"I'm going with Uncle Pablo," Javier gave his sister a stern look.
"That's not a good idea. You know that?"
She looked around the little room the three of them shared. Their mother was asleep on the bed in one corner. Dishes were piled next to the sink, on the only surface available, squeezed between the electric ring and cupboard. Javier looked where she was looking, following her movement with his eyes.
"You see, it's not possible to carry on like this. Besides we don't have enough money."
Evelin had an air of despair and a certain resiliation to the facts. Its not what she wanted for her little brother, but neither was anything else working for them. Medicine cost money, a lot of money, and their mother needed the insulin to survive.
"I'm not letting you sell yourself," Javier continued. "I'm the man of the house. It's for me to decide."
She smiled, a weary little smile. The man of the house, she thought, but said nothing. He was fifteen years old, hardly a man.
"What would happen if you got pregnant? Or sick?"
She glanced over at him, moving around and folding some old worn out clothes, distracting herself from facing the reality he was presenting.
"I'm going to go work with Uncle Pablo. He's okay. I'll make some money. And you'll have more space here, just the two of you."
She stopped what She was doing. "You've decided?" she asked, knowing he had. Knowing as well what her brother was doing.
"Javier, get in the car."
Uncle Pablo was a big round man with greasy hair, unshaven most of the time, and in the heat of the day, sweat glistened on his brow. Tiny dots of perspiration which he wiped away with the sleeve of his loose fitting shirt. A shirt that was once a shade of blue, but was now old, tired, and colourless.
Javier kissed his sister goodbye and hopped in the car. Uncle Pablo smiled at Evelin and told her to take care of their mother.
"And you," Evelin replied. "Look after my little brother."
He nodded and opened the driver's door. Manoeuvring his heavy bulk in place, he imagined just how much he would enjoy looking after her little brother. But he was not a bad man. He would not hurt his nephew, it was an arrangement. Of mutual benefit.
When they arrived at La Cabana, Pablo took Javier up to his room, and told him to put his stuff away, he would come back in about an hour. Two minutes later Javier had emptied his bag, he had not much more than a change of clothes, a couple of t-shirts, another pair of jeans. He sat on the bed, staring at the wall in front of him, and wondering what happens next.
It was not one hour, more like three hours when his uncle reappeared.
"I've got some clothes for you. They should fit," he told him. Standing in the doorway, he held out a small pile of clothes.
Javier stood up and took them, placing the pile on his bed.
"You need to try them on," his uncle instructed.
Javier picked up what was a pair of glossy pink shorts, made out of some cheap material that was pretending to be silk. He held them up in front of him.
"These are too small," he said looking at the flimsy shorts.
"Put them on," Pablo insisted.
Javier sat back down on the bed, pulled off his old sneakers, without bothering to untie the laces. Undid his jeans and slid out one leg and then the other. He stood up in only his t-shirt and skimpy underwear. Carefully he pulled on the pink shorts.
"Turn around," Pablo said, when he was dressed.
The shorts clung to his small body, tight fitting, Javier though they might split if he wasn't careful, but his uncle seemed satisfied.
"Nice," Pablo smirked.
He approached the boy, running his hands lightly over the material of the shorts and feeling the roundness of the boy's buttocks.
"You will do well," he said, stepping back and looking.
"When do I start?"
Javier knew the answer would almost certainly be tonight, he only wanted to change the focus, get rid of his leering uncle and get out of the pink shorts.
"Tonight, Luis will show you everything. Stay here until then."
His uncle turned and walked out, leaving Javier sitting on the bed, wondering about his future. But he didn't want to dwell on it, things were what they were, all he wanted to be able to do was give some money to his sister to take care of their mother. He shouldn't have to do this, Pablo was his uncle, but it was an arrangement.
It was only a few minutes later when the door opened and a young man walked into the bedroom. Javier was taken by surprise. He was putting his pink shorts away, but wasn't dressed. The two boys faced each other, stuck motionless like a frame frozen in a film. It was only an instant, but seemed much longer to Javier. The young man extended his hand. Javier was suddenly aware of his almost nakedness, blushing slightly he gripped the other's palm.
Luis smiled, not letting go of the hand that he held, but pulling Javier closer. Their bodies almost touching, Javier retreated as he felt the closeness of Luis, but the young man wrapped his other arm around his neck and held him tight.
"Pablo told me to show you how things work."
A little smile crossed Luis' lips as he regarded the teenager. Javier said nothing, still caught tightly in the young man's grip. For another moment they stood together barely an inch apart. Then Luis pulled Javier into a firm embrace, their bodies touching. Javier felt the warmth and felt himself responding, until Luis pushed him away and he lost his balance, falling back on the bed.
"I'm Luis," the young man announced.
He moved to loom over the bed, looking down, not taking his eyes off the boy. Javier sat up leaning on his elbows.
Luis gave him a broad smile: "Don't look so scared. I'm not going to rape you."
Javier wasn't so sure, but Luis probably was all show and nothing bad would happen. He edged his way along the bed, standing up, and fetching his jeans off the chair where he'd left them.
"I'm Javier," he said softly, as he pulled his jeans on.
Behind the the dark polished wooden counter shelves in front of a huge worn mirror covered the rear wall. Bottles of various shapes and sizes promised to transform the mundane lives of those that frequented the place. They were the shots that accompanied the beer and freed up inhibitions as well as pockets. The appetiser before the carnal main course, sold in the club, then played out upstairs, in one of the small bedrooms.
Javier had to serve those customers, dressed in his tight pink shorts and short string vest that never quite reached his waist. He smiled as he placed drinks on the tables before increasingly inebriated and vociferous patrons. He ignored the pats on his ass, slipped and dodged the gropping hands, but he knew by the end of the evening he would not be alone in his room. That was the deal, how it worked, and what he made he paid commission on.
The clients paid Javier and Luis, Pablo took his cut, but Señor Phillipe, took the lion's share. No point complaining, that's how it was. He made enough money to take care of his mother and sister. Unless you were well connected, well off, or educated, you were poor. For the majority of people, there were only two ways to make a living, sex or drugs.
These two worlds were, of course, intricately connected. Those people frequenting La Cabana were not all poor and there to forget. There were those who liked boys and would frequent these nightclubs to satisfy their desire in the obscurity and annonymity you would find in such places. All the bars and clubs in Caracas resembled one another as if they were from the same mold.
Luis had a profitable sideline in drugs, mostly coke, which he'd get through Señor Phillipe. Exactly how that arrangement had been put in place Javier had no idea. His uncle seemed to accept it as nothing unusual, but perhaps that was because he had no choice. If Javier gave it any thought, which he usually didn't, then his conclusion was Luis had something going on with the boss. Señor Phillipe, not Pablo.
Some nights were quiet, the club taking on an air of abandon, with only a few tables occupied, with what they all referred to as the bebedores lentos (slow drinkers). Those people were dragging out the night, reluctant to go home, but not rich enough to spend. They wanted neither company nor any of Luis' merchandise.
The gloom of the evening was hardly disturbed by anything, even the music was turned down so low it was only a murmur. Angelini, who Javier had seen frequently hanging around outside the place late into the night, and who had recently adopted the habit of coming inside, was having no success with the middle-aged man she'd been chatting up all night.
Pablo watched her from behind the bar. Javier did too, thinking to himself she must have an arrangement. From the way his uncle looked at her, he was certain as to just what that deal might be. His musings were disturbed when Luis joined him at the bar.
"It's really a fucking drag when it's like this," Luis seemed like he was only seeking confirmation from Javier. That he was making idle conversation in an attempt to pass the time more quickly.
"What is this thing between you and the boss?" Javier asked him, deciding to engage in an exchange.
"Yeah, of course," he replied nodding towards his uncle.
Which made Luis smile.
"He's my ticket out of here."
Luis shifted position on his bar stool.
"You don't have any idea."
"Well no, I don't," Javier confirmed.
"He's a lawyer. You never knew that, huh?"
"Really? Then how come he's like running this club?"
"Guess you'd have to ask him that."
"Well, how's he gonna help you?"
For whatever reason Luis wasn't answering that question. He stood up and crossed the almost empty room. Glanced at Angelini, who was sat down next to one of the few customers, still apparently trying to engage the man, he walked past ignoring her.
Javier moved along the bar to a stool in front of his uncle.
"What's going on with this guy, Señor Phillipe?"
His uncle looked up slowly and regarded the boy.
"He's not anyone you should have anything to do with."
"Luis got himself involved."
Javier sighed: "You know, I don't care. This whole place is shit!"
Pablo ignored him, turned around and picked up his pack of cigarettes. Javier watched him distractedly as he moved about, then turned his attention back to the room. His eyes rested on Angelini and her man, then roamed over the empty space. Nothing was happening, he got up and left. Following Luis upstairs to their room.
It was quiet, the silence broken only by occasional street noise, a motor bike, someone shouting. The music from the bar was a faint background which he shut out as he closed the door. He lay down on the bed and studied the ceiling, watching an insect buzzing around the light. One naked filament bulb that glowed an electric yellow.
Luis was at the window, smoking.
"You sleeping here or next door?" Javier asked.
There was no immediate reply. He turned his head towards the silhouette and watched the smoke sucked out of the window.
"Is that an offer?" Luis finally answered, turning back to look at him.
Javier looked at him and wondered. Why did he come here? He knew why, but still he posed the question. He wondered about Luis, he didn't really know him. Who was he? What was he doing? There were always questions, seldom answers. He rolled over, pulled the sheet up and heard Luis cross to the other bed. He needed a plan, he fell asleep thinking about what that might be, thinking that maybe Luis had a plan. Did he?