José Pérez Reyes – In Hock
The narrator wakes up tired. He feels airy, but then he always does – and he also feels like he has lost his soul. He recently sold his vote in an unspecified election in Asunción, Paraguay, and the money he received has done nothing to assuage his guilt. José Pérez Reyes' In Hock (trans. Jethro Soutar) is concerned with the stifling atmosphere of dictatorship and oppression, and how it numbs the youth, forcing them to fight or flee. Too many choose to flee, including the narrator, which means the dictatorship stays in place and nothing really changes.
The narrator describes things well. The first girl he slept with he calls a “carnal cloud”, tying his descriptive language into the general theme of feeling “airy”. Pérez Reyes's implication is that, for the young people of Paraguay, they leave or they feel “airy”, which is to say they float, unconnected to anything, disassociated from their country and time.
Nothing changes, people still want to get out of the country as soon as they can. No one stays.
The narrator waits for a bus to take him to the passport office, where he will get a passport and then, maybe one day (he isn't particularly clear on this point), leave. To Spain, where he will fit in, and not to America, where he knows he won't. But this ambition is vague and ill-defined, and we aren't all that sure it will happen. The narrator has lost his motivation in life, he's become deadened and listless by the lack of possibility in his life. The bus doesn't arrive but a taxi does, driven by a friend who is rather passive aggressive in his attitude regarding people who leave Paraguay. He tells the narrator stories that have a well-worn feel to them, as though they've been polished from thousands of tellings to hundreds of bored passengers. One story deals with an old man who asked to be taken to the airport:
We had quite a stretch to travel so I just left him to it. I remember I even found some calm music on the radio, to stop the sound of the traffic giving him a sudden fright. In the end it was me who had the fright. We got to the airport entrance where the dictatorship used to have a police checkpoint, to make sure not just anybody flew out of the country. Those were the days of real repression, siege by state decree, and only the lucky ones were allowed out.
The bulk of the story is made up of the conversation between the two, or rather, the taxi driver telling the narrator what he thinks. Interspersed throughout are the narrator's thoughts, and they are unformed, negative, wistful and without hope – but not despairing. Things aren't good and they aren't going to get better, but that's the way of it. The narrator's attitude is to shrug his shoulders and carry on.
Putting your future in hock with an ad hoc pledge to leave the country.
A pledge, an urge, a longing, a hankering, a yearning, a whim. I play with the words in my head.
In hock, ad hoc, ham hock. Flying pig migration.
In Hock is a story of futility. Perhaps the narrator will leave Paraguay, but it seems unlikely. Sure, he is on his way to get a passport, but he never really seems particularly concerned whether he actually manages to get one or not, or how exactly he will leave if he does. If it happens, it happens. If not, not. The futility of Paraguay has infused the bones of the narrator – he has no ambition nor desire to be anything other than airy. In Hock at times seems like a diaphonous story, one destined to leave one's mind as soon as it has entered, but it's air of breezy wistfulness commands a certain level of attention, encouraging the reader to recognise that not all “bad things” in the world require (or engender) staunch resistance. Sometimes – many times – the active youth, the struggling middle and working classes, the ordinary people – sometimes they just worry about getting by, and they sell their votes to the ruling party, and they feel their soul is lost, but it's gone now and they don't know how to get it back, or if they need it. Pérez Reyes understands that the Che Guevara-style resistance, or the Hollywood-esque confrontations, are rarely what occurs in real life. Sometimes everybody just gives up, but wish they hadn't.
In Hock by José Pérez Reyes is a short story from Words Without Borders' January 2011 edition, The Work Force issue. All of the work reviewed is freely available online.
Other stories from the Words Without BordersJanuary 2011 edition, The Work Force issue include:
---Pradelli, Ángela - The Bather