Under the blue tarpaulin
It was the time of evening when the sky starts to turn dark and the air begins to have a slight chill. We were walking down la Quinta towards the small side street where we have our weekly prevention activity with between 40-60 children.
Normally as we approach the last corner, we are greeted by a hoard of children running towards us arms open shouting our names and ready for hugs.
Today we were only halfway towards our usual spot when that same group of children came running and jumping!
They stopped us in our tracks and after initial, and rather rushed, greetings and hugs I noticed that there was police tape across the street to the left. Before I could finish asking what happened they all told us at once that a man was dead. Pointing they showed us the spot where he lay beneath some blue tarpaulin. A chill ran up my spine, but I was not as shocked as I perhaps would have been two years ago. Sad yes, I hope there will never be a day where something like this does not make me sad. But, you do become desensitised and that explains my lack of shock at the situation and sight before me.
We took the children hand in hand and walked away, down to our usual spot. Of course, I am used to seeing children without parents, but it hurt me to think that these children were left so unsupervised as to see things like this alone. That there was no one but us to take them away from it.
Throughout the duration of our activity we heard different version of what happened. One boy told us he had been a drunk and simply drank himself to death that day. Another told us that he was shot in the head. Sadly, both could be true. La Terminal is a place filled with depravity and immorality, along with that comes alcohol abuse and violence. It is easily believable that the man beneath the plastic sheet had drank so much that he had simply died in the street. And unfortunately, it is just as believable that he had been involved in the kind of life that had landed him getting shot dead.
I asked how old the man was, and a little voice responded, ‘oh he was old, he was 25.’ Well, firstly if 25 is old I am passed it. Secondly, I hope that this child simply, like most children, just thinks all adults are old. But the truth is that 25 might be considered quite old in this context. I imagine the average life expectancy is much lower than we would care to think in this specific context.
I felt sad for this man, who I am going to say was young, a life ended far too soon either by violence or alcohol abuse. Either way his life can not have been easy for one of those options to have been his end. But the thing that really gets to me is the normality of it for the children. They did not seem phased or disturbed by the dead body lying only meters away, covered with grotty plastic. They spoke of it so openly, so normally as if we were talking about what they did that day at school. How sad that the context they live in has meant that death as a result of violence and murder or extreme alcohol abuse is just something that happens. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair. My childhood certainly didn’t involve things like this, death and loss yes, but not this.
I wish I could write that it was the first dead body I have seen here, but it is not and as much as it pains me to say it, I imagine it will not be the last.
I can’t change everything about the context these children grow up in. I wish I could, but I will keep on trying to little by little help these children know that their futures do not have to be defined by events of their pasts or even their presents.
I hope that experiences like these make them stronger and make them not want to end up like that poor man. I hope that transformation comes to La Terminal and all the people there. Because I know that life can be different.