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PART OF THE The Christmas Issue ISSUE

‘We stayed in the town of Tigre on the Paraná Delta the whole winter, engulfed by the fog from the river.’

Slum Virgin tells the larger-than-life story of Cleopatra, a transvestite who, living in  Buenos Aires, renounces prostitution after the Virgin Mary appears before her. Following the divine messages she receives, Cleo takes charge of the shantytown she lives in, transforming it into a tiny utopia.

Extract from Slum Virgin
By Gabriela Cabezón Cámara
Translated by Frances Riddle
Published by Charco Press

Atoms, molecules whipped into a frenzy by random chance, that’s all life is. This was the kind of profound insight that filled my head out there on the island in the Delta, half-naked and without any of my things, not even a computer, just a little bit of cash and the credit cards I couldn’t use until we left Argentina. My thoughts were rotten: sticks, beer bottles, lily pads, used condoms, crumbling docks and headless dolls, a collage of losses discarded by the tide. I felt like a castaway who’d barely survived a shipwreck. Although I’ve learnt by now that no one ever really survives a shipwreck. The ones who drown end up dead and the ones who are saved spend the rest of their lives drowning.

We stayed in the town of Tigre on the Paraná Delta the whole winter, engulfed by the fog from the river that owed endlessly past. We didn’t speak much. For me, everything was underscored by pain, suffused with it. I floated through daily life, alien to everything that sustained me: the smells of the kitchen and the heat of the wood-burning stove. Cleopatra exercised all her talents under the shadow of the Virgin, ignoring my dazed indifference to life and death, to the whims of deranged molecules that lay waste to worlds and children in the course of their adventures. I lived folded in on myself in the foetal position, just like the creature growing inside of me and in spite of me: my womb was alive with a daughter who continued to grow even though I was a cemetery of dead loved ones. I felt like a stone: an aberration, a state of matter, a rock imbued with the knowledge that it was going to be crushed and reconfigured and transformed into something else. And this knowledge hurt. I haven’t done any scientific research on the topic, but surely you never get two rocks that are exactly alike. Or maybe you do – who the hell could ever compare all the rocks of all time? And I don’t know that it would lessen the pain for this rock to know that maybe, once, there had been another identical rock somewhere in the expanses of time, one that doesn’t even exist any more. All that exists are the movements of molecules, the fundamental restlessness of the elements. I don’t give a damn whether there’s ever been or never been another aberration identical to me or to Kevin. Nature doesn’t conform to the rules of mass production: ‘It’s not an assembly line, the products aren’t all the same, because there’s God,’ said Cleopatra. ‘There is no God,’ I told her sometimes, the few times I ever spoke, when she came in with the analgesic of her exuberant and optimistic imagination…


Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara is out now published by Charco Press priced £9.99.

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