The effects of the lesson Sr. Moreno had taught them all those years ago—when in anger he forced the brothers to fight—had seemed to last. The boys, obedient and frightened of their father, did not fight. They were growing up now, and though they were still boys—and as such, always tempted to fight—the years passed apparently full of calm. These brothers, for this is the way with brothers, were best friends and bitter enemies, and they themselves were unable to tell the difference. They fought together, alongside one another in Miraflores, cheering one another on, defending the honor of the other, one never speaking ill against the other, for they were a part of the same neighborhood gang; but, over the years, in the calm between them there also grew a great burden, which was hatred, thick, quiet, cold, for in their bellies those coarse stones remained. And yet they never brought their fists against the other, for fear of the anger it would bring up in their father.

However, years later, when they found themselves in the first days of puberty, a pimple here and there, fur growing beneath the arms and above the penis, a boy’s mustache above the lips, Nofrito had been seen with the girl who had light hair and green eyes. Her name, I believe, was Irena: the one Nelson had already claimed and taken to El Callejón.

Nelson, it should be said, had grown up before his brother—a little bit before, at least; which is not to say that his body grew up faster than Nofrito’s, for they found themselves in the throes of puberty at the same time; rather it was his will, or perhaps his mind—or at least his affection for sexual things—which grew up with great speed. I have already told you the time Nelson drew the naked lady with the crayons. So how do you think he knew about such things—and so young?

He had already gone to La Diez y Ocho—for its existence was no secret to anyone—and he had looked at the women there, fantasizing himself with them, had even asked a few of them—using all his bravery—to take a handful of coins in return for removing some of their clothes. All but one had laughed at him, touching his face, saying, Come back on your birthday, Big Boy, come back when you turn thirteen, and then I will make you a man; the other had led him into an alley, which smelled of dog shit and human piss, and she had taken his money, and she had removed from her blouse both her breasts for him to stare at and touch. She lifted her skirt a few moments while he gathered her into his eyes, unmoving, silent. Ecstasy moved through him like a warm liquid.

Before long he had saved a little more money and returned to her, coins in hand, ten sucre in all, the price in those days, and he asked this time for more, saying to her calmly those exact words, Now is the time for more. Time to be taken upstairs, to be touched, to be excited, to be soothed: the woman, reluctantly or not, obeyed.

So this was how Nelson had discovered sex. He in his quiet, in his always-brooding anger, fell into her arms, and she promised him a hiding place, and ecstasy, and desire-to-be-fulfilled. This mistress, this woman—full of charm he had never known—she promised him lust, to be lusted after, and she asked of him in return only secrecy, for even with prostitutes there are some things too shameful to make known. And, in this secret, his lust grew enormously. His years of anger, of quiet shyness (which really was only hatred), in these moments-at-a-time were released in short, involuntary contractions of muscle, in the overflow of warmth and touch and friction. And still his lust continued to grow. He took to masturbating himself all the time, two or three times a day, while he imagined her removing first her shoes, then her belt, now her blouse and skirt, smiling at him, which told of his power, his strength, his skill for conquest. In addition, he had begun flirting with loose, older girls, taking them the the River’s Toe, and they did things which naturally curious, yet unnaturally brave, children do to one other. Then, whenever he could collect ten sucre more, he returned to his lady at La Diez y Ocho, and she taught him the ways of desire, always taking care to touch him lightly at first, now with passion, now lightly again. She took care to tease him, to caress him, to praise him, to make him feel so much like a man. She whispered his manhood to him in quiet private exultations, and his ears went numb with excitement. Inside him he felt love and shame at once. And over all these things—for this is the way of sin, of passion, of darkness, of hiding—he had tried to maintain strict control and quiet; his lady, his girls, and his life in the imagination, these were his only, privately, to be touched or enjoyed by no one else. He could not imagine his lady on 18th Street with anyone but him, acting kindly toward, or whispering nonsense to, or touching the face and arms of, or giving in to, anyone else: and so he did not—perhaps he did not know how to, or perhaps he thought she waited around just for him. As for his girls, including Irena, the girl Nofrito was seen chasing, they were Nelson’s alone. Nelson had awoken to sex early, at only the age of ten or eleven, and he had learned well, quickly, to hide himself from the shame of public exposure—for, as his lady had taught him, the pleasure of secrecy makes all kinds of wonderful promises. But, since a prostitute can heal only so much, upon learning that Nofrito had taken what belonged to him, his girl, his Irena, Nelson’s ability to contain his anger, this hatred for his brother—after years—these coarse ugly stones in his stomach, all this was stirred, moved, and those stones rose to the surface: this he could not, or would not, control. The anger, therefore, and the spite, and the hatred of years, these were released in Nelson beyond measure, and as a result, to Nofrito, he became very, very dangerous.

And so it came about that Nofrito, or so it had been spread from one ear to the next, was reported to have chased Irena around the statue in the town square, an attempt to get a kiss. It was a believable story, of course, for this sort of thing can be believed about any boy of eleven years—and, by the logic of children, it was therefore true.

Finally, the news was brought to Nelson. In return, then, he allowed another word to spread—carefully, in murmurs the teachers would not hear: a fight between brothers was to come, the first of its kind, behind Building G, in the usual place.


The long school day finally over, after the hours of secrecy and chatter, the children came to watch. From their classrooms after the final bell, from the playground where they left the rubber balls, from the hallways and stairways and locker rooms, avoiding the eyes of their teachers, lying to their mothers—saying they needed to stay after school a little while, for homework or tutoring—speaking in breathless whispers to one another, holding books to their chests, making grand gestures with their hands, covering their mouths in surprise: they came. All of them were dressed in the same clothes, white shirts, a tie, dark pants, the girls wearing long skirts and sweaters, the boys with their sleeves rolled up, as though they believed themselves to be their own fathers, a long day gone by but now it is done, it is time to rest, time to take in the honor of a day well spent, time for entertainment, a fight, a fight among brothers, and here they gathered behind Building G, their clothing showing the white and dark of Catholic regulation, white and dark, white and dark, layers and layers of these children coming from everywhere like gulls and pigeons assembling on the coast, coming from all directions, white and dark, white and dark, the only words among them full of weight and expectation proper to this kind of rare occasion. Everyone waited with knots in their stomachs. Here, today, a fight, and that among brothers, such great fighters, each of them. Who would triumph? Who would be greater? Never had this been seen before. Perhaps it would not be seen again.

Of course, Choco had been notified, though not by Nelson himself—but by word of mouth, in the same manner Nelson himself had learned of his brother’s chasing Irena. You were seen with her—they told him—and Nelson has heard of it, but your brother has said she is not yours to molest. Therefore you have offended your own brother. And now he has promised to fight you. Today. Behind Building G. He has said he will have your ass!

Choco, then, whether to defend his honor, or to explain himself, or to remind his brother of their father’s rule (and how they had once feared this commandment!)—or perhaps because lust is a greater motive than any rule a father can impose—he arrived to the place, corks in his hands, zapátos lucharónes on his feet, prepared, if necessary, to fight, and to win.

They had been trained, as training goes, together: this much everybody knew. And each had seen the other fight many, many times. Each knew the tricks of the other. Each knew how to punch, how to throw kicks at the knee, how to make blood pour from the nose and mouth. And each knew how to avoid these things for himself. Therefore, if one made contact with the flesh of the other, one might have said, This is due more to luck than anything, for their skills are practically equal in all regards.

Though everyone who came to watch the thing had his favorite, the reputations of these two fighters, amazingly, were equal. And the fear of them, too, among the other fighters in the neighborhoods, was equal. Nelson, a little bit bigger and perhaps a little stronger than his brother, could not move as quickly, nor with the same anticipation, the same speed, which had before given Choco his many victories. Still, it was Nelson’s favorite thing, and his most common tactic, to heave his brute strength upon his opponent, to blind his enemy with too many punches to the chin and cheeks, and, in the days he had acquired this skill, there were few who could say they had got the best of him.

They stood before one another, angry, strong. The sun of the day bore down on them, and some of the children made for the shade, standing along the edge of Building G, in the bit of shady covering a wall might provide when the sun is so high, but the majority made a circle around the fighters. Some chanted, Choco, Choco, Choco. They made pumping motions with their fists. Others said, ¡Nelson ganará! ¡Nelson ganará! Most of the children, however, mumbled among themselves, unsure whom to support, pointing, telling stories that had already made their way around Miraflores, mesmerized merely by the spectacle. There were a hundred anxious children watching. And Nelson and Choco drew nearer, fists raised before their faces in the way of old fighting movies, dukes up.

Both boys had been taught not to punch first, never to make the first move. The first to punch, the eager one, so they were taught, is also the first to make a mistake, the one most vulnerable to punishment, and he, in the end, will be the one who cannot defend himself. Therefore, one would better learn to wait, to defend, to react. Both boys, then, were patient fighters, waiting, waiting, moving around and around in a circle, and as they did their shoes slid along the dirt. But Nelson, perhaps because he was the challenger and filled with the most hatred in this case, whose anger and jealousy caused this fight to come about—he swung first. He swung with great passion, and again, and again, and again, missing each time, for his brother’s movements were quick to dodge almost anything. Then Choco swung downward toward the groin of his brother, what would have been the winning punch, for who can withstand such pain as that, but his fist was stopped by Nelson’s raised knee. The children in the outer circle grew louder. Choco heard them yelling, heard even his cousins—who by now had taken sides in the conflict, either agreeing with Nelson’s rage or disbelieving the story about Choco’s chasing Irena—shouting out advice, what kicks or punches to make, and where, and when. He saw the children standing behind Nelson, his friends and enemies and people he’d never seen before, all in their white shirts and dark pants, chanting, waiting, hoping, and he felt the weight of their excitement, and he understood that this fight, this conflict, would end frighteningly.

He gave himself over, then, to the emotion that had begun stirring inside his stomach. He looked at Nelson and he understood that he had never hated anyone so much as this brother of his, this boy who looked like no one in the family, his black curly hair, his wide fair face, his fat nose, all which were the traces of the whore who had borne him, the woman only their father had known, and so Choco clinched the cork in his hands, and he no longer saw his brother, but an enemy—a threat. He came again at Nelson who stood ready in his quiet, steady rage.

Here a punch was thrown, and there a kick to the shin or ribs. Their fingers remained tightly wound about the corks in their palms. Nelson moved forward. He held hands before his face. He jabbed at his brother’s chin. Choco ducked and swung at Nelson’s stomach, but Nelson had lowered his arms just in time. Choco recovered, and put his arms up to protect himself.

It went on like this for a long time. A punch thrown here, and there a kick to the legs or stomach. Neither boy would allow an end to the fight. Neither was willing to give in to the other. No matter how stupid the thing had been or become, they fought on. Their fists raised and legs flew, and their skills and fortitude naturally gave way to their fatigue, slowly, in the way that water from the stream wears at the stone, or in the way rain tears away bark from the tree. They came to resemble the stone altars of ancient rituals—and blood poured from their bodies and onto the ground. The crowd of children who had gathered to watch, those who had been standing around yelling with the excitement and energy of the coming kill, eventually, as the minutes wore on, became filled with disgust, or horror, or boredom, for the reality of the event is always worse than the fantasy. In the case of these two brothers, honor had given way to hatred, to pride. And neither boy would cry. And neither boy would fall.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Full Text


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