Translation by Nahual Lhorente
We all hated him because he was annoying, and that feeling was, truly, the only thing we could feel with certainty, since he first appeared in the classroom. His calculated ways, his immaculate uniform, his hurtful green gaze, the pedantic confidence in his statements, his triumphant air. All that became too much for us: run-of-the-mill teenagers who just wanted to rush through prep school.
–It’s just that I was born to win – he’d say from time to time when he justified his inevitable triumphs.
In those moments, we hated him even more and if we could, the fire of our spite would have destroyed him. However, even now when we were completely sure we viscerally hated Dominguez, we still couldn’t precisely pinpoint the core, the main reason of our annoyance against him. Even now, just when we’re left looking at each other and enduring our final defeat, we can’t fully understand the strange relationship which so intensely linked us to him in this last and only year of prep school.
What was he like? Who was he really? An exceptionally gifted teenager who by accident had arrived to a school of mediocre students? A loony? An angel?
– You know, I barely make an effort to be the best – he would tell us half smiling half pensive – I just do what I must and that’s all, like when you make a check mate in a good chess match.
Dominguez and his triumphs: in literature, science, sports, art. Dominguez, the absolute winner. There was no reason your accomplishments had to affect us so, Dominguez. And in the beginning, we truly didn’t even care. Before your arrival, we weren’t attracted to accomplish anything of merit. We had learnt to live calmly on our definite path towards nothing; we had discovered our city’s grey sky would be eternal and had already accepted that the last myths of our childhood had been consumed in the forge of our resented adolescence. But with your arrival, all our orderly world of apathy was disrupted.
– We hate you, Dominguez.
–And can I know why?
It’s not that Dominguez was a show-off, or bigheaded. After all, he did actually walk with us and, from time to time, seemed to share our teenage passions; however, there was always something about him that made us suspect he walked next to us, never with us. So? He wasn’t a typical, delicate scholar either – or at least we didn’t see him come across with that impulse – although he always got the best grades, much higher than the isolated nerds who, by that time, joined in the classroom’s collective hatred.
– What can I do, it’s my fate.
No, it wasn’t because of that. On one occasion, a teacher even tried to take advantage of those brilliant grades to criticise our laziness, but he had to keep quiet because he noticed – as did we – that Dominguez was simply looking beyond the window’s broken glasses, without caring a jot about some obscure teacher’s minuscule praises. So, why?
–Dominguez, you messed up school for us.
–I’m sorry. I am what I am.
Why didn’t we beat him up? Of course we thought about it and even planned it out, but, strange thing about adolescence, we didn’t find the chance, and even though in that phase you don’t always need a reason to fight, in Dominguez’s case not one of us was willing to lead that battle: lost beforehand as well. It wasn’t fear, at that age you’re more afraid of being called a coward, but with him things were always like that: strange, complicated.
There was a moment we admitted he was an anticipation of that future we were carving for ourselves by sheer neglect. A future where we would settle under mediocrity’s comfortable shadow to observe those who, like him, were going to fight all their lives for something we didn’t see and didn’t want to understand, but which people like him would later on, tomorrow, call: Personal Fulfilment.
However, there’s always a moment, Dominguez, a crucial moment, like in the movies; an instant in which everything that is established, is shaken, and for us that moment began when one afternoon our tutor announced a special exam to test who-knows-what. An unusual exam that summoned us to a battle which, against what was expected, we were accepting.
Frankly we didn’t care about that exam’s objective. What mattered was the opportunity, so often disdained, of competing against you, Dominguez. The possibility of beating you, of crushing our grade against your triumphant face. We had never felt that desire. We believed we were free of that plague, but we fell for it and were excited. We were going to crush you and it didn’t matter if at the end only one of us beat you: it was all of us against you.
–I was born to fulfill a special role, you’d say.
–You’re going down, Dominguez.
The days previous to the exam were the most enlightened ones in our whole existence. For the first time, we felt the excitement of having a goal and would clumsily stumble with it at every step. Each afternoon, the sun fell back beyond the old walls which surrounded our schoolyard and we could hear, in the silence of the classroom, the motor and rusty rails’ monotonous rattle on which our obsession ran. We were living in a different way and the blood in our veins ran restlessly.
–You’re history, Dominguez.
The day of the exam finally came. You’re screwed, Dominguez. We were all on time and completely prepared; but something strange was happening: Dominguez hadn’t arrived. The professor gave out the exam papers and Dominguez still hadn’t come. Anxiety shook us and the tutor understood something wasn’t right with us, but he didn’t care. We were recited the same recommendations, we were threatened like always and the order was given to commence, and Dominguez’s seat was still empty. We finished the exam and Dominguez never arrived.
An hour later, one by one, we went out to the corridor, and while we waited for the results of the exam and smoked by turns in the bathroom and looked at each other in silence, we learnt to recognise the subtle difference between confusion and frustration. At about nightfall, the tutor stepped out in a hurry to give out the grades. Silva got the highest score and, by Dominguez’s absence, he was the winner, but something wasn’t right: we didn’t care about the grade, we wanted the bigger prize, we wanted Dominguez’s head.
– I must inform you – said the tutor – the student Dominguez wasn’t able to attend due to a sudden sickness.
–What does he have?
–I don’t know. Go to visit him if you’re so worried.
We went that same night, as a group, in a hurry; not so much to enquire about his illness, but to shove Silva’s triumph in his face, which was, when it comes down to it, the triumph of each one of us: the eternal losers.
Dominguez had saved his last card for the end and we only realised it when we got to his house, and found wreaths guarding the door, and the faint lights of candles surrounding his coffin, and heard his mother’s desolate cry; only then we began to understand. There was always one last moment in the game, always the possibility of an unexpected twist in the hands of a star: Dominguez, we hate you.
One by one, we marched by the casket to see his waxen face, eternally asleep. When we went out, we finally accepted what was evident.
We had been beaten.
Translation of “Winner” Copyright Ríchar Primo. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2014 by Nahual Lhorente. All rights reserved.