On January 18, there are still bombs by Maria Alejandra Barrios

On January 18, there are still bombs

You hear about the bomb when you’re in the shower. Your dad still has a radio in the bathroom, and although you never listen to the news, you enter the shower without turning it off. 18 of January of 2019, one day before your boyfriend comes to Bogotá to visit, a bomb goes off in the south of the city killing 21 cops and leaving 68 people hurt. You rinse your hair in a hurry not even noticing the water is too hot, so hot it’s probably burning your scalp and leaving the skin of your face dry like your mom says hot showers do. You put some jeans on and a T-shirt and rush to the kitchen.

Laura, the maid, has already prepared your breakfast. Whole wheat toast, a soft boiled egg and orange juice. You worry when you see that Laura is quiet, she is always talking. She loves to gossip and she is always telling you about what the neighbors are up to. But not this morning. You notice the kitchen smells like burnt toast. You see a couple of black pieces of bread in the trash.

“Laura? What’s up?” you ask. She turns around; her brown golden complexion is pale and lifeless.

“People from the pueblo,” she says, “they keep calling and hanging up.”

“But your son is in your pueblo.” I put a hand on her shoulder. I want to comfort her, but I’m not sure of what to say. “He’s fine, right?”

“My nephew is a cop,” she says. It’s not her son she is worried about.

You grow quiet. You’re not sure of what to say. You sigh, and you search for the right words. You wonder if there’re any; no one in your family is a cop.

“I’ll pray for him.” Your phone vibrates in your back pocket. It’s a text from Jessie.

Did you see the news? are you okay?

Yes, you answer and you wonder if he even bothered to read the news properly. The bomb was in a police station. Most of the people hurt are cops. You don’t even live in the south. You think about how his parents are going to react. You wonder if they know. If they sent him the link of the news to his email with a message that read: “are you sure?” you feel a pang in your stomach. You wonder if it’s guilt or hunger. You pick up the toast and take a bite. You pick up your phone and reply:

I saw the news. Thank you for asking, we’re all okay. How are you feeling? Are you having second thoughts about coming?

You don’t bother explaining the details about the explosion. There’s no use, and you’re not sure you know enough about it yourself. Your mom enters the kitchen still wearing her bathrobe. She is holding the newspaper.

“More coffee?” Laura asks your mom.

“No, thank you, mijita. Any news from the pueblo?”

“Nada,” Laura says.

Your mom looks at you and says:

“Ay, nena, what about Jessie?”

“I don’t know. Do you think the airport is closed?”

Your mom goes quiet for a second. “I don’t think so. I didn’t hear anything about it on the news.”

A phone rings. Laura answers her cellphone, “aló?” and goes to her room.

“What a shame. Just before Jessie was supposed to visit. What is he going to think?” she asks, but you know she doesn’t expect a response. We all know what they think. Your mom sits at the table, and the sun hits her face. With the light, you see new wrinkles around her eyes you didn’t see the last time you visited from the States.

Laura comes back to the kitchen and says: “It wasn’t Dario.” You and your mom nod. You assume that Dario was Laura’s nephew. “It was this kid in our pueblo. He used to play with my sons when they were little.” You look at Laura, and you can’t quite guess her expression. You can’t tell if she is sad or relieved. Perhaps she is both.

“We’ll pray for him,” your mom says and then goes quiet. Your mom is probably thinking about how she’ll have to give days off to Laura so she can go to the funeral. She is probably thinking that now is such a bad time for that, with Jessie coming and all. Your phone vibrates again.

No, no second thoughts. My flight should be arriving tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to see you and your family. 

You smile, and you feel bad about showing joy when Laura just told you that someone she knew and, perhaps, she loved died.

“I’m sorry, Laura,” you say, wondering if you should say anything else. You really don’t know what it feels like.

“Gracias, mijita,” she says warmly. “Another toast? I think the one on the table must be cold.”

You nod and watch her throw the toast on the trash on top of the others. Your mom is cross-legged reading the paper. You start to think about what tourist attractions you could visit with Jessie while avoiding the center of the city, which you think is more dangerous than the north, where you live. Your family, your friends and you will probably avoid the center for a while until the whole city forgets about January 18. Except from watching the news, and thinking about it every couple of years when an atentado happens, you really don’t think about these things.

You see Laura buttering your toast and you think about how the south of the city looks like another city other than Bogotá. Another country even. You look at Laura again as she puts the toast on a fresh plate. A tear rolls down her cheek and she wipes it off quickly with her index finger. You really don’t know how it feels.


On January 18


Maria Alejandra Barrios is a writer born in Barranquilla, Colombia. She has lived in Bogotá and Manchester where in 2016 she completed a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. Her fiction has been published in Hobart Pulp, Reservoir Journal, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Her poetry has been published in The Acentos Review. Her work has been supported by organizations like Vermont Studio Center and Caldera Arts Center. She lives in New York and is currently working on her first novel.


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