FRIENDX

I saw him for the first time in Anzures. He had grey hair. Green eyes. Barely gave me a passing glance. He was coming from Leibnitz Street, crossing Gutenberg Street. I say “street”. It is more wood than street now with all the grass and trees that have grown through the asphalt.

He was jogging at a smooth pace. The first wolf I’d ever seen around here. I’d already heard a couple at night. Howling at the moon. You can hear them by the lakes, behind San Joaquín, across the “border”. (Wolf photo by Jim & Jamie Dutcher)

I don’t know why I rang the bell on my bike. I’d stopped to watch him from a distance. He heard the bell. Stopped too. Turned to see me. Humans and wolves don’t get along. He knew it. Prolly saw the AK47 strapped on my back. Couldn’t see the gun in my belt. On my back. Never in front. If you put a pistol in your belt in the front and it fires, you can lose a ball. Easily. Remember: if you’re gonna carry a gun in your belt, always in the back.

So we stayed put, the wolf and I. At a good distance. I’d stopped the bicycle, one foot on the ground. He was heading for San Joaquín, his head turned towards me. Watching me. Then he left. Without hurry. I guess his grandparents had escaped from the Chapultepec Zoo at one time.

I turned the bike around. Dropped by the Seven-Eleven on Leibnitz. Mostly empty. No toilet paper left. No clerks either. All the stores were empty anyway. ‘Cept for scavengers or looters. Like me.

I cycled home via Mazaryk Avenue. Turned right on Plato, left on Horacio, by the ruins of Saks 5th Av. Then right on Socrates. I live there, in an old but comfortable penthouse. The building was the work of a grandfather or great uncle of mine, Not sure which. There are four floors. 5 flats. I have the Ph at the back, my cousin the one on the street. The other three flats are empty. And will stay that way. We nailed the doors shut.

I opened the gate on the street with the AK47 in hand. Eyes on the street. Better safe than sorry. I closed the gate. I put the bike in the empty cops’ booth. There was my cousin’s bike. I rang the bell before opening the stairways grate. The theme of the week was “If I had a hammer”. Trini López style. “Cuz” and I don’t see each other much, we agree on the week’s theme with post-its in the hall. Any one of us who hears someone in the stairs who hasn’t rang the bell, shoots first and asks questions later. “Rang” or “rung”? Rung. Better.

I got to the fourth floor. Safe. No one hiding on the stairs. I opened the grate of my flat. Opened the armored door. Closed everything back. Went to the pantry. Took out a bottle of Morgon I’d found in the Polanco Walmart. I went out on the terrace with a glass. Sat on the lone wooden chair. Poured a glass. Blue sky turning to red. Clean. Airplanes used to fly above. Not’nymore. Now only eagles fly above. On a good afternoon you can see a couple. Circling. Peace in the sky. Obviously, there is an iron grid that covers the terrace. My cousin also has one on his terrace. Placing the iron grids was a show. No electricity left anywhere. We do have a gasoline plant. And some gasoline drums, just in case, but we only turn it on for emergencies. When we moved from the Roma neigbourhood to this building… (Roma? Remember the Cuarón movie? There.) So when we moved here, we turned the plant on to weld the iron grids. Downstairs, at the gate, at the bottom of the stairway, on the outside windows of the empty flats on the ground floor, up on the terrace.

We also put together some rain collectors on the roof my cousin and I. The water pumps are no longer working. Can’t get the water upstairs. So we installed several tanks on the roof to collect rainwater. With filters. The air is clean but there is a lot of dust in the city. The tanks are enough to drink water, cook and take quick baths. Better than in “Roma”, anyway.

Why did we leave “Roma”? ‘Coz of the militias that are up North. They occupy more or less from San Joaquín highway to the North and Melchor Ocampo to the East. They don’t move into Polanco or Chapultepec.

*

Speaking of “Chapu”, the second time I saw him, was near Chapultepec, on Ruben Darío St. He was prolly coming from Maximilian and Charlotte’s Castle or the Tamayo Museum. I’d gone fishing in the Chapultepec lake. Caught me three big tilapias! Nile perch. Mean bastard. Ousted all the local fish. Big mothers of fish. Can easily reach 5 pounds. The difficult thing is to fish with the rod in one hand and the AK47 in the other without being distracted by the kingfishers that scare the fish away. Later we’d broil the fish with my cousin; we both have a grill on our terraces. The “problemo” is to get the firewood, but on Horatio or Ciceron Street, with a good machete, you cut what you need. The wolf now? Well, there he was. With a rabbit in his mouth. Maybe he had a family out there. Ah! Rabbits. ‘Haven’t mentioned rabbits! They’re a pest. A welcome pest, but they’re everywhere. Since all the streets of Polanco are already half wood, half street, with trees and grass growing everywhere, there are millions of rabbits. I have traps set in Horacio, Homero and the old railroad to Cuernavaca. Sorry for the poor bunnies but one has to eat.

I rang the bell on the bike. The wolf stopped. Looked at me. With his green eyes. And left.

*

I am an “Immu”. Pronounce Im-you. My cousin too. “Immu” as in immune. The others are the “Infecs”. As in Infected. Started many years ago. A “small flu” they said. And people started dying. By the dozens, hundreds, thousands. Millions. Some say the virus came from America. Others from China. Others say from Guatemala or Italy. The world’s politicians really outdumbed themselves. They screwed everything up. There were dead bodies on the street. Except for the “Immus”. Something genetic. Bug does not hit us. An “Infec” can spit in my face and nothing happens. Except that I would break his jaw of course…

Then what? When people started to realize there were almost no cases in the countryside, they fled from the cities. All over the planet. And they contaminated the countryside. Never came back. The cities stayed empty. Except for the “Immus”. Like me and my cousin. And a few “Infecs” who survive, a tad damaged, contagious forever. Normally, we do not cross path much, the “Immus” and the “Infecs”. Still better to go out armed. Always. Heavily. You never know… The militias in the North of the City? Neither one nor the other. They are not immune. They can catch the virus in a snap of fingers. They shoot on sight. Anyone. “Immus” and “Infecs”.

The advantage of Polanco and Chapultepec is that the ground is full of the bug. It seems that there is a cycle bug-virus-animals, which animal I do not know, but if the virus does not find humans, it stores itself in one or the other critter. Not sure which? The animals of the Chapulterpec zoo have escaped and live in the woods down to the South. There are giraffes out there in Chivatito. And a pride of lions too. AK47, I tell you! The ammo? You get what you want in the abandoned military camps to the West. At SecNav. The ground over there is also quite polluted with the virus, and neither the militias nor the “Infecs” go.

*

I was coming from SecNav on my bike, with a box of ammo for the Kalash, when I came across the wolf again. On Horatio Street. I had found three rabbits in my traps by the railroad, in front of the old French Lycée. Strapped the rabbits on top of the ammo box. We were 30 feet away. I turned around gently. Unstrapped one of the rabbits. Put it on the ground, and pulled back. A few feet away. ‘Thinking: “three rabbits”? One for the wolf, the other two for my cousin and for me. Fair deal. Ten minutes passed. I kept looking around for any suspicious movements. Little by little, ever so slowly, the wolf approached. One step at a time. He grabbed the rabbit and ran off without a word of thanks. Ungrateful bastard.

*

Benny is one of the few humans still living in Polanco. One day he moved into Newton’s abandoned taco shop. It used to be part of a popular chain called Farolito, “The little lamp”. He started making tacos. One by one, the last inhabitants of Polanco started going. No one could resist the fragrance of Benny’s tacos. I don’t think there’s more than a hundred people in the entire borough. Yet, we went to the tacos. One by one, like I said. Old habits die hard: you see someone walking or cycling, on the street coming your way, you cock your gun ,switch the AK to the front and cross the street to the other side. You never know. Even if you already “know” almost everyone. “Friends” from afar. At the tacos you sit with your back to the wall, the AK on your knees, looking outside. Just in case. Now, always on the safe side, Benny has more weapons than knives in the kitchen. And his “tacos al pastor” are just plain delicious! How does one pay? Good old-fashioned barter. What you find in abandoned stores, in SecNav, in one or the other abandoned building. A couple of rabbits from my traps. Mind you, everybody’s “territory” is respected. My cousin’s territory and mine stretch from Horatio St to Cicero, and from the Railroad to Molière. We don’t mess with your traps. Don’t mess with ours.

*

Life went by. Daily trips to the stores to lift what could still be useful. Rabbits for the wolf and Benny. My meeting point with the wolf was Horatio at the corner of Socrates. The streets in Polanco are all named after great “writers”. Someone drew a list and applied it random. Shakespeare is only a few blocks long. Obscure writers have immense avenues. LOL.

One day I realized that the wolf was not a he-wolf. SHE was a wolf! A She-wolf. She came to our rendez-vous with five hungry puppies tagging along. I had about four rabbits upstairs in the flat. Ran up to my flat without ringing the bell downstairs, my cousin almost killed me with a machine gun burst. “Surfin’ USA” was the week’s theme. My bad. I ran back down to the street. I took the family of wolves to the next street: Horatio. There’s a large median strip turned half wood half wild lawn. Cozier. I put the rabbits on the ground and sat down a few feet away. The mother did not want to come that close, but the cubs ran and began to fight for the rabbits. After three weeks of giving them rabbits every other day, the cubs were licking my hand.

*

Like I said: life went by. Looking for food and barter stuff. A glass of good wine on the terrace at sunset. The cubs grew. Sometimes I had a hard time trapping so many rabbits. My cubs had a good appetite. They’d wait for me on the street at odd hours, with their tongues out. I tried to teach them how to hunt. But they were useless hunters. Lazy buggers. Ill-bred. By their mom and me.

*

 One day I went to Benny’s tacos, they followed me, the whole wolf party. When he saw us, Benny took out the shotgun and asked:

– Are they yours? Wolves? You’re even crazier than I thought!

– Yep. ‘Got that right Benny. One order of pastor tacos to go for everyone, please. What beer do you have left?

– Two Coronas. No more. It is getting complicated to find. ‘You seen any around?

– Maybe at the super in Tecamachalco. Or Secnav. Sailors had good stocks. But it is a bit far away to bring more than one box on the bike …

– We can go both. I have a small trailer.

– Deal.

We clanged our beers. (Clung?) The “babies” and their mom ate half Benny’s tacos supply. We agreed that I would bring two crates of beer next time. My “babies” looked big already.

*

– Looka here, a fucking Immu.

I’d gone out to throw the trash on Horatio, next to the old department store. The few of us who still live in Polanco drop the organic waste in the same spot to make compost. Those who grow corn in Chapultepec use it. They bring back corn once in a while. Put the corn in crates on the benches.

This guy was not from the cornfields. I already knew who it was. A “Viru”. I turned my head slowly. There were five o’them. Freakin’ “Virus” for sure. Some cut their noses with a machete to “control” the disease, they say. They look even more like zombies with a black hole in the middle of the face. Walking skulls. I did not have the AK47 with me. Biiiig mistake. I did have the gun on my belt. In the back. They were already circling around me. No way to run. They all had kitchen knives. Better. Machetes are longer. More reach. Knives were a better option for me. But five? I pulled the gun out of my belt.

*

The cartridge clicked when it got stuck in the gun chamber … Damn! I couldn’t remember when I’d last cleaned the darn gun … A week? A month? I could maybe knock down one or two of these freaks with the butt, but no more … There would still be three left. With knives. Keeping an eye on all of them, I began to search the floor for a branch, a brick … Anything.

*

I heard the “Viru” behind me scream. I turned around. He had a broken wrist. One of my (not so) “little wolves” was going for his throat. In a few seconds, all the “Viruses” were torn to pieces by my little darlings. I found the brick I was looking for on the floor. I knew I’d seen it last week. I whacked a delusional “Viru” on the head. He pretended to use his knife on “Mom”. Three more minutes, the bastards were running for their lives. The wolves began to chase them. Fun! Their mother called them back. They came back bouncing happily, licking each other’s cuts. I got down on my knees to hug them. We huddled. My darlingx. My friendx.

THE END

In loving memory of our son-in-law, Andrés Rozada, whom we lost three years ago. He was a talented architect and a gifted writer. He wrote fantastic stories about Mexico city. Loved tacos and the city. A challenge was set for this anniversary to write something on the virus in the way he would have. With his view on things. His style. What would he have written on the freakin’ virus? I wrote this contribution in Spanish. Google-translated it for this post. G-Translation still sucks. One practically has to rewrite most of the text. ‘ts allright. This story is for you Andrés.

53 thoughts on “FRIENDX

  1. What a trip ! So many thoughts flashed in my mind- a dystopian novel , zombie survival movie or perhaps just a story of times yet to come . Beautifully penned , it had me racing towards its fitting end . I enjoyed this ‘Dances with Wolves’ version.

  2. Great story! I could see the movie unfolding before my eyes. Sorry to hear about Andrés. I bet he would like your tribute. Would you consider posting the story in Spanish? I’d like to read it in the original. Gracias, Rebecca

  3. A fitting tribute. I was enthralled in the beginning, especially with the opening paragraphs. It sounded like a narrative opening to a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie. Translation is a good start but one does have to re-write to get the context, as important nuances are missed.
    It is a lovely way to remember your son inlaw.

    • Thank you Amanda. It was quite a challenge. To write something on the virus in his style. More or less done in the Spanish version. Then, a friend of theirs joined and tied all the texts that were written. Quite a feat. Looking forward to read the final document.
      Now the issue of translation is that I have written many texts in English, but prior to that many more in Spanish. And TBH, I don’t want to re-write them all. So that was an experiment. Helps but you do have to re-write. I’ll probably go back to the English text to give it a final polish…
      Stay safe.

  4. You mentioned something about a particular brand of beer. That’s not accurate anymore: :p

    The story feels familiar, it resembles the one in Survivors 2008. Apart from the wolves and all other wild animals. Nicely done, a worthy tribute for Andrés. Can’t believe it’s already been three years.

  5. An affecting post apocalyptic parable for our times. What a wonderful memorial to a lost loved one, to create something in their memory. So sorry for your enduring loss.

    • Thank you Libre. There were many contributions that one of their friends put together into one story. Can’t wait to read the result. Our daughter is going to mail it to us… She says it is very nice.
      Take care of yourself and yours.

  6. I was so delighted to see you take up fiction again with this gripping piece #moreplease. And then I read the dedication. It made me weep. You have honored Andrés beautifully. Difficult to believe that three years have passed. Love to your daughter and family.

    • Hi Lisa. Sorry I made you cry. Not the idea. Tough one’s eyes do get wet at times. 😉 I will try to schedule more writing. Or… G-translate Spanish texts I have now that I’ve dimensioned the task of half re-writing…
      Thank you. Love back.

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