother’s been missing. The super shot himself this morning. I didn’t believe that the old revolver that he bragged had belonged to his great grandpa and had killed some whites in the Caste Wars still worked. When I went into his room, half his body was lying on the table; drops of blood ricocheted off the floor. The windows were open and you could see part of the city. He died symbolically, turning his back against it. I called the owner of the bar I worked at. I told him about the gunshot wound, as well as the strange blood stains on the window frame. To avoid an investigation, we decided not to inform the police, who would certainly release a statement full of lies, false crimes and hateful rhetoric directed at our community. We buried him in the backyard. No one will notice his absence. I never asked what prompted him to face off against me; now, in hindsight, I think he did it to remind me that everything is a struggle.


Carlos Chuc (Canicab, Mexico) studied at the Yucatan School for Writers. He is currently in his second year at the Tzamná Academy for Mayan Language. He has worked in marketing, enjoys reading short stories, and is a fan of the soccer team Atlante FC. This story forms part of his book of short stories, “Crime and Territory” published by Acequia. His writing has appeared in the anthology Lo breve, si bueno… cuentos de Hipogeo, as well as the literary magazine Efecto Antabus.

Tyler Gebauer is a literary translator from Minneapolis, U.S.A. His translations have been published in Packingtown Review, The Tiger Moth Review and SORTES, among others. You can find him online at:


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