I walk around the city, along the wide sidewalk on Corrientes Avenue, crowded with people. The noise of my rustling shoes gets lost with the cars and buses passing by the road. Horns, braking, and music composed the melody of Buenos Aires.
I usually look at people straight in their eyes; a custom that I have been trying to remove for years, as it makes most people feel uncomfortable. But I cannot. In general, women walk down the street without making eye contact with anyone. Their eyes are lost in the horizon. Several men do the same thing. These are difficult times, hard and savage, and almost everyone tries to avoid making eye contact in public places. The pressure suffered in their daily lives makes them more distrustful, fearful, and skeptical with respect to others.
The streets are also cramped with destitute people living on charity or as they can, who care the least about this subject, because nobody has ever looked at them. They are invisible. And there are other people who devote themselves to stealing. There are a great number of those and they live among us. They are the ones that feel guilty and get mad when their eyes meet with somebody else’s.
And I cannot get rid of that custom of staring at everyone’s eyes.
Once, I saw a boy, he was just a kid, he must have been around twelve years old, or thirteen maybe, no more. He was dirty, his hair was messed up and he was wearing old worn-out clothes. He got annoyed with me. He stood in front of me, gazed at me and said with the voice of a child that had already started to change, but with the aggressive tone of an adult.
“What are you looking at?”
I wanted to ignore him. I tried to avoid him and continue my way, but he did not let me. He grabbed me by the arm.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you staring at me?”
He had an aggressive attitude, almost violent. So I answered, as precautious as possible.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.”
He gazed at me for a moment, hesitating.
“Don’t you ever look at me again or you’ll regret it, is it understood?”
The kid let my arm go, but his nervousness was apparent. He was shaking and his eyes were glittering. Maybe, he had consumed some kind of drug. I continued my way towards Suipacha Street, calmly and as indifferent as someone who experiences that kind of situations every day; and the kid kept on walking towards the obelisk.
A few seconds later I heard a gunshot from behind. By the characteristic strong and dry noise, it could not have been another thing. I retraced my steps with a feeling inside my chest, that then proved to be true. I saw the nervous kid who had threatened me less than a minute ago lying on the floor, in front of the door of a telephone company store. As far as I could see, his arm was injured. A cop was holding him down the floor and handcuffed him. That must have hurt, he was heavily bleeding.
As I could hear from the comments of the employees and pedestrians that witnessed the event, the criminal boy had entered the store, gun on hand, and threatened the cashier woman. But he had bad luck. A cop who had seen him found his attitude suspicious and immediately headed to the store. Once on the door, he saw the kid pulling out his gun, so he entered the store and shot him twice, very closely. One shot hit his arm, and the other one hit the counter. The kid was strong enough to leave the place, pushing the policeman standing on the door. But he fell to the sidewalk and got apprehended.
His childish illusion, if he had ever had one, had been destroyed a long time before. The kid had been forced to become an adult, by blows, hunger, pain and mistreatment. A boy-man, thief by necessity, because of misery. A kid who did not have the love of his parents, friends or toys; who could not live his childish innocence. He had bad luck that day, but he would commit another crime the following day, because he knew no other way of living. These are difficult times, hard and savage. The line between life and death is too thin for many people.
I am not making this up. I saw it in his own eyes, when our eyes met. Maybe that is why I look at people straight in their eyes. To know their history.
Translated by Flavia Marcos and Natalia Riera: Rima Traducciones