Óscar and I were the first ones to get to these restaurant’s trash bins. We even found meat and chicken. It doesn’t stink that bad at this time of the day. At noon it gets very hot and the garbage smell gets really bad and grownups gather around it to eat and it is difficult to get any of the good food.
Óscar prefers chicken and I prefer beef. That’s why we are a good team. I’m glad I found him. Or that he found me. Now one of us can stay up at night while the other one sleeps. Last night we had to run from some fat cops that wanted to beat us up because we were sleeping in a public playground.
I would like to find chocolate cake in the trash one day. When I was younger I sometimes had chocolate milk at home. My mum would buy it for us when she had a good day at work. She sold plastic rosaries like this one. Óscar says that he prefers McDonald’s over cake. He once ate from McDonald’s garbage before we met, and now that’s all he can talk about.
The truth is that we don’t talk that much. We walk a lot and we juggle at traffic lights for money. Recently the police took away the plastic balls we used to juggle with and now we beg for food outside bakeries and supermarkets. When I don’t eat or drink water for long periods of time, I get light-headed and I prefer not to talk. Once I passed out when I was in school. Maybe that’s why my mum left.
A fancy SUV pulls over while we dig in the garbage bins.
“Hey, boys! Here, take these.” He hands us two disposable containers of food with plastic cutlery and napkins and everything.
We take it and get rid of the cutlery and the napkin and start eating in silence.
“Where do you live?” the man in the SUV asks.
“On the streets.”
We start walking away because we don’t feel like talking to the man.
“Get in,” he says.
I stay still, eating in silence.
“I’m going to help you. I can’t just go and leave you here. Come on guys, get in. I’ll help you.”
Óscar says let’s walk away but I stay still.
“You can finish your meal first. I’ll wait.”
I ignore Óscar and go on eating there, between the trash bins and the SUV. I know Óscar wouldn’t dare to leave without me. There’s nothing worse than being alone.
Once I finish eating I throw the plastic container on the floor with the cutlery and the napkins. I clean my hands on my trousers and open the car’s backdoor. Óscar looks at me, afraid.
“Come on. Get in,” I tell him.
He makes that sound with his tongue and teeth and gets in.
We arrive at a huge house. A mansion! I never saw something like it from so close. It even has a garden and two huge dogs. Óscar still hasn’t said anything, but I think after seeing this place he knows I was right.
The gate opens and we drive in.
“Wait in the car,” the man turn his face a bit towards us. I notice the birthmark on his face. “I’ll lock the dogs up.”
“No problem,” I say. “We’ll wait here.”
We are so lucky. I look out the car window. Look at this place.
“What do you say now, huh?” I tell Óscar.
He doesn’t say anything. Son of a bitch won’t admit it. So annoying. What is he so afraid of?
“Whatever. I’ll ask you again after you’ve had three meals in a day!”
“I don’t like dogs,” he says.
All the kids here are served arepas with ham and cheese and avocado and butter. This is paradise on earth, as my mum would say. She would ask me every morning before I left for school what I wanted for dinner. I would tell her an empty arepa, but I wouldn’t mind a fried egg if you find one.
The other kids ask Óscar and me if we already watched TV. Here they have a plasma in the studio and they have Nickelodeon and candy.
“Last time it was my turn I saw SpongeBob and had a Cocosette wafer,” one tells us. “You’ll probably be the next because you’re new.”
“Can we go after the meal?” I ask him.
“No. He decides who gets to go and when and for how long.”
“What other type of candy is there? Do they have chocolate milk!?”
“Sometimes, yes. I tell you, you guys are here now. You don’t have to worry anymore about candy. This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me and to you. Mr. Bondad saved us. He is a good person.”
“Where is he now?” Óscar asks.
“In the studio, working.”
One of the cleaners comes and pick up my plate and my glass and asks if I am satisfied.
“Are you full, sir?” the cleaner says.
“I had three arepas my friend. If I eat something more I swear I’ll shit my pants,” I tell the guy.
“Please, report to one of us after you go to the bathroom and make number two,” he says and leaves with a bunch of dirty plates.
I look at Óscar. He seems confused, too.
“What the! What the fuck does that mean?”
“Yes. That’s a rule,” one of the kids says. “We have to tell them every time we poop.”
“Right after I drink a big glass of chocolate milk,” I say. “Right after!”
Óscar doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t say anything. He just looks around. Very annoying.
“Are there other rules?” he asks.
“Yes! Don’t go to the garden. That’s where the dogs are. I heard that one day a burglar tried to break in the house and the dogs tore him to pieces and Mr. Bondad was mad because they had to destroy the garden because the dogs buried parts of the body all over the place.”
I walk up to one of the cleaners and inform him that I just pooped.
“Excellent. Would you like to watch TV now?”
“As my mum would say, would you ask a blind man if he wants to see?”
“Please, follow me.”
He takes me upstairs to a bathroom and asks me to take a shower with shampoo and soap and tells me to be thorough on my rear end, sir. He hands me a robe.
The guy is waiting for me outside of the bathroom. He takes my dirty clothes.
“Did you clean your rear end thoroughly?”
I nod because I’m not really sure what thoroughly means.
“Please, follow me.”
“Do you know what type of candy there is today?”
“If there is Pirulín I’m gonna choose Pirulín. That’s the most expensive of all.”
He knocks on the door and we wait. After a minute Mr. Bondad opens the door and smiles at me. I stare at his birthmark.
“I was feeling like watching Nickelodeon,” he rubs his hands. “Wanna join me?”
“Would you ask a blind man if he wants to see?”
I come into the studio. There’s a basket full of candy on the table in front of the sofa. My god, so many choices: Ping-Pong, Susy, Cri-Cri, Nucita, Torontos, Pirulín…
“You are allowed to pick one,” he says. “Whichever you want.”
“My mum’s favorite is Toronto. I’m gonna take a Toronto. Do you think there are Torontos in Colombia?”
She said I’ll be back soon and everything will be better. In Colombia people can buy any type of food they want. Beef. Chicken. Rice. Coffee. Cheese. Different kinds of cheese. Arepa flour. Lentils. I don’t need the lentils, I told her, and she laughed and then cried. I’ll sell all these rosaries to the Colombians and then we’ll be able to afford your grandma’s hypertension pills. We want her to feel better, right? You take care of her, ok?
“You focus on your candy and on the show, ok? Stand still and don’t look at me.”
Te quiero tanto, hijito mío.
You are my brave boy.
This place is fantastic! I asked for chocolate milk and Mr. Bondad bought some for me. He thought it was funny that it made me poop right away. Now I can have chocolate milk every time I want.
The other day I saw an episode of SpongeBob (I had a Toronto again) where SpongeBob and Squidward have to deliver a pizza made out of Krabby-patties. I asked Mr. Bondad if we could have pizza one day and we had pizza the next day. We are so lucky to have him in our lives. I’ll never have to eat out of the the garbage again or get beaten up by anyone.
Now that I think about it, Toronto is my favorite type of candy.
Since a week ago Óscar refuses to poop.
I don’t get it. He doesn’t want to eat, he doesn’t want to play with the other kids, and he doesn’t want to watch TV. Mr. Bondad asked me what he could do to help Óscar feel better in the house. McDonald’s, I told him. We had McDonald’s that evening. But Óscar didn’t eat.
“What’s wrong with you?” I ask him.
“I wanna go home,” Óscar says and cries a little bit. I never saw him cry before.
“There’s no home. This is the best you’ll ever find, so take it!”
“I don’t. I don’t like Mr. Bondad.”
“Well, then leave!”
“He is a bad man.”
“He even bought McDonald’s for you. Can’t you see? He is better than any parent you could have. Plus, he won’t walk away on you.”
“I just want to go home, please.”
“I don’t want to be your friend anymore. I wish Mr. Bondad would kick you out.” I walk away.
I came back from school and a family was moving into our house. They told me that my grandma had died and that I had to find another place to go. A kid cannot live in a house alone.
At breakfast we left Óscar eating alone at the table because he said that Mr. Bondad was a bad person. He’s got us locked up in here. You should all stop pooping. What he is doing is not right, he would say. I don’t want the others to think that I am like him only because we came in together, so I moved tables.
Óscar comes to me the next morning and begs me to help him. He needs to poop very bad but he doesn’t want to go to the bathroom because the cleaners would see him and he says that they already told him that they are observing him closely.
“Then you’ll have to go in the garden like a dog. You’ll have to wait until Mr. Bondad locks the dogs up so the cleaners can fill up the dogs’ bowls.”
“Would you come with me?” he asks me with his stupid scared face.
Hundreds of times we pooped in front of each other. We yelled dramatically to make it funny. We also rated each others turds. It was funny, but I certainly don’t miss it.
This will be the last time I’ll see Óscar poop in front of me.
We sneak into the living room once the dogs are locked up. They always feed them right before they serve lunch. We are not allowed to play in the living room because there are many fragile things. There’s a door to the garden in the room, so we open it and Óscar limps out and pulls his pants down in a rush and lets out a turd. An immense turd. I’m standing at the door. They’ll release the dogs any second now.
“Clean your butt thoroughly!” I yell at him and close the door and rush out of the living room.
A cleaner sees me run out of the living room. I freeze when I see him. Óscar is banging on the door like crazy and screaming. The cleaner runs into the room and lets Óscar back into the house.
A cleaner takes me to the studio. What I did was bad. Mr. Bondad must be so mad. I’m so sorry. I screwed up. I kiss my rosary. Please, Diosito, please. I’m gonna get on my knees and beg him to forgive me as soon as he opens that door. I swear I will never do something like that again. I’m a bad person and Mr. Bondad is such a good person. I hope he forgives me. Mr. Bondad opens the door and I freeze. I stare at his dark birthmark. He smiles at me and says come on in.
“I heard what happened,” he sits in front of the candy basket and turns on the TV. “You are a good kid. You’re allowed to take two pieces of candy today.”
Three things made me write this short story. Venezuela, my home country, is going through a humanitarian crisis provoked by the socialist revolution led by Nicolás Maduro. 1) Paradoxically, the military dictatorship seems to have become proportionally stronger as the population became more vulnerable and dependant on government handouts. 2) Due to the crisis, around 10% of the population has left the country. That is about 4 million Venezuelans. Many have left their kids behind. Studies show how the number of orphans has been steadily increasing in recent years. Kids sleeping on the streets or digging in the garbage have become everyday images. 3) While life for the population gets harder, members of the armed forces get richer. A couple of years ago, a member of the armed forces decided to defect and publicly asked other soldiers to stop supporting the dictator. His colleagues killed him after he surrendered himself. His name was Óscar.