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Cardboard Heart

by Germán Amatto

translation by Carmen Ruggero

A la versión original

The subway door hisses open. Nahuel, eight years old and his life already spent, drags his feet as he walks among clusters of gaunt passengers. The door closes; the subway grunts and starts.

Nahuel raises his voice and begins his monotone sales pitch: “Unayditaporelamordedió? Alittlehelpfortheluvo’god?”

He shuffles the cards in his hand. Piled-up images of Christ stare at him while pointing to the flaming heart on His chest.

Nahuel begs the passengers for coins; not too many, just enough so that he’ll be fed tonight and not beaten. He makes his way through the crowd of travelers and begins to distribute his cards, leaving one on each unyielding knee.

“Alittlehelpfortheluvo’god,” and he leaves a card.

“Alittlehelpfortheluvo’god,” and he leaves another one, as he does every day of his life.

“Alittlehlp...” and he feels a pull, the pressure of a hand taking hold of him.

“The love of God?” a man, the one whose hand clasps Nahuel, whispers to him. “What are you selling, kid?”

Nahuel tries to pull away, but the man holds him with a grip of steel. He picks up a card and examines it.

“Ah,” he says,” I thought you were too young to understand what the love of a god or any other kind of love means. What’s your name? “

Nahuel does not answer. The passengers around him seem to be asleep. Their faces are ashen. The man moves slowly, like a creeping reptile.

“Where do you live? Who waits for you at home, Nahuelito?” His mouth wide open, as if he were about to laugh... or wail. The subway hauls and takes the curve.

“Don’t be aggressive, kid: we are almost family you know? They put me out, too.” The man sobs and hides his face behind one hand. The other, the left hand, still holds on to Nahuel.

“I tell you, Nahuel, he put me out without cause: my own father, without giving me the chance to redeem myself. Now he rejects me, as your parents have rejected you, and THAT “ he shouts to include all passengers, “that is all anyone can expect from the love of God!”

A tear rolls down his cheek; he stretches the corner of his mouth, and then slowly draws a smile.

The subway shakes vigorously, roars, and takes a curve. A tenuous pink radiance filters through the windows.

“Now I live in my own house,” the man says. “It is not as pretty as the other one, of course, but it is mine, at least. And believe me; nobody is going to throw me out. Not ever.”

The tenuous pink turns crimson and slowly envelops the passengers, Nahuel, and the stranger, who continues to smile.

“My own house was built on pain; only, I share it. Unlike my father, I open my doors to all. Specially to the children who remind me of my childhood: innocent and destitute. I could take you there, if you want to...”

The subway takes a bend. Nahuel trips. The cards fall.

“...and even if you don’t want to!”

All the lights in the train go out. Only the red glow remains; it intensifies, and Nahuel shouts. He shouts because the passengers change under the crimson radiance; he shouts because it reveals their sores, opened scars, and their atrocious deformities. And when he shouts, the passengers wake up; their lips spread in terror and the train is filled with the inhuman cacophony of the lost ones.

The man — but no, he is not a man; that cold, hissing creature could never be a man — leans toward Nahuel: “Now yes, kid! Finally, you are going to enjoy the love of a god.”

Something brutally tears the child’s trousers. Nahuel, eight years of age and already condemned, understands that he’ll never return to request “alittlehelp.”

Spread on the floor, the likenesses of Christ etched on cardboard contemplate the scene, while pointing to his blazing chest with eternal indifference.

Story copyright © 2007 by Germán Amatto
Translation copyright © 2007 by Carmen Ruggero

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