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from the February 2006 issue

Vladimiro the Arab

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. . .

Read more from the February 2006 issue
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