Introduction to Girar
Girar (‘to turn’ in Spanish) aspires to capture the flow and feel of daily life across 365 different places on our planet. The stories involve an archetypal Mother and Father, living a content and settled life all the while trying to make sense of Son, proudly gay, living far from them in a foreign country. Each instalment reimagines the essence of Mother or Father or Son into a new cultural context and nationality. By reading all of the instalments at once, Girar not only gives the reader a unique and intimate portrait of all of our Earth’s imagined countries; it tells the tale of a family coming to love each other despite their disagreements, over the slow burn of a decade.
Girar publishes through a website called www.girar.world. Subscribers pay a nominal fee of a dollar a month to gain access to the stories. People who subscribe are then sent emails when each installation comes out. An installation is time-stamped, to come out on a certain day of the 2020s in a certain location of Planet Earth. For example, if a story is told on March 23rd in Mariupol at 10:32 Ukrainian time, imagining Mother making porridge as she awaits a phone call from Father to know when it is safe to evacuate her house, readers get emailed that story at that exact time and date no matter where they are on the planet as if they are directly receiving a piece of life unfolding in that part of the world at that very moment to Mother or Father or Son. The pieces are fiction but are written and published in real-time as if they are in fact happening. The goal is to capture real life as it is happening to us in the 2020s from each culture on the planet. Whether it is by capturing major international conflicts as they are happening to us or giving narratives to cultures that people on a global scale rarely think about, I aspire to make Girar something of a live journal of this decade in the very direct way we are experiencing it, so that people centuries later can have a recording of everything that occurred in the 2020s in all the corners of Planet Earth.
EXTRACT from GIRAR
July 2nd, 2022
“De verda’. No te creo, de verda’.”
Says Father on the phone, at home, about to get into bed, but talking to Son instead, for the first time in months.
“You have had a job for the last six months. You tell me you liked it. You tell me you were good at it. And now, you go on a visa run, and you’re in a new place, and it’s simply . . . different. ¿Eso es todo? ¿Eso es la razon para fugir de tus responsibilidades de nuevo?”
“I’m not leaving my responsibilities,” Son spits back, along with a gruff, boyish sigh. “No me escuchas. I’m just telling you I’m in Guatemala, and it is a better place than Mexico in a lot of ways.”
“So you don’t want to teach anymore.”
Son groans angrily.
“If I can get a job teaching here, ¿why does it matter?”
“¿Do you know if there are such jobs? I know gringos like to go to Mexico. It’s one of the few Latin American countries with an economy. ¿Do they go to Guatemala? ¿And do people pay them?”
“I am hanging up,” he says. “Goodbye.”
“No,” Father says, stamping his foot. “No. You have to listen to your father for once. You can’t leave every time life is getting difficult for you. Life is difficult, mi hijo. I am living in one of the worst countries in the world, and I am surviving somehow. This is because if you don’t confront the difficulties of life, you don’t grow. You see how well we manage despite it being so difficult here? That is because we have worked hard for our place in this society, and the society knows that. That is why no gang has taken my life yet. Even if you’re in Caracas, even if you’re in hell itself, you have to learn to force yourself to stay in a place and work, to build relationships and grow with others. Do you understand me? Do you listen?”
There is no reply. The reason why is not because Son is there listening. If he were, he would be interrupting Father to try to assert his opinion. Son is actually no longer on the line. He hung up after he said goodbye, and Father was simply talking at his phone.
Father looks at his phone and wonders if he should call again. He wonders if it was worth the bolivar to call, only to remember that despite the fact that his son had chosen to live a life where he made zero effort to earn money, Father was able to afford these calls for a reason. He had those bolivares. Father put the phone away.
It is the middle of the night. Father pauses to look out from his window at the other houses in his suburb. The beauty of the east of Caracas stuns him. Lush hills surround the landscape of Boleita, and even in the night, even with the fog, the greenness of the foliage intrude into the houses and apartment buildings somehow. Not a single house or apartment building looks dilapidated. Father had to work a lot and spend a lot of money to be able to afford to live in a neighbourhood like this.
Despite that, the changes in Venezuela had made it such that Father might as well have been living in the poorest slum housing. Safety was guaranteed nowhere in the city. A gang member could come up and shoot him at any time, whether he was in the car waiting in traffic or buying his groceries.
If Father had gotten the chance to migrate to somewhere like the United States, he would have been in a house of at least three stories. He would have worked in a hospital with opportunities or had a private practice with which he would have earned a lot of money. He wouldn’t have had to worry about being shot up randomly; he probably wouldn’t have had to worry about a single thing.
Son had gone all the way to the United States to get an arts degree, to make no money, and then he had gotten deported. And now he was travelling around, trying to teach, still figuring out his way.
This was all despite the economic crisis that Venezuela had been afflicted with for almost a decade.
One of the proudest days of Mother’s and Father’s lives was the graduation ceremony after Son had graduated high school. When he had gotten that scholarship to Chicago, Father had been convinced that his son was off to greater things.
And yet, looking back a decade and four years since that day, and comparing it to this view from Father’s window, Father sighs.
How little things had changed, despite the fact that Father had first set out from his village wanting to change everything.
August 12th, 2008
The convention hall where Father and Mother had hosted Son’s graduation ceremony was on one of the highways that went into the hills. It was during the golden years of the Hugo Chavez regime. The highway had just been recently paved, and Father had plenty of money to spend on the booking. He had gone out of his way to rent a cumbia band which played so loudly. The attendees either sat at the table and drank their wine or danced on the stage, pretending that there wasn’t someone outside threatening to randomly shoot someone up or prostitutes about beckoning for their client of the night.
As for the guests, Father was close to none of them. They were mostly neighbours that Mother in that decade had gone out of her way to impress, and some of her church friends. Back in the late 2000s, Mother had dozens of them. She was far more social and kept inviting people to their home, in the hopes that they would take pause at how beautiful the china she had imported was. Among the guests there was next to no one of Son’s generation, except for the sons and daughters of other neighbours. Back then Father didn’t think about it, but looking back, it really stuck out to him how little Son interacted with people of his age.
The neighbours were dressed in either the whitest of gowns or the most dressed up of tuxedos. Father spent most of that night going to all of the tables and thanking each of the guests for coming. Son was also visiting the tables to chat each of them up, spending much longer than the other kids his age talking to each and every family member. People came up to Father and said that Son was so charming. And they were so proud that he had gotten a scholarship. Very few of them had heard of Northwestern, but Father had taken the time to Google it earlier to show off how prestigious of a school it was. When he shared the facts that he had memorized, the neighbours no longer cared that Son was studying something in the arts. Even though Venezuela was middle class, everyone still wanted to get out, and given that it was the United States, where Son would have access to a good visa, everyone was elated. Only one of the neighbours, who happened to be from the house right down from Father’s, asked how Son was going to make any money studying English-language theatre. It was a time when English was just starting to be important for global trade, so Father told him, without a single pause, about how Son was going to improve his English by studying the arts, and then find a good job, in any field, because English was the path of the future, and Son was thinking ahead.
All of the neighbours were so impressed, and they wished him only the best.
Eventually, Son gave a speech on stage. He spoke long and eloquently about what it meant to go abroad for him, and how he couldn’t wait to see the United States and make a place for himself in the world. Everyone clapped with such pride when he finished, and people came up to him and told him that he had given a genuine and well-thought-out speech.
Father never lost his smile for a single moment that night. He really was convinced that Son was leaving the country so that he could improve things for all of them.
June 17th, 2009
After Son’s first year at Northwestern, on another balmy, hot summer day, Son started labelling himself that way. Mother was in the middle of peeling and cutting some caimito into symmetrical slices, while Father was sitting at his table shirtless with his shorts on. The fan was whirring, but the heat was baking into every part of the room, and Father was sweating despite doing nothing.
And then Son came into the room. He saw Father and averted eyes. Father asked, “Como esta’, ¿mi hijo?” but got no response. There was a lot of empty looking but no talking.
And then he finally said it.
“Soy un homosexual.”
It was said so abruptly, with no pause, no nothing. The sound of something cracking and clashing in the kitchen made Father jump up to his feet. But when he went to her, she immediately pushed him away, saying that she was taking care of it, that there was glass everywhere. Son came in to the kitchen and tried to help her clean it up, but Mother gave him a long look and said, “Can you leave me to clean, ¿por favor?”
In the noise of breaking glass, Father had completely lost what Son had said. He asked Son to repeat himself. Son made a pained face.
“No dije nada, de verda’.”
Son went back to his room. Mother cleaned up after her mess, and Father had the caimito without his family.
When they regrouped at the table during dinner time, it was like nothing had been said. Mother had made some chicharrón, and they all laughed and smiled and discussed nothing about what Son had uttered.
Son would only clarify his sexuality three years later, when he was about to graduate, and broke the news to them that he was making plans to stay in Chicago for good.
May 23rd, 2004
There was also that first moment during which Father might have had his first inkling that his son was a homosexual. This was on a Sunday when Son was fourteen. There was an old computer in one of their rooms. It was one of those big, box-sized ones that barely loaded anything, a secondhand computer bought from a secondhand store in some secondhand mall. The computer had probably been built up in the USA in the late nineties and brought to Venezuela somehow. It took around ten minutes to start up, a few minutes for the browser to get going, and minutes longer to load anything. Father rarely had the patience for it and was busy with his hospital work anyway, so he left it for Mother and Son to use.
Father’s rounds at the hospital almost always tended to be random. Given that his hours depended on the needs of the hospital, it should have been no surprise that he would be coming home on a Sunday, sometime around noon. Mother was at church. He just assumed that Son would be with his mother and that there was no one home. He did not hear a single sound inside the house, so he walked in without saying anything. He put away his lab coat, rested his legs on the sofa, and almost fell asleep. He got up to use the bathroom, and while he was passing the room, he heard the computer whirring. He went in to see why it was on.
On the screen was a picture of a man giving a blow job to another man, and Son had his pants down to his legs. Father shouted admonishingly, “¿Que es eso?” which caused Son to click out of whatever he was looking at and pull his pants up. Father yelled at him to get up and out, and that was what Son did. Father immediately went to the screen, but whatever Son had been looking at was no longer there.
And then Father wondered if he had imagined it. He did not know how to get the image back again. Had there been such an image? Or had Father just imagined it? Certainly Son was masturbating, but it could have also been a woman giving a blow job to a man. How could Father know, without studying the image more properly?
He fiddled with the browser for some minutes before giving up. He went back to the living room to see Son looking flustered, unsure of where he should be standing. Father did not know what to say; he was not sure if he should say anything. So he didn’t mention it, for that day, or for any other. He never told Mother about it at all.
Over the years, after Son became openly gay, Father would look back at that event and puzzle over what would have happened if he had said something. Would it have been better to have addressed it back then? Or would Father’s response have been so immature that he would have made their relationship something even worse, by showing anger at someone who was not yet an adult?
July 2nd, 2022
When Father saw that Son was calling, he was surprised. He was sitting at that exact same table, eating caimito once again. He said out loud so Mother could hear him from the kitchen, “It’s our son. He’s calling.”
Mother’s response was to finish drying off her hands with a towel, slapping her hands together. Then she said, “I will go off to pray.”
Father immediately answered, wanting to catch Son before he could hang up. “Mi hijo, ¿como esta’? Hace mucho tiempo que nos hablamos.”
“Si, si, es la verda’,” Son said, and nothing much else.
Father intuited that he should let Son explain why he was calling rather than immediately talking at him, but he could not control himself. He asked almost instinctually, “¿How is Mexico?”
Son did not answer. Father could not remember the last time they spoke, and he rattled on.
“Pues, from what I remember, and this was a few months ago, when you called last, you were living in DF.”
“It’s not called DF anymore, Papa. It is called Mexico or La Ciudad de Mexico.”
“Ah, ¿en serio? But I thought it was the federal district of Mexico.”
“They changed it a few years ago. If you would follow the news more, you would have known.”
Father did not like that quip. Father followed as much of the news as he could given how much he worked, and considering that he was so busy, it was a miracle he read anything in the newspaper. Not to mention he lived in a country that was more dramatic than anything the news could imagine. People waited in lines outside of stores for hours in the hopes that they could buy anything, just anything, to eat or they would starve.
Father did not want to create conflict, but he was feeling irate. And so he said, without really ramping up to the topic, “I believe you are an English teacher there. Or were an English teacher. Considering how much you change jobs, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to do something else again.”
Father was right. “Were is the correct verb, yes,” Son said. “I am not in Mexico. I am now in Guatemala. I finished the semester. I enjoyed teaching, but now that I’m in Guatemala, I don’t know if I like Mexico that much. I like it here so much better.”
“Pues, claro,” Father snarked. “That is what I would imagine. Guatemala is a new place. Why should be stuck in Chicago, or Mexico, or Venezuela.”
Son made some gruff noises, and then said, “I didn’t want to talk about this. I wanted to talk about something else. I wanted to ask you a health question.”
“¿Una pregunta, sobre salud?” Father asked. “No me digas.”
“No te digas, ¿what?”
“No, it is nothing.”
“No, you speak, por favor.”
Father calmed his breath and just said it. “You haven’t gotten VIH, ¿verda’?”
“¿VIH?” Son said, and he repeated, “¿VIH? Father, ¿how can you ask me that? I wanted to ask . . . no, you are unbelievable.”
“¿How is it possible that you can’t believe me? You only call once every few months, and when you do, it’s for an emergency. If you are speaking this way, and with so much pause, then it can only be . . .”
“Diarrhoea. I have had diarrhoea for almost two weeks, ever since I was in Mexico. It has improved a lot, but a little has come back since I came to Guatemala. So I wanted to call a doctor, and you, my father, are a doctor.”
“¿That is all?” Father said. He was about to chuckle, before once more he felt a flood of concern. “¿You have had diarrhoea for two weeks? ¿And you call now? ¿Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“Well, if you thought my reason for calling involved HIV, ¿wouldn’t you imagine I would be scared to share something like that with you?”
Father scoffed. “You are my son. You are allowed to say such things directly. Speak directly. Then I won’t assume.”
“You, of all people, asking me to speak directly . . .” Son mimicked his father’s scoff.
Father asked, “¿Pues, what are your symptoms?” but Son did not answer again. Father did feel a bit of a pang in his heart telling him it might be better if they talked about something else.
But then he remembered the part of the conversation which interested him the most and raised it again.
“So, ¿you will not be working again? ¿Is that it?”
“¿And if I am not?”
Father had to take a long breath, an exceptionally long breath, and then he began saying it.
“De verda’. No te creo, de verda’.”
June 17th, 2009
This was what Father would have wanted to say when he heard Son proclaim, “Soy un homosexual,” right before he had forgotten it was said:
You went all the way to the United States, and for what? To learn that? Is that why you went all the way over there? ¿Para tu libertad? I can understand. Freedom is important for all of us. But have you forgotten, we live in Venezuela. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. So why did you go there? I’m not waiting to hear you say you are homosexual. I want you to say, mi padre, I am coming to my senses. It is silly to study theatre. I will study business. That way I can start shipping you dollars to Venezuela. That way I can buy you things you can’t afford here. That’s what all the other children who immigrate think about. I was too young and selfish to think about that now, but now I’m learning to care about the people who sacrificed so much so that I could do well.
These were all of the thoughts that had come out in that one millisecond of a moment, and had that glass not crashed, Father would have assuredly said everything then.
But the glass had dropped. The moment was lost.
July 2nd, 2022
After Son ended the call, Father sat with his hand still gripped around the phone. Son had once come out as a homosexual, in the summer after his first year at school, and Father had forgotten it. Father was feeling so stained by his own hurt that he was sweating. He wanted to talk to Mother about how angry the phone call had made him, so he went to the bedroom, only to see Mother at the picture of Jesus on the wall, her eyes closed and her hands in a prayer position. Mother’s face was clamped together, like she really didn’t want to hear anything. And Father had to respect that. So, he went back to his table.
It was getting near midnight. Father thought about how he should sleep. But all he felt was guilt. He should have advised Son about his diarrhoea. After some hesitation, he typed out some text messages to Son about over-the-counter medicines he could get. He knew sending those messages would change nothing between them. Father felt bad, Father felt sad, and Father could not understand it.
Father lay down, the hard back of his bed pushing against his spine. The fan whirred on and on above him, the wind from the open window slipped in and massaged his chest. He remembered the moments of teaching Son how to ride a motorbike, he remembered clipped words from Son’s graduation speech. Father felt that he was deeply right about something, but he just didn’t know how to name it.
He spent the whole night awake, trying to speak to it.
If you are interested in following this project, please do head over to www.girar.world to subscribe. There are three excerpts on the home page, entitled Mysore, Hainan, and Sri Lanka.