Robert down the right path
ROBERTO DOWN THE RIGHT PATH Rose Marie Tapia R.DEDICATION This work is dedicated to all those who have leapt from darkness to light, to those who are trying to, and very especially, to those have extended their hands for them to cross over. 1 “Don’t move, man; if you breathe, you’re dead!” Luis Carlos felt a metal object on his back. Paralyzed by the impression, he saw how one of the other hoods got behind Susana and was jerking her by her hair, A pointing a pistol at her head. In an attempt tEo control the situation, he asked what they were trying to do. The one that looked like the leader answered him that if he wanted to stay alive, he’d better take out all the money he had in his account and give it to him. Luis Carlos tried to hide the trembling in his hands. He removed the credit card from his wallet and handed it to the guy who started to laugh mockingly. “This love-sick city-slicker thinks we’re stupid. You want to see my face in all the newspapers tomorrow? You do it! Take the money out and bring me the receipt, I want to see it at zero! And careful what you do, we have your little cookie waiting for you,” he said as he rubbed the barrel of the pistol along Susana’s chin. Luis Carlos knew he meant business so he hurried to the automatic teller and withdrew all the cash he had: four hundred dollars. When he handed it over to the guy who was giving the orders, he looked toward the shadows. Suddenly a repulsive looking character emerged, asked for the money and counted it. “Shit-faced city-slickers! They’re broke! You think four hundred dollars is going to pay for all this fuss? We’re just going to have to take your car and your girlfriend. Maybe we’ll give them back to you later, or what’s left of them because I’m going to end this movie you started,” he said and then he laughed grotesquely. “She’s not going anywhere! You can take the car, but she stays with me.” Luis Carlos grabbed Susana by the arm, in an attempt to free her from the delinquent, but suddenly he felt the violent pounding from the other hoods. “What a brave little boyfriend you have, little girl! Let’s see if it’s true. Throw him in the car so he can party too! He’ll probably like it.” And he kept laughing as he opened the door to the car that he considered his. The one who was holding Susana, probably the youngest in the bunch, came forward with his gun aimed at Luis Carlos. “Boss, why we taking extra luggage? You want me to freeze him right here?” His buddy grabbed his arm and gave him an angry look. “Listen here, Tuti, stay cool, man. Remember I came here with you guys to steal, not to kill anybody.” The one who was giving the orders had already started the engine. “If you want to stay here and talk, that’s your problem. If not, then get in the car and let’s get out of here!” he shouted over the noise of the engine. Susana, terrified, couldn’t speak. She was trembling from head to foot when the thugs forced her into the vehicle, together with Luis Carlos. In the middle of the anguish, she felt she was to blame for what was happening. If only she hadn’t insisted on taking out the money, they’d be safe at home now. Probably those hoods would rape her and then kill them both. If she was going to do something, it would have to be now, while the car was still in the city. She looked at the one who was pointing the gun, the one called Tuti; she was sure he was a minor. “Is your name really Tuti? You’re just a kid. Why are you talking about killing?” “Shut up, stupid! That’s why I’m in charge of these little jobs.” Luis Carlos understood how dangerous this boy was, at least what he was risking in the operation. He was in his last year of law school and the professor of Criminology had given them a clear profile of juvenile delinquents. The law left a window open, a loophole that up to a certain age, their crimes would be considered merely administrative offenses, guaranteeing them short sentences that they almost always never completed; and for that reason they were the killers of choice among the gangs that abounded the city. Once more he tried to convince the driver that they weren’t any use to them since they already had the money, and he asked him to let them go, reassuring him that they wouldn’t press charges. “The only ones who don’t press charges are the dead, right, Tuti?” And he laughed again as he lifted a bottle of alcohol they were passing from hand to hand and making obscene remarks. Susana noticed that the car had stopped at a stoplight, and that the driver was distracted adjusting the volume on the radio, which was already blaring. She thought this was the right time to try something, before the hoods reached the outlying poorer neighborhoods. “Help! They’re going to kill us!” she shouted, and in the confusion she tried to get out of the car through the open window, but a blow to the head stopped her momentarily; but she tried again to escape, managing to open the door, but this time Tuti shot her twice in the stomach. Luis Carlos jumped on him, in a rage, but the young thug shot him in the thorax. The force of the shove, together with the acceleration of the car trying to escape the place, caused the three of them to fall to the pavement in a confused embrace. Horns blared from the cars waiting to move, and a group of people started to form around them, without understanding what was happening. Tuti, stunned by the fall, and with the pistol still in his hand, tried to stand up and flee, but someone threw him on the ground and disarmed him. A few minutes later several patrol cars arrived at the scene in a multi-colored display of lights. The police shouted orders to each other and to the crowd of curious onlookers gathered on both sides of the street. One of the agents leaned over Susana’s body and checked for a pulse. When he was sure she was dead, he only shook his head from side to side; and he immediately headed to Luis Carlos. He was about to make the same gesture when he noticed that his face was contorted in pain. “The boy’s alive! Call for an ambulance!” The whine of the siren pulled images from the depths of Luis Carlos’s mind, at a speed as dizzying as the vehicle that carried him. Just one hour earlier, he was driving slowly along Balboa Avenue, contemplating the reflection of the buildings in the dark bay. At his side was Susana, his girlfriend for two years. She was his first love, a case of love at first sight, struck that morning when he saw her climbing the stairs in the Law Building at the university. He asked himself what he liked best about that beautiful girl: perhaps her big cinnamon colored eyes; the mahogany highlights in her straight hair that danced with the slightest breeze; her regal manner; the energetic way she asked for things; her height that surpassed his by one centimeter; or maybe the smile on her lips when she said, ‘I love you.’ In reality, he loved her for each and every one of these reasons, and she was well aware that he ate out of her hands. That’s why, when he said they should leave the discotheque because he was out of money, she, in order to prove once again that this domination wasn’t a figment of his imagination, asked him to go to the ATM machine to take out more money so they could keep on having fun, and when she heard him suggest that it would be better to go home because it was very late, she used all her forces telling him that surely he was bored with her and that was why he no longer wanted to please her. Casting a new shadow of doubt, Susana said she would take a taxi so as not to bore him any longer. Luis Carlos, conquered by his girlfriend’s reasons, soon found himself driving toward the ATM machine of the International Bank on 50th Street. When he stopped in the bank’s parking lot, he told her to lock the doors until he returned. Instead, she followed him, and when he came back to reprimand her, she silenced him with the most passionate kisses, the kind that brought him back to the reality of the sour voice of the attacker that came out of nowhere. Those scenes erased themselves from his mind, and he felt as if he were falling into an abyss toward a tiny light that called him from afar, but he lacked the strength; then he fell into complete darkness. When the paramedics lowered him from the ambulance, Luis Carlos was unconscious. They rushed him to the emergency room of the San Jorge Clinic, and they gave the phone numbers they had found in his wallet the police had rescued from Tuti when they hand-cuffed him. In the wallet there was an affiliate’s card to the San Jorge Clinic, with a message printed, In case of emergency, call my mother Maria Cristina Cortes and then three phone numbers clarifying, house, office, cellular. “Kids today live in such a way that they seem to know that these things could happen at any moment,” the nurse said sadly as she marked the first number on the card. It had become routine, every weekend, the influx of young people wounded for various reasons, something that happened very rarely before, and even more rarely in an exclusive clinic such as San Jorge. Normally, they were automobile accidents that involved some degree of alcohol; they also saw contusions from street fights and like now, gun-shot wounds. Every Friday she gave thanks that she could retire in just two years. Maria Cristina arrived at the San Jorge Clinic, anguish reflected on her face. At the reception desk, they asked her to try to be calm, to sit down a moment until the doctor who was attending her son arrived. She preferred to stand, completing short walks in circles and trying to keep thoughts of funerals from her mind. Maria Cristina was a beautiful woman, beauty that age accentuated; her brown hair emphasized her expressive brown eyes that were a family trait, and even now, when the uncertainty before this tragedy made her bow her head between her shoulders, her exceptional stature made her stand out among other women. Somehow she was able to find the strength to confront adversity, and someone had once suggested that her strength came from the pain that she had learned to endure. She lived in La Cresta, with her son Luis Carlos and with her sister Irma, who, like Maria Cristina, was a widow. Since the time they were little girls, they were inseparable, but when they married, they lived in their own houses, but without losing sight of one another for very long periods. Adolfo, Maria Cristina’s husband, had died of cancer, and as destiny would have it, Irma’s husband died in an automobile accident when they were returning from the Mass given on the first month’s anniversary of his brother-in-law’s death. Maria Cristina waited on her sister during her convalescence, and when she left the hospital, she took her home to spend some time with her. Later she observed how helpful she was in bringing up Luis Carlos, and her visit grew longer. Both of them found reasons to prolong her stay using the excuse that they had promised to stay together, but both knew that the main reason was that Irma had no children, and that the loneliness would kill her. Her sister had rescued her, and she soon knew how to win the love of Luis Carlos, who declared her his favorite aunt. With Irma at her side, Maria Cristina also could recuperate from the pain of losing her spouse. In the ten years that they had been widows, neither had fallen in love again. Irma, at forty-six, and Maria Cristina, at forty-four, were still devoted to the image of the men whom they had loved the most in their lives. “Mrs. Cortes, you need to sign these papers, please.” The nurse extended to her a folder filled with blank lines and numbered articles, all written in very small print. “Before I sign anything, I need to speak with the doctor, miss, and I can’t wait any longer.” At that moment, a doctor dressed in scrubs appeared. He had a worried look on his face that increased the anguish that Maria Cristina was fighting to control since they informed her of the accident. “Doctor, are you attending my son?” “Are you Mrs. Cortes?” “Yes, doctor. I’m Luis Carlos’s mother. Are you attending him?” The doctor leaned against the circular cabinet that enclosed the reception desk, he glanced at the documents the nurse had given him and then looked straight at Maria Cristina. “You have a very strong son. I don’t know how this young man is still alive. They shot him point blank with a high caliber weapon.” Maria Cristina thought she would faint. The person who had called her only said that it was an accident; the shooting was news to her. “But, who hurt him, doctor? How did this happen?” she asked, her voice broken by sobs. “The police say that it was an assault. There was a young woman with him.” “Susana!” “She didn’t make it.” “Ma’am, you have to be strong. Your son needs you and we are doing everything we can to save him. Now please, sign this authorization.” Helpless to contradict anyone, Maria Cristina gave her consent, but not before insisting on seeing her son. The doctor spoke as he headed back to the operating room. “This is not the best time, ma’am, not for him or for you. As soon as the conditions are right, I promise you will be able to see him.” Luis Carlos underwent surgery a little before six in the morning, while his mother prayed without stopping in the waiting room. After her husband’s death, she had distanced herself from God, and now she reproached herself for this. While he had been ill, she had prayed so fervently, that she was convinced that he would survive. However, that didn’t happen, and that strong man she loved so much died before reaching his fortieth birthday. As soon as he had been diagnosed with cancer, Adolfo had given up. He refused the chemotherapy treatments and prepared himself to die. Despite the passage of time, deep down she still resented his having given up without a fight. He had died in this same clinic so the place brought back the worst memories. Irma arrived at six-thirty. When she heard the news about Luis Carlos, Maria Cristina had asked her to go to Police Headquarters to fill out any paperwork they required; then by cell phone, they tried to keep each other’s spirits up, but they were very nervous, but once they saw each other and hugged, they could no longer hold back the tears. “Don’t lose faith, sister. I’m sure that Luis Carlos will fight for his life. He can’t abandon us.” Irma took out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “You’re right. Luis Carlos is going to live.” Irma told her, between sobs, what they had told her at the police station, about Susana’s death, the pain her family was going through, the arrest of the killer, who was a minor, and other details. The two sisters sat in silence, with their eyes glued to the floor, waiting for the results of the surgery. About nine, the doctor came out of the operating room and asked to speak alone with the patient’s mother. “Whatever you have to tell me, you can say it in front of her, doctor,” Maria Cristina said with calmness that she did not feel. “Your son made it through surgery, but he is very weak. This was a critical step, and he passed it, even though the next stage is very delicate.” “But how is he, doctor?” she asked, her eyes clouded with tears. “His situation is very grave, ma’am, but stable under the circumstances. It all depends on what happens in the next few hours.” “Can I see him, doctor?” “I gave the order to let you in as soon as they bring him to the ward, but only for a minute and in silence.” “Thank you, doctor; you don’t know how much I appreciate it. Luis Carlos is my only child and without him, my life would be meaningless.” “I know, ma’am, but you must have faith, don’t cry because everything will turn out okay,” the doctor said as he headed for the hall after making some notes in the file. At that moment, Carmen, Susana’s mother, entered the waiting room. Her disconnected, expressionless countenance revealed how much she had cried. Maria Cristina, without saying a word, hugged her. Carmen could only manage a few words. “My daughter was so young, so pretty. Why do these things happen?” So deep was the pain, the frustration and the impotence reflected in that scene of the three women with their heads together, no one dared to say the slightest word. When Maria Cristina lifted her face, a nurse was standing next to her, waiting to accompany her to the Intensive Care Unit. There, when she saw her son connected to so many tubes and machines, she realized the magnitude of the case, and she had to draw all her strength not to scream. There on the bed, so pale like her husband Adolfo during his last days, Luis Carlos lay with his eyes closed. She drew near and took one of his hands in hers, and she spoke to him soothingly. “Here I am, son, don’t give up. Fight, have faith in yourself, I know you are a fighter. Don’t abandon me because I couldn’t stand it. You are the light that brightens my life. I need you.” Luis Carlos grimaced in pain, and a shudder seemed to move all the tubes that connected him to life. That afternoon, about four-thirty, they allowed her to see her son again. She kissed his hands several times as she spoke words of encouragement, until she noticed that the boy was trying to open his eyes. She raced outside to inform the doctor, who arrived shortly after, surprised because he hadn’t expected the youth to become conscious so quickly. He checked his vital signs and asked her not to speak to him so as not to aggravate his weakness. With a tired gesture, Luis Carlos said he wanted to rest, and he fell back asleep immediately, but not before smiling weakly at his mother. The doctor took Maria Cristina by the arm and led her out of the room. “The danger has not passed, but it’s a good sign that your son is responding faster than expected. However, there is something you must know.” The surgeon paused, searching for the right words so as not to upset her unduly. She saw the doctor’s discomfort. “Please, doctor, don’t keep anything from me.” “Ma’am, the bullet seriously damaged your son’s spinal cord…” “But Doctor! You mean to say…” “I would like to be mistaken, ma’am, but it is possible that your son will never use his legs again.” Maria Cristina was not prepared for this kind of news. The doctor’s hand caught her before she fell. Irma, who was watching the scene from a distance, ran to her sister, who was crying uncontrollably. “Luis Carlos, an invalid? It can’t be! I refuse to believe such an injustice!” she said in between sobs. Irma hugged her and they cried for several minutes. The doctor left them to return to his office. He needed to study the ultrasound because he was hoping that perhaps the radiologist had misinterpreted the results. Once he was at his desk, he asked his assistant to bring him Luis Carlos’s file. He called the radiologist and asked for a meeting to discuss the case. “Are you completely sure that the patient will be paralyzed from the waist down?” “You don’t know how many times I have reviewed the results, and everything points to that conclusion.” “Do you think he can be rehabilitated?” “It all depends on the type of rehabilitation, but that doesn’t mean he will be able to walk.” The doctor got up and looked out at the city from his window. At that hour a misty rain was falling, the somber landscape accentuated the sadness that he felt having to inform the mother of these results. During his many years as a surgeon, Doctor Alvarez had had to relate lots of sad news, but few like this one, when he witnessed a young and promising life destroyed because of a ruinous action, the like of which was more and more evident in Panama City. “At least the mother has an inkling of this,” he said to the radiologist, “but the young man has just awakened, and I want to wait until he gets a bit stronger.” “You did the right thing. How did the mother take it?” “As expected, it was a big blow. Anyone would have reacted in the same way. Do you know what it is to tell someone that their only son will be an invalid?” “Yes, it must be terrible.” “You know something? She’s a strong woman, and I’m sure she will work hard so her son doesn’t remain an invalid,” Doctor Alvarez said. A knock on the door interrupted the doctors’ conversation. It was Maria Cristina. She entered the office without permission and stood between the two doctors. “My son will not be an invalid, I’m positive he will walk, and under no circumstances must you tell him. Hear me well. I forbid you to tell my son about these results.” After she said this, she began to cry uncontrollably. Doctor Alvarez took her by the arm and sat her in the closest chair. “I know what you are suffering and don’t worry. We won’t tell your son about the extent of his injuries. I promise you no one will bother him with this information, but the time will come when we won’t be able to hide the sad reality because he will realize it himself.” The woman knew that the doctor was right. In a voice confused with emotion, she tried to soften her initial tone. “Please excuse me, doctor; I’m distraught by this casualty. You know what to do, but have compassion for my son. He’s so young and good; he doesn’t deserve this suffering.” “You don’t have to beg my pardon. I understand perfectly because a few years ago, my only daughter was in an accident and I suffered like you are suffering now.” “I’m sorry; forgive me for having brought back these sad memories to you. As my sister Irma says, each of us has a cross to bear.” Maria Cristina excused herself and left the office to find her sister. When she arrived at the waiting room, Irma was talking on the telephone. When she hung up, she said that the police had informed her that Tuti, the one who had shot Luis Carlos, was out of the hospital. He had only suffered some contusions when he fell out of the car, and that they needed to go there to file charges. She paused and Maria Cristina closed her hand in a fist of rage. “That swine!” she said with all the hate she could possibly feel inside. “I’d like to kill him with my own hands. He’s such scum. He and people like him kill our children, who are productive people who are useful for something, not like them, such trash. We should kill them all!” Irma looked at her in surprise and a bit fearfully. She had never seen so much hate concentrated in her sister, and truthfully she hadn’t thought she was capable of such dark feelings as these. A few minutes later, over the loudspeaker, she was called to report to the nurse’s station. Doctor Alvarez told her that her son had awakened and was asking for her. Immediately she headed toward the Intensive Care Unit. Luis Carlos was in the last bed at the back. He looked better, and when he saw his mother, he smiled. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll be all right. How is Susana?” Maria Cristina looked at the doctor not knowing what to say. The silence alarmed Luis Carlos. “Don’t scare me, Mom, what happened to Susana?” Doctor Alvarez answered him. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your girlfriend wasn’t as lucky as you. She died from the gunshots.” Luis Carlos cried without control and Maria Cristina, distraught by the pain, hugged him. “Oh, son, you have suffered so much. Be strong. She’s in Heaven. She’ll give you the strength to come through this tragedy.” Doctor Alvarez immediately prescribed a sedative, and as soon as Luis Carlos was asleep, he asked to speak to Maria Cristina outside the ward. “We have to work hard on this boy’s emotions, it’s vital for his recuperation.” “I know, doctor. But I don’t know how he will react when he finds out he won’t be able to walk again.” “Have faith in your son, ma’am, he’s strong like you, and he won’t give up.” Maria Cristina smiled, but she thought to herself, How can this doctor claim that I’m strong when I’m so frightened? The doctor recommended that she go home to rest because she had been running around for more than eighteen hours, and the physical and emotional strain was beginning to show. She acceded only because she knew that she had to remain strong to help her son. He needed her and she would be there for him. Irma would remain in the clinic in case something came up. Very early the next morning, now rested but still tense from what had happened, Maria Cristina relieved her sister. Irma put her up to date on Luis Carlos’s condition. He was doing a lot better. At that moment, Doctor Alvarez, together with his colleagues, informed her that her son wanted to see her. She entered the Intensive Care Unit and greeted him lovingly. He tried to move, but his legs didn’t respond. “Why can’t I move?” he asked alarmed. Doctor Alvarez explained that the gunshot had damaged his spinal cord and that he had to wait until the inflammation subsided. Luis Carlos noticed his mother’s drawn face and her pain was so notable that he immediately suspected that she was hiding something. “I want to know the truth. Don’t play with me. Will I be paralyzed?” The doctor knew the moment of truth had arrived and the patient would have to face reality. “I’m afraid that your wound will have serious consequences. We don’t know if the paralysis is transitory or permanent. We will do everything we can to rehabilitate you, but our only option is to see how you progress.” Luis Carlos shut his eyes tightly; he tried uselessly not to let his mother see him cry. Maria Cristina leaned over and kissed him. “Listen to me, son, you will walk again. I will make sure of that.” Within a few days, Luis Carlos was transferred to a private room, where he remained nearly three months, until the doctor released him with the understanding that he would undergo rigorous physical therapy. When the boy realized that a wheel chair could be his future means of getting around, he rebelled. “No, get that chair away from me. I refuse to depend on it.” Maria Cristina searched for the most persuasive words she could muster. “It’ll be only until you walk again, son, only until you walk again …” Then the emotions took over and she couldn’t stop the tears. “You are everything in my life, son, and you have to be strong because without your help, I will collapse.” Irma approached both of them and implored them to have strength and faith, because everyone needed a lot of both virtues. The pleas of both took effect. Luis Carlos fisted his hands and answered them firmly. “Don’t suffer any more on my account. I’ll do what I have to do to recuperate. It’s the least I can do.” Juan’s daughter Alicia was waiting in the parking lot. Juan was one of Maria Cristina’s brothers. She had brought the station wagon because it would be easier to transport Luis Carlos and his wheel chair. The young girl couldn’t hide her tears, but she tried to cover them up with words of encouragement, saying that he would soon overcome this tragedy. When they entered the house, Luis Carlos asked to be left alone in his room, saying that the trip had tired him out. As soon as he heard the door close, he cried long and hard, releasing all the bitterness that he had pent up inside these past few months. Despite the pleading from his mother, his relatives and friends, Luis Carlos refused to continue his studies in the university. He didn’t want to go back as a disabled person. And he refused to continue with the physical therapy sessions. Depression consumed him, and Maria Cristina didn’t know what to do; she had asked for leave for three months from work so that she could attend to her son and that period was up. That morning she told Irma that she had thought about quitting her job with the magazine, where her niece Alicia was the manager. But when she had told Alicia, her niece had asked her to think it over well, and that even though she knew that Maria Cristina didn’t need the money to live, she did need something productive to overcome the depression she was suffering from. Maria Cristina had said for her not to worry, that she would make it; but for now her priority was Luis Carlos. One morning, Irma mentioned that the delinquent who had killed Susana and hurt her son had been convicted, and he had been sentenced to four years, but like in most cases such as this, he would probably only spend a few months in prison. Maria Cristina asked her sister to keep that kind of news from Luis Carlos, and to make sure of that, she resigned her job at the magazine. Irma helped her force open the door. They found Luis Carlos in a deep sleep and the empty pill bottle lay open on the night table. Irma was so shaken that she trembled from head to foot; Maria Cristina understood that Luis Carlos’s life hung in the balance and speed was of the essence. “Control yourself and call an ambulance. I’ll try to wake him up.” Five minutes later, the paramedics arrived and transferred Luis Carlos to the San Jorge Clinic, while Irma followed them closely in her car, with Maria Cristina at her side, praying out loud. It was the same Doctor Alvarez who directed the stomach pump procedure performed on the boy. A half hour later they informed Maria Cristina that they had made it in time, but that the youth should remain in the hospital to undergo psychiatric counseling. “The pills aren’t the most dangerous threat he’s facing; depression is.” She asked the doctor to call her on her cell phone as soon as her son awoke because she had something urgent to attend to; then she asked Irma to remain in the clinic and not to leave her son alone. Maria Cristina’s strange behavior disconcerted Irma, and she asked her what could be so urgent, but Maria Cristina evaded the question and said that she had to hurry and would explain later. With her heart filled with pain and anger, Maria Cristina drove the car toward one of the many low-income developments that were springing up around the Bridge of the Americas. It was about ten in the evening when she spotted the sea of lights that indicated the thousands of houses being built on both sides of the highway. Still driving, she called a number on her cell phone. “Antonio? This is Maria Cristina. Do you remember what we talked about the last time, in the clinic? Now I understand what you meant when you said, Blood is paid with blood. I’ll pick you up in ten minutes; I’m going to hire you to do that job we talked about.”
This novel was translated due to the popularity of the novel in Spanish. More than 8 editions in Spanish of 2000 books each have been sold, the success of the topic, the passion to overcome poverty and the understanding of a group in society eagered for guidance and to become better.
With a clear, straightforward prose, this novel explores the causes and consequences of youth gangs, a searing social situation that is real and growing in today's society. In this novel, Rose Marie Tapia captures the lives of those affected by the degradation of today's society and describes how all must cope with the consequences. The theme is based on a vision, a proposal of change, to reverse the process of attitudes that threaten to destroy our basic human values, and to find solutions to neutralize society's progress toward self-destruction.
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