Monday, March 14, 2005
Manuel painted in silence, until I asked if he ever encountered rats in the tunnels. ‘I see them all the time! They’re big, and they’re brave. They scare me. The other night I was spreading concrete when I looked up and there was one about a foot long, staring at me. When I waved my shovel at him he stood up on his hind legs and snarled.’
‘What did you do?’
‘I decided to go on a break.’ [...]
Manuel has regularly called me looking for odd jobs. I haven’t been much help, but I’ve learned a little bit of his life story. He came to America not for money – ‘There is plenty in Ecuador,’ he says – but because he’d been in command of a detachment of paratroopers guarding the Ecuadorian president. He was ordered to fire on an unruly crowd, and refused. Then he had to flee to escape prison. He’s not afraid of much – except rats.
‘Sean, how is your son?’ he asked the other day.
‘Getting bigger. Holding up his head.’ Pause. ‘And the rats, Manuel, how are the rats?’
‘Numerous! Getting bigger, too! Ten inches! Thirteen inches! All over Brooklyn. None of us want to work in Brooklyn.’