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Hispanic literature Literatura Hispana

Dolar-city (ENG)

A short story by Boris Differ.

Dolar-city

Boris Differ

There was a city in a very distant country, that used to hold the name of a river between stones that everyone has forgotten – I later found out that it was dried out – of which extension no one had been able to measure nor its population, which, without a doubt, could rival any other metropolis in the world. This city had something very peculiar that made it unique. It did not have its own name and its inhabitants called it “Dolarcity”, deriving from the adjective the Dolarcitos. The foreigner who had to visit or stay in the city for a while had the opportunity to be the privileged observer of the spectacles that took place every day in the city. I was one of them and I will try to portray as well as possible what I have been able to observe in these two days of my stay and I hope that it will allow the reader to forge their own idea of the environment of this peculiar and dangerous place and the customs of its extravagant inhabitants.
I had arrived one day in April to the city by air for some business of mine. The airport was located 17 kilometres from the city and was not connected by any type of public or collective transport to the metropolitan area. Aside from owning your own car or renting one, there was a taxi service that charged triple the normal price to take you into town. At that moment, being a little confused and tired from the trip, I agreed to pay the price to get to my hotel in the centre of the city as soon as possible. At first glance, the amount of armed Dolarcitos in all parts of the city, including the airport, has always seemed incredible to me, and they were almost as many, or more, as the civilian population. The number of pickup trucks full of masked gunmen was the highest per square kilometre I have ever seen. You couldn’t tell apart one from the other except by some badly painted letters, one from the police, one from the army, one from the “plaza*” as they say here. All the same. This incredible military display contrasted with the absolute insecurity of the city. In fact, from there on I began to understand that these contradictions were somehow linked. Everything in this city worked contrary to common sense and reason. The taxi driver tied my bags to the roof, instead of placing them in his trunk where they would fit perfectly. A question from my side regarding the inconsistency of the event only made him grunt. On the highway to the city, I was able to discover that the least peculiar logic of Dolarcitos is to drive. The left lane was slower, while the right was faster. Trucks and trailers that normally had to go to the right were in the middle lane and even the left when they were going faster. An interesting fact: the Dolarcitos didn’t bother to turn signals or look before they changed lanes. They didn’t care about any conventional signs or rules that we normally use in these circumstances. They only looked forward. The rest was improvised. Every moment was like playing Russian roulette, at any moment we could crash. It was as if the adults had left their cars to teenagers driving like in Grand Theft Auto. Before we got to the hotel, we saw about five crashes including two vans that were overturned. The insurance industry thrived here like nowhere else. In the hotel, the reception was in the restaurant that was at the same time a buffet, and everyone came there to eat except the guests in the hotel. Thus, I understood why when I asked if I could eat there, the receptionist asked me for a list of papers longer than the desk and every day the requirements changed according to the mood of the person on duty. Outside was a store specialized in solving administrative procedures, of course for a good price. Instead, I went to the bistro across the street, although the food there was of dubious origin. The waiter threw the plate contemptuously at me on the table, the fries were missing. I dared to claim them, but only earned myself a few grunts. Here the waiters were the kings, not the customers. And the bill included the mixed feelings of my waiter. The funny thing is that he asked me for a tip. It did not occur to him that I might be upset by his poor service. But by Dolarcito’s standards, it was more than okay. I left the restaurant like a thief and took the electric train to my appointment. I thought it would allow me to avoid the commotion of the streets. I could not have been more wrong. Paying the ticket became a whole puzzle. There were four machines on each side of the hall. I bought the ticket at one of the machines at random since they were all the same and when I went to the turnstile the machine showed me an error message. I inserted the ticket back several times and it was returned to me each time. So, I asked one of the guards about the problem and he told me that I shouldn’t be at the right turnstile because each ticket machine worked for only one turnstile. I asked him how one could know which tourniquet was the right one. He smiled and told me to try each one of them. Anything public or collective was part of the Dolarcito disdain. They always dressed it up to make it a nightmare. After a few minutes, I was able to get on the train. For a strange reason, the driver whistled five times upon arrival. I never knew why, but I supposed that it was part of the taste that the Dolarcitos had for causing unnecessary noise. Arriving at my destination I got off the train. I just had to cross the avenue to get to the building. As the red light of the semaphore turned I started to cross the lane when a couple of cars whizzed by and honked at me. I leaned back falling on the sidewalk. The driver of the last passing car lowered his window to insult me. I was the one who had committed a foul! When the cars finally stopped, I ran across the lane to get to the other side and into the building. After the appointment, I chose to take a walk in the “historical” centre. There was nothing to see, nor any souvenirs to take. These people had a complete lack of interest in the history of their city if it had one, and even in tourism itself. They did not like to receive foreigners and they did not deprive themselves of the pleasure of showing them that. Throughout downtown, the city was lined with stores that all looked alike with the same variation of the name, Dollar-City: Dollar-Store, Dollar-Market, or rather Dollar-Dollar. They were offering the same bad merchandise at the same prices. Of course, they all claimed to be the cheapest with the best products. The Dolarcitos spent their days there doing “shopping”. The same stores, but in a gigantic version were found all over the periphery of the city. Of course, you only got there by car. I preferred to return to the hotel and stay in my room until the next day to avoid any incident. In the morning I went out for breakfast. At a crossroads, I was waiting for the red traffic light to cross when I witnessed the most absurd accident I have ever seen in my life. The flow of cars was constant and dense. As an ambulance approached the intersection from the side where the red light was, the cars began to stop to let it cross when a grey car, which must have been a Dodge, began to cross the intersection just as the ambulance passed. Finally, the latter slowed down a bit, an opportunity that was used by the Dolarcito in the Dodge to accelerate in order to pass at all costs. But as the ambulance was still moving forward, the two collided with a terrifying crash. A part of the vehicle flew and one of the ambulance passengers fell on the street. All the other cars started honking in protest and instead of stopping to help the victims they began to drive around the accident. I was left with my mouth open for a while. I couldn’t help since the ambulance was surrounded by cars. I decided to walk away and have breakfast anyway before packing my bags for my return flight. On the way to the hotel, I did not see any more accidents. But ambulance sirens continued to be heard throughout the city. They did not stop coming and going with all the serious or minor accidents that were happening all the time. I took a taxi that I had called by phone on my own account, which, when it arrived, honked several times until I boarded it. Another weird custom here. The Dolarcitos whistled non-stop until the people they were waiting for arrived. They looked like children who had been given one of these rattle toys that make noise when shaken or squeezed. On the road back to the airport leaving the city, I witnessed a horrific scene. Some vans belonging to what appeared to be the local police were stopped. There were bloodstains and I could briefly see that we passed some long sacks that were shaped like corpses. The funny thing is that there was no one else except the armed Dolarcitos. The crowd was ahead. They were surrounding what was a dog carcass. The death of the animal moved them more than that of their relatives next to it. During the take-off, I took one last look down at the city and the surrounding region that was shrouded in a thick smog of pollution. Slowly, little by little it disappeared from my sight as if it never existed.

*A common name for a cartel.

Boris Differ

Boris Differ (France) is a writer and an academic. Holds a doctorate in Modern History. His academic and literary work is concerned with the history of Mexico and its modern problems.

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