Before Noon: Life and Death in a Throwaway Culture

7:15 in the morning, leaving in a hurry for work, I recite a prayer before exiting my house because there’s no certainty that I’ll return. I say good morning to neighbors while walking, thinking of my agenda for the day.

Down the road, I see Carlos, sitting on his porch. He’s wearing a yellow swimsuit today. He approaches and greets me, as always, with a smile.

“Good morning,” he says, “I hope you’re well!”

And I respond in kind.

I stop for a second, to look at him, because he seems thoughtful this morning, worried maybe. Alongside him sit his two skinny dogs.

Carlos is a young man, maybe eighteen years old. I can’t tell you his age for sure, but I know that he has no mother and father. He lives with his aunt and three female cousins who also lost their mother and father. Their small familial circle is the poorest in the community. Moreover, they all suffer some degree of mental impairment—Carlos included. He doesn’t know how to read or write. At his age, he cannot find work. He runs errands for the family and occasionally takes odd jobs that might earn him a few cents here and there—money he uses to help feed his cousins. Carlos and his family sit at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. They are the poorest, the most destitute, the most excluded, marginalized, and forgotten. Still, Carlos greets his neighbors with a smile and his cousins with a hug.

I know, because I’ve spent some time with Carlos and his family.

9:00AM, while at work, a gunshot rings out not too far away. It’s a weapon of a heavy caliber, as they say on the news. The sound reverberates, but my body is paralyzed—my heart races. Fear runs through my bones.

Another shootout, I think, like the night before. Like the one two days ago as well. A thought comes to my mind—a hope that they have not killed any innocent people this time. Please.

Ten minutes later, the rumors begin to spread like wildfire. People share the news that is the saddest and, at this point, quite common—someone has been killed. They murdered a boy.  My heart stops.

“Who?” I ask.

“They killed Carlos.”

They say those who see everything never see anything. He was coming from the mill where someone had paid him to make masa. Walking along the train tracks, he died after he was shot nineteen times in the chest. On the side of the tracks opposite Carlos’s body laid the spilled crate of masa that he was carrying. The site of another life taken by a vast structure of violence. This time, a boy. Another life reduced to nothing.

12:00, noon, the body still has not been collected. I go to the home of the grieving family. There, I find his orphaned cousins and his aunt. The house is humble—nothing to eat, nowhere to sit. I stand at the doorway, unsure of what to say. Without thinking, I dare to utter the stupidest possible question.

“How are you all?”

The girls greet me with hugs and smiles. I suspect they haven’t come to grips with the situation. Or maybe they just understand it far better than I do. Carlos’s cousin has a baby in her arms.

All I can think to say is “I’m so sorry.” A long silence follows.

Tears begin to fall, and soon we’re all crying.

How does one offer comfort when there is no comfort? We simply hug, in silence. There is nothing to say.

It’s certain that the death of Carlos will not make the news. The media won’t cover it, because Carlos’s life was one that did not count. He was not born into a “good” family or a renowned neighborhood. His life was not newsworthy. He was, at once, the child of no one and the product of everyone.

Just like the five other people killed in the marginal community of La Chacra in the five days leading up to this shooting, Carlos’s murder will not make the news. In this community, now home to three different gangs, violence is common—neither the lives nor deaths of anyone in this poor neighborhood are considered newsworthy by anybody. Paradoxically, the media has been reporting a drop in homicides in recent days.

I share this to put into perspective something that is happening in our communities. I do so as an act of desperation, not knowing what to do with all of the pain and suffering.

Wendy Torres has a degree in international relation, leads a parish family catechesis program, and coordinates a water filtration program at Maria Madre de los Pobres Parish in El Salvador.