Was a Child Back Then
by Guillermo Fadanelli, translated by Matt Madden and Yolanda Martinez
| I was a child
back then and children generally aren't too judgmental; although most of them
don't really know why they are sitting at those wooden desks, saddled with a bag
full of notebooks and pencils, listening to a person who is neither their father
nor their mother; although they don't know why they have to go to school and learn,
they do it without resentment, without recriminating anyone for anything. Once
in a while there would be some sentimental weeping or cries of anguish, but most
of the time we would listen silently to that man with the matted hair and the
badly-knotted tie who would speak to us tenderly while walking between the desks
from which we children followed him with our surprised gazes since in the end
we still hadn't become used to that kind of routine, and even though we had been
taking classes in that neighborhood school for several years, we still hadn't
figured out how to rebel against those prison wardens who wrote on the blackboard.
Basically we were real idiots because now, looking back on it, I can't believe
we weren't capable of refusing to do the things he made us do, especially that
day he got the notion that, in order to honor our mothers, we should each one
of us get a hank of yarn and knit a little woolen cap with which to cover our
old ladies' craniums. I knew I couldn't count on my father's approval because
he wouldn't be able to bear watching his son knitting without being sure I was
turning into a goddam faggot. So, as always, I sought out the support of my mother,
who was quite pleased about the whole thing. She bought three hanks of mustard-colored
yarn, some plastic implements that would work as knitting needles, and a spool
of white thread.
I gave up those afternoons I normally spent kicking a ball against an eroded wall in an alley a few meters from my house, those afternoons when sitting on that same ball I would count the passing cars while trying to convince myself that there was some kind of justice to the prohibition to go to the park and play with the other children. Instead, I locked myself in my bedroom knitting the old lady's cap. I'm not complaining, but I would have liked to have done it openly. After all, it was nothing but a teacher's pretentious whim. And wasn't it my own father who had sent me to that school in the first place? I still remember him, with his fists clutched, saying that he was going to kill the son-of-a-bitch teacher who was perverting his child, making him knit like a little girl. "Is that why I drive a trolley bus ten hours a day?" My mother defended me, although not exactly as I would have liked her to--energetically, reasonably, making him realize that in fact it was no big deal. She defended me timidly because my mother, too, was scared of the bulky arms and the evil gaze of that man who would threaten us at the top of his voice, the man who would touch us just to make us realize he could kill us if he wanted to. The mistake had been to trust my brother, asking him not to tell my father about the knitting under any circumstance, my father who had just been named as the candidate for a position in the public transportation union. It was a terrible mistake because my brother, who was more terrified than my mother and me together, thought it would be better to be on the side of the strongest, even if it meant betraying us. And he did it, he told on us the same day that big man covered the house with dozens of fliers with his name on them, the smallest name after those of the Secretary General and the Treasurer. He hung the fliers on both sides of all the doors in the house, on the walls, the refrigerator, and the windows, so that anyone who passed by our house could see that our family was making progress; that my father was not going to stay a bus driver for the rest of his life; that it was time people began treating us, the Fadanellis, with respect.
I don't know how it occurred to me to say it, it came of itself, as if my mouth were someone else's. "Give me a fucking break, will you?" I said to him. We couldn't believe it, not I, nor my father, nor my mother, nor my brother, who was spying from the bedroom door. "Give me a fucking break, will you?" And I was so surprised that it didn't hurt when he slapped me, nor when he kicked me in the ass, nor when he dragged me to the floor by my hair. It hurt him more that his party had lost the elections because it meant he would go on being a driver, a goddam driver with a son who knitted little wool caps. And while his family took down all the fliers, the ones we had plastered the entire house with a week earlier, he stood looking out the window with his jaw clamped in anger, his fists clutched. Who knows what he was thinking about? As for me, I was thinking about what I was going to tell the teacher when he asked me about my knitting: "Give me a fucking break, will you?" I would tell him the same way I had told my father.
That night, I heard someone sobbing in my parents' bedroom. I got up and put my ear to the door. My brother was behind me and was also listening to his sobs, to my mother's voice cheering him up, telling him that God knew what he was doing, that it was wrong to curse. Crying like a pussy, I thought, my father is crying like a pussy. My brother stood there, his eyes wide open, trembling with fear because he had never heard him cry; I was satisfied because it was the best that could have happened to me at that moment--my mother was right, God knew perfectly well what he was doing. Although it was dark I knew my brother was looking at me, I could feel his eyes, wet with tears. I spat on the floor twice, once for him and once for his father who was crying like a pussy.
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