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I was fourteen when the lagoon spilled again. Itwas up in the mountains, at the far edges of our district. Likeeverything beautiful around here, no one had ever seen it. Therewas no rain, only thick clouds to announce the coming flood.Then the water came running down the avenue, pavement glistening,taking trash and rock and mud with it through the cityand toward the sea. It was the first flood since Lucas had beensent to the University, a year into a five-year bid for assault. Theneighborhood went dark and we ran to the avenue to see it: akind of miracle, a ribbon of gleaming water where the streetshould have been. A few old cars were lined up, their headlightsshining. Street mutts raced around us, barking frantically at thewater and the people and the circus of it. Everyone was out,even the gangsters, everyone barefoot and shirtless, movingearth with their hands, forming a dike of mud and rock to keepthe water out. Across the avenue those kids from Siglo XXstared at us like they wanted something. They worked on theirstreet and we worked on ours.
"Watch them," Renán said. He was my best friend, Lucas'syounger brother. Over in Siglo XX they still had light. I could taste how much I hated them, like blood in my mouth. I would'veliked to burn their whole neighborhood down. They had no respectfor us without Lucas. They'd beat you with sticks and pipes.They'd shove sand in your mouth and make you sing the nationalanthem. The week before, Siglo XX had caught Renán waitingfor a bus on the wrong side of the street. They'd taken his ball capand his kicks, left his eye purple and swollen enough to squintthrough.
Buses grunted up the hill against the tide, honking violently.The men moved wooden boards and armloads of bricks andsandbags, but the water kept coming. Our power came on, aprocession of lights dotting the long, sinking slope toward thecity. Everyone stopped for a moment and listened to the hummingwater. The oily skin of the avenue shone orange, andsomeone raised a cheer.
In the half-light, Renán said he saw one of the kids that gothim. He had just the one good eye to see through. "Are yousure?" I asked.
They were just silhouettes. The flood lapped at our ankles,and the work was fierce. Renán was gritting his teeth. He had arock in his hand. "Hold it," he said.
I felt its weight and passed it to Chochó. We all agreed it wasa good rock.
Renán threw it high over the avenue. We watched it disappear,Renán whistling the sinking sound of a bomb falling fromthe sky. We laughed and didn't see it land.
Then Siglo XX tore across the avenue, a half dozen of them.They were badass kids. They went straight for our dike andwrecked it. It was a suicide mission. Our old men were beatingthem, then the gangsters too. Arms flailed in the dim lights, SigloXX struggling to break free. Then their whole neighborhood came and then ours and we fell into the thick fight of it, that inexplicablerush, that drug. We spilled onto the avenue and foughtlike men, side by side with our fathers and our brothers againsttheir fathers and their brothers. It was a carnival. My handsmoved in closed fists and I was in awe of them. I pounded a kidwhile Chochó held him down. Renán swung his arms like helicopterblades, grinning the whole time, manic. We took somehits and gave some and swore inside we lived for this. If Lucascould have seen us! The water spilled over our broken dike butwe didn't care. We couldn't care. We were blind with happiness.
We called it the University because it's where you went whenyou finished high school. There were two kinds of prisonersthere: terrorists and delinquents. The terrucos answered to clandestinecommuniqués and strange ideologies. They gathered inthe yard each morning and did military stretches. They sangwar songs all day and heckled the young guards. The war wasmore than ten years old. When news came of a successful attacksomewhere in the city, they celebrated.
Lucas was more of a delinquent and so behaved in ways thatwere easier to comprehend. A kid from Siglo XX caught a bad oneand someone said they saw Lucas running across the avenue backto our street. That was enough for five years. He hadn't even killedanyone. They lightened his sentence since he'd been in the army.Before he went in, he made us promise we'd join up when we wereold enough. "Best thing I ever did," he said. We spoke idly ofthings we'd do when he got out, but our street was empty withouthim. People called us Diablos Jr. because we were just kids. WithoutLucas, the gangsters hardly acknowledged us, except to runpackages downtown, but that was only occasionally ...War by Candlelight
Excerpted from War by Candlelight: Stories by Daniel Alarcon
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