I returned to El Salvador, to the same place that I knew, and the place was the same but I was no longer the same.
I came down from the plane and the sky was a bit dark. There were people walking along with me: a tall blonde, thick and big, with white skin and tiny blonde hairs on her lower back which made her skin shine and stand out, a couple of Salvadorean businessmen without coats, talking in loud confident voices and laughing at their use of local slang, an American guy with a tall straw hat whom I perceived as if he saw this whole country as one big joke, and I was a bit bothered by that, but I also thought that maybe he was right, maybe this whole little country was one big strange joke. But then I remembered what I had seen from the window of the plane and the depth of the emerald jungle, so green and brilliant, so thick, so clean and clear, at least when seen from so high above, like a great green carpet with an infinite amount of detail and subtle variations. There I could see the limit of the neural net which I was able to see from the plane in San Francisco, the vast electronic net which uses people as its carriers even as people think that they bring it up out of nothingness. Up in San Francisco, it is deeper and it reaches farther, but even there, it has its limits. But here the jungle was still alive and the net was barely starting to make its mark. Here the raw power of the underworld still reached up in dark vines and tangled roots to caress the edges of heaven. Here hope was still bursting unchallenged in the dark wet shadows that cling to the swamps and the broken rivers.
So the place was not a joke, I decided, it was only covered by a web of contradictions that could be taken as a joke but which were not intended to elicit laughter. I saw the brown girls that were in charge of selling in the many duty free shops, a series of nondescript, unexceptional little stores which lined the whole length of the airport, and I wondered why they made us, the passengers, walk from one end of the airport to the other, and then I thought that maybe the stores themselves were the answer, we were a kind of hungry, tired captive audience ready to spend money as soon as we landed, and the pretty brown girls were the sleeping offer which was surrounded by little trinkets to protect it from the danger of being discovered. I went through customs without any problems and, with a few more steps, I was in El Salvador proper, in the midst of all the men in "guayaberas" (loose short sleeve buttoned up shirts) bathed in sweat which covered their brown skin like a coat of salt and women with very tight pants, wide hips, and lustful eyes which looked to all sides with a single question at the tip of their tongues.
I thought for a moment that maybe my Dad had forgotten to come but I stayed standing calmly where I was, with the small backpack over my shoulder and the large suitcase next to me and the eyes of men and women and kids which wondered over me off the side, and sometimes straight on, and I could feel them asking themselves what role was I playing in their game, how could I be useful to them, how was I harming them, how did I affect them in any way, and suddenly they would get interested in someone else if I looked back at them, and their eyes would wander away for as long as I looked. Several taxi cab drivers, also in guayaberas, asked me if I needed a ride and I declined with a smile and a shake of my head.
My Dad arrived and I surprised him by walking towards him and meeting him halfway. When he recognized me, he smiled happily and he hugged me, and then he walked me over to the wide sidewalk outside where the other people were waiting and he left me there to go get the car. I stayed there and listened to the conversations of strangers, of two drivers who had come to pick up strangers and the young one could take whomever came out first, as a gift from the older one, and the older one also said that "the heat" (described as a female presence) was always there and he also said that sometimes they leave the flight from Costa Rica at the end of the line and I thought that there was so much that I didn’t understand before because back then I would have thought: "This man, why is he saying these things? He is talking only to talk." And now I know that "talking to talk" is the primary function of speech and that the essential and "useful" content is only an added gift, an extra addendum, which is only sometimes included, but this man did have a purpose in talking which had been invisible to me in the past: to establish his presence and create a circuit of contact with the younger man. Now I have learned that to say "it fell, it fell so hard, it fell many times, it fell" is not the same as saying "it fell" and that saying that someone moved around me and hugged his relative is not the same as saying that he hugged him, and that his arms opened up and spread apart and that their bodies came together, they touched momentarily, and that they were men and they touched each other for a moment and then they retreated quickly because they were men and they loved each other but it was only a hug and, knowing that that was all that it was, they hugged each other, and, in front of me, a little boy of about ten years of age was hugging his mother or his grandmother and he was shaking and crying and moaning and I didn’t know if it was out of happiness or sadness and I saw that at a certain level of intensity the two were indistinguishable and that, as I had seen in the days that passed, within me the war was between the heart and the sex energy and that’s why, every so often, I had to look at the solid girl with wide hips and a black miniskirt and at her white and curved thighs and then I could look again towards the street to see if my Dad was arriving but it was only some other red cars which were passing by, bigger, newer, and in the distance a thin brown girl was stepping onto a microbus (a large van used as a luxury bus in El Salvador) and I thought of Dilcia who still lived here and who always traveled in the microbuses from one place to another, always with an eye on her purse so that it wouldn’t get stolen, always very aware of danger which came from all men in general, and I thought that she was still looking for someone to give her heart to and I thought of what it would have been like if that night, so many years ago, I had kissed her in her parent’s living room and she had given herself to me and we had been united forever and how we would live happily together now and maybe we would come back to El Salvador every so often with our hands together and we would love each other so much, but then I remembered that I did kiss her that night and that she did give herself to me and that she didn’t travel on the microbuses anymore and that she didn’t travel anywhere in El Salvador at all and that she was lost within the cold labyrinth of the Northern cities and that our love was a mirage, a pretty mirage like what I could feel for that skinny brown girl who in this very moment was stepping up onto a microbus, just as my father was arriving in the little red Fiat.
He parked by my side and he helped me to put the suitcase in the backseat. Then an older man told me that the safety belt was hanging outside the car and I pulled it in and said thank you to him, more than once.
Once on the highway, it was the El Salvador that I knew, not the mystery that I had seen from the airplane window but the expected landscape, the fragments of reality that came already preconstructed and ready to digest, and I struggled against falling into that trap and I looked again and I saw that they were both there, existing one over the other, and one of them I saw with the eyes of a ghost and the other one I saw with the eyes of a human, and as I tried to focus in on the one that was truly there and was completely unknown, I also talked with my Dad about politics, and here came all the complete, total and final statements and my body responded in the expected ways, with slight pains and discomfort and a constant urge to rebuke all conclusions, but there was something else which was watching it clearly and which didn’t let it fall all the way and I spoke and I allowed the contact to flow through the words and once again the secret of language, which is nothingness, was revealed to me, even as it faded like an old poster ad for ice cream on the side of a very old store and there, next to the barred door of a dirty little pharmacy, I saw the man with a rifle, the same one that scared Pat so many years ago, and there were the young couples, brown and decisive, walking hand in hand on the side of the road, and the older women with their giant straw baskets full of merchandise and the semi naked kids playing in dirty water, and the jungle which could still be seen among the little tin huts and the stores and the gas stations and the sky and the clouds felt like incoming rain and we were still talking about the politics of the United States and of El Salvador and about global warming and gas and the multinational corporations which had the deep and clear intention of swallowing every last bit of this land before spitting it back out in the shape of a California mall.
I finally bought the map which I had so much wanted at a gas station in the city, and there was everything I had ever wanted in great detail, and we arrived at the house, but just before arriving, we saw a thin girl who sold bubble gum on the side of the road while wearing a tiny miniskirt and I wondered if she really sold bubble gum with her legs or if the bubble gum was an excuse to earn a lot more when she opened them. We arrived at the house and I went to say hello to my grandmother and she was like a shadow of the woman I had known, her skin was very white and moist and she reminded me of what my grandfather looked like right before they burned his body, and then I thought that maybe my main purpose in being here was to see my grandmother one more time and she hugged me and she offered me food many times in a very loud voice (for people that can’t hear also think that others can’t hear them) and she asked me to sit down with her and she said that I was very tall now and that soon I would be taller than my father, and my Dad laughed and he said that I had been taller than him for many years now, and then my grandmother grabbed my hand and she held it for a long time and I looked into her eyes while my Dad wondered what I was doing and then she offered me something to eat again and I declined for the twentieth time and later I showed her the video I had made of her and halfway through the video she said: "Who is that that is talking?" and my Dad said to her: "It’s you, mother!" and he put headphones on her head so that she could listen and then she just watched the whole time and later she told me that she liked it a lot and I gave her the graphic pieces and she thought that they were paintings and she liked them very much as well and later I heard her on the phone telling my aunt what she had seen and then it became even clearer to me that that’s why I was there and that that’s why I had come at this particular moment and that my grandmother soon would leave and that now I would be able to listen to her talk one last time.
I rolled out the map on the large thick wooden dining room table and I examined it carefully. As I looked at it, I started talking to Lorena, one of the maids, and Lorena told me about her life, how she spent 2 weeks caged in this house and then a single weekend free, just a little bit of time to see her son and then return, and she told me that she came from Izalco and I asked her about the famous "brujos" from Izalco and she said: "Before there were older men who knew about those things but I think they all died away. Maybe there is one still somewhere but I haven’t seen him." Then she looked at the map with me and she said: "When you look at a map like that, you get lost."
My Dad came to talk to us and we examined the map a bit more and we saw that there were lost rivers in the middle of the city and my Dad said that that’s where they dropped the dead bodies in the middle of the night and that it was very dangerous to go there and Lorena said that there was a lot of silence there, and I thought that in El Salvador, which was so full of noise, silence meant danger, silence meant lack of protection, silence meant exposure, silence killed and then you were just a body rotting on the side of a forgotten river.
I went upstairs, to my Aunt’s apartment, to be in silence and there I wrote what had happened so far and I felt that I was falling asleep and I managed to work a little but I was falling asleep even more and then I did some more and I truly did fall asleep and I started to dream and I had to surrender and I came back to fall asleep in my Dad’s bedroom.
At night there was food and more talk and Etanna called me and I felt that I was with her and I told her about the thick green carpet that I had seen from the plane which was the jungle and she read me what she had written about the jungle which was a thick green carpet and I told her how much I loved her and she said the same to me and my Dad asked me if that was my "friend" which had called me and I said that it was and I saw that she was my friend, and more than my friend, but still always my friend, and I thought what it would have been like if that night in the motel in San Luis Obispo I would have kissed her and I had pressed myself against her and I had felt her body sweating against mine and I thought that maybe I would not have been in El Salvador now or maybe Dilcia would be here with me now, laughing and arguing with her own father, but then I remembered that I did kiss Etanna and I remembered that she was now with me and that Dilcia was lost in the labyrinth and that I was a ghost, a ghost that flew over a thick green carpet which was the jungle, the jungle of the Real World which was not yet tamed, which transcended any idea of action, of place or of saviors that came in the middle of the night to announce that the world was ending. In the thick jungle, the world didn’t need to end for it had never started.
And then I saw that I was here, in the place that I knew, in the same place as always, but I was no longer the same.