That Man Who Ate Lupins

Photo by Aneta Foubíková on Unsplash

The social housing residential complex that remains in Villa Soldati, in the city of Buenos Aires, was completed in the year the Football World Cup was played in Argentina (1978). The complex sought to integrate into a neighborhood populations that lacked their own home, including shantytown residents. 1,400 houses were built of what are popularly called monoblocks. They are strips of buildings of up to 14 floors, each one similar to a large concrete block with windows.

Villa Soldati

In the year 2000 I used to go there on Saturdays as a volunteer to help and share time, games and reflections with youngsters — as I was then — with whom we were opening our hearts, sharing our lives between cigarettes and mates. We left Barrio Norte at 8AM and after 1:30 hours of travel we arrived at the South of the city, staying until after noon. Some days we had lunch there, others we had a sandwich on the bus, or something when we returned home.

The youngsters came to the room where we met, more girls than boys. Always restless and smiling, they recounted the peculiarities of their days, some distressing, others calmer. We were forging a beautiful friendship. Without a cell phone, or WhatsApp or social networks and with little use of email, live personal encounters were our main means of communication. So many years later there are many faces, sounds of voices and names that have been blurred, but the memory of those meetings remains indelible. The moments of laughter, anecdotes and tears are imperishable, with questions between shrieks of “Why, why?” without being able to understand many of the events of our existence.

With emotional ties united thanks to the bridge of open hearts and the shared experiences, Saturdays passed, one after another, with cold, rain, heat, still hungover from the previous day’s alcohol or having slept too much. Each Saturday was unique and each meeting memorable. Unforgettable was that Saturday when we had to think about how we wanted to represent the life we were living the following week in a huge room full of hundreds of other young people. It was not at all easy for young twenty-somethings to express our regrets, joys, difficulties and anguish theatrically. Our wishes and desires and the unshakable hope that united us, despite everything and everyone, from our frailties and insecurities. That Saturday was a memorable day.

For hours we discussed ideas, some very funny, others boring, we came and went, while we walked and smoked with all kinds of thoughts. As the best brainstorming, nothing was bad, everything was put to debate, everything was improved if necessary or evaporated instantly. Finally, I proposed an idea that seemed very simple, easy to do and very representative of our youth.

We would make cardboard masks with a sad face on one side and each of us would start sitting with an unlit candle, separated from each other and from the center of the patio where there was a large wooden cross, with a large lit candle. The room had to be completely dark. At the beginning, a song called Enciende una luz (Turn on a light) would sound instrumentally. When the lyrics reached the chorus and said “turn on a light in the dark” one of us would approach the big candle, take the small candle hidden in the clothes and light it. She would share that light with the others as we approached the center of the room until we were all standing there together. Then, we would turn around the masks that had a big smile drawn on them. We would walk to the side of the large cross in the center of the room to sing “You can’t hide it, you can’t shut it up…”

We did so and it was an emotional moment, with a hug from all of us on the end full of tenderness and tears. That’s what we were, that’s what we felt, that’s how we represented ourselves. Sadness in the dark, joy in the light. It was already night. We went back to the room where we met every Saturday. We said goodbye until the following Saturday when we were going to have fun again, remembering everything that had not gone as planned. Each one returned home. That week passed like all the others, at least for some of us.

The following Saturday we returned to Soldati. But when we arrived there was no one. Surprised, we went to look for them at their homes, but they weren’t there either. At midmorning they appeared. They had gone to the funeral of one of the 18-year-old girls who had died that week, shot to death, with a smile on her face, like the mask the previous week. Before our absolute shock, without understanding what had happened or how, they told us what happened. She had died for 10 cents. Some drugged and alcoholic boys cornered her and between pushing and screaming from her they asked for money. She had nothing. They insisted, telling her to give them everything. But she really wasn’t carrying any money. The boys demanded 10 cents from her immediately. 10 cents! Since she could not give them what they asked for, she was shot. She died instantly, smiling.

Every time I see the question on the internet: How much worth is… Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Lionel Messi, etc., or when I see the superficialities of the geniuses of the ‘Celebrity Net Worth Calculator’ I think of that Saturday. I reflect on the absurd need that human beings have for rankings: the Top 5, Fortune50, Top100 or Fortune500. The desire we have to know the value of people for their capital or economic success. We continually look at those we assume are the best, because they are at the top. We compare ourselves with them to see what we lack — everything we don’t have! — to be happy, or at least admired by others. We are all victims of this desire. But we have a hard time looking at everything we have that so many others would envy if only they could have it. We prefer to have a life in debt because of the eyes of others we consider better than to spend what little we have to share it with others, who have less. We never see at the Bottom5, Unfortunate 50, Bottom100 or Unfortunate500!

Like the Story X of Cuentos de El Conde Lucanor and That Man Who Ate Lupins*

What happened to a man who, due to poverty and lack of something else, ate lupins.

Another day Count Lucanor spoke with Patronio, his adviser, in this way:

-Patronio, I know well that God has given me much more than I deserve and that in all other things I only have reason to be very satisfied, but sometimes I find myself so in need of money that I would not mind leaving this life. I ask you to give me some advice to remedy this affliction of mine.

“Count Lucanor,” said Patronio, “so that you can console yourselves when this happens to you, it would be convenient for you to know what happened to two men who were very rich.”

The count begged him to tell.

“Señor Count,” began Patronio, “one of these men reached such an extreme of poverty that he had nothing left in the world to eat.” Having struggled to find something, he couldn’t help but find a bowl of lupins. Remembering how rich he had been and thinking that now he was hungry and had nothing but lupins, which are so bitter and taste so bad, he began to cry, although without stopping eating the lupins, because of the great hunger, and pouring out the shells back. In the midst of this grief and sorrow, he noticed that there was another person behind him and, turning his head, he saw that a man was eating the lupine shells that he was throwing on the ground. This was the other one of whom I told you had also been rich.

When that saw the one with the lupins, he asked the other why he ate the shells. He replied that, although he had been richer than him, he had now reached such an extreme of poverty and was so hungry that he was very glad to find those shells that he was throwing. When the one with the lupins heard this, he consoled himself, seeing that there was another poorer than he and that he had less reason to be so. With this consolation he strove to get out of poverty, he did it with the help of God and became rich again.

You, Count Lucanor, must know that, by God’s permission, no one in the world achieves everything. But, since in all other things God makes you a marked mercy and you go out with what you want, if ever you lack money and you go through straits, do not be sad, but be sure that other would be happy if they could give to their people even less than what you give to yours.

The count was very pleased with what Patronio said, he consoled himself and, making an effort, managed to get out, with God’s help, from the hardship in which he found himself. Seeing don Juan that this story was good, he had it put in this book and wrote some verses that say:

For poverty never faint,

for others poorer than you will see.

*Lupin: any leguminous plant of the genus Lupinus, of North America, Europe, and Africa, with large spikes of brightly coloured flowers and flattened pods.

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