He was a fortunate man. He had never endured the hardships of suffering; his parents, the legitimate children and heirs of a prestigious family, had endowed him with beauty and radiance, which was also down to his most exquisite genes. Salvador del Castillo became great, tasted glory, made it to the top, and enjoyed immense power. He was almost an almighty being, recognized as a demigod in his province. However, to his misfortune (or good luck), a fateful day saw him plunge into the queer insanity of king Nebuchadnezzar, and he ironically lost his way in what he had hitherto looked down upon.
Undesirable, insufferable, filthy and vulture-like, his precarious condition led him to cling on to his only, prized possession – a flowerpot finished by the force that squeezed the ulcers eating away at his flesh. He had struggled. He wanted to break out of the abyss that troubled his soul, that had forced him to confront a couple of rodents in a hostile sewer and hang on to the litter falling down from the bridges, with the hope of finding a piece of bread. And, if he did, he would hug it like a mother embraces her young, aware that it could well be the last bite of his life.
You might as well wonder as to how someone so great could experience the worst human misery; he, who boasted of being a descendant of Felipe V, who loathed the needy, who ridiculed the plebeians, and who denied bread to the hungry. When he was rich (and sane), he would beat up the old folks begging in the streets, and spat on their faces for touching him. He was superior to them, and those who lived on the road were not worthy of him.
The city consisted of streets and arcades, and a real wall, even though not a physical one, demarcated the avenues. On one side was the most sophisticated section of the society; everyone wore patent leather shoes and elegant suits, made by the best and leading tailors in the world. The misery that lay on the other side of the wall had a name. The Waste Way. It was known so because it was not a single location, but were actually all those places that did not belong to power.
The segregation was simple. Whoever did not have a distinguished name could not even look beyond street number eighty. When famine struck, the children on the Way would perish, watching those living in the northern area throw up food. The northerners were too busy to take any notice of it. Even he, Salvador del Castillo, saw so many people die that he compared them to rats.
But the road, more than a waste way, comprised dusty corners, arcades and places that no one ever visited. It also embodied obliviousness, and Salvador del Castillo arrived there without a shred of sanity, so scatterbrained that his parents swore never to look for him again.
So, there he was, as one of them, destitute and famished, disposed of and stigmatized. Those who looked at him shook their heads with a bizarre tsk tsk. And the man, who was once a caballero, was now a crook; he, who, possessed by horror, could – amidst his madness – make out what often evades human indifference. He noticed that nobody slept on the Waste Way, the clothes stuck to the skin, typically salty tears rolled down from open eyes, wails blew out the eardrums, faces smacked into the walls, people ate garbage and laughed it off. But everyone on the Waste Way had a story, a story that forced them to leave. There were no rich or poor; only humans who lived in harmony. However, when Kingry’s disease arrived in the area, it ended up infecting half the population.
Two months were enough for Salvador del Castillo to get used to the stench of putrefaction, come back to his senses, and fall in love with his new home. Even though the road did not offer him everything he had once experienced and enjoyed, he felt happy in a supernatural manner. He felt free; he could be himself. Castillo gamboled, ran around with the kids, and apologized to the elderly he had once hit. He knew that he was guilty, and so were his parents, his family, and those living in the north. When he saw the skinny pectorals out of his large windows, he would bawl his eyes over the times he had grown sick of his food and barfed it.
One day, he was seized by a desire to tread off the Waste Way, off the place that was now his. He went to the wall dividing the city, hastily walked in, kicked the notice prohibiting any intruders, and observed the clothes on the shelves, and the packed, covered and heated food items. Overcome by fury, he destroyed the storehouses, spilled the alabaster jars, distilled the aromatic spices, burned down the currency notes and proclaimed a rebellion, took down thrones, screamed on the ground, pulled himself together, and lost his way in the pipeline that lies between sobs and mad laughter.
I still remember his words. “No one will come; they don’t care about me, just like I didn’t care about the ones I used to despise. Here I’m a human being, here I’m alive, here I’m enjoying the transience of things, the ephemeral nature of time, here nobody will be able to silence this restless mind…”
And he then jumped off the crag, on which I now stand. I, who was once skinny, but to whom a Salvador, or a savior, appeared one day.
…now that you’re here
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Kattia Ochoa is a Colombia-based writer. The Waste Way is the English translation of her critically acclaimed short story titled La Ruta del Despojo. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to know more about her other published works.