Fernando Torres' Identification card in Chile as a youth.
Based on true events Two Short Stories By Fernando A. Torres
El Chute Norberto
All of a sudden he appeared on a cold August morning. I saw him leaning against the lamppost. He wore a soft brown suit. Under his jacket, a wool vest covered part of a white tieless shirt. He was no doubt a Chute, a tall, well-dressed dandy with a straight spine and a thin mustache, baldosero-style under his nose, like those displayed by the tile-laying construction workers of the Capital. In short, he was a wondrous piece of man radiating pride from his stature and the impeccable posture that gave him an almost innate sense of honor. A few hours later the prison population baptized him as El Chute, the elegant one. “Norberto,” he told me when I asked his name the next day. El Chute Norberto never entered a group and from the other side of the bars, nobody ever asked for him. He spoke little and kept that typical distance, that optimism we knew very well: "Very soon I'll be out of this dump. The misunderstanding will be resolved shortly, a day or two." A week later, El Chute no longer wore his jacket, his white shirt lost that office glow, and his eyes began to wander in the reverie of freedom. No longer resting against the pole and with a lost look to nowhere, he was spending long hours sitting on the wooden bench of the dining table number seven. Definitely Norberto was not a political prisoner. He could have been the victim of a mix-up, but in prison we were all equals. Three fellow inmates, a doctor, a teacher and a priest, took turns trying to befriend Norberto with no luck. By the second week Norberto began to show signs of shrinking, losing his bearing, his prominence. He let his immaculate mustache lose its personality, mingling with a beard that began to grow like a fern without water. He stopped shaving, and his brown pants began to suffer the ravages of overuse. "El Chute needs attention," I counseled the Elder Ramirez. Within two months, Norberto had lost his stature, his shine, his dignity. I saw him with his head down, shedding little by little as he waited, in the hope of change, of any news, any sign. How many days does it take for a human to lose his honor? I wondered. I have seen humans die, but I have never seen a man dissolve little by little. Like a worn-out Buñuel film, in less than three months I saw a man melt into nothingness, disappear overwhelmed by the abandonment of his honor, his pride, to become an almost negligible lump of human flesh. When he stopped eating, smiling, moving, and at the request of Ramirez who presided over the Council of Elders, El Chute Norberto was dragged into the nursing quarters, like a basket of hopeless flesh and bones. We never heard of him again. The rumor was that a few days later he passed away from the sadness of not understanding and not belonging.
The Lonely Cat on the Roof
During the dark hours of curfew, the military trucks covered with green sailcloth roamed up and down Carlos Condell, the street where I lived. Some of the trucks conveying clandestine "cleaning" teams that, under the impunity of curfew, loaded the bodies and washed the bloodied streets during the opaque and shadowy night hours. In the morning everything was squeaky clean as if nothing had taken place scant hours before. On Antonio Matta Avenue, just two blocks from my house, separated by the railroad tracks, lay the Police Academy headquarters, a police school and Barracks. Every night, from the other side of the railroad tracks on Pedro de Valdivia street, an armed loner sneaks out from obscurity to pick a fight with the police, firing shots from small-caliber weapons toward the Barracks. Entrenched on the old roof of my house I hear the triggering sounds of the disproportionate battle. I can’t see the adversaries but I can surely hear the fracas. The reverberating sounds from the mad shooter sound like “tin, tin, tin” and in return he got “BAM, BAM, BAM” from the police station. I imagined a smart, black, light footed cat, leaping across the rooftops with great stealth and style, like the cat in the Batman cartoon. I always thought the suicidal feline was not shooting but rather triggering a kind of anti-coup statement for all of the neighbors to hear. I wanted to find her and help her to re-load the drum of her burner, but I was too afraid. It really was David against Goliath-- and she was crazy-- me too, but out of fear. I never knew if the lone shooter was able to hit the target, but the next morning the many bullet holes in the walls around the area revealed her remarkable presence. I checked them out with a sarcastic smile. The shooting went on for several nights during which I didn't see or hear the clandestine cleaning team trucks so I was relieved with the thought that my cat was not dead. Eventually the police decided to install carnival lights over the entire roof corner in the safety of daylight. The same corner where I spent great moments of my youth listening to gringo music, drinking fermented barley and smoking all kinds of herbs. The corner now looked like a cheap and sad carnival and the neighbors were not happy since they would have to pay the electricity bill. And my heroine cat on the roof? Was she gone? Had she died? ... Oh, what the heck! Cats have nine lives after all, ¿que no?
Fernando Andres Torres is a short-story writer, poet, and musician. A graduate journalist of San Francisco State University, he contributes to various Bay Area media. He is associate editor and U.S. correspondent for the web magazine Dilemas.cl. and editor of the blog LatinOpen.wordpress.com. Under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, Torres joined the Chilean resistance and in 1975 was arrested by the regime’s secret police. In prison, he recited poetry and hand-wrote messages with quotes about optimism and hope to pass among fellow prisoners. Torres is a member of the ExposeFacts Advisory Board, member of the Review Panel of the Intrepid News Fund. As a composer and musician, he has worked with various groups of Latin American music and shared the stage with American artists like Pete Seeger and Holly Near.