BULLETS TO THE SKY - Part I

Broken Dreams 

 

They have not known the meaning of home or family for a long time. Most of them came from the countryside provinces and arrived in the city innocent and full of dreams, but they were soon pushed into a life of outcasts. They can only rely on themselves to survive, but at the end of the day they always return to this abandoned house to share with each other what unites them: food and drugs.

Cannabis, here known as "liamba," is part of this gang's life. They take turns among themselves to buy small individual portions, wrapped in small paper packages. But the most prized drug is what they call "balázio" (big bullet) or “speedy ball”. These are small drug rocks that burn on top of a hole made in a crushed soda can, while they sip smoke through the opening of the can. The way they smoke this drug resembles that of traditional opium smokers.

One of them, with the nickname LP, is usually the one in charge of cooking. He can work miracles with manioc flour, some tomatoes and onions, and modest pieces of meat or fish to give the final taste. 
LP seems to seek inspiration from drugs when cooking, performing theatrical movements when lighting the fire or mixing the ingredients in the pot. It is like a ritual in a world of his own, where drugs and food are only one and he alternates between states of euphoria and apparent heartbreak. 

The liamba cigarettes and the cans with the speedy balls pass from hand to hand, in a silent complicity consented to by all. It is a moment of sharing, a moment when everyone seems to lower the defenses they have kept up while wandering the streets of the city. All that can be heard is the hissing as they sip the smoke and a sort of inner cough as they allow the drug to travel down their windpipe into their lungs while they hold their noses tight. The effect takes only a few minutes to come on. Eyes lost in the infinity and a listlessness to their surroundings denote that the drug is already circulating in the blood and is beginning to flood the brain, its final destination.

When the cigarettes are dying out and the speedy balls have been totally consumed, they eagerly sip individual small packets of whiskey, rum, or gin, to amplify and make the effect of the drug last. The mixture can be too strong, and they often fall to the ground in convulsions or a catatonic state. It is the clearest shot they can take towards heaven, but also the most dangerous as it is terribly close to overdose. Depending on the state of lucidity that everyone is in, they react in a random and irrational way when one of them reaches this dangerous border. From absolute indifference to punching their friend lying on the floor in the chest to make him wake up, it is the drugs in their blood that will decide lately. One of them wields a knife and is willing to pierce the throat of his friend who can't seem to breathe. He assures them that he has seen this many times in the movies and that this is what they must do to revive him.

Knives are always present, in one way or another, in their lives. During the day, they help them to convince the reluctant who refuse to hand them money or cell phones on the street when they are approached by them. At the end of the day, they are also used here now as a symbol of power and authority. Dubabulo is the gang leader in this house. Still under the strong combined effect of the liamba and the speedy balls, he makes a point of showing his superiority while overpowering his friend with the knife, in a gesture of enormous theatrics and drama. He clearly has no intention of hurting him but makes a point of showing the gang who he is and that submission must be total. The tattoo she has engraved on her chest, with the words "Mother's Love," accentuates the dystopian nature of the scene and raises several questions about this character's personality and story.

Despite the drama of many scenes that unfold in this house as the drugs take their toll, there are others that are disconcerting in showing the tremendous camaraderie and mutual aid among the gang members. Uncompromising hugs, uncontrolled laughs and innocent jokes, brings out the children that still exist within them and are only discovered under the influence of drugs.

In this house, the bullets are silent and are fired towards the sky, where the gang members want to go and not come back. It is there that the dreams they want to live are; it is there that they may feel safe, sheltered from the predators that inhabit the jungle where they live during the day; it is there that they may rediscover moments of peace and happiness they probably experienced when they were younger, but which have long since faded and blended into the dust that stubbornly covers the slums where they live. 

But unfortunately, the ticket the gang buys for this trip is always one-way. It's as if those bullets they always shoot towards the sky always ricochet and come back to hit them, this time waking them up to the real world. The dawn the next day discovers, once again, the harsh reality and brings with it the disappointment of dreams that have been broken. Maybe they are left with fragments of another world or pieces of sensations disconnected from their miserable life they eagerly seek to discover and live every day, even if only for brief moments. Maybe this is why they return every afternoon to this house that has nothing, but where they find everything they are looking for.