I skirt the edge of my building, avoiding walking under the balconies, because the kids throw condoms filled with urine to kill the boredom. A man with his daughter is carrying a bag that’s dripping a mix of grease, water and blood. They’re coming from the butcher’s, where the line announces that some rationed product came in this morning. The two climb the stairs happily carrying their trophy meat. The wife is probably already cutting the onions, while breathing a sigh of relief that the protein is back, after several days’ absence.
I’m behind them and I manage to hear the little girl ask, “Papi, how many chickens have you eaten in your life?” I see the bewildered face of the father, who’s made it to the sixth floor, sweating from every pore. His answer is a little brusque. “How would I know that? I don’t keep a count of the food.” But the young girl insists. Evidently she’s learning to multiply and divide, so she wants to take apart the world and explain it—completely—with pure numbers. “Papi, if you’re 53 and every month you get one pound of chicken at the butcher’s, you just have to know how many months you’ve lived. When you have that number you divide it by four pounds, which is more or less what a chicken usually weighs.”
I follow the mathematical formula she’s developed and I figure I’ve eaten 99 chickens in my 33 years. The man interrupts my calculations, telling her, “Sweetie, when I was born chickens weren’t rationed.” I start thinking about how I grew up with the shackles of rationing attached to both ankles but, thanks to the black market, the diversion of resources from State enterprises, the shops that sell only in convertible pesos, the trading of clothes for food, and a ton of parallel tracks, I don’t know the exact amount I’ve digested. As I hurry past and hear the doubting phrase from the little Pythagoras: “Oh, Papi, do you expect me to believe that before, in the butcher shops, they sold you all the chicken you wanted…”