|Half an Hour
Translated by Graham Thomson
"Nothing was solved when the fight was over,
but nothing mattered"
Twelve noon. Every minute is a kick in the ass.
Im ten thousand kilometres away from all the
people and all the places I care about, in a ball-breaking job I dont know how to
do, with false papers, surrounded by bosses and co-workers who talk the brutalized slang
of a language I can barely stammer, in temperatures that might suit a lizard but not human
Thirsty, tired, disgusted. An unbearable sun, huge,
white, dirty. And the heat. Hell.
I wipe the sweat off my forehead and start up the
machine again. I feel the motor judder. It feels like my arm is about to come off.
It was a few months ago, just before I fled Buenos
Aires, and the rack rents and the nights with no dinner, that I had the accident.
After almost a year without work, since they fired me
from the publishers, I had got a start driving a taxi. A Peugeot 504 in not bad
I was cruising around looking for fares that
didnt exist, slow, bored. Tabaco was on the radio. I had almost crossed the
junction of Humberto 1 and Gálvez when I felt the impact. A rich kid going too fast in a
blue Fiat had misjudged and crashed straight into the rear wheel of the 504.
Fuck, I thought.
I had my right arm draped on the wheel and my left arm
hanging out of the window. I lost control. The Peugeot rolled over twice and ended up on
its left side, on my arm.
Eight in the morning. Panic, broken glass, pain,
Severed tendons? Just a bone broken? Gangrene? Smashed
Can you move your fingers? Will we have to amputate
below the elbow?
The doubts went on for a couple of weeks. When they
were sure the infection wasnt going to affect the bone they operated.
Twenty stitches, a platinum plate, eight screws. Pain,
A few days before leaving, as she was taking out my
stitches, Dr Splitz warned me emphatically not to make any effort until the arm had
And when is that going to be? I asked.
Its going to take some time. When you feel
that the damaged arm is functioning as well as the other one, youll know, dont
But necessity, as popular wisdom tells us, has the
face of a heretic. And here I am: still without enough strength in my left arm to lift a
beer bottle and working this bastard machine that weighs three hundred kilos.
Half past twelve. Lunch time. Half an hour.
I pull off my T-shirt and go across the street.
Nothing, I repeat.
Nothing makes sense and I dont know what the
next play is or where to find the strength to make it. Until last night I was jiving away
my troubles with music, beer, and the expectation of her imminent arrival.
Half past ten at night. Beer with whisky, always a
brutal combination. A record, then another and another and another.
Only a handful
of dirty stories,
afternoons at the track
and nights with whores
I was slumped in the armchair, eyes well open, the
glass of poison in my hand, singing.
hangover and bad luck.
The telephone rang. Static and echo on the voices.
They refused my visa, she said.
At least six months, she said.
I dont know what to do, she said and she cried.
I love you.
I love you, she said.
I love you.
Eleven p.m.; eleven oclock at night and ten
thousand kilometres. Loneliness, sadness, hangover and bad luck.
Now Im going into the supermarket. I go to the
counter where they make the sandwiches. Sandwich-with-everything-that-can-go-in-it. There
are four people waiting.
At least for a few minutes the air conditioning
screens me from the heat. My turn, my sandwich. I look for a pack of chewing gum and a can
Check-out for less than six items. Three people in
front of me.
The first is buying two cans of peas, a box of
hamburgers, ketchup. Got some problem with the debit card, cant remember the number
After a while they get the card to work.
Next customer. I cant believe it. This lady is
some incalculable age, a good few years more than anyone would admit to and a whole lot
more than the recommended maximum. Her purchases: milk, two toothbrushes, shampoo, mints,
a pot of cream.
The lady doesnt understand or isnt in
agreement, she argues about every one of the prices, shows some discount vouchers.
She doesnt accept the explanations, waves her
coupons in the air.
My half-hour for lunch is evaporating like a puddle of
piss on the concrete.
Somehow they convince her. She pays.
Another person. My kind of woman. Under twenty, to
start with. Black hair, mussed up, very long, looks sleepy and sullen. Two sachets of
alka-seltzer, a bottle of Coke. Her T-shirt is inside out, sunglasses, frayed cut-off
jeans. Hangover and in a hurry.
But its time to change cashiers. They count
coins, converse quietly, they separate the bills into two envelopes and write something on
a time sheet.
The girl with the hangover manages to pay and runs
out, I imagine to hide in the dark. And I want to go with her.
Sandwich, two forty-nine.
Beer, one twenty.
Chewing gum, twenty-five cents.
Tax, twenty-three cents.
Total four seventeen.
I pay with a five. The cashier is nervous, he gets
mixed up with the receipt and the change. He looks new, maybe its his first day or
maybe hes just subnormal. Hes got red hair and a face covered in freckles and
Im never going to get out of this place, I
think, this is the hell my seventeen personal demons had lined up for me: waiting in a
Eighty-three cents your change, sir, acne-face
says, have a nice day.
I leave the supermarket and submerge myself in the
empire of the sick whitish sun.
Twelve fifty-three. In seven minutes I have to be
I cross the parking lot diagonally, to save a few
seconds. In any case my steps are slow, my boots feel heavy, the heat of this tropical
hell, the prospect of a rushed luncheon and another four hours heavy work, the
Sun, tedium, nothing.
Without having noticed it Im in the way of the
cars trying to leave the parking lot. I walk across their path diagonally without looking.
The guy is blond, hes fat, hes
exaggeratedly American. Hes wearing a baseball cap that says Marlins, hes got
his two kids in the back of a grey Mustang, this years. Six cylinders in Vs, air
conditioning, compact player for six CDs, Bose speakers, air bag, power steering,
five-speed automatic shift, electronic windows.
He doesnt insult me, he doesnt yell at me
to run, he doesnt sound the horn.
He revs the engine to a roar and bucks the grey
Mustang fully-equipped threatening to run it over me.
The sun shines on my tired body. I can feel the
disbelief and the hate building up in my chest, I can feel the blood thicken in my veins.
I launch a nicely aimed kick that smashes into the
grey fender. The fender is dented, the balance is broken; Ive just annulled a form
Five to one. Nerves, tension, rage. I start to shake
and my arm hurts. I clench my jaw.
The fat guy tries to get out. Another boot on
the door this time leaves him trapped, sandwiched: the door against his chest, his
back against the body of the Mustang.
I let go of the bag and the can of Heineken makes a
dull noise on the asphalt. When I open it, its going to shoot a load of foam, I
The first right connects full in the contorted blond
face. Time for the left. I hit and it hurts, the rage swells under the arrogant white of
The face of the guy from the Mustang disfigures and
changes. Now its the former economy minister, father of the plan, one of the visible
faces of the recession and the unemployment, a punch. Now its Zapata, the supervisor
who fired me from the publishers, another punch. Now its every one of the
people who trashed me when I was looking for work, another punch. The cartilage loses its
shape and theres blood. Now its the speeding kid who crashed into my taxi,
punch. Now its the consul refusing her a visa, another punch. The old woman who
didnt understand eight fifty-seven, the red-haired cashier with the acne, me. Punch,
The face is an amorphous red mush. My arm hurts a lot.
The guy falls down.
I kick the door again and hear the crunch of bones
breaking and a moan. Tough luck, his hand must have got caught in the door.
But the crunch brings me back to reality. I see the
kids crying in the back seat, the swollen face, the flaccid livid hand. I see the
stupidity of it all.
I take stock of the situation: my visa expired three
days ago, Im working with false papers for nine hours a day Im somebody
else, Im Scott Zambrano Ive just broken the hand and nose of an American
citizen. Eighteen to thirty-six months in the shade, then deportation.
I look around and dont see any gawkers. It was
pretty quick, in any case.
I pull on my T-shirt, cross the street fast and go a
couple of blocks before sitting down in the shade of a tree to eat my lunch.
Three minutes to one. Nothing has happened and
everything has happened.
Im going to be late back to work, I think.
Maybe theyll give me a warning.
Maybe theyll suspend me.
Maybe theyll fire me.
I open the can of Heineken. It isnt cold any
more and it shoots a load of foam. It doesnt matter.
I take a slug. Nothing matters.