The Day After Christmas 1998

a true story



After a Christmas night so long so incredible to describe that I’ll not relate here I find myself alive and walking early morning around an unknown neighbourhood of the magic city of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico.

       Still so stoned from the night before always I enjoy getting (very) high and so I stop in what I think to be a nice spot. In the midst of so many trees with gorgeous leaves and climbing flowery plants around their branches I sit on a stone at the side of a walking path, delimited on the opposite side by a wooden fence of some property that shows just near to me a part of it made up of corrugated iron, as people use to do to complete constructions here in Mexico; meaning that my long dawn walk has brought me into a poor area, far from the rich surroundings where I spent the night.

       I sit on the stone and take out from my belt all my paraphernalia. Apart from the drugs and what needed for their consumption, in my belt kangaroo style there are all my belongings: passport, a Cartier gold watch, a Dupont heavy lighter made completely of solid gold, and 128 bills of hundred dollars each, all what is left of the inheritance of my mother, a small treasure with which I would have liked to open an internet business here. Then, finding myself taking too many drugs here in Oaxaca, I had resolved to go instead to start a business in the desert town in the north where I fill so good and grounded. But Angelo had invited me to spend the Xmas day together with him and his family, so I waited couple of weeks more just to see that the very day he didn’t call on me… and so, so sad and angry about it, yesterday, the very Xmas day, I left my house forever with all my belongings on me, to go north. Again stoned in Oaxaca main street I met some other people who invited me to a party… and so now I am here.

       Sitting on that boulder I injected myself with a very huge quantity of pure cocaine, and then squat in padmasana posture, eyes closed, attention inward to the third eye, absolutely motionless, like always I do to save myself from the so powerful storm coming, concentrated in using it for my inner purpose of enlightenment; obtaining every time a shower of psychic uncontrolled capabilities, so fearful and yet so attractive.

        Deep into this state my silence is broken by the corrugated iron that, perhaps moved by the wind or most probably by my energy gone wild and finding a way to pour out, starts to speak to me, and there are the voices of my dead mother and my dead wife asking for help! It is a very difficult struggle trying to understand properly what they are saying, their voices mixed up with the rattling of the tin sheet, but doubtless they are prisoners there, and are asking for help with a strain of pain and urgency in their voices. After minutes of a intense power battle with my mind trying to free them from the very metal… the flash slows down, and so I start to walk around the fence that encloses a very large property, coming to a wooden door, the only means of entry. At the corner of the street there is a small square where is parked a huge garbage truck, that has a round machine on the back able to grind up everything before swallowing it; I stop the driver of the truck, a big man with a white moustache telling him: - You’ll be my witness. Everything that happens from now on is not my fault, my mother and my wife are inside this house, kept there against their will! – I avoid telling him that they are dead, for the average Mexican is notorious for being very afraid of sorcery.

       So I squat in front of the door, waiting. Meanwhile, I make another fix, this time mixing the coke with heroin to keep quiet, and I go on waiting. After a while the man from the garbage truck comes and starts to knock at the door, calling loudly: ¡Basuraaa! Then a woman opens the door with a plastic bag in her hands, and at this very moment a pack of dogs come out from behind the door running wildly to get outside; at least twenty dogs running so fast, nearly one on the top of the other, so intense and desperate is their running it gives the impression that they are running for their life, escaping from hell! I look the woman right in the eyes saying: - What the hell is going on inside here? -. She, without any emotion, grins through her teeth, whispering: - If you behave, we’ll set you free, too –

       - What? What did you fucking say? – I scream, standing up, but she’s so fast in shutting the door right in my face. I’m so angry, she speaks about me being their prisoner too! how dare she? What does it mean? What the fuck is going on in this place of black magic? I start to punch at the door shouting loudly: - Open the door! Repeat what you just said! Open the door or I’ll break in! – The door vibrates under my punches, I realized I could break it down quiet easily, but I don’t want to. I decide to climb the fence, which is taller than I, and in a couple of jumps I’m inside the huge yard. There are trees, shacks, objects. I look around and I cannot see anybody, the place looks abandoned, deserted, ominous; a big plough is lying down in the dirt like it was once used for some farming activity, but now has been sitting for god knows how long without cows or horses to drag it. It looks like some old profane rusty evil instrument.
The twittering of some small birds inside some cages hanging from a wire is the only sound breaking up the ominous atmosphere of death and abandonment that was trapping me in awe. I wake up from my moment of trance and run to the house, easy to be recognized as it is the main building in the garden, and I go to a big window to peer inside.
       So many young women are there inside. When they see me all of them run to another room, where they cannot be seen anymore from the outside… but I saw her! A young blond girl that from the back looks exactly like my mother when she was young. Shivers run up my spine while I shout – Hey come back! let me see your face! Who are you? What are you doing here? -. But they are no longer in the room, instead the woman who opened the door with the plastic bag comes in front of the closed window and says: - Go away! Fuck off! -. I answer: - I only want to see the young blond woman in the face, if she’s not my mother I’ll go away, please let me see her face, just from here, you don’t need to open the window, I’ll see her through the glass, and I’ll be gone, forever- But no! The woman doesn’t answer and in the semidarkness of the inside it looks like she’s grinning again.

       I shout: - Let me see her! Let me see her right now or I break in! – and, looking around, I see a big tree branch laying on the ground so I grab it and, using it as a bat, I slam it against the iron bars that protect the window from would be attackers, and my strike is so strong that the glass of the window shatters into a thousand pieces that are falling on the floor inside the house with a terrible noise that brings me back to reason. So I turn around and, catching a cage with two birds inside, I shout: - I’ll free them now, but I won’t finish there… you fucking soul slave drivers! – and, opening the door of the wooden fence from the inside, I run outside and, seeing the garbage truck still parked I open its door and I put the cage with the two birds on the passenger seat, saying to the driver: - Do you see? They are keeping prisoners inside there! Here it’s the evidence, you’re my witness! -.

       Suddenly from an alley between the black magic house and the next one three big men come running out and they catch me and start hitting me with a hail of punches. They tie my wrists with a yellow plastic rope that is nearly cutting my hands off, and then, while dragging me around they kick me with their feet. The garbage man now is with them, too.  I can’t see clearly and I scream: - My glasses! Where are my glasses? – A big man looking exactly like the truck driver but with black a moustache, who appears to be the chief of the gang, answers me: - Here they are! - and he gives me a kick so strong with his big fucking boot that a gland comes straight out from under my jaw and will painfully stay like this for six months. My glasses break into many pieces, and I start to cry since without glasses I’m nearly blind. Then I realize that I no longer have on my belt with the all of my belongings, and I start to ask about it, and to scream for help. I have the chilling thought that the best thing for them to do right now, to get away with stealing so much money, is to kill me and to dispose of my body somewhere… and this idea is supported by the extreme violence of their endless beating. My screaming for help gets the cynical response of the boss of the gang who says, laughing: - Nobody will help you! Nobody, not even them! – and so I see a couple of very old women dressed in black watching at us from afar. I think they are just typical old women going to the first mass in the church, at 7 a.m. of this holy day after Christmas. Feeling that they are good people, not at all would-be accomplices to my murder, I start to address them with all the breath left in my lungs, so painful after so many kicks, saying: - Call the police! Please call the police, they want to kill me! Fast, please, call the police! –

     My four attackers change their attitude, they stop beating me up, one goes into the house and after a while comes out and, even without glasses, I can see that he throws my brown leather kangaroo belt into the grinding wheel of the garbage truck that the other one has just now activated. I have no more energy left, I lay on the floor half dead. I come out of a hazy mist of consciousness while listening, like in a dream, to the wah wah of a siren from a police car, and I think that my life is saved.
       I give my hands to the policeman to be freed from the yellow plastic rope that is so painfully stopping the blood circulation, but I see the violet line around my wrists just for a moment, because the policeman quickly puts me in handcuffs. I’m in complete disbelief and say to him: - What? You arrest me, they are the thieves, they stole all my money, they tried to kill me, and you’re arresting me, the victim! I called you! -, but the police officer answers: - Actually they called us, because you’re robbing the house -, -What? What? I didn’t rob anything, and instead… where is my money? where is my passport? they robbed me! – So the officer went inside the house, while many people now stand around watching the incident, so many people coming out from god knows where… where were they when I was nearly slaughtered right in public view? The officer comes out from the house and says: - There is nothing here, take him away! – I wonder how much they gave him, if he knows how much money was there… I suppose they gave him a thousand dollars… but I prefer to shut up, I think that if the police knew how much money was at stake… even they would want have me disappeared.

       I stay in the back side of the open police truck and I stand up, all the people gathered at the two side of the unpaved suburban road watch at me and, even if handcuffed, I feel like a hero who has triumphed: I am alive, I brought into the light the incredible evil business going on into this house, and the people sure know about it, I am the winner! The policeman feels this and reacts with a very strong hit from the stock of his rifle in my kidneys, and I’m on the floor of the car breathless.  At the police station I go on saying I was robbed, but nobody cares and they close me in a small stinky cell, for the entire day.

At night when the judicial police come to take me out to bring me who knows where, I’ve already been suffering from hours, with severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal. All my drugs were in the belt, and I haven’t had my dose since six thirty in the morning. The first thing I say to the two judiciales wearing civilians clothes is that I need some dope, that I am sick, that who more than them would know where to find it? most probably they have a lot of heroin which they confiscated in their office and that I need just a bit of it… They don’t care at all, and have me closed in the back of a prison van, where I find with surprise the cage with the two small birds. The van starts to travel, I am so sick, there is nowhere to sit, I’m in a cold sweat, I’m shivering, my back is in so much pain that I don’t have the power to keep sitting straight, and with every bend of the road I fall. The van goes too fast, and there are too many bends and I roll from side to side, along with the cage, too, that is hurting my face, and the poor birds are so afraid that they piss continuously and I’m all wet with their piss. After a long drive the van stops, and the officers come to take me out. I’ve just enough time to put the cage upright before they drag me out violently. Outside it is very dark, near a big building surrounded by trees.
       In the office inside a lady dressed as a doctor sits at a desk, behind which on the wall a big clock is saying it is 11:30. An officer says: - He is crazy. Confine him. -.
The lady doc gazes at them and gazes at me, looking like she just got out of bed, and she says: - Let me examine him, please be seated -. I sit down in front of her, the officers stand behind in the shadows, I tell her the whole story, she ask me some questions and I answer. Even though very sick, in need of drug and conscious that in the psychiatric hospital they have the medicines that will fix me up, I avoid asking her for treatment, I know it could be a reason to have me forced at least to a sanitary treatment, I only speak about the stolen money and so on.
Suddenly she says to the officers: - He’s not crazy, I cannot accept him here -. The officers step out from the shadows with a very aggressive attitude, nearly menacing her: - We’re saying he’s crazy! you have to take care of him! -. I really admire this woman who stands up alone so bravely against the barbarity and their abuse. She says: - Here I’m in charge, I decide who’s crazy and who isn’t, and this one is definitely not crazy -, the judiciales look very upset, but they can do nothing more, and so they ask her: - Then what do we do with him? -, - I don’t know, she says, I don’t even know what he has done, and why you are detaining him, but this surely is not the place. –

       Again into the van running wildly around the city, me and the birds, for so long. It’s already morning when they open the van back door and take me out in front of a big building, with many people hanging around outside. I ask one of them where we are and he says this is the Courthouse. But the officers don’t take me to any courtroom. Instead, we go downstairs, underground, where I get afraid a bit while crossing a room literally full of large weapons, machine-guns, gas-masks, pistols and so on. Luckily we don’t stop in that fearful powder magazine, we cross it and we take the stairs down to another floor underground, a sort of dungeon where there are a series of cells dug in the bare rock. They close me in the central one, that’s like a cave with only a gate made up of iron bars just in front of a desk where a policeman sits.

       It’s very cold down here, I have only a t-shirt on, and I’m shivering from the cold and from the withdrawal symptoms, called cold turkey by the junkies because your skin looks like that of a chicken after you pluck out all the feathers. It’s like being cold even in the sun. Behind the policeman I see there are shelves full of heavy warm woolen blankets, and I ask him for one, but he says no. – They are for us, not for you. – Fuck!
After a very long time I start to get thirsty, very thirsty, I’m completely dehydrated because of the heroin withdrawal, and I ask him for some water – We have no water, he says, but there is a soft drink machine, what do you want? -, - Mirinda - he stretches out a hand and says: - Three pesos -, - How can I have three pesos if I’ve been stolen of everything? -, - No money no drink. – and he goes away. When he comes back he has a full two liter family bottle of Mirinda, but refuses to give me a glass, or even a sip of it, - This one is mine – he says putting the huge bottle down on the desk just in front of me. I lay down on the very cold floor in a foetal position, shivering, not even able to think, activity that anyway would be absolutely useless.
Suddenly a woman is screaming, crying, saying in sobs that she is very sick, she is in another cell; there are people in the other cells, I feel them, I hear their breathing their movements, but I cannot see them. After some time Red Cross nurses arrive, dressed in orange suites, and went to the woman’s cell, saying they will give her a shot, and everything will be ok, and very soon she stops crying. I think about asking them for some medicine, they could give me the same sleeping shot and I’ll forget my pain for a while. But I am afraid, I am more afraid of losing consciousness and being completely in somebody else’s power than of being in pain, and so I shut up. They go away, and I go on shivering, laying on the bare wet rock with only my jeans and t-shirt, for an interminable time.

       Then the policeman calls a name: - Get ready, he says, your wife has paid the fine. Get ready to go out -. In a while a man is there in front of me is giving back two very warm blankets to the policeman. The blankets were for the prisoners! Fuckin’ bastard of a cop! But there is no time to waste in silly complaints, I see my only opportunity, and, while the guard fills up the official papers, I call out to the man asking him: - please contact my friend Angelo. – It comes out that he knows him, he knows his restaurant at least, and he says he’ll go there straight away – If it’s open… – he says, -What time is it?-, he looks at his watch, just handed back to him by the policeman and says – 11 o’clock - , - of day or night? – I ask, I don’t know even of which day – Night -, - so it’s open, please go speak with Angelo -, - count on it - says the man and goes away.

       After a long while the policeman comes for me: - The judge wants to see you -. I am brought upstairs, to a small office where Angelo is there waiting. I’m so happy to see him. Emotion, friendship, brotherhood, love is pouring from my pores. Angelo is tense and says: – They had already decided to sentence you to two years and transfer you to the penitentiary first thing tomorrow morning, we’re just in time... let’s hope -. A woman comes in with a bunch of papers, sits down and, while putting various sheets separated by carbon papers inside an old typing machine, says: - The judge decided to give you provisional freedom on bail if you recognize your guilt -, – Of course -  I start to speak, but Angelo roars at me with fire in his black eyes: - Shut up you! and then at the clerk, I have no time, I have to go back to close my restaurant, let’s do it fast, how much? - she goes away again and Angelo takes advantage of her absence to say: - You don’t remember anything! if you do… you’re lost! Don’t you understand?- Ok! I trust him, completely.  The woman comes back and says: - Three thousand and five hundred pesos -, - I don’t have that much on me, I’ll come back - Angelo says and goes away. Again in the dungeon I wonder: 3500 pesos! More than 400 hundred American dollars, that is a lot, now in Mexico that is a lot. I’m afraid while I grab at this tiny hope, the friendship of Angelo, my only hope. A very long time passes by. Then Angelo comes back and he counts out the bills, a hundred pesos each, one by one to the clerk, saying: - I had to go home, it is more than the full day cash of the restaurant –.

       Outside in the car, I say to Angelo: -Thank you Angelo, I’ll give you back every penny -, - Of course you’ll pay your debt, but remember one thing: this time it’s ok, but if there is another time…, and he explodes in shouting with fire and lightning bolts out from his crazy southern Italian black wonderful eyes,  … again I’ll pay your freedom… and then I’ll kill you straight away! -. A wave of love and gratitude fills me up at these words: so warm, so intimate, so true they are.

       I ask him for some money, I need heroin - Forget it, he says, you’ll stay at home with me from now on – At his house his whole family is awake, they greet me warmly and they want to give me food, but I can’t eat anything. I accept some milk. I am so thirsty I am that I drink a lot of it, cold, and then they assign me a room, and everybody goes to sleep. I can’t sleep, I’m so sick, I vomit all the milk onto the floor, and then my gastric fluids, green acids, too. So painful is this sleepless night. At the first light of dawn I go down to the living room where I find some coins in a tray, I grab only a few of them, the heroin is so cheap here, and I walk all the way to my dealer, I’ve taken just what I really need, 50 pesos, not even a few extra coins for the bus.

       Later on, feeling better and fresh, as a man again, I go to see another friend in a restaurant where he works. Firstly he says to me these words, in spite of my complaints: - Congratulations, you got rid of everything to be really free, I would like to have the same courage than you and fuck everything, Cabrón! -, then he shows me today’s newspaper. There is a full page on me, with my photo along with the cage and the two birds, under a big title: AN INSANE ITALIAN SPREADS PANIC. We laugh about it. Then I read the entire article and I am filled with emotion when I come across these lines: “The man succeeded in stealing four birds, and giving freedom to a couple of very rare Italian birds.”


 Rodolfo de Matteis, Mexico Tenochtitlán, 2011 01 30