The International Writers Magazine: They Only Come at Night
William J. Brazill on fear
and loathing in Columbia
wandered the streets and turns of Candelaria at twilight and became
self-invited guests in a magical place. The buildings, with their
subtle pastels and vibrant colors, seemed to float unanchored,
their clay roofs a crowning effect. The cathedral self-suspended
from the heavens. Mellowing light from a cobalt blue sky cast
the scene in a dreamland of shadows and shades. On the steeple
clock the overlapping hands pointed to a time that did not exist.
Often I saw the
swift-blurred motion of a figure disappearing around a corner. Had I
been just a few seconds earlier, I thought, I would have seen a brown-robed
Franciscan padre or an arrogant-booted conquistador or a demure mantilla-draped
beauty slipping just out of the reach of her dueña. Squares and
balconies pulsed with the transcendent beauty of flowers, billowing
torrents of orchids, bougainvillea, flamingo lilies, palms. Shuttered
windows closed off secrets. I could smell the nostalgia: dampened clay
as the rich scent of history, the lingering spirits of long-dead residents,
the sensuous trail of dreams once dreamed. I inhaled its beauty. A place
to dream; a place to love.
la Candelaria is the original center of the city of Bogota, and
the now sprawling Colombian city of seven million souls grew from
this seed, though the seed miraculously remained whole. It is history,
set apart from the present and from the panorama of violence, betrayal,
and fear that the city and the nation have become. It is fantasy,
set apart from the formless tide of modernity. A refuge, timeless,
My reveries were
sharply shattered by the sound of the growling gears of a heavy truck
laboring through the narrow pedestrian-only passageways. Brakes shrieked
it to a halt in front of a building we had just passed. Military police
troops, camouflage-uniformed, bandoleered, steel-helmeted, clamored
clumsily out of the truck. Their boots stomped across the cobbled pavement,
kicked in doors, carried them inside the shuttered building. My companion
grabbed my arm and hustled me into a dim gallery. They dont want
us to see this, she whispered.
lunged along the passageway, racing away, somewhere, anywhere, Candelaria
suddenly changing from magical to menacing. I looked back as I ran
and saw the soldiers dragging hapless souls out of the building
and propelling them into the truck in an arm-tangling frenzy of
force. A turn in the gallery ended my view, but I heard the truck
motor start and grind into movement. Its steadily descending sound
told that it was driving away from us and from Candelaria.
At a café
table later, my companion told me that we had just seen an action of
social cleansing. These are prostitutes, drug addicts, panhandlers,
people who wont work, dissidents maybe, troublemakers, she said,
as if consigning them to categories was justification for the action.
They will disappear. Disappear? I repeated, questioning. Without a trial?
Our government thinks society will be better off without them, she nervously
fingered her cup as she spoke. The Colombian Supremo soured in my mouth,
and I could drink no more. The next morning I attended a briefing at
the US Embassy, a cluster of buildings glowering behind massive walls
and surrounded by an endless maze of security checks, as if shouting
fear at being where it was. Once inside, I was seated in a room with
rows of chairs facing a chair on a raised platform. A man finally entered
and went to the platform, saying he was the deputy chief of mission
as he sat down on that level above us.
He began to speak without any further introduction. The US government,
he intoned, sees the Colombian government as an essential ally in the
war against drugs and the war against terrorism, a democratic ally in
a threatening global sea of anti-American hatred. We are committed to
the victory of this bastion of democracy in its struggle against the
foes of freedom, its victory being essential to American security, and
we will help in every way. He said something, I do not remember what
exactly, about shared values
the rule of law.
He looked over our heads at some imagined focus on the wall as he spoke.
His face motionless, his lips pursed to form each word before he sounded
it, he spoke with deliberate language that was used to deceiving, to
shaping reality to some official version. As he did I heard the monotonous
cadence of his voice mutating steadily into the pounding of boots on
cobbled pavement, to doors splintering open, to the creak of leather
gun belts. I could smell the adrenaline rush of power and the cowering
fear of human beings suddenly exposed to the darkness.
© William Brazill April 2005
BIO: William Brazill had a career researching
and writing in the social sciences, including two books, until he realized
that truth lies in fiction. He now lives and writes fiction on the banks
of the Potomac River. His most recent stories have appeared in Electric
Acorn, Flashshot, FuzzyNet, Writer's Hood, and Somewhat.
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