The year was ending again. New Year’s eve! One of my favorite times of the year. It was always a bit windy and chilly, so I could wear my jacket out––well, chilly for Salvadoran standards. No curfew that year, no martial law. I could stay up all night, challenging my friends to see who could keep up and greet the sunrise before going to watch a movie. Most accepted the challenge. Few saw it through. Usually, we would start the evening by going from party to party. “Parachuting in,” we called it when we hadn’t been invited. Luis Presidente would drive us, he was the one who was allowed to drive his father’s car. Someone in the group always knew where the parties were. That was never me. I wasn’t attuned to that. Where the parties were would be left to Luis, his sister Claudia, or my cousin Lorena. They would know where to go and how to dress. Lorena would tell me what not to wear.
After the rounds of parties, Rodney and I would walk around the colonia, at times with two or three other friends, joining small groups hanging out here and there, usually outside someone’s house. There, we would joke, flirt, tease, or horse play. The groups would get smaller and smaller as the night deepened and Morpheus conquered.
Of course, this happened after midnight, when the blanket of smoke from fireworks covered the streets of San Salvador and everything was white smoke, gun powder smell, and the explosion of sounds. There could be no doubt about it, the new year always came with force, bold and loud. It came with promises of strong beginnings. It was followed by deep, strong hugs to all friends, all family, and neighbors. Each hug was an unspoken declaration of love and the desire for deep and everlasting happiness, and heart to heart pouring of well-wishing to each person between your arms.
It was my favorite holiday.
This time, it started just like all the others. Before the explosive coming of the year, there was the dancing and light drinking. There was the same cumbias played in every party, the one about how the singer won’t forget the old year, because it left him very good things. It left him a goat, a black donkey, a white mare, and a good mother in law. And this way, everyone dancing to the slow rhythmic beat––and me somehow always almost catching the beat––we said goodbye with love to the old year, no matter what had happened. And we waited for the new one, no matter how much it seemed like it would be the same as all the others before. It didn’t matter, because it came with great joy and loud brotherly hugs. For me and one or two other friends, it would come with an amazing sunrise and a hundred new stories.
It started like that, with the nostalgic beats and the youthful mirth. Something of the scripted sequence was thrown off this night of my telling, however. Some time before the blast of sound, gun powder, and hugs of midnight, as we were placidly walking to some other party after midnight, a very different, unscripted, explosion shook the neighborhood.
The night became pitch dark. All the lights went off, and the world was again dark and cold, with the sound of the wind now loud against the silent stillness of our awareness, which rapidly tried to figure out that the muchachos must have blown a generator, and was now trying to listen for more shots, for military vehicles, for boots on the pavement.
We were well trained by years of war. We knew everything was over, and everyone ran to their homes. There were to be no drinks, dance, or sunset. This New Year was coming after a premature bang, one of war and not of joy.
I ran to my house with my cousin. All our friends had ran to theirs. We could almost feel them in the distance, listening like we were to the silence and the wind outside. Anticipating shots or bombs, but hoping for silence.
At this moment, when we had just accepted the new script, a faint cumbia could be heard up the Pasage Galaxia, getting louder and louder as Rodney appeared walking down the street from his house. He had ran to get his father’s short wave radio, one likely used to listen to otherwise blocked news from Cuba or Nicaragua. Rodney, the perennial bard, was now channeling joy and music from some neighboring country, and one by one all the friends of the neighbor came out to dance the night away, there in the dark streets. We walked in the dark howling wind attracted by this Hamelin character, Rodney, who had with three D batteries and a radio transistor just defeated the specter of war and the terror of men.