Bichita’s mother was a police officer in Caracas, Venezuela when Bichita was born. They lived in a nice house with nice things and none of it came from a man although it was all taken by one. When Bichita’s mother got accepted into Battalion Número Ocho she left each morning in a uniform and returned each evening with her stars and badges in place. Her hair was slicked back and tied up to the point of non-existence and her cheek bones sat high on her face like authority sits at the top of buildings and glorious views at the edge of dangerous precipices. For the first year Bichita’s mother worked, she came home on time. She removed her uniform, took a shower, put on a feminine night gown and robe, brushed her long wet hair out, leaving wet marks on the silk or lace below it, and put a dab of rouge on both cheeks. Sometimes she let Bichita brush out her hair and put rouge on her little girl cheeks too. They would go into the kitchen, drink a Malta together in wine glasses and start cooking an elegant meal that took too long and tasted too good for two girls in pajamas. They set the table and every now and then she told stories of her day – the kind with messages in them for Bichita to catch and swallow along with her curried yucca and plátanos. Although most of the time they talked about island breezes and windows without cages reminiscing on what life would be like when they got there. Caracas was a city of cages – even in its most beautiful crevices the windows were barred and for Bichita’s mother it was an extended metaphor for the jail cells she put “monsters” in – or at least that’s what she thought they were. In the beginning.
In the beginning Bichita’s mother, Officer Samosa, followed all the rules only giving leeway where it was insisted upon. A driver had to be at least 10 kph over the speed limit in order to spend the time stopping them for a ticket and a quick-napper had to get away with their victim in order to get charged. A quick-napper was the term for kidnapping in Venezuela. It was “quick” instead of “kid” because it wasn’t only for kids and on average the person taken was only gone for the twenty-four hours it took the family to hand over a decent, but not overly zealous, check. A lot of people in the country thought it was a fair trade – the rich were overly greedy and superficial with their money and so quick napping was sort of the country’s way of balancing out profit. At the academy they directed the officers to release a quick-napper if caught in the act and send him off with a warning. Officer Samosa questioned this at first but the reasoning behind it was most rich people had security detail that inhibited the nappers from getting close or far with whoever it was they were trying to take and, if the victim was taken, it was rare they were hurt while missing. The victims were almost always returned well-fed and clean of bruises. Her teacher in the academy told a story about a quick-nap case he was on. He said the victim was so intrigued with his own nappers, so intellectually stimulated by a way of life that didn’t include drivers and plastic surgery that as soon as he returned he ran away and paid the same robbers more money as well as knowledge and access codes to richer families than his own. He paid them so he could join them and detach from what it was they wanted. Basically, the theory of policing looked a bit different in Venezuela, at least under Chavez, because the police were not there to take care of the rich and already-taken-care-of, they were really there to take care of the poor and make them feel supported and protected enough to leave the rich alone outside of taking their money every now and then. Many police battalions spent time actually studying how to take from the rich and give to the poor as well – like the quick-napper they were equipped with strategies of giving back and some of them did it well. For example, all throughout Venezuela police stopped passengers on the first and the fifteenth of every month, payday, and told them they “had the wrong paperwork” or something was out of license on their cars forcing them to pay twenty bolivars to continue on home. This was a known scam for several reasons the first of which was that few people in Venezuela had the right paperwork on their cars. Used cars were the cheapest and most reliable. Anyone who had ten thousand dollars could get a used car. No matter how used it was it was always ten thousand and it rarely came with any papers – just an exchange and a trust that it would work for at least another three years. Car owners learned to be mechanics and they traded parts with each other in hopes of keeping the car going for a lot longer than it was meant to go. The police did it too – it was the way of things. The only people who had the correct paperwork were the rich people who bought new and imported vehicles like BMWs and Mercedes SUVs. But, at the police stops on payday officers would take a look at the passengers and either wave them by or pull them to the side. Those who obviously had money to spare would be sitting on the side of the road dealing with the officers and those who didn’t have anything to spare but a smile and a rickety mobile would be sent along. So, whether the paperwork was correct or not the people on the side of the road would be paying. Ideally this wasn’t a horrible plan because the officers pooled the money they received and then donated it to the orphanages or local farms and communities who were suffering and needed a little push to sustain what they had built when tourism was still existent. However, just like Chavez himself many officers got greedy and began taking advantage of the role they were given. Chavez told the poor in his country to stop working and take a load off because they were the richest country in South America with all the oil they had. He told his people that rich countries like Venezuela didn’t have to work to grow their own crops they merely had to buy their crops from other countries, less privileged than they were of course, and enjoy the wealth nature and good leadership provided. He set up something similar to a food stamp system so people could trade their stamps for imported fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat. So, as people stopped working the land and started sitting back and spending their money on booze the police stopped passing the Bolivars along and kept it for themselves. Their rationale: now that the people are no longer working as much, there is a lot more time for petty crime and therefore more policing which deserves more pay. It was an easy switch. Officer Samosa never felt comfortable with any of it but she was a woman in a man’s profession and already dealt with enough sexism so instead of standing up for what was right she merely denied the money leaving more for the fat, greedy men who laughed their largeness onto tables for dinner and began pointing at whatever they wanted including other women on the force.
As the people stopped working and the police started taking instead of giving, the balance that once existed started to veer off-kilter. Lines were crossed which allowed power to become abused and once the abuse grew like the bellies and the laughter there was no stopping it. Officer Samosa watched her female counterparts become play toys rather than officers – their butts were no longer shielded by the uniform they were enhanced by it. They stopped rolling their eyes and tightening their sports bras and began giggling and buying push-up bras instead. It is interesting to watch the way the noticeably weaker party responds when power and corruption take the place of authority. The women weren’t only women but they were a noticeable minority on the force and so instead of waiting for the men to take parts of them they didn’t want to give they handed it to them on pink platters with red lipstick. But Officer Samosa kept her hair back, her breasts in and her rouge at home while sleeping quarters became gas stations filling the women up with
unleaded and jail cells became overpopulated with frivolous emotional arrests used to make the men feel big and ready to release.
Officer Samosa’s demise happened quickly and with great care. It was the officer they called Officer Gordo or just Gordo because he was the biggest officer both inside and out. The thing about the Spanish language is it’s almost as deep as the people who speak it, there are so many meanings and metaphors hidden behind letters and words. In this case the term Gordo hid evil that no one put words to yet because the majority of his evil shot out of his holes like fire – only hot enough to burn the women while keeping the men warm and inflamed.
In the United States there are scientific or legally necessary words for the atrocities that happen to women. Words like non-consensual, pedophilia, child molestation, sex trafficking and rape. The last of which has become a farce because it never really happens to women it only happens to men in jail or to families from other countries in times of war. Sodomy is also reserved for men because for women that is merely rape even though rape never really happens outside the rare, random attack which men are sometimes put in prison for and even then we’re unsure if the man put away is the man who did it. Meaning, unsure the woman is being truthful – meaning, it becomes easier to just leave him out and ignore the possibility of a woman’s truth. Something we do on a regular basis. Prison or El Prisión is a funny word too because it can be both literal and figurative: Officer Samosa wondered about it all the time how many women lived inside the four walls of themselves because no one seemed to think what happened to them was anything other than non-consensual sex which is really just a mistake, a slip up that a man shouldn’t be punished for because if he is he might end up in real prison where he’ll actually get raped – that thing that never happens to a women outside of her own mind. In the United States, prison is meant for people of color who sell drugs, carry guns or just look threatening because apparently selling weed, having a darker more enlightened skin color and protecting yourself from the racist and corrupt police who will blame you for either is much more evil than placing your dick inside a woman without her permission, that’s not evil that’s just non-consensual, a mistake, a slip up, maybe even natural – unless you are a man of color and the victim is a white woman, then whether there is proof or truth you may be fucked as well.
Gordo was more infamous for putting innocent men in prison in Venezuela than women were for crying rape in the United States. And in the tenth year of Chavez’s term the prisons were so overrun with innocent people who got locked in the underworld for trying to fight a traffic violation or refusing to pay money to the police who were supposed to be there to protect them that lawyers, judges and anyone above ground who was supposed to deal with that mess had no idea where to start. Instead, they looked away, focused on blacklisting men and women who broke media laws or refused inflamed “taxes,” worked on bringing in doctors from Cuba and eradicating post offices and hired more police for the protests and street fires seeping out from the angry vibes of the underworld. Quick nappers, drug dealers and rapists paid the police off in women, uppers and cash in order to receive a blind eye. This was the ugly side of corruption and the exact thing Bichita’s mom, Officer Samosa, joined the force to help prevent – believing it was possible to be a Chavista and an officer of justice. She started speaking up, reclaiming the women by bringing them together to form one large woman too wet in pride to be burned by the fire. They started having meetings in churches after work – talking about how they could protect the innocents and themselves. Their hair was pulled back again, sports bras wrapped in aluminum and lipstick used to check off people imprisoned unfairly who they had snuck out or gotten released via the female judges and lawyers who joined their force. Battalion Número Ocho became Battalion Número Ochenta y Tres – a number which represented the infinite power of butts and breasts. This was the code women used to find out the location of meetings and unhinge the power of the first religion created by females. The only religion not created for males by males – it was called Feminism and it didn’t come from a woman singing put a ring on it across mainstream radio stations during all-male sporting events.
At first the corrupt men scoffed at the way in which the women stood together. They pet their slicked back hair as if they were street dogs on the way to getting burned and started calling them lesbians and dykes instead of women and officers. This is not an unusual strategy for a certain type of man who has been raised to refuse the possibility of rejection. They continued locking up innocents, stroking their egos with the cries and pleas of others, but each time they walked a new one in they saw an old one being walked out – escorted by more than one female officer, a female lawyer and sometimes a female judge. Letters addressed to the church with the number eighty three flowed in with praise and pleas to help release a husband, son, brother, cousin or lover who was put away without reason. Several of the male officers who believed in the law and thought of women as human just like them smiled silently and joined the reigns of this feminist revolution while Gordo and men like him weren’t looking. The jail cells dwindled, hair tightened and breasts and butts diminished behind the shield and popped out again at nightly meetings. What felt like a mountainous climb for survival started to feel like a light jog around the track and Officer Samosa warned the group of possible retaliation. She told them that what they had working for them was unity and power leading all the way up to Chavez’s team of secret police and politicians. But it would only take one swift moment of genius from the Gordo’s of the world to swipe the track out from beneath them and build a wall too vertical to climb. The women heard her but they didn’t recognize the truth in her words because just like the men who followed Gordo’s vision caught in a haze of sexism, power and tradition her followers were caught in a haze of revolution, revenge and eventual equality.
Bichita turned thirteen the week before revenge came. The night it happened her mother got home at seven instead of eight. The meetings of Battalion Ochenta y Tres kept her coming home later and later but on this particular day she thought about her daughter and got home just before dark. She removed her uniform, took a shower while Bichita sat on the toilet telling her stories of the day. A boy named Ernesto asked her out during lunch and her friend Rumela was angry with her because Ernesto was her crush not Bichita’s. Officer Samosa and Bichita giggled together and Bichita told her mother that she thought Ernesto was beautiful and that in art class they secretly painted each other from a far but no one knew. It was their secret she said before her mom got out. Officer Samosa massaged coconut oil from the bottle Bichita held open for her all over her wet body and face, a routine she taught her daughter about early on, and then dried herself off before slipping into the silk nightgown and robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door. When they got to the bedroom she let Bichita brush her long, conditioned black hair out, leaving splotches on the silk like always, and she put rouge on her cheeks and Bichita’s. She asked Bichita to go out and pour each of them a Malta into whatever wine glasses she chose knowing she would choose the most fragile and difficult to wash. Bichita liked feminine beauty at any cost and so her eyes lit up at the freedom that came with choosing the night’s aesthetic. When she left the room Officer Samosa lifted up her silk nightgown and turned sideways in the mirror. She wanted to see her nudity and her curves, be reminded of her feminine power and feel her sexuality in a way she was never allowed to at work. So, she ran her fingers over herself noticing where her body turned inward and outward and smiled at the beauty she kept hidden from everyone but her daughter and the Colombian man who came to visit her every now and then in-between his travels. She covered herself back up and went out to help her daughter prepare the meal. When she got there Bichita was slapping together the arepas with her little girl hands. There was cilantro, black beans and avocado on the cutting board and two unripe plátanos sitting in the basket as usual. Bichita handed her mother her crystal wine glass of Malta and they clinked glasses. In a British accent Bichita said, cheers darling and half a minute later the doorbell rang and Bichita was the one who opened it and let them in.
When Gordo and his two men, one of which was actually a woman known as Cojo (short for cojones), came into the kitchen Bichita was leading them in her little kid friendly manner and asked Officer Samosa if she should get a few more glasses down for her co-workers. Officer Samosa closed her robe tightly and looked at them with wide eyes. Then, she told Bichita to go to her room. Bichita began to walk out but Cojo stopped her at the door. When Bichita looked at her mother she saw the frightened mold across her face and the toughness she tried to cover it up with and she knew there was a problem. Gordo started by discussing Officer Samosa’s attire. Telling her she should let her hair loose and wear silk gowns to work instead of sucking herself into a uniform unfit for a lady. Cojo pet Bichita’s head the same way she pet her vagina only fifteen minutes later getting it moist and stretched so the men could slip in to a little girl with less of a struggle. Her mother was taken from both sides, her robe thrown to the floor and her nightgown slit open with the knife they used on the platanos. Bichita’s mother told her to close her eyes and think of island breezes and uncaged windows. Bichita did what her mother said but all she could see was men with knives and her mother’s broken nightgown strewn across the blue and white Mediterranean tiles they had imported from Greece. She shook her head from side to side and Cojo cackled making fun of her small breasts and boyish body as the men took turns on her – ripping her apart in ways she didn’t know she could be ripped.
When they were done Cojo pet Bichita’s hair again even though she was no longer a little girl and leaned in close to her ear. Tell your mother Battalion Ochenta y Tres has three days to die or we will be back at the same time next week ready to eat. She said it loud enough for Officer Samosa to hear her clearly and then walked out leaving the door as unhinged as the women.
Officer Samosa grunted in pain as she picked up her robe and wrapped Bichita in it. She swaddled her and pulled her in towards her belly trying to give her a womb to go back to. As they lay there Officer Samosa hummed a song given to her by the Colombian man who held her as if she wasn’t a woman trying to live in a mans world. The song was called Castle in the Clouds and it came from a Broadway show whose French title she could never pronounce. When they were finally able to get up the mother and daughter got in the shower together, let the water camouflage their tears and lathered each other in coconut oil hoping it would sooth their burning crevices. They dressed in oversized sweatshirts, ugly cotton underwear and sweatpants. They braided their hair tight and long, tucked it into their clothes and threw the rouge in the garbage letting it sink into used Q-tips and tissues. They got into bed together and Officer Samosa held her daughter into her belly again while she bled through her pants and cried through the sheets for two nights and three days. When Bichita stopped bleeding and had no more tears left to cry she got up and went to school. In art class that day she did not paint Ernesto who did everything he could to catch her eyes from across the room. She painted fat men with snakes between their legs and knives as fingers, she painted police badges ex’d out in blood, broken crystal glasses and fallen Malta. She painted torn silk billowing in the wind of a dragon’s breath and a woman who wore a witch’s hat and a wart-filled nose laughing in the corner. Ernesto painted her as he always did but for the first time her face looked empty and her eyes were filled with tears too stubborn to drop.