Forwarded many times:
1. Always be alert. Don’t give papaya and wait inside a parked car. Don’t stop at a red light at night. Don’t take the same route home every day. Don’t pull out your phone in the street or the car or the supermarket. Don’t give money to the barefoot kid in the corner. Avoid tables by the window. Spot the exits. Look for suspicious people. Don’t get distracted. Don’t make it easy for them to surprise you.
2. Keep a low profile. Wear a cheap watch, take off your jewelry, the wedding ring, even the fake pearls—they can’t tell the difference. Drive an old car, one with stained seats or scratches. If possible, live in an apartment, not a house. Carry only one credit card and little cash. Wear inconspicuous clothing, nothing with a brand or foreign sports team. Never wear polished shoes, never look too polished.
3. Learn how to spot malandros. They’re not ghosts, they’re not invisible, but they’re everywhere. They all wear hats. They all look the same. They’re all capable of violence. Don’t try and see if they have short hair or long, a beard or a mole, don’t look at what they’re wearing or the make of their motorcycles or the gun in their hand. Never look into their eyes.
4. Listen to your sixth sense. If something feels off, it’s because it is and it’s already too late.
5. Let them do their job. If they ask for your address, give it to them. Give them the dollars and the jewelry and the combination of the safe. Give them the TVs and the iPads and the laptops and the Nintendos. Give them the silver and the car keys and everything else they want. Notice how easy it is to give it all away, how clear it becomes that all these things are worthless when the only thing of value is your life in their hands. Hold on to this feeling after they leave and you’re still alive and your home is bare and you forget again about what matters and what doesn’t.
6. Learn to use a gun. Carry one always. Buy lots of guns. Stash them all over the house. Hide them in your pants, the glove compartment, underneath your pillow. If you get a chance, aim for the head or the chest, or the heart. Don’t give papaya and shoot them in the leg.
7. Talk in a low voice, never yell. Don’t startle the finger on top of a trigger. Offer them a cigarette, offer them breakfast, offer them some water while they load up your car with your things. Ask them if they really want to be doing this, ask them if they could please not point the gun at the child, ask them about their mothers, ask them if they have no shame.
When they approach you, tell them you’re pregnant, tell them you’re on your period, tell them you’re an only child, tell them you have kids, tell them their names and their ages, tell them they can’t go to sleep unless you are lying next to them, tell them they’re probably lying in bed right now, awake, wondering where you are.
8. The best way to avoid malandros is to think like one. Put yourself in their shoes. Pick up on opportunities—the woman on the phone, the couple kissing in the car, the sliver of an open window notice how people give papaya all the time. Think with malice. Imagine that you’re hungry, that your kids are hungry, that you live in a rancho made with gray cinder blocks and muddy floors, that you have no mother, that it’s Christmas Eve and you have no presents for the kids, that you watched your brother die when you were fourteen, that you couldn’t believe all the blood, that you’ve seen so much blood it no longer scares you, that this is the only thing you know how to do, that you wish you could stop but don’t know how, that you wish someone would stop you, and that every time you go out into the dark, you hope this is the day somebody finally does.
Patricia García Luján’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, and Coolest American Stories 2023 (Coolest Stories Press, 2023). She is a former culture writer at Vogue and a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami’s MFA program. In 2021, she was named a Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award finalist and the Sewanee Review Fiction Contest finalist. Luján is at work on a short story collection.