Starting today, El Espectador publishes a series of stories by young people from one of the towns in Bogotá most affected by exclusion and national unemployment, but full of narrative talent.
Javier Molina gets up at five in the morning, goes to the kitchen and puts the pot with the ground coffee that his mother-in-law sends him from Santa Marta. He goes to a shed, where the twelve sewing machines that he acquired over the last twenty-five years of life are located without any geometric progression. Javier cannot conceive of life without a red wine at dawn. The coffee he drinks is organic, although he doesn’t use that word. He turns on the machines he needs for the day’s work and tunes into a popular station without distinction —Radio Uno, Radio Recuerdos, Todelar— on a little tape recorder that hangs from a pole in the middle of the workshop.
Javier repeats this routine every other day. In its work as a clothing satellite, there are no holidays, weekends, national dates or vacations. His thing is a sisifical work, without rest or hope, that lasts from dawn to midnight. The purr of the machines plus the noise of the station and the chatter of an old television make up a particular soundtrack.
In that environment, where Talía’s crying is confused with Fernando Londoño’s radial savagery, Javier, his wife, his daughter and some occasional employee sew and sew and continue to sew pieces of fabric that arrive in large bundles, which they turn into pants, shirts, bedspreads or jackets, which jump from here to the warehouses of the merchandise owners. That is what a satellite is: a person, a micro-enterprise, where you sew by piece and earn miseries, when you are not working at a loss.
The house is two stories high and he bought it a short time ago, after saving the money peso by peso, doing a thousand financial ropes, getting a subsidy and a loan from the National Savings Fund, which he will continue to pay for another decade. Two coastal women live on the first floor, the husband of one of them, a tractor-trailer driver, and an Army pensioner who works as a guachiman, who share the kitchen, the central patio and the bathroom. So much familiarity caused the soldier and the coastal woman who was single to organize themselves fifteen days after meeting, to separate a month later. The leases on the first floor bring Javier a constant capital of $ 500,000 per month that, like the income of poor countries, goes to debt service. Javier owes the Fund, a couple of banks and a handful of friends. (We recommend: Fragment of the novel by Rodolfo Celis).
“How is the teller?” He says, half joking, half serious, when he wants to borrow money from me.
You always have an emergency, a receipt to pay, a late fee. Chichiguas to continue rowing against the current of need.
Javier came to this house in Santa Librada with the new century, after a decade paying rent in neighborhoods in southern Bogota. He came with Olaris, his wife, and Evelyn, a girl in arms. The parents affirm their authority by hitting him when he disobeys or does not want to work in the workshop. Evelyn is now thirteen years old and still plays with dolls, but that doesn’t save her from serving nearly ten-hour days in high season. (Graphic report from El Espectador: A day of national strike in Usme).
The workshop seems to me like the burrow of a bush animal. It is a sum of fragments and useless things, evicted. There are bundles of scraps of all kinds of fabrics, yarns, threads and papers. Clothes made, half done or never finished. Clothing that has been rejected by the employer on duty or whose owner never returned for it. Garments that were fashionable last century and are now not worth half a penny halved.
Hangers full of patterns of all sizes. In those mangualas Javier has dissipated millions. There are clothes that smell musty, old, and defeat. Likewise, each shipment that remains is a loss for the satellite, because the employer never loses. If a garment is damaged, the fault lies with the satellite, who assumes all the cost of the merchandise. This unbalanced solar system is sustained by the fact that orders are paid on delivery.
In the midst of this stellar chaos, in which pockets and buttons are sewn, pleats and darning are made, covers are glued and garments are finished, clothes are ironed, folded and packed for others, Javier is a quiet satellite, perhaps resigned . There is no eagerness when almost everything has already been lost: fortune, teeth, hope …
By now, while he is recovering from an operation for a testicular hernia, he knows that by getting up first he doesn’t wake up earlier. Before I did believe it, and when we say before we have to go back to the 80s, when I was young and a horse was riding through the streets of Chimila, Cesar, and women fell in love with his resemblance to Rafael Orozco, the vallenatos singer.
It was then that she met the man who would change her life. His name was Fermín, although no one can swear that that was his real name. The supposed Fermín appeared, in the middle of 1985, on his father’s farm, up four hours from the town, as a day laborer; but he was something else: a militant, an ideologue. The spell was in his words. Javier listened, understood, believed. He became what he should become: a social leader.
He went on raids, peasant strikes, in political campaigns, with UP leaders. He met Adán Izquierdo, Imelda Daza, Simón Trinidad, Julián Conrado … at the old party school of the 19th Front of the Farc. In those same days he began dating Olaris, the daughter of the grocer Aureliano Rodríguez. Life seemed to smile gracefully at him, though not for long.
In the dining room of his house, surrounded by bushes that hang from everywhere and crafts that Olaris designs, weaves, darns, sews, cuts and pastes, we talk between one red wine and another. Going to Javier’s house is going to have coffee.
“Another tintico for you to relax?” He asks and laughs at an old joke.
There we have thrown stories for a long time and shared the delicacies that he prepares. The taste for well-cooked food is also ancient. He worked in restaurants a long time ago, as a newcomer to the city. Banana cakes, corn chips, masatos, rice dishes, rare herb sauces, various assholes. Javier knows how to attend to the visit. He would like to have his own restaurant, but he fell into the world of confections as if accidentally. Perhaps because when she gave up her peasant life project, she took refuge in Olaris’s dream: fashion design, sewing, crafts.
She started with a single Singer machine, in a house in the El Virrey neighborhood, in Usme. About twenty years ago, when they saw possibilities, he quit his job at a popular steakhouse, sold the last few steers, and bought machines. There they raffled their luck without reversal. They even dreamed of a boutique . Later, with the new millennium, the Chinese took over the market. Global capitalism, dad. The work dwindled. Making a garment fell in price while electricity became more and more expensive. Javier is a satellite out of orbit, a celestial body that continues to rotate by mere inertia, unable to twist its course.
The night of evil occurred in 1989. Javier’s entire life was detained at a National Army checkpoint, one Sunday when he went down to Chimila. He was captured, without any legal procedure, accused of being a guerrilla. Kidnapped for three days. Subjected to torture, beatings, humiliation and nameless humiliation. Those three days of infamy do not fit in these lines. They don’t deserve any other lines. Javier knew the horror.
In the end, when they suspected that he might die, they released him through Ignacio Galindo, the village priest. What they returned was no longer a man, it was a lump of sore meat; a broken toy from war that spent a month in intensive care oscillating between life and death. Olaris did not leave her side. He had barely recovered a little, and they were married almost in secret. At five in the morning in Chimila. They came out of a desolate church, like outcasts, and fled in the first car to take them away. The photo they keep with their wedding dresses was taken in Ocaña a few days later.
In search of horizons, they came to Bogotá. They lived in the Morocco, Molinos and El Virrey neighborhoods, before making their nest in Santa Librada. A nest in which they were collecting stray birds, relatives, friends, people who have followed their trail. A house that is also an oasis in the middle of the cold usmeño, where clothes are sewn, but above all the visitor has coffee and talks. A house in which I lived for ten years.
Javier still dreams of one day returning to his land, planting coffee, corn, fruit trees, milking cows, braying a horse, recovering his lost life that infamous Sunday. He dreams that one day the State will compensate him, that life will compensate him. But there is no money that pays so much loss, nor is there another life. Despite all the damage, perhaps because of this, he is still a good, simple man, who gets up at five in the morning to start the engine of the twelve machines with which hope is patched.
When it is time to leave, Javier accompanies me to the door. Before he reaches out to me, I know what he will say, as if it were a ritual farewell formula.
“How is the teller today?”
* Master in Creative Writing from the National University of Colombia, author of the novel “The last duel of the fish man” (Himpar Editores), short story writer, editor of the magazine “Surgente”, where this text was originally published, and leader of the workshop of reading and narrative of Usme “A los dijes”.