—Translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis
There were five of us, the Tutti Fruttis: Tarabeo, Muñeco, Duque, Píldora, and yours truly, this humble servant, people call me—or, I’m called—Hobbit. I say we were five, and we still are. Because what could happen hasn’t gone down yet, if it’s really what’s coming. Together forever? Like the five senses or five fingers of a hand or the lines that form a pentagram? Better yet: five treacherous males full of hormones, pushing arrogance to the edge, moving forward in the world.
Tarabeo (a.k.a. Dino-Rex, Rexona, Táraz, Taras Bulba), Duque (a.k.a. Nobleza, Dux, Kilbeggan), Muñeco (Ken, Kento, Chucky, Mi-Lindo, Baby-Boy), Píldora (Pildo, Piluli, Pilulo, Dora, Dorila, Gorila), and me, Hobbit (Bobbi, Hobbo, Job, Bitto): we were a tight group back in those school days. And still are. More or less.
Our crew’s name changed over time. It must have been in second or third grade that Píldora, Muñeco, and Duque started it all, anoint- ing themselves the Apache Trio. They sealed their pact with blood and a hymn that established three core tenets. One, the Apaches were macho. Two, the Apaches were friends. Three, the Apaches stayed united to defeat their many enemies.
Though they called themselves a trio, they had nothing to do with music; it only meant there were three. Plus, “Apaches” wasn’t meant as a reference to Native Americans, and was only indirectly inspired by that other group, which had used the moniker, in the brawling criminal underworld of the belle epoque. The name was something of an accident, even if later there were more elegant accounts of where it came from.
I for one believe the version where the three of them, Chucky, Dux, and Piluli, were watching TV in His Majesty Duque’s mansion when his mom came in to say goodbye before leaving for an adult costume party. Píldora and Muñeco had always lost sleep over this woman, who was very beautiful, and I suppose Duque did too, even though he was her son, or maybe because of this more than anything. His mom’s name was Betty, and she was very young. Her name is still Betty, and she’s still young in spite of her age, a full-on cougar Barbie who looks younger than Duque himself thanks to the miracles of Botox and macrobiotics. That night, the rich and beautiful Betty explained to the boys that she was dressed as a Parisian gangster, that is, an Apache: brimmed hat tilted to the side, black hair smoothed into a lustrous ponytail, bandanna around her neck, the lethal zarin blade at her belt, and, above all, a vest so tight it showed off her waist and spectacular breasts, which left the kids stunned and wide eyed. If that’s how the Apache ladies were, then that’s what they wanted to be. Apaches. The Apache Trio.
Táraz joined later on, then I did a few years later. I was the last one, and I still don’t know how, against all evidence, I ended up linked to them; for now, enough to say that when I arrived, the Apache thing had already started sounding naive and easy to make fun of, and, in fact, we got called the Apapaches—Spoiled Boys—as well as the Mapaches—Raccoons. That’s when we held a meeting and decided to change our name to something lighter, closer to the sarcastic, mocking, prepubescent mood in which we found ourselves. Tutti Fruttis won by simple majority and has stuck to this day. With luck, and barring disaster, it’ll last even longer.
The source of that term, “Tutti Frutti”? Nothing fancy, just the opposite: fruit candies, chewy and sweet, very popular, sold by street vendors at the school entrance, along with assorted gum, chips, raisin boxes, and Cocosette wafers. Sweet memories of childhood—or, at least, bittersweet ones, when they’re not bitter all the way through.
I say I was the last to join the Apaches and that the circumstances were improbable: if there was anyone who didn’t have what it took, it was me. In fact, I’d been going through the ringer with them, especially Muñeco and Tarabeo; they looked down on me and I hated them. We were oil and water. They were partyers, troublemakers, and hot tempered, while I was neurotic, petulant, and aloof. They were popular, outgoing, the center of attention; I was a hermit who let almost no one in.
In spite of all the disagreements, all our differences, I was admit- ted into their quartet, which then became a quintet. Since I loved reading and spent my time shut into a room with books and video games and movies, at first my new associates saddled me with hurt- ful nicknames like the Old Guy, Raris, and even Rosito, because of a certain unfortunate day when I made the mistake of giving our social studies teacher a rose. I put up with it, to belong. I was set free by The Lord of the Rings.
Thanks to that book, the others decided to call me Hobbit. I, the hobbit, a small man happy to live in a comfortable hole, who hated leaving it. Of course. Yes. I felt utterly like a hobbit, and though this name also had its stinger, it suited me, never felt degrading. I had such a good time shut into my cave that I saw, in myself, a very hobbit-like calling. And that’s how I am to this day, sometimes proudly, other times less so.
I, Hobbit. Translator. Interpreter.
I, Hobbit. The filter, the infiltrated.
Maybe that’s why I don’t speak up or complain.
They are all still what they were back then, and I basically stay true to my own way; the only difference is that before, we hated each other, and now we get along.
We went from hating each other to forming a pact almost without being aware of it. My urban look, my striking height, my tae kwon do moves, and my impressive speed all worked in my favor. But the turning point was when, during recess, Muñeco and I busted the arm of a certain Hernández boy, also known as Hernia, who was three years ahead of us and who bullied younger kids. In a classic bruiser move, Hernia had blocked the bathroom door so neither Muñeco nor I could get out—we just happened to be the two in there. For one terrible moment, Hernia held us prisoner and we were at his mercy. That’s when it happened: we sprang into action, Muñeco and me, enemies until that moment and suddenly made allies in the battle for escape—a de facto brotherhood, the scrambling of a couple of cubs fighting for their lives. In less than ten minutes, three of Hernia’s arm bones were broken.
Muñeco was the one with strength and fury, but I trained daily in tae kwon do. He knew enough to admit it: if not for me, he wouldn’t have been able to defeat such a vicious older rival. So we walked away friends, and at the end of the school day we celebrated with slushies at Abelucho’s (he’s dead now, Abelucho, but back then he was alive, though very old).
I have to admit I was reasonably happy in my high school years, and I have warm memories of the English-style grounds and fancy brick buildings of Quevedo Prep. I can’t deny that I read my most beloved books in the school library, that I had at least three truly excellent teachers, that the friends I made there are the closest I’ve had, and that, if, back then, I was a Tutti Frutti, I’m still a Tutti Frutti now, me, the introvert who won’t join any clubs whether social or athletic, nor any church or religious sect, nor a political party, nor academy, me, the loner, a die-hard bachelor with no house of his own, nor car, nor Ikea furniture, who hasn’t even gotten himself health insurance.
I’m stateless, really; I have no family life, and aside from my memory of Cousin Damián and my love for my sister, Eugenia, who lives far away, there’s only one bond that matters: the one I’ve had since childhood, that saw me through adolescence, that still holds meaning. My crew, my cult, my posse. The Tutti Fruttis.
Our group emblem, which I designed—since Detroit, I’ve been good at drawing—is an image of five wild, crowned wolves against a cobalt-blue background, piled on each other, close enough to fit inside a triangle, though the fifth and last wolf, which is me, only fits halfway. And around this lupine pack, on a ribbon, what was the motto, also chosen by me, the avid reader, hobbit, bookworm? Inspired by “One for all and all for one,” I sealed the deal for the Tutti Frutti quintet: “One for Tutti and Tutti for Frutti.”
All for all and five for five, that’s how it is and that’s how our bond will be, unless we’re hit by some unforeseen disaster. And if it’s unforeseen, no one will know it’s coming and be able to avoid it, not even Alicia, however witchy she might feel. No one. Maybe Muñeco. He’s the only one who might, given what he tweets here and there.
Someone more observant than us would see warning signs, an announcement of horror, the flap of panic, like when he wrote, Who cares about my lack of self-control?
Muñeco’s out of control—of course he is, but that’s always been his most admirable quality: his over-the-top partying, his easy affection, and that spontaneous cunning of his that makes him shine without effort. But this much is clear: egomania always grows and balloons until it bursts. Who cares about my lack of self-control? That’s Muñeco, admitting that he can’t find the will to refuse his own ego’s demands.
Although, deep down, I don’t think he’s bad. I’d stick my hand in fire for him—or almost. I’d do it, I’d put it in, I swear I would, I’ll risk it for Muñeco. Or I would risk it, if it weren’t for those tweets of his. And even then.
It’s not possible that Muñeco will end up being a monster in the long run, because he’s one of us. One more Tutti Frutti, no more no less, a Quevedo Prep alum. With his weirdness and his nonsense, but who doesn’t have some of that? Underneath it all, he’s a well-loved dude, an awesome and good-looking guy, the same as or better than anyone else.
Let no one dare think that Muñeco, with his killer looks and style—that’s why we call him Ken, Kento, Muñeco, or Mi-Lindo—is hiding another self inside, a self that belongs to him, that is him, but answers to its own inner code. Too internal a code. Questionable.
Just like us, from a sociological perspective Muñeco is a relatively bad guy. Relatively. But it’s worth asking whether behind the relative bad, another more absolute one might be hiding. Behind the bad we tolerate, could there be an intolerable one, lying in wait?
We probably should have raised the alarm after that other tweet came soon after: The demon inside me is coming out. It’s true that when we were teens we worshipped the way Muñeco threw himself into extreme partying. That would have kept being true except we all became adults and Muñeco’s wild benders—so cool when he was a bright-haired Adonis—started seeming stale and sad when we talked about it behind his back: What the hell, man, Muñeco just won’t grow up. And also: Man, for real, Muñeco seemed kind of off when I saw him, he keeps rattling out the same gossip like a broken record. Or: Man, what the fuck, last Thursday Muñeco showed up at my office without telling me and he was already lit, our Ken is turning into an alcoholic.
“Shit, the company’s going to can him.” “No way, his mother owns the place.”
Now that Muñeco is going around saying he’s got an inner demon, maybe we should take him seriously: maybe he’s really knock- ing on the doors of hell.
We’ve been crossing the line ever since those creepster-phone-call nights: him out there, under the influence of a sickly moon, and me here inside, sheltered by my routines and sheets.
God, life’s a bitch. My heart hurts and I don’t know why.
Muñeco’s gotten tired of ordinary pleasures, they’re too weak for him, he’s looking for new and more intense sensations with some crazy gang of insomniacs. Meanwhile, I’m in here, curled up in my shell, safe and sound. So why? Why does it feel like an ominous wind from the streets is sliding under my door?
I can’t stop wondering whether, deep down, Muñeco is just the forceful sum of us all. The creepsters are two, and the smaller one looks like you. It looks like you, and you, and you, and under the surface it’s identical to me. Muñeco lets us look at ourselves, as if in a mirror, the carnival kind that distorts you and makes you monstrous while still reflecting who you really are.
I’m doing what I can. The whole confused string of bad omens, full of uncertainties and anxieties—am I dreaming, or remembering? Am I living a premonition? Or am I repeating what I’ve seen, casting actual events in the colors of what hasn’t yet happened and is about to go down. Out of the blur come random phrases, unanswered questions, unquestioned answers. Shapes in a mosaic that synthesize for an instant, then immediately dissolve. I’m chasing our histories like someone trying to catch fish with his hands.
From The Divine Boys by Laura Restrepo. Used with the permission of the publisher, Amazon Crossing. Copyright © 2020 by Laura Restrepo.