Twenty-eight-year-old Jana is a Mapuche, one of those indigenous “people of the earth” who were dispossessed when the Argentinean constitution turned them into outlaws overnight. A survivor of the Dirty War, Jana is now sculptor of a rare talent. But to make ends meet, she must also prostitute herself down at the docks. Her best friend, Miguel, a.k.a. Paula, is a transvestite who also works the docks. Jana and Miguel are connected, as if by a blood bond—so when Miguel disappears, it shatters Jana’s fragile world.
Then the body of a transvestite is found emasculated at an abandoned port, La Boca. Jana turns to private investigator Rubén Calderón for help and protection. After serving time following the coup d’état of March 24, 1976, Calderón has been searching for any trace of los desaparecidos—the disappeared—and their odious tormentors. Together, Jana and Rubén will plunge into the corrupt heart of the Argentinean political system on a hunt for a vicious murderer.
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A dark wind was roaring through the plane's cabin door. Parise, belted in, bent his bald head toward the river. He could hardly make out the muddy water of the Rio Plata where it emerged from its delta.
The pilot in the khaki bomber jacket was heading out to sea, toward the southeast. A night flight like dozens of others he'd made years earlier. He wasn't as calm as he'd been then. The clouds dissipated as they moved away from the Argentine coast and the wind grew more violent, buffeting the little two-engine aircraft. The noise from the open door was so loud that he almost had to shout to make himself heard.
"We'll be leaving the territorial waters soon!" he said, turning his head toward the man behind him.
Hector Parise looked at his watch. By that time, they should have dealt with the package ... The crests of the waves shimmered on the ocean, pale undulations lit by the moon. He clung to the walls of the cabin — a giant lurching through the air pockets. The "package" lay on the floor, motionless despite the plane's bouncing about. Parise shoved it closer to the door. Six thousand feet: no light glimmered in the turbulent gloom, just the distant lamps of a freighter, not important. His seatbelt flapped in the cramped cabin.
"O.K.!" he bellowed to the pilot.
The man gave him a thumbs-up.
The wind whipped his face; Parise seized the unconscious body by the armpits. He couldn't help smiling.
"Go play outside, kid ..."
He was about to tip the package out of the plane when a spark appeared in the open eyes — a spark of life, terrified.
The colossus pitched and tossed, in the grip of stupor and fear: injected with sodium pentothal, the package wasn't supposed to wake up, much less open its eyes! Was it death mocking him, the play of nighttime reflections, or a pure hallucination? Shivering like a leper, Parise grabbed the body and pushed it into the void.CHAPTER 2
La putas al poder! (Sus hijos ya están en él.)"
The shed was covered with bright red graffiti. Jana was nineteen at the time, her anger fully intact. All the ruling classes had been involved in the theft: politicians, bankers, service industry bosses, the IMF, financial experts, labor unions. Carlos Menem's neoliberal policies had imprisoned the country in an infernal spiral, a time bomb: increasing debt, reduction of public expenditures, flexible work schedules, exclusion, recession, widespread unemployment, underemployment, to the point that bank deposits were frozen and withdrawals limited to a few hundred pesos per week. Money flowed out of the country, banks closed in fast succession. Corruption, scandals, cronyism, privatizations, "structural adjustments," externalization of profits. Menem, his successors, who marched to the tune of the markets, and then the financial crash of 20012002 had completed the destruction of the social fabric begun by the military junta's "National Reorganization Process."
The crash turned into bankruptcy. Argentina, whose GDP after World War II was equal to that of Great Britain, had seen the majority of its population sink into poverty and a third into indigence. A hopeless destitution. In the schools, children fainted from hunger, and the cafeterias had to be kept open during vacations so the kids could receive their only meal of the day. In the barrios of Quilmas, kids compared the taste of grilled toad with that of rat, while others stole copper telephone lines, aluminum covers protecting the electrical circuits of traffic lights, and bronze plaques on monuments ... Jana had seen old women bloody their hands clawing at the gates to the banks, old men wearing threadbare suits brought out for the occasion weeping in silence, and then the anger of ordinary people: the first riots, the looting of supermarkets (seen by the media as testifying to a lack of security rather than to desperate need), que se vayan todos! y que no quede ninguna! (Let them all go! and not one remain!), mounted police charging into the protesters to disperse them with riding crops, Molotov cocktails, smoke, women beaten with truncheons, their daughters dragged down the sidewalks, nervous shots fired into the crowds — thirty-nine dead — their blood in the streets and squares of the capital, a state of siege declared by President de la Rúa, growing protest, women beating on cooking pots and people shouting — "the state of siege means nothing to us!" The blockage of the roads by piqueteros, scarves covering youths' faces, their naked chests inviting bullets, paving stones, shattering display windows, rocks thrown at the tanks, water cannons, anti-riot squads, shields, mothers' cries, Argentine flags brandished as a kind of challenge, fear, fire, statements on state television, que se vayan todos!, bundles of cash leaving the country by the truckload, eight billion dollars in armored convoys while the banks were locked up tight, bigwigs taking refuge abroad in their air-conditioned villas, the stench of gas, overturned cars, food riots, the black smoke from burning rubber, chaos, President de la Rúa fleeing by helicopter from the roof of the Casa Rosada, the delight of middle fingers raised to bid farewell to those retreating in disarray, political officials throwing in the towel one after the other, four presidents in thirteen days, que se vayan todos, "and not one remain!"
Jana had just begun studying at the School of Fine Arts when the country went bankrupt. She had hitchhiked out of her community a few weeks earlier, wearing the woolen poncho her mother had made for her and carrying the old bone-handled knife that had belonged to her ancestors, a few personal items, and enough money to pay her enrollment fees at the university. That was all. Even if millions of people had been ruined by the financial crisis, even if the middle class had been blown to smithereens, even if Argentina as a whole was up for sale, a deracinated Indian woman without connections or housing could still fight for her share with the dogs and poor people who roamed the streets of Buenos Aires.
Like other women students without resources, Jana had been forced to prostitute herself to survive. She refused to surrender the metal forms that moved through her brain. She had stood in front of the Fine Arts building after class, with packets of Kleenex in her bag and an icy fury between her legs.
Rich men drove by in Mercedes, the same men who had bankrupted the country, guys who could be her father and who came to shop. Sell her body to save her mind: the very idea repelled her. Jana had wept while giving her first blow jobs, and then she had swallowed everything: her Indian anger, these swines' sperm, the madness that gnawed at her heart and shook her like a pit bull to make her let go. She'd become barbed wire.
Three years of study.
She had sucked cocks in rubbers, little, big, soft, all of them disgusting, when they wanted to put it up her ass she defended her territory with her knife; they could think what they wanted, treat her like a rag doll on which they wiped off their virtue the way a mechanic wipes off grease before going home and playing the good father ruffling up the hair of his youngest child, Jana had taken refuge behind her barbed wire with the remains of her moral integrity and the body they occupied like a place paid for in parking lot, their pricks still stiff and proud ... The swine. The war profiteers. Jana tried to calm down — Art, Art, think of nothing but Art. She slept in parks, squats, and theaters where the artists had decided to perform for free ("Buenos Aires would stay Buenos Aires"), with various people, sometimes strangers; Jana never stayed long, drew sketches in the bars or nightclubs where she ended up, exhausted, after evenings spent prostituting herself.
It was in one of these rather seedy downtown clubs that she had met Paula, right at the height of the economic crisis.
Paula, alias Miguel Michellini, a transvestite with a porcelain doll's face and robin's-egg blue eyes that seemed anchored in some distant port. "She" had immediately approached the Indian woman who was keeping a low profile and, after briefly looking into her dark, almond-shaped eyes, given her a passionate kiss as a kind of welcome: "You can do whatever you want with me!" she'd said, smiling under the spotlights as if the world were just great.
Jana had remained dubious: with her white stockings over her bowlegs, her plastic pearls around her slender neck, her false eyelashes and her cherry-red lips, Paula looked to her like a doll that has been abused. "You can do whatever you want with me": the poor creature seemed sincere ...
The beginning of a millennium, here on Earth: a storm warning for the weakest, most vulnerable people, the ones with little armor. On the margins, it was worse. Two months afterward, Jana had picked up the tranny lying half-dead on the docks of the old commercial port after running into fans of the Boca Juniors: Buenos Aires's favorite team had just lost a game against River, and it cost Paula one of her front teeth.
That night, Jana cared for her with what she had at hand, a few caresses on her forehead damp with fear, three reassuring words she didn't much believe in, always affectionate. They became and remained friends, as much out of a sense of solidarity as out of aversion to the brutality of the world: that great stupidity. Beneath her lost-puppy appearance, Paula was funny, generous, and endowed with a drum majorette's enthusiasm that contrasted with an underlying distress no normal person could envy. Over thirty, without a degree or any obsession other than dressing as a woman, Paula still lived with her mother, a laundress in the working-class neighborhood of San Telmo, and made ends meet by turning tricks on the docks. The tranny wanted to become an artist, what a surprise, and like Jana, she dreamed of better days. Paula was also rootless — in her body. In her, Jana found a companion in poverty and hope. That would not restore the femininity that had been stolen from her. Nor her breasts ...
Almost ten years had gone by since their shady meeting. The neighborhoods that had been inhabited by bums and by sailors had been transformed into a cluster of steel and glass towers where the multinationals had established their headquarters — the Catalinas, the few structures that had radically changed the city's landscape. Jana lived in the wasteland on the other side of the avenue, squatting in the old Retiro rail station, opposite the four-star hotel Emperator.
Sculptor: "One who brings to life," according to the ancient Egyptians.
Jana had taken over the workshop of Furlan, the artist who had taken possession of the wasteland before her; a full-time mentor, occasional lover, and chronic drinker, Furlan had taken off one day leaving everything under construction — their rickety love affair, the mildewed Ford Taunus in the yard, the shed alongside the tracks in the disused train station, which was henceforth marked as her territory. Jana spent her nights twisting iron, welding, bending sheet metal, composing the monstrous forms that would be applied to the mask of Men.
Conveniences consisted solely of water, electricity, and a stove for heating that gave off toxic fumes. The place was suffocating in summer, freezing in winter. Jana had been living there alone for four years. Furlan was said to be in France; she didn't care. She no longer needed him or anyone else to survive. Welfare payments and the sale of her first sculptures kept her just above the threshold of indigence. The new president, Kirchner, had gotten the economy back on track without paying attention to the IMF's demands, the country was breathing again, and she felt free. At the age of twenty-eight, that was her only luxury.
Jana had no iPhone, no television, no credit cards, and her closet wasn't overflowing with clothes; Art was her only escape hatch and her ancestral lands her only target in the workshop.
Her current work — her masterpiece — was a map of the southern cone of America, set up monumentally on a base of reinforced concrete, into which she whacked the ancient native territories with a sledgehammer.
Jana was a Mapuche, the daughter of a people who had been shot on sight in the pampas.
Exterminating natives or seeking to convert impious souls, Christians had given no quarter. She didn't either: the hammer fell on the Ranquel territory, already smashed up; jets of pulverized stone hit her eyes. Her black shorts were soaked, sweat was running down her thighs, temples, neck, her dead breasts, her muscles straining toward the objective: the world, a concrete skin she was massacring with a salvific joy.
The cartography of a genocide:
The Christians had dispossessed them of their lands, but their spirit-ancestors still roamed them like red ants in the blood. Concrete dust on a tense body: the Mapuche brought her weapon down again and, her eye fixed on the impact, noted the damage done. A real bloodbath.
Eight hundred thousand dead: no, the Christians hadn't given any quarter.
That was what united the natives.
Jana was still working hard when the telephone rang. She turned to the pallet that served as a table, saw the time on the alarm clock — six in the morning — and let the phone ring: The Jesus Lizard was making the walls of the shed vibrate and a dense rain was beating on the roof, lending rhythm to the apparent chaos prevailing in the workshop. Jana was jubilant. The wind had come up, and that old dog David Yow was screaming his lungs out from the speakers and a magnetic rage was flowing like smoking nitrogen in her Indian veins.
The hammer finally fell to the floor glittering with shards. Jana was examining the contours of the craters that pocked her ethnocidal map, her arms aching, when the telephone rang again. The alarm clock read 6:20. The Jesus Lizard album had just ended, the rain had stopped. The sculptress picked up the receiver, her mind elsewhere — her bare feet made wolf's tracks in the concrete snow ...
She quickly came down to Earth — it was Paula.
"Ah! Darling, finally you picked up!" she burst out. "Sorry to bother you, but I swear I'm not calling about makeup! It's about Luz," she went on breathlessly. "I'm worried: she left me a message on my cell a little while ago to tell me that she had to talk to me about something super important, but I'm still waiting, and her cell doesn't answer: something's wrong!"
Jana wiped the layer of dust off her lips — Luz was the tranny who had been sharing the docks with Paula for the past six months.
"Is that why you're calling?"
"I don't know anyone but you!" Paula pleaded. "We were supposed to meet at five, I've been waiting a long time and she doesn't answer her phone: something's wrong!"
"What time did Luz leave her message?"
"At 1:28," her friend replied above the background noise.
"She might have been picked up by the cops."
"No, something's happened, I'm sure. She wanted to see me," Paula insisted. "I'm telling you, something's wrong!"
Jana hated to be disturbed while she was working: she didn't allow herself to be moved by her friend's melodramatic air.
"Was Luz working last night?" she asked.
"Maybe she met Prince Charming. At least give her time to come back to Earth."
"That's not funny. Listen, I'm really worried. For once she's not pretending. I need you. Can't you come?"
There was deafening music in the background.
"Where are you?"
"At the Transformer."
A transvestite bar where losers like her met after working the streets. Jana glanced at her concrete sculpture and promised it a brief respite.
"O.K.," she panted into the receiver. "I'm coming."
* * *
The stars on the cosmic blotter were fading out one by one; Jana slid shut the worm-eaten wooden door, padlocked it, and walked across the empty ground surrounding the shed. The big Ford was getting rusty around the grille, under the blind eye of a giant hen on acid, one of her first sculptures made from scrap metal — steel bars, bolts, welding rods, beams — that still showed Furlan's influence. The other installations were also beginning to decay.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mapuche"
Copyright © 2004 Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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