Steven Rodas



Steven Rodas is a 27-year-old writer, who was born in Jersey City, NJ, and grew up partly in Medellin, Colombia. In addition to being an award-winning journalist, he has published short stories with Z Publishing House and New Jersey City University's PATHS

For Steven, being Latinx means serving as a voice for his ancestors.

Twitter handle: @loftyparks



The young men’s job was menial, if not rather pleasant for it allowed them to follow along with the Nacional-Cali game blaring from the portable radio without much need to multitask. The two of them were to dismount crates of hardened, not-yet-ripe, mangoes from the lodging truck before the storefront. It was an every-other-day sort of thing so they had all their systems in place. The punching in of the codes, the makeshift assembly line they formed between them, the volume at which to put the game, and which broadcast they preferred. Estrella Estereo was much more muted than you would want from a commentators’ point of view. But Olympica annoyingly punched in their stations namesake after every sponsor break, during every ten minute interval and every single time a foul was committed or a substitution was made. The score had settled 0-0 at the 38th mark. It was rather lame optics for a game that really had been exciting. The men would, by their estimate, begin to gear up for lunch as the first half was coming to a close. Nearly two dozen crates remained but they had agreed to stay at the store until at least 2 pm. It was a fruit market but shared a wall with a butcher shop next door. Slaughtered cows hung limp from the tall-fridges in the back. Another delivery was arriving. One for the communal cookout scheduled for later that very day. Had that time of year arrived already? The coolness of the air confirmed their suspicions. They made way for the man with the Carne Rica logo etched on his polo to walk up the alley to the counter. Not a local runner like them, they didn’t recognize him. Must of been from out of town. Didn’t even give the impression he wanted to speak. Would perhaps make friendly conversation as a formality...

“Who’s winning?” he sprung on them apropo of nothing.

“Tied, friend. 0-0. First half just ended.”

“Thanks for the update,” he said, turning away.

The two men looked at each other.

“Here they come,” the younger man of the two observed - looking not into the store this time, but on the street.

Two boys were walking down the block at a nervous pace. The older of the younger men had a similar thought, though he didn’t verbalize it.

The small one’s face shone with a glint of fear. But the confidence of the other one, the older one of the two, was more than enough to make up for it.  He spoke then. “We’re here for a job” was all the older boy said.



We used to kill pigs on the street near my grandma’s house in Medellin. A man would stick em.’ Bleed em’ dry. And gut em. He would pile the liver, the kidney, the heart, and everything else in great big medal basins and then surround the hollow swine with great big hay stalks. Light em, burn em’, roast em nice and good. Porky fumes wafted in the air. Today, though, it comes in prepackaged plastic bags.

Sure, you can still roast a pig on the street. But the drama has been ostensibly zapped out of the annual tradition.

“More civil this way,” my cousin tells me, shoo’ing me over with the tip of his sneaker. We are sitting on a curbout at the bottom of the corner as some of the plastic bags were being delivered to the store owner. Two men could be seen listening to something on the radio I couldn’t quite make out.

A naked grill, tongs, and empty crates lay beside him - giving off a calm-before-the-storm type of feeling.

Where our feet are is where the blood used to pool. The pavement is designed this way, for heavy storms. Daniel, my cousin that is, is being derisive. I know he misses it too. He’s particularly a fan of chicharon. Or fried pig belly. Something about the saltiness of it, how it pairs nicely with an arepa. The sizzle it made on the grill was nothing short of a tiny hockey-puck sized miracle. All could be achieved with the new system, but rarely a day would pass without Daniel reminding me, “It’s. Just. Not. The. Same.”

The transparent ziplocs the pigs came in were depressurised in order to conserve freshness. “That even gonna be enough?” I asked. “You know they only look small, dummy,” Daniel responded. “Once we slit those babies, they’ll bloat up in places.”

“Sure man, sure.”

A few moments later, and sensing my glumness, Daniel grabbed me by the shoulder, raised me so we were level, and gave me a look. The one that told me it was on. “Really, Danny? Today?” “Shush!” He said. “You want them to hear us? Tia will suspect something if she sees that stupid excited look on your face.”

“Fine, fine,” I gathered what patience I could muster and offered him a straight face. “Now you look like a chump,” he said, but laughingly so. “We’ll start at the rise near the church,” he added.

I knew the bus stop he referred to. A woman crossing the very one was struck by a bus just a week back. She was a friend of the family. Really a claim that could be made by nearly anyone in our little cut-out of the city. It was a mystery though, that such an occurrence weren’t far more common. For those buses come blasting down that hill like meteors. A trail of smoke even completing the metaphor and obfuscating what little air bike trailers had. Bike trailers were pre-teens on low-set bicycles that held on to the fenders of commercial vehicles for free-of-charge trips to nearly any part of town. How some of them didn’t get into more accidents was a mystery to me too. Once lunch was settled and I brushed my teeth I headed to that stop. Another curbout, this one at the corner where Doña Alvera was hit senseless with fifteen tons of metal 6 days ago. A piece of her collar bone was discovered in a sewer grate - its whitening glistening in the sun.

Languishing there I came to realize how little it seemed anything had happened at all. I pondered the triviality of it and in fact I was lost in thought when my cousin Daniel came up and conked me on my head. “Get out of the clouds,” he said. “She hasn’t died,” he added then, reading my thoughts. Hasn’t. Like he knew she would. I mean, if it was to serve as a lesson to any of us, sadly, she should. But they never did.

Why the grim thought crossed my mind was just one more unsolved mystery I tacked on to the day’s bevy.



The way the store was set up, black and brown crates of exposed fruit lined much of the front entrance. Flies hovered above most of it, but that nary bothered anyone. White shelving contained much of the non-perishables and the space between the narrow rows was made to maximize the amount of food one could reasonably (and unreasonably) fit in that amount of space. A baby carriage could not get comfortably by. Eight, nine feet high some rows went, and my money would be on not all those boxes remaining up to snuff from a food administration’s point of view. Braving down the narrow rows, near the bottom were medal stands with even more crates and even more boxes. Then came the household cleaning products such that you may mop your floor or dust the counter. These were beside the very mops, brooms, and rags you would need to use them at said time. Then the refrigerators began, first containing dairy products, then the packaged meat, and finally the counter at the rear of the store where a stocky man in a white bloodied apron would take your order. Just as long as you handed him a white ticket with a big bold black number, retrievable at the end of the refrigerators.  He was trained to make nearly every cut needed, and even some off the menu. He wasn’t the man to speak to. But he was the man you spoke to before you spoke to the real man. This operation had been going on since Daniel’s grandfather was a toddler, and rumors date it even further back than that.

“Here for a job, Don Salmon,” the older boy said respectfully. Salmon looked at him head to toe, despite knowing full well not only who he was but what family he came from. Salmon nodded him in after an uncomfortable amount of time. Never did the older boy, or Don, acknowledge Daniel’s little cousin. He walked in. And the little boy just as quickly headed out front to wait.

Little one wasn’t allowed to go back in. Perhaps one day. But now, he was just a guinea. Had to roll with the punches. The working men in the front were balancing bowls of soup, and bread, which they would dip into the broth. Fifteen minutes later, Daniel exited the store. A piece of paper dangled from his left hand. An address. He didn’t say anything until they were clear of the block entirely.

“It’s just one, and we’re the only one on it so far but...” the working men could just make out before they were out of reach.




The part of town our mark lived in was a few blocks from a metro station, which offered another good sign: anything we did could easily be masked by the sound of the train rolling into the station and the commuters filing in and out. That’s considering all things went as planned, which was never the case. A flight of concrete stairs led from the elevated train platform to the other side where we would begin our ascent up the street. The house itself was tucked away at the very top of a steep incline. The pavement was not very well maintained, and the bustle here was almost undetectable. If someone was preparing for lunch or wringing out wet clothes, we couldn’t tell. Children, who you would expect to see on the street venturing about in their imaginary worlds, were also lacking for this time of day. My cousin Daniel counted this as luck. But the stranger, and easier, things became the more I grew unnerved. Breaking into the house itself finally, we entered through a side window. I could tell by the smell that coffee had been on, just seconds after I entered - my shoes making scuff marks on the clean linen bed. Moments later, we were sitting in the kitchen, accepting the fact that it was most likely the case that no one was here. (I’ll point out here that we didn’t conduct a thorough search). Coffee, as I had suspected, was on. A black kettle nestled in the corner stove. The coffee itself still warm, and enough milk for me to make myself a mug. Daniel took it black. We toasted to our failure, when suddenly an older bearded-man walked out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around his waist, a newspaper in hand, and a stupid look on his face.

“Wait!” was all he could manage, before my cousin Daniel raised his hands. In all the commotion, I couldn’t discern what he was saying.

The man was a local courier, he said, employed by many non-contract agencies to carry out odd jobs throughout the city. (It was Daniel’s idea to allow them to speak at this point of the process). This included making runs for the deli owner whenever they were short eggs, or sugar, or fresco. He made deliveries to the cemetery whenever the groundskeeper there was overstocked in fertilizer, or needed help rake leaves. Whenever a boutique was carrying out an inventory count, or was closing for a street fair and thus needed extra hands to organize new shipments, his hands would be there. If that fair ran afoul and men were needed to disband crowds, this worked for him too despite his meagerness and utter lack of menace.

Really, I gathered with my coffee mostly gone now, that this man had done many a thing. I, and my cousin Daniel too, for that matter had personally witnessed some of his work. However, those being very run-of-the-mill things we couldn’t be faulted much for not appreciating them. No one could. He said he had an older brother. Lived in another part of the country. Had a trough he said, where a mother pig had given birth to a drift not two years back. He had cows, hens, but mostly dogs. Those dogs, he said, had the run of the place. So much so that upon visiting him - and a car with all-wheel-drive was very much needed for said task - the first sign you were approaching his grounds were dogs on the horizon. He kept saying that, “dogs on the horizon.” Like it was the mantra to some popular children’s television show I had never seen. Not much to say about his brother, just that he had that place. And really, anyone who wanted to associate anything to him short of that place would be at a loss for words. It was as if he had always wanted to have a farm of that sort, he said. Once he did, he decided he was done in this life. He’s still there though, and he takes care of those animals something fierce. Honestly, I think it’s because of the dogs, he said. Think those dogs have him doing that work. Lest he threaten their home. The man didn’t talk much about his parents. Just that they came in and out of his life in less than a day. A few more anecdotes about some girlfriends, and a brief stint when he could afford schooling. Daniel poured himself one more round. Tired, and thus looking for energy wherever he could find it. But the bottom of the kettle mostly contained grains. Those got stuck between his teeth and the few that were carried down his gullet by the liquid had him coughing up. The state of the street, how quiet it had been, compared to all the racket he was making now keyed me in on the fact that something was brewing. The shadow of a few dog heads poking up from the top of the street came to mind. I wasn’t one to be paranoid, nor one to interrupt my cousin while we were on a job, but I did both that moment then. I motioned with my head, just the slightest.

So Daniel did what we came to do.

It had proven to be true, after all that I was merely making a situation out of what not had been one. It was barely evening by the time we dismounted the window and made our way down the street. Two girls wearing mini-skirts, a catholic’s idea of what girls should attend school in, unwrapped bubblegum as they walked. A shirtless man performed maintenance on his motorcycle as he drank a mandarine fresco. A cigarette was being lit somewhere, but I couldn’t place it. And Daniel was checking himself for signs.

As we made our way back to the store, the men that had been working this morning looked to be clear of it. A fries and chicken establishment that made much of its business at this time appeared to be abandoned entirely. The bottom of the block itself, from where we stood, looked much more lively than the rest of the neighborhood. Much. Much more lively. Then it dawned on me that it was as if a coo we were unaware of was underway and everyone in the neighborhood, with the exception of us, was in on it. A crowd had formed and we approached somewhat discerning in our movements. Based on the time, we both figured the prepackaged pigs were being decanted. That the cookout was imminent so families and the men charged with the roast were congregating. They surrounded not the husk of a pig, but the husk of man.

It had to be another mark, belonging to somebody else.

Our suspicions were proved wrong when, upon arriving, every face turned to greet us.


© The Acentos Review 2019