Sergio Ramírez served as vice-president of Nicaragua from 1985-1990. A former supporter and leader of the Sandinista block that removed Anastasio Somoza from office, Ramírez joined the Government Junta of National Reconstruction after the 1979 Revolution as head of the National Education Council before he was elected vice-president. His first book Cuentos was published in 1963. “After I was elected, 10 years passed without writing a word,” he says. “I was absorbed by the revolution, and then ruling the country. But I realized that if I continued without writing, I was lost forever.” His started writing a novel based on the true story of a serial killer who made headlines 50 years ago.
“Shakira and the Fly,” which was first published in 2007 by Alfaguara, is also based on an actual account. “The boy ran away from his home in Estelí to pursue his dream of meeting Shakira in Miami, thousands of miles away from Nicaragua,” Ramírez says. “I read about it the papers, and preserved it knowing I had a short story there.”
The piece has been translated by John Washington, a Los Angeles-based fiction writer currently editing (with Daniela Ugaz) Antología de Cuentos Migratorios, an anthology of 20 translated stories (including “Shakira and the Fly”) about migration from Central America and Mexico.
— Sharmila Venkatasubban
Bowled over by a blind will to meet Shakira, to meet her in person, you’d hardly believe this child´s passion, a child of a mere 12 years who only yesterday was still crawling on all fours, taking off without a cent, carrying nothing but the clothes on his back, to chase his dream, meet his love, hoping, as he wrote in the note he left, to get to Miami where Shakira lives, as if, such impudence, she were waiting for him at the door of her mansion, Dearest mother, be informed, he wrote, that I’m going far away, so don’t search for me, I’m going for Shakira, Most Sincerely, your son, The Fly, yes, this is the nickname they gave him in school, which he came to like, The Fly, Mexican authorities repatriated the minor Raymundo Mario Calderón López, who departed from Nicaragua at the end of the previous year, without authorization from his mother, without any legal documentation, on his way to the United States with the intention of meeting the renowned Colombian singer Shakira, what a fright when I called him in the morning, while washing up, I yelled from the outdoor bathroom that it was time to get up, if you could only see him, the lazybones he always was in the morning, lazy about his homework too, but then, you guessed it, quick to speak the name Shakira, always Shakira, Shakira his eternal conversation, poor people that we are the boy slept in a little hammock in the shed where we keep the firewood and where, I can´t afford another room, a scorpion once stung him, so I call him like I always do that it’s time to get up but he doesn’t answer and I think, the little rogue, and then I yell at him, What are you deaf?, you got to go for the milk while I´m still washing up, get the pail, the money is right next to it, but then something seemed wrong, a hunch, a mother’s heart seeing through the walls, because normally at this hour Shakira’s already singing on his battery-powered radio, that thing he whined and whined for and I bought him by paying Salim the Turk cent by cent, mom, my life has no meaning without her voice, a child, oh my, and I wondered, is it normal that a child should rave like that for a woman´s love, the silence told me something was wrong, while still wet, I put on my robe, put on my slippers and nothing, the little hammock empty, swinging in the breeze, the radio gone, too, Oh Jesus, I was frozen there not knowing what to do and then I saw it, a paper under a stone right underneath the little hammock, I’m going far so don’t search for me, it would be useless, it’s my destiny, I’m going for Shakira, the child, 11 years old, succeeded in crossing the borders of four countries by various means of transport, arriving in the city of Tapachula in the Mexican state of Chiapas where migration officers apprehended him and transported him to a detention center for minors where he remained for nearly three months, so I fly out the door, crazed, not even locking up on the way out and I run, but run where, Holy Mother, Chicho, who lost an eye in a bar brawl and runs the corner store, tells me he saw him pass by at dawn when he was just opening the shop, and I ask, which way, towards the highway, he says, his radio held up to his ear listening to a Shakira song, what news, I tell my anguished soul, a Shakira song in his ear, and I reach the highway and cross right in front of the bus station, and of course my comadre Susana is in her spot at the door, offering bread-and-butter and coffee with milk to the waiting passengers, ay! Comadre, look what´s happened to me, the Fly wasn’t in his bed this morning, ah! she says, he did pass through the station early this morning, ¡well, well, what are you doing up so early, errands for your mother, I asked, but no, he said, I’m going to catch a bus to Honduras, Honduras, I said like teasing him, and what are you going to do in Honduras, I’m going to try to catch a bus to Miami, oh-ho, so you’ve got a long trip ahead of you, yes, pretty long, I’m going where Shakira lives, oh, well then have a good trip, I told him, but don’t worry comadre, it’s just a childish fantasy, he must be around somewhere, but how could I not worry, I know what kind of a son I have, a child infatuated with an adult woman, so I didn’t linger, I went right into the station to ask if the bus to Honduras had already left, there are two buses, the ticketman told me, one that goes through El Espino en route to Choluteca and another that goes through Las Manos en route to Tegucigalpa, and both of them have already left, okay, so tell me, I said, my knees starting to shake, did you see a little boy get on one of those buses all by himself, of course I saw him, he said, it was The Fly, the Shakira fanatic, which bus, I asked, my heart coming up my throat, he took the bus to Choluteca, but how did he get on the bus if he didn’t have a penny to pay for fare, well, the driver, Fernando, he’s also a Shakira fan, he collects posters of her just like The Fly, and is always blasting her songs, but, may I ask you ma’am, what is it with you and The Fly, I’m his mother, Agents from the Nicaraguan Ministry of the Family, learning of the situation of the young boy, conferred with their counterparts from the Mexican government to put in effect the necessary actions to complete the repatriation, which, after multiple setbacks due to consular difficulties, was realized yesterday by air transport, the boy arriving in the country on an evening flight with Taca Airlines, I went to the police, they called the border crossing at El Espino but the bus had already gone through, don’t worry mother, the police woman told me, he can´t go far with no food or money, and especially without papers, and I thought, a passport, my soul! when we can hardly put food in our mouths, so are you going to file charges against this driver Fernando, for kidnapping a minor, the police woman asked while she was already loading the sheet into the typewriter, I hesitated, then said, let me talk to him first since the ticketman told me he’d be back tonight and who knows, maybe by then my kid will have had enough of this adventure and just as he left, he’ll return on that same bus, as you please ma’am, the officer said, and I went home and picking up a broom I started to sweep the floor, just to do something, lunch I didn’t touch, the mere thought of food made me sick, my stomach so languished I couldn´t even drink, and by seven that night I was back in the bus station waiting for this Fernando whose bus didn’t show up until nine, are you Fernando, I asked him, what can I do for you, he said, he was short and chubby, with a pockmarked face, his long untucked shirt like a robe swung in front of him when he walked, making him look like a punching toy, tell me about my son, the boy known as The Fly, I said, well look, he said, he asked me to give him a ride to Choluteca and once we got there he disappeared, you rascal, I thought, watching his cunning face, a snigger hiding behind his lips, wanting to punch it off his face, well you’re mistaken if you think you’re going to play with me and not tell me the truth, we can just go and fix this at the police station, ma’am don’t tell me you’re going to start a fight because we both know how much a lawsuit costs, he said, affronting me with my own poverty, the imbecile, I only want to know the truth, I told him, I already told you he disappeared once we got to Choluteca, well I have information that you too are a fanatic of this woman Shakira and whenever you see my son the two of you prattle on about her, I wouldn’t say I’m a fanatic, I just happen to like her voice, just like I like Selena’s voice, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to take a pilgrimage to her grave, well my son right now is taking a pilgrimage in search of Shakira and it’s your fault, I said, and then whipped around, but at the end he must have felt some pity because he caught up with me, ma’am, he said, you don’t need worry yourself so much because if he was able to cross the border without papers it’s only because he was with me, but now there’s no way he’s going to get across Honduras, so, you’ll see, he’ll be back soon, The minor, 11 years old, originally from the community of San Luis de Los Andes, municipality of San Juan de Limay, is the son of a rural schoolteacher who moved to Estelí when her husband left her for another woman and, since there was no teaching vacancy in town, she made her living selling cigarettes, gum and candy on the streets, where else was I going to go, I went back to the police station, the officer told me I could file a special warrant for my son but the paperwork would take a while to go through, she asked me if I had a photograph of the missing to include with the warrant, no, I’d never taken a picture of him, and saying so I started to cry, not even having a photograph to remember him, well, mom, why don’t you go to the Ministry of the Family delegation, and so I went, but it takes time, they told me again, we have to write petitions to the proper authorities in each of the countries he could be passing through, and so I left, and back out on the street with the sun burning down my head, I realized that even if the pain blew me over I couldn’t just sit back and wait because who was going to take care of me, so I was back out on the street with my tray of goodies for sale, Delegate Martha Emilce Castillo of the Ministry of the Family in the city of Estelí, stated by telephone that the minor had a history of truancy and that according to teachers where he matriculated, his record was less than outstanding, and at night there was nothing to console me but going through the little things he had left behind, a spinning top with its yellow string, his little cup and ball toy, a matchbox filled with sand that he used for jacks, shirt buttons he used as betting chips, his school supplies, the rough paper notebooks I lined myself, each with its own label, Grammar, Arithmetic, Geography, and I opened the Geography notebook and there was the map of Colombia neatly drawn in colored pencil, homework, I thought, but no, the huge yellow star right where the map said: Barranquilla, and in block lettering, the words: here you saw the light of the world, oh! this kid, how did he get so crazed, and in the History notebook, under the heading The Glorious Battle of San Jacinto and Andrés Castro´s stoning a marine, a magazine-snipped photo of Shakira stuck with gluestick, and underneath, in the same block lettering: Where are you, love? title of one of your songs, my love, all the notebooks filled with nothing but Shakira, the Arithmetic notebook, the scalene triangle forgetting you is not an easy task, you’ve buried yourself in my body like a knife, the isosceles triangle but all that goes in must come out, all that sinful language, the square of the hypotenuse, tell me lies slap me on the face just improvise, do something really clever that’ll make me hate your name forever, stubborn child, Geography notebook, the rivers of Nicaragua: underneath your clothes there’s an endless story, such a deprived little creature, and so lustful, While in the detention center for minors, as he himself stated while at the airport terminal, the boy was given nothing but fancy restaurant food. “He didn’t get to meet Shakira,” the boy’s mother commented. “But in the suitcase, so he tells me, there are clothes and new shoes that they gave him, and he did put a little meat on his bones.” The mother even found the means to pay for the ride from Estelí and meet him at the airport.
Reprinted with permission by Alfaguara