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Join us for World in Verse: A Multilingual Poetry Reading and Celebration of the Winners of the Poems in Translation Contest. Tuesday, September 17 at 7:00 PM | Word Up Community Bookshop, 2113 Amsterdam Avenue, New York
from the February 2006 issue

Vladimiro the Arab

Vladimiro el árabe

Vladimiro Pérez isn't exactly an expert on the Islamic world, though he likes to think of himself as one. Sedentary by nature, a man without great ambitions, he has lived for many years with his wife and daughter in a modest apartment that he does not own, a collection of shabby rooms that he rents for half his salary. Though she is a tolerant woman, his wife is tired of hearing him express his opinion on issues that have so little relevance in the life of a Mexican family.

"We are never going to leave this country, not in our whole damned lives. Why should we worry about other people's problems?"

"If it happens to humanity, it happens to us," answered Vladimiro, confronting his wife's comments with a stoic expression.

"Did the gringos come help us when we were about to be evicted? Or perhaps you don't consider us to be part of humanity?"

Vladimiro is irritated by such un-cerebral reproaches. He cannot understand how it is possible for most people to have such a narrow view of the world. The fact that we spend hours every day examining receipts in a modest office or cooking for our children does not exempt us from what is happening in Kashmir or Afghanistan. That's Vladimiro Pérez's view.

"We're like mice with our noses stuck in our little mouse-holes."

After two commercial airplanes destroyed the Twin Towers in New York, Vladimiro's life changed. From that day on, he bought the paper every day to keep abreast of the details of investigations by American intelligence into the roots of the case. Overcoming the limitations of a person who never went to high school, he avidly consumed articles written by specialists for magazines that devoted most of their pages to the attack. In the offices of the small company Monte Blanco Ventilation, the others began to respect him more and more. Vladimiro didn't reveal the sources of his information, so his co-workers attributed his knowledge to a wisdom that he had acquired in the cradle.

"Do you think there will be a world war, Vladimiro?" This was one of the most common questions he was asked at their small offices in Colonia Narvarte. And Vladimiro would lose his usual modesty, the tone of his anodyne voice would change, and the sermon would begin.

"The war began many years ago, when the gringos tried to get their hands on some oil that wasn't theirs to take."

"That's no excuse for killing innocent people," said Argudín, a graduate of professional school who mistrusted the opinions of his lowly employees. It was enough that they were allowed to distract themselves by discussing issues other than their work, without letting them pretend to be experts.

"There's no excuse for killing innocent people in Afghanistan," Vladimiro said. He was not willing to be intimidated by his superior. Especially not now that his co-workers were paying attention to this unexpected argument.

"It's different. In Afghanistan, they train terrorists who will one day breed terror around the world."

"I don't think that is a good argument, boss. In that case it would have been smarter to bomb Florida. Isn't that where these men planned their attack on the Twin Towers?" Vladimiro's co-workers seconded his reasoning. Not only because they believed it was convincing, but because they had the feeling that Vladimiro was speaking for them in his argument with the Argudín, the college graduate, manager and shareholder of the company Monte Blanco Ventilation (Equipment and Repair).

"I didn't know you had Communist tendencies, Mr. Pérez," Argudín said sharply. He was a thin man with a slender mustache. He never smiled.

"Communists are not religious men, sir."

"Arabs or Communists, it's all the same. In Mexico, we don't need to read the Koran to get ahead. Work and talent are enough."

"What about us, boss?" Vladimiro said the word "us" automatically. "We make a few pesos working all day long. Do you mean to say we don't have talent?"

"I believe in God, but I would never kill in his name," said Argudíin, ignoring Vladimiro's provocation. "Since when does a goddamned bald, uneducated employee in his fifties think he's such a big-shot?"

"You can't deny, boss, that they gave them a real kick in the ass. With their own planes!" Artemio, the company messenger, interjected. Argudín looked at him disdainfully, "Do I have to explain things to this guy as well?"

"It's all very primitive. Look at the Arab who tried to blow up his shoe in a plane. Ha, ha. You can't compare these primitive actions to the modern, laser-guided nuclear missiles used by world-class powers."

"That's just because they're not falling on our heads," Artemio murmured under his breath. He would never have dared to contradict the boss.

But Vladimiro started up again, "Mr. Argudín, I think it's a victory on their part. You know how in their mosques people have to take off their shoes? Thanks to that terrorist, now we all have to take off our shoes at the airport to prove we're not concealing explosives. The Arabs have turned all of the world's airports into mosques."

Argudín decided not to pursue the conversation further. With a sarcastic gesture he indicated that his employees should get back to work. And he quietly decided never again to intervene in such delicate discussions. He relit the cigar he had interrupted the previous evening, an Hoyo de Monterrey that he had bought for a few pesos from a street vendor. What would his customers think if they knew that there were Arab sympathizers working at the company that provided them with their air conditioning? Wasn't this one of the systems the terrorists were planning to use to distribute Anthrax? He didn't like the gloomy guru attitude that Vladimiro López seemed to be acquiring. Perhaps it might be an opportune time to let him know that his services were no longer required. This is what Argudín, graduate of professional school, was thinking as he observed the listless movements of the administrative employees through his glass partition. In contrast, Vladimiro was radiant. He had never imagined that he might be able to score such a success in an argument. If he had finished his studies - he told himself-he would have become an excellent lawyer. That night, during dinner, he told his family the details of the morning's confrontation.

"There you go beating a dead horsel!" his wife exclaimed with frank hostility. "We'll see if the Arabs give us food to eat after they kick you out into the street."

"Daddy, she's right. Why do you argue about these things with the boss Argudín?" Rosalía, his only daughter, asked.

"Rosalía, try to understand. You're young. . . "

"And you're too old to be muddling about like a rebellious student," his wife said, abruptly getting up from the table to take her plate to the kitchen.

That night, Vladimiro had a dream that would color the next few days. He dreamed that he went into the boss's office to discuss politics. When Argudín told him to return to his work, Vladimiro grabbed the cigar he was smoking and used it to ignite the explosives he had tied around his chest, concealed under his coat. Was that really what he had dreamt? That's how the modest administrative aide remembered it. The morning after the dream he sat down at the head of the table, looking over at the members of his family. Could either of them understand the importance of this revelation? He was so happy that he did something he completely out of the ordinary: He asked for extra bacon with his eggs. . .

Vladimiro el árabe

Vladimiro el árabe


Guillermo Fadanelli

Vladimiro Pérez no es precisamente un experto en asuntos islámicos aunque él piense lo contrario. Sedentario por naturaleza, hombre sin grandes ambiciones, vive desde hace muchos años con su mujer y su hija en un modesto departamento que no le pertenece, un conjunto de cuartos viejos que renta a cambio de la mitad de su sueldo. A pesar de ser una persona tolerante, su mujer está cansada de escucharlo opinar acerca de cuestiones que tan poco le conciernen a una familia mexicana.

—Jamás en nuestra jodida vida saldremos de este país. ¿Por qué tenemos que preocuparnos por pleitos ajenos?

—Si le sucede a la humanidad nos sucede a nosotros —responde Vladimiro oponiendo un rostro estoico a los comentarios de su esposa.

—¿Acaso los gringos estuvieron aquí para ayudarnos cuando estuvieron a punto de lanzarnos del departamento? ¿O es que nosotros no somos parte de la humanidad?

A Vladimiro le irrita escuchar reproches tan poco cerebrales. No comprende cómo es que la mayoría de las personas posee una visión del mundo tan estrecha. Pasarse las horas revisando facturas en un modesto escritorio o cocinando para nuestros hijos no nos exime de lo que sucede en Cachemira o en Afganistán. Así piensa Vladimiro Pérez.

—Parecemos ratones con las narices metidas en nuestro agujero.

Después de que dos aviones comerciales derrumbaran las torres gemelas en Nueva York la vida de Vladimiro cambió. Desde entonces compró diariamente el periódico para no perderse los detalles de las investigaciones que los servicios de inteligencia estadounidenses llevaban a cabo para aclarar el asunto. Sorteando los problemas propios de un hombre que no cursó la preparatoria consumía ávido los artículos de especialistas publicados en revistas que dedicaban la mayor parte de sus páginas al atentado. En las oficinas de la pequeña empresa Ventilación Monte Blanco comenzaron a tenerle respeto. Como Vladimiro no acostumbraba revelar los orígenes de su información, sus compañeros atribuían sus conocimientos a una sabiduría que le llegaba desde la cuna.

"¿Crees que se desatará una guerra mundial, Vladimiro?" Era ésta una de las preguntas más comunes que solían hacerle en la oficina de la colonia Narvarte. Entonces Vladimiro abandonaba su humildad acostumbrada, cambiaba el tono de su voz anodina y comenzaba con el sermón.

—La guerra ha comenzado desde hace muchos años, cuando los gringos quisieron hacer negocios con un petróleo que no les pertenecía.

—Ese no es un pretexto para matar a gente inocente —dijo el licenciado Argudín que desconfiaba de los conocimientos de sus empleados de menor jerarquía. Ya era suficiente permitirles distraerse con temas ajenos a su trabajo como para también aceptar que se las dieran de ilustrados.

—Tampoco existen buenos pretextos para matar gente inocente en Afganistán —dijo Vladimiro. No se dejaría amedrentar por su superior. Menos ahora que los oídos de sus compañeros estaban atentos a la inesperada polémica.

—Es distinto. En Afganistán se preparan terroristas que después sembrarán el miedo en el mundo.

—No me parece un buen argumento, licenciado. En ese caso hubiera sido mejor bombardear Florida. ¿O no fue allí donde se prepararon los responsables del atentado a las torres gemelas? —los compañeros de Vladimiro aprobaron su razonamiento. No sólo porque les pareció convincente, sino porque tenían la sensación de que Vladimiro los representaba frente al licenciado Argudín, gerente y accionista de Ventilaciones Monte Blanco (Equipos y Refacciones).

—No le conocía sus inclinaciones comunistas, señor Pérez —dijo Tajante Argudín. Era un hombre delgado y bigote ralo. Jamás sonreía.

—Los comunistas no son religiosos, señor.

—Árabes o comunistas, qué más da. En México no se necesita leer el Corán para salir adelante. Con el trabajo y el talento basta.

—¿Y qué me dice de nosotros, licenciado? —Vladimiro había pronunciado el nosotros de manera automática—. Ganamos unos cuantos pesos trabajando durante todo el día. ¿O quiere decir que no tenemos talento?

—Yo creo en Dios pero no mataría a nadie en su nombre —dijo Argudín ignorando las provocaciones de Vladimiro. ¿Desde cuándo un pinche empleado calvo cincuentón sin estudios se sentía tan chingón?

—No me va a negar, licenciado, que les pegaron reduro los ojetes, con sus propios aviones — intervino Artemio, el mensajero de la empresa. Argudín lo miró despectivamente: "¿También a éste le tengo que dar explicaciones?"

—Es un método muy primitivo. Allí tienen al árabe que intentó prenderse el zapato dentro del avión. Ja ja ja. No pueden compararse actos tan rudimentarios con los modernos cohetes nucleares dirigidos que utilizan las grandes potencias.

—Eso dice porque no caen sobre nosotros —murmuró entre dientes Artemio. Jamás se atrevería a contradecir al licenciado. Vladimiro, en cambio, volvió a intervenir:

—Señor Argudín, creo que se trata más bien de una victoria. Usted sabe que en las mezquitas donde se practica el islamismo uno debe quitarse los zapatos para entrar. Gracias a este terrorista ahora uno debe quitarse los zapatos en el aeropuerto para comprobar que no esconde explosivos. Los árabes han convertido los aeropuertos del mundo en mezquitas.

Argudín prefirió no continuar con la conversación. Con gesto sarcástico invitó a sus empleados a volver a sus labores. Ya en su privado se propuso jamás volver a entrometerse en discusiones delicadas. Encendió nuevamente el puro interrumpido la noche anterior, un Hoyo de Monterrey que comprara en unos cuantos pesos a un vendedor callejero. ¿Qué pensarían sus clientes si se enteraran que simpatizantes de árabes trabajaban en la empresa que los proveía de sistemas de aire acondicionado? ¿No era ése uno de los medios que los terroristas planeaban usar para propagar el ántrax? No le gustaba ese aspecto de mustio santón que estaba tomando a sus ojos Vladimiro López. Quizás sería conveniente prescindir de sus servicios. Esto pensaba el licenciado Argudín mientras observaba a través del cristal de su apartado el movimiento cansino de sus empleados administrativos. En cambio, Vladimiro estaba radiante. Jamás se había imaginado ser capaz de enfrentar una disputa con tanto éxito. De haber continuado sus estudios —se animó a sí mismo— habría sido un magnífico abogado. Esa noche, durante la cena, contó a su familia los pormenores del enfrentamiento vespertino.

—¡Otra vez la burra al trigo! —exclamó su mujer en franca hostilidad contra su marido— A ver si los árabes nos dan de tragar cuando estés en la calle.

—Sí, papá. ¿Cómo te pones a discutir de eso con el licenciado Argudín? —añadió Rosalía, su única hija.

—Rosalía, entiéndeme. Tú eres joven...

—Y tú estás muy viejo para andar con esos asuntos de estudiante revoltoso —dijo su mujer levantándose bruscamente de la mesa para llevar su plato a la cocina.

Esa noche Vladimiro tuvo un sueño que cambiaría el color de sus próximos días. Se soñó a sí mismo entrando a la oficina del licenciado para conversar acerca de asuntos políticos. En el momento en que Argudín le ordenaba retornar a sus actividades, Vladimiro le arrebataba el habano para encender los explosivos atados alrededor de sus costillas que había ocultado bajo su abrigo. Los restos del licenciado flotaban en el aire azolvando los conductos de aire acondicionado. ¿Sería realmente ésa la descripción del sueño? Al menos para el modesto auxiliar administrativo lo fue. La mañana siguiente a su sueño se acomodó en la cabecera de la mesa repasando con la vista a los integrantes de su familia. ¿Qué podían entender ellos de la importancia de una revelación? Estaba tan contento que hizo lo que jamás acostumbraba en el desayuno. Pidió que le sirvieran un poco más de tocino frito en los huevos.

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