In order to celebrate my first day of work as God intended I arranged to meet my buddy Toto at noon at El Portalito, the city's most legendary cantina, fortunately located a mere two hundred yards from my office, close enough to prevent the onset of anxiety in someone who is afraid, above all else, of failing to be punctual, as is the case with me; someone who requires a drink to calm the nerves at the strangest moments, as is also the case with me, which made me consider the proximity of the archbishop's palace to El Portalito well-nigh miraculous, like a wink from the heavens that would enable me to do my work without faltering, as I explained to my buddy Toto once we were sitting down at a table in the cantina awaiting the voluminous mugs of beer, looking over the faces of the other clientele: the certainty of having a cantina so close by, right at hand, no matter what kind of office I am stuck in, lays the groundwork for a certain degree of spiritual peace, I was explaining to him at the very moment we picked up our mugs to make a toast, which Toto took advantage of to show off his peculiar sense of humor: "May you come out of this shit alive," the wiseguy pronounced in solemn tones, a joke that immediately made me suspicious of the men sitting at a nearby table, knowing as I did that all kind of thugs hung out at that dark and squalid cantina, including informers and torturers who belonged to the so-called Presidential High Command, torturers who usually drank alone, almost never looking up from the table, their eyes bloodshot and their grimace sinister, who could be recognized by the scent of the dense, ghastly aura surrounding them. "Don't worry, take it easy," my buddy Toto told me, unsheathing his equine teeth from under his Pancho Villa mustache, then right away asking me about my impressions after my first morning of work, how had the priests treated me, I should tell him all about it, but at the precise moment my story was about to begin, a marimba thundered deafeningly from a raised dais next to the door, a marimba played by two very old men, the notes sweeping all conversations away from the tables, especially those closest to the door, like ours, and we would have had to shout in order to hear each other, which my buddy Toto then did to tell me that this music was a kind of welcome march, that he had no doubt it was dedicated to me, he shouted with a mocking grin, knowing that if there is anything I despise with particular intensity it is folk music, and especially the sad, mournful music of the marimba, an instrument only a sad and mournful people can idolize, as I have said many times.
Copyright © 2006 Horacio Castellanos Moya. Translation Copyright © 2008 by Katherine Silver. Courtesy of New Directions.