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2002-11-06
The Jealousy of Winter
by Lisa Garrigues
It was the first day of spring and because he was
young he got drunk too fast.
I can still see him dancing crazily in front of
the bonfire in the middle of the street, waving his
warms, singing, the flames outlining his slim teenage
body. It was three in the morning and the neighbors
had gathered in the street to celebrate the spring by
playing drums and dancing and drinking and eating
potatoes cooked in the fire.
Six hours later he was dead.
I asked the neighbors why. "He was shot by the
police," most of them said, because these days, that
is often how young men in Argentina die.
"I saw his body," said one, "lying naked against
the church, blood all over him. With his little
beard, he looked like Christ. There were police all
over the pace, with their guns out. With all those
police around I figured it had to be them that shot
him."
We all remembered the three policemen who had
walked over to the festival and stood writing things
down in little notebooks. Some of us had moved
timidly away. Some of us had defiantly danced around
the fire, and shouted: "Get rid of them all, que se
vayan todos!"
"The police didn't kill him," said another."He was
a bad kid. He took
someone's backpack and ran away with it, and then he
got into an argument with someone else over a bad
debt, and they shot him."
Everyone shook their head. Nobody talked about it
much.
Maybe he knew that first night of spring was going
to be his last. Maybe that´s why he danced too hard,
got too drunk, punched the air in the middle of the
night in rage.
I didn´t even know his name.
But I have come to know the names of others on the
growing list, as if they were my own sons: Dario,
Maxi, Diego, Ezekial. Two shot in the back while they
were running from police. One killed by a mixed band
of police and kidnappers. Another's body dragged from
the river after he was forced by police to jump into
the river and drown. Others, who, like the boy whose
body was lying against the church on the first day of
spring, never make the headlines. Because they are
"bad kids," kids on the margin. Because maybe they
shot each other. Because nobody really knows.
It's happening again, some are saying. Argentina
is killing its young. People are talking about "death
squads." Bodies are being pulled from the river. The
mothers who carry the signs of the children of another
spring are being shot at. And those who have nothing
are shooting each other.
People are hiding in their houses. "Don't get
involved" has been replaced by "Don't go outside."
Outside there are criminals. And the criminals fool
you. Because you don't know what they look like.
They might look like teenage boys. They might be
wearing suits and carrying briefcases. They might be
wearing a uniform and have a gun pointed at your head.
 
There are some who are jealous of spring. Old
people and young people who are afraid of the bonfires
that spring brings. Men who hide behind uniforms
thinking that these uniforms will protect them from
spring, and from bonfires.
Those who are jealous of spring will always find a
reason to point their guns. They will shoot young men
in the back. They will fire bullets at the houses of
women who talk too much. They will order teenage boys
to throw themselves in the river.
They will find enemies everywhere.
And if the boy whose name I don't even know wasn't
shot by the police, if he was shot by another "bad
kid", after a stupid and drunken argument, does the
story really change?
I don't think so.
Despite his desperate dance against the flames,
maybe this kid felt that spring woud never really
come.
Maybe for him it was a myth, an illusion. "What
are you going to do be when you grow up?" A young boy
on the outskirts of Buenos Aires was recently asked.
"Unemployed, like my father," he said.
The claws of winter don't let go easily,
especially when they sink into our very bones.
But spring is relentless, there is no stopping
it. You can't bully it or order it around. You can't
throw it in the river. You can't silence it.
It is not always nice. Sometimes it is cruel, it
demands sacrifices. The bodies of young men, a
mother's lament. An old woman with a long memory who
receives three bullets in the front door of her hosue
and then says, "I am not afraid."
Sometimes spring takes a long time to arrive.
But spring is implacable. It makes no compromises
or deals or arrangements with human fear. You can't
buy it off by passing it a few dollars under the
table. It is stronger than the jealousy of those who
feed on maintaining the illusion of winter, it is
stronger than fear.
Where one flower falls, another opens. And then,
suddenly, they are everywhere.