FICTION | Squatters
When I was sixteen my family made the eleven-hour flight to Argentina to spend a month visiting uncle Chocho and his family. My mother could hardly afford to take us, and that’s why we stayed for so long. She didn’t know when we’d get another chance to go back. Chocho’s house was overrun with kids, but Mama removed herself from the chaos by rooming with an old friend from boarding school. A few days after we’d arrived I came downstairs to find my uncle alone, finishing lunch and reading La Nacion. He looked up from his newspaper, white crumbs hiding in his gray, patchy beard.
“What’s the matter. Puppy get run over?” He eyed me over the top of his glasses.
I didn’t smile back. “I have something to ask you.”
“Okay.” He put down the paper. “What’s on your mind?”
“I want you to tell me about my father.”
Chocho took a deep breath and turned his head, cracking his neck left and right with the butt of his palm. I waited. His deformed ring finger poked oddly from his hand as he pressed and folded his paper flat. An old rugby injury. I always noticed it because my dad had the same injury.
“Did I ever tell you about the raja and the tiger?”
“The raja was a man of leisure. One day while hunting he killed a tigress, not knowing that her cub was nearby. He heard mewling, took pity on the creature, and brought it home. The foundling grew into a fearsome adolescent, yet remained loyal to him. Late one night the raja couldn’t sleep for the heat, and so sat on his veranda in his briefs to watch the stars, a cool drink sweating beside him. The tiger, laying beside the raja, began to affectionately lick the salt off his master’s ankle. A breeze came. The raja began to doze. The tiger swept over the entire lower leg and slowly moved higher, up to the owner’s thigh. The big cat’s tongue was so rough it chafed and scraped the skin. The raja felt pain and woke with a start; his inner thigh had started to bleed. When the raja tried to pull away the tiger emitted a guttural rumble, and closed his teeth around the raja’s groin to hold him in place. The raja knew he had seconds to live. A servant was nearby and heard the master calling for his rifle. His man saw the situation and acted quickly. He shot the tiger and saved the raja’s life.”
Chocho smiled, satisfied.
“Damn,” I said. “Cool story.”
“Yep,” Chocho said, getting up.
“Hey!” I said. “You didn’t finish.”
“Finish what? That’s the end. It’s just a fable.”
“No it isn’t. A fable has a moral. And what does any of that have to do with my dad?”
“How’s this for a moral?” he said, walking out of the room. “Those who are a pain in the balls end up shot.”
My grandparents on my dad’s side had only two boys, and Chocho was the youngest. Growing up I’d see (more…)
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