Bernardo Esquinca

Artwork by Mirza Jaafar


You know, doctor, that to most people, flies are just that: flies. Something that one swats their hands at whenever they draw near our heads or our plates. But people are mistaken. Flies are superior beings, capable of fornicating mid-flight and replete with dozens of eyes that can keep watch over us from any angle. You don’t know it, but those nasty creatures have been at war with our species since the beginning of time. As we attempt to wipe them out, they become increasingly resistant to each new insecticide. Can I pass along a little fact for you to share at your next work dinner or social gathering? Although, let me warn you, it’s rather unpleasant and might provoke a certain uncomfortable silence around the table. I love uncomfortable silences, don’t you, doctor? Everything they imply. They fill the emptiness with the sheer force of words unspoken. Because sometimes it is what is left unsaid that is all the more disturbing. But I digress . . . This sofa is so comfortable as to permit digressions; perhaps you might think about changing it. The fact is: flies have killed more human beings than the combined sum of all human warfare. We are at war, as I was telling you, and there’s no way to win—they are armed with millions of years of experience. When our ancestors painted the caves at Lascaux, flies were already the masters of the Earth . . . Are you surprised? Everyone fondly appreciates the bison, deer, and horses recorded along the walls of the French grotto with such primogenial artistic skill, but there are also insects. That was in the Paleolithic era. Since then we’ve done nothing more than keep them at bay. And even that’s a stretch because, in reality, we’ve summoned them permanently to our side. Eighty percent of the global population lives in the midst of their own excrement. I love that word, ex-cre-ment. It’s magnetic, don’t you think, doctor? The truth is we never left the Middle Ages behind. Flies love shit and this city reeks of it. I won’t speak of the heaps of garbage that pile up in front of us at every corner, nor of the waste that collects amid markets, parks, and sidewalks. Let us speak of shit. Would you believe me if I told you that I once saw a nauseating stream of excrement scurrying across la Alameda? It slid from an inner culvert into the creek of sewage collecting along the edge of the street. There were but two choices: sidestep Avenida Hidalgo’s oncoming traffic or dodge the floating mounds of shit. Such are the vicissitudes that this metropolis winds around us. Flies thrive in shit, and we’ve sown a garden of twenty million intestines for them.


Why of course I hunt them, doctor. Tirelessly. Ever since I was a child, although then I was unaware of their power and their—I’ve never said it better—dark intentions. You know what I used to do to them? I would go through the house armed with a rubber band gun, giving them the kiss of death like an efficient Wild West gunman. My parents found some sort of mad entertainment in it, but I felt as though I were fulfilling a mission. Fortunately, they never forbade me from doing it, although I suspect that my behavior was the cause of many a bedtime whisper after they had turned out the lights. My brothers—all older than me—were, at the time, all engrossed in their own work or exhausting preparations for university-level exams. They took little note of my growing obsession. The youngest brothers, us runts, were more exposed to the dangerous fantasies that germinate from solitude. You know that well, doctor. So little attention and, by contrast, a growing repertoire of too many accumulating ideas . . . Like a bottle filled with flies. A curious metaphor, isn’t it, doctor?

I’ve killed many of them, perhaps more than any other person who doesn’t dedicate himself to the cause professionally. Yet I know that my contributions to this losing war are utterly useless. But tell me something: If an enemy army invaded your lands and threatened your property, wouldn’t you fight until your last breath? Better yet, if a horde of murderers were to threaten your children, would you simply stand there with your arms crossed, just because of the sheer fact that your rival exceeded you in number? I don’t have any children, it’s true, but the few partners that I have had were never able to overcome my little crusades. At the office, I tried to start a Friends in Pursuit of the Extermination of Flies Club, but I failed. At first, my colleagues found it entertaining, but when I became insistent, they turned their backs on me. I even received a memorandum from the boss, demanding that I “put immediate end to a proposal both highly absurd and detrimental to the workplace environment.” So, it happens that I’m alone in this, doctor, don’t you see? Sometimes I think it’s better that way, to just leave the rest of humanity at the mercy of their own ignorance.



Did you know, doctor, that the gringos have built a fly factory in Tuxtla Gutiérrez? It doesn’t surprise me, but it’s a little-known fact. I’ve been there, and it’s an impressive place. You can visit it, provided that you apply for a permit beforehand. They even offer guided tours, but it’s not the field trip most people dream of. It’s the only place in the world in which the so-called mosca gusanera is mass raised, produced on an industrial level. The factory runs twenty-four hours a day and feeds a thousand families. You might ask: Why the fuck does such a fly factory exist? To combat them, precisely; that’s the genius of the matter. A plague will be eradicated by introducing sterile males into the wild male population at a ratio of ten to one—a situation that will present very few opportunities for female fertilization within the short mating window of their lives. For better or for worse, flies are momentary. It’s simultaneously both their greatest strength and their most crippling weakness. Thus, in three generations the problem will be killed off. That’s why the factory exists. The sterile males that once saved millions of lives in Libya at the beginning of the nineties escaped from here. Mexican flies, doctor. Used against their own species. The place is dizzying: hundreds of kilograms of putrid meat filled to the brim with fly larvæ. Millions of them fly relentlessly, trapped within a giant glass jar, producing a buzz that could compete with that of an airplane turbine. When you get there, you’ll understand. I felt as happy as a pilgrim arriving in Mecca.



I’d be lying to you if I told you that I don’t play any sports. I mean, I’m not talking about soccer, swimming, jogging, or any of those other types of activities that make people feel less guilty about what they do to their bodies every day. Believe me, doctor, I know cocaine addicts that go run at Chapultepec. The exercise that I engage in, as you might imagine, is strange. I’m quite sure there’s nothing else like it all the world over. If the Friends in Pursuit of the Extermination of Flies Club had been a success, we might be talking about something else altogether. But, as I told you, my proposal was blocked. I practice this sport—or pastime; aren’t they one and the same?—once a week, on Fridays, when I return home, overly taxed by the week’s accumulated stresses. I prepare for everything early, before departing to the office. First, I leave out various containers filled with raw, bloody meat in different parts of the apartment. Then, I open the windows and leave for the office. Upon my return, my home is a veritable fly hive. It is then that I close the windows, loosen my tie, and roll up my sleeves. I take out my favorite flyswatters and pounce on them. Sometimes I dash headlong into the act, letting out shrieks and doling out blows left and right; other times I move with subtle, calculated turns as if performing some ballet on ice. I accept that if some stranger were to witness me in those moments, it would be nothing short of grotesque. But I enjoy it. What’s more, it does me good. As I’m sweeping the rug, black with the dead bodies of countless flies, my own body drenched in sweat and exhausted, it suddenly seems to me that the world has become a better place—one full of possibilities. Sometimes as I’m coming back in from having tossed a trash bag teeming with dead flies in the dumpster, I discover that one made it out alive. Oh, doctor, the pleasure that arises from that last spoonful of dessert—it’s indescribable.



If everything I’ve told you about flies seems exaggerated, then a little history might serve us well, doctor. I don’t want to appear pretentious before you, but information is power. I remember an English teacher from my childhood whose greatest lesson to me was the following: while at the park, never let slip your dog’s name. That way no one can call him away from your side. Do you understand what I’m telling you, doctor? But enough with the distractions, let’s get down to the facts: Beelzebub means “Lord of the Flies” in Hebrew. Luther, in turn, considered them at the vanguard of the infernal legions. According to other low-brow beliefs, flies are the servants of witches, who use them both in their spells and to spy on their enemies. Of course, I don’t believe in such superstition . . . such hoaxes. I mention it simply because it serves as a reminder of man’s atavistic fear toward these creatures. Regrettably, it’s a mistaken fear. One day a neighbor of mine knocked on my door, horrified because he had left his bathroom window open and a shit-ton of flies had gotten in. He believed, wholeheartedly, that a spiteful ex-lover had cast a spell on him. His face distorted with sheer panic, he gave off the air of a child haunted by too much nighttime television. He asked me for insecticide, for my murderous secret activities were unbeknownst to him—how curious, his turning to me . . . is nothing coincidence?—but I told him that there was no need to contaminate his house with chemicals. I walked out, armed with my flyswatter, tasked with eliminating the plague. After that episode, I was struck by an idea: to go so far as to toss shreds of putrid meat around the neighboring residences and, thus, step into the role of official neighborhood fly executioner; but I’m not crazy, doctor, although at this stage you must have your own verdict. Flies, sent by the devil himself? Nonsense. It’s just the struggle between species, and there’s no place for them all. I have some news for the superstitious lot: if flies do indeed come straight from Hell, then we humans committed a major blunder by moving into their quarters.



This is the last time that I’ll be coming, doctor. I don’t want my words to turn into flies buzzing in your ears. Besides, and please don’t take offense, our appointments have served little to help me alleviate this uneasiness. I have told you before that knowledge is power, but deep down, knowing the truth is useless. Less still if it’s all you’ve got. In the best of cases, the truth becomes a heavy tombstone; in the worst, it isolates us from society, fetters us to society’s labels, such as “strange.” At the very least, I can rest assured that I won’t die ignorant. I must confess to you that I’ve become very tired. The cardiologist—to whom I also pay regular visits, the doctor in charge of looking after my worn-down heart—has advised me of a certain ailment that will require going under the knife. But I’m not thinking about subjecting myself to the operating room. That moment shall arrive in due time; although I seem naïve, I do believe in acts of fate. The last few Fridays I’ve begun to feel faint while brandishing the flyswatter. Any other person would let go of such a physically demanding activity, but I’m not—as you well know, doctor—one of those people. Tomorrow is Friday. Tonight, I’ll leave the containers filled with meat, the windows open. I’ve purchased double the usual rations of bait, along with two flyswatters: one for each hand. I don’t intend to stop.

What we’ve discussed stays between the two of us—a professional secret, an unbreakable code. It’s for precisely that reason that I’ve turned to you, doctor. All the great actors die on the stage. Imagine: a million flies and one single man at the center of the spectacle. Perhaps I am a lucky man . . . ?



I reviewed Patient X’s tapes over the weekend and I remain anxious. I care for many strange patients, such that I don’t often become astonished. But there’s something about his case that’s left me immersed in dark thoughts. I can’t explain what has brought it about; the only thing crossing my mind is that it must be some sort of premonition. We psychiatrists should not engage with our patients outside of the office, but I followed my intuition with X and broke the professional code. The first time that we met, he left me with his business card. So, on Monday morning I rang his office. They informed me that he had not yet arrived. I was honest with the secretary: that I was his psychiatrist, that I was worried about him, and that I would like to stop by his house to make sure that everything was okay. I’m not sure if she believed me, or if she was just trying to get off the phone as quickly as possible, but she left me with his home address.

I pulled into an old neighborhood in la Condesa, rather surprised to find that X had lived in a part of town invaded by artists, writers, foreigners, office worker-bees, and social climbers. He didn’t seem to fit the mold, although now that I look back on it, it indeed makes sense for his neurosis to have developed in a neighborhood as artificial as that. The main entrance was open and the building deserted because, surely, at that hour, its inhabitants were busy within their office cubicles, earning the salaries that allowed them to pay the rent. The windows to his apartment were open, as he had described. I got in through one of them, then made certain that no one had seen me. Looking around cautiously, I noticed the hallways were patterned in the art deco style. A cloying, unpleasant scent hung in the air, similar to that of rotting fruit. I recalled that X had told me about his using meat as bait. There were containers, but they were bare.

Upon entering the sitting room, I saw my patient lying on the floor in his shirt sleeves, his tie loosened. His eyes were opened wide and fixed on the ceiling. Beside him lay the flyswatters. Despite the force of the preceding events, I felt as though something was still not right. Everything was too obvious; it was as if X were playing a role, performing a play exclusively for me, and my arrival had marked the falling of the curtain. I thought: he’s going to get up and start laughing now. But that didn’t happen, nor was that the end of the matter. I knelt beside X and observed him up close. I first took note of the fact that his abdomen appeared much more inflated than usual. Afterward, I heard a strange stirring from within his body, not unlike the sound of high-tension cables. His mouth abruptly opened. I neither believe in acts of Heaven, nor acts of Hell, but what came from it has led me to question my own mental health: a torrent of flies covered the ceiling like the blackest of nights, suddenly regrouping and disappearing out the window in a matter of seconds . . . Once the shock had passed, I immediately abandoned the building and put in an anonymous call to report the discovery of a dead body.

Two days later, an ex-colleague that now works at the Forensic Medical Service slipped me a copy of the autopsy report: myocardial infarction. I told no one what I had seen that morning at my patient’s home, and that was the end of the story. I mentioned before that I had been doubting my sanity. Insanity is dangerous because it’s contagious. But these suspicions dissipated a few moments ago, after a brief pause from writing these notes. X was mistaken: flies are, in fact, creatures from Hell: I felt a pang in my stomach, put my hand over my mouth, and belched. When I withdrew it, a fly emerged in flight.

translated from the Spanish by Audrey Manchester