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Dirty Pieces of Silver


I cannot get you out of my mind.

It’s the first day of February. The weather is magnificent in El Salvador at this time of year. The gardens are full of bougainvillea and orange trumpet flowers under clear blue skies.

Orange trumpet flowers on thorns

Orange trumpet flowers on thorns

I cast my eyes on you under the sinking sun. The exhausting heat of day subsides. It’s my favourite time in the tropics when temperatures induce tranquillity and prompt contemplation. But I don’t feel at peace. Your body is spread lifeless in grey work clothes, sprawled on the hard earth like one crucified.

The police cordon warns everyone to avoid the area; cars are forced to use one lane of the road that enters the busy roundabout. Within the yellow ribbon you are left alone. No one is allowed to approach because it’s a crime scene. The silence of the onlookers and the distance between us and your dead body is eerie.

Normally when I pass this spot, women are making tortillas; children and dogs and students and buses and cars and taxi cabs and workmen are in endless motion in front of the timber kiosks; it’s a chaotic stream of perpetual activity. Not today.

You were 18 and came from Olocuilta; a country boy looking to improve your life in the city. I am old enough to be your grandfather.

I understand that you were a carpenter and on your way to the bus stop after leaving your work site. The time of your death and the nature of your occupation remind me of a past event. In the aftermath of that crucifixion people were eager to make His life known. I have an anxious urge to act on your death and not let it pass. Your young life is worth too much to me.

They demanded money from you in the morning; you did not give in. For your audacity, they waited for you to return. They are called pandilleros or drug-traffickers.

I never saw the culprits who pulled the triggers. But I can identify those that killed you. They come from the Ireland. They come from the USA and the UK and Europe. They come from the developed West. They look like ordinary people and behave in ways they consider civilised; they would never soil their hands in such a messy act of murder.

They would be shocked to see what a bullet could do to a young life. But, they contribute scruples of metal to the movement of cocaine northwards. Those scruples became the bullets that entered your precious body.

They exonerate themselves in clichés – like freedom. They claim to be free to take the stuff for fun. And for them there is no right or wrong. Someone else or something else is always to blame for any consequence: prohibition; pushers; transporters; gangs that fight among themselves in barbaric countries south of the Rio Grande.

They deny sin; that is an outdated word. But there is no other word. Your spilt blood is a grave sin on their souls, committed by their dirty pieces of silver that initiated your demise.

Raymond M. Keogh

In memory of Julio Alberto Pérez Ordóñez, whose young life expired on El Paseo General Escalon, San Salvador on 1st February 2012.

When Julio was killed the average number of homicides per day in El Salvador was 11

When Julio was killed the average number of homicides per day in El Salvador was 11












First published online on Good Friday 29/April/2013.