The other day I went to the darkroom to print some old portraits I had taken in 1995 and had specifically chosen to reproduce a series of portraits of a local character in the old family neighbourhood in Cali, Colombia.
The character in question had grown up near my mother’s house in the south of the city. From what I gather he had grown up a shy boy since he did not have the capacity of speech. His delivery were a series of gutural and unintelligible grunts and sounds that emanated from his mouth and he helped with his hands and pointing in different directions to make his ideas known to others.
After twenty two years abroad I had lost sight and contact with many different aspects of life in the old neighbourhood. Suffice it to say that the boy, whose name I had never heard, was called by those around me, La Mudita, or the Little Mute Girl.
In the intervening years the young lad had developed a taste for dressing as a girl and, having been an abandoned child reared by others, was without education or means of support. In his late teens and being an attractive strong bodied mulato he/she had started dressing up and took to prostitution in a section of town where street-walkers plied their trade after dark.
At some point before the end of the nineteen eighties there were a series of attacks by gunmen who, according to their communiques, were intent on cleaning that part of the city of “vermin” and other plagues, including travesties, street prostitutes, drug dealers and whoever got on their way.
Some time during those years before the onset of the nineties, the Little Mute Girl was shot and left semi-paralized. That is what I was told by friends and neighbours after I arrived back in the old corral in the early days of January 1995.
One afternoon as I was lying around the house after lunch there was a knock on the front door and I went to answer it. I opened the door and there she was, hair in absolute disarray, burnt darker by the daily dose of sun outdoors and gesticulating wildly in front of me. She walked with the aid of two walking canes in a strange way that had her swing from one side to the other as she advanced forward.
She wanted to have her picture taken and since she had seen me around with my camera decided to approach me. I though it would be good and set up an impromptu studio and got to it at once. It all took place in my mother’s scarcely populated living room.
Twenty five years later I look at these portraits and feel an overwhelming sense of peace followed by a measure of outrage when I think that the country I have always called my own, my birthplace, is still so wild, so savage in many ways, so unjust and retrograde.
A place where human life still amounts to almost nothing when compared to the prejudice of others.