Virgin among sinners

By Mario Vargas Llosa

 

There was not the slightest intention of sacrilege on the part of the woman who owns this small whorehouse bar in a tough neighborhood of Medellín. This city is known throughout the world for the drug cartels that operate there, and for the violence that often fills its streets with blood. But Medellín is also a beautiful city that spills through a fertile valley, and seen from the surrounding peaks it vibrates like a resplendent mirage. The city is also known for the religious fervor of its inhabitants, and is a true bulwark of Catholic faith. The madam of this all-night bar of red lights and diabolical rhythms hung that painting of the Virgin on the wall as a sign of devotion. And also to ask Mary, in her infinite goodness, to safeguard the place from brawls, knife fights, and shootings, and her girls from contagious diseases, fatigue, and the despair that one day, without any warning, pushes some nocturnal butterflies to suicide.

 

Managing a bar, a discoteque, a brothel, whatever you want to call it, is not an easy job anywhere. But in Medellín it is much more difficult than in other cities in the world because of the abundance of knives and firearms, and because of the ease with which any hot dispute among the paisas (that’s what the people in this valley folk are called) degenerates into a fight or a crime. But this madam has been lucky up to now. Although the clients drink and whoop it up, dance and get drunk, and take the girls up to the little rooms on the second floor, generally they behave and do not make much of an uproar. People have been punched in the nose, of course, and there are bottles broken over heads, and frequent black eyes, like anywhere else. But up till now—and the place has been here for five years now–not a single corpse has bloodied the sawdust on the floor. Now who, if not the blessed Virgin on that plaster wall over there, could be responsible for a miracle like that?