Account Settled

Tomás Lima, the wisest man in my neighborhood, told me one day when I was a boy, we all bring a debt with us at birth. The only purpose of life is to pay it back. I didn’t understand, then, the meaning of his words and issued no opinion, I limited myself to a shrug of the shoulders.

Time passes and today, I don’t know why, I remembered his sentence. Valdés, who worked with me for seven years without ever even saying good morning, shot off his fat mouth: “Today I got up against all the debts. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are moral or material.” I didn’t know what to answer, and he continued: “The material don’t worry me, because sooner or later I pay them, even with interest, and that’s that.

“The ones that taunt me are the moral, because they don’t seem to ever be paid. They get tangled up in your feet, climb your legs, squeeze your testicles, wrap around your waist, squeeze your chest and, if you let them, they wrap around your neck and strangle you. They are snakes. The important thing is not to let them get to your neck.”

I looked at him strangely. What was that rant about? Nothing less than a fast and I haven’t eaten!

“Yes,” continued Valdés, “the first doubt is what they say we have with God, because Adam ate the apple Eve gave him, who in turn listened to the snake. I don’t give a crap for this debt! This debt is not mine! Let Adam and Eve pay it, if God doesn’t have the balls to claim it, that’s his problem! Let him sell it to the bank and you’ll see them collecting on it!”

He paused. He looked at the people who were starting to gather around.

“There is another they want to charge to me,” he said, “the one I have with my parents for giving me life. That was already paid, before I was born, by the pleasure they experienced in conceiving me! Account settled!”

By now there were more than ten people around Valdés. I meant to tell him to shut up, to get back to his work, but I let him continue.

Valdés, not addressing anyone, continued, “There are also debts to society. If it gives me education, health care, work, etc. that was its job. If not, what is society for? And what’s more, with education I’m the one who wore myself out studying, the doctor never comes (I think society owes me a debt), and as for work, I put in the effort and they only pay me for a part of it. The rest they appropriate, saying that it’s for the collective welfare and general enjoyment. So there I’ve paid for my education and medical care. Account settled! Every day I am more convinced that it is society that owes me.”

He looked at me and continued, “Not they say I have a debt to Africa, to Latin America and finally with humanity. What debts are these? As far as I know, no one in my family had slaves nor exploited slave labor. Nor did anyone use anything from Latin America, or ask for or borrow anything. Still less with humanity: that’s something very generic. If it’s really the case that all these debts are mine, better not to live.”

A murmur ran through the crowd which had grown to twenty people. I tried to signal to Valdés that he should shut up and get back to work. He didn’t notice or refused to understand.

He continued, “I shit on all these debts that aren’t mine. Let those whose debts they are pay them. From today I am against all debts.”

Then he sat down on the wooden box next to his machine, put his elbows on his knees and clutched his head in his hands. We were all silent.  The group of onlookers slipped away. Only I stayed with him.

For some minutes it seemed that he didn’t notice. Then, as if he’d discovered something, he raised his head a bit and looked up and said, “Did I talk too much shit?”

I didn’t answer. I stayed quiet for a few moments and, for some reason, those reasons in life you can never explain, I put my arm around his shoulders and muttered, “Sometimes you just have to do it!”

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