[excerpt]

Faustino Rivera turned to the man at his left, repeated the order, and the man departed. Why don't they pitch the prisoner on the ground and shoot him like a dog before it gets light and we can see everybody’s face? Why drag it out like this? the corporal thought, uneasy because the patio was getting lighter by the second. The prisoner raised his eyes and looked at each of them with the astounded expression of the dying; he paused when he came to Faustino. He undoubtedly recognized him, because once they'd played soccer on the same field, and there he was now standing in the middle of icy pools of water, holding a rifle in his hands that weighed a ton, while the prisoner lay on the ground waiting. At this point the chair arrived and the lieutenant ordered them to tie the prisoner to the chairback because he was swaying like a scarecrow. The corporal stepped toward him with a kerchief.

“I don't want a blindfold, soldier,” said the prisoner, and the corporal hung his head, ashamed, wishing the officer would get on with it and give the order to fire, wishing this war would hurry up and get over, wishing that things would bet back to normal and he could walk down the street in peace, greeting all his countrymen alike. “Reaaaaady! Aiii…!” commanded the lieutenant.

Finally, thought the corporal. The man who was about to die closed his eyes for an instant but opened them again to look toward the sky. He was no longer afraid. The lieutenant hesitated. He'd been pale as a ghost ever since he'd heard about the execution; an old voice from his childhood had been pounding in his brain, the voice of some teacher or his confessor in the school for priests, perhaps: All men are brothers. But that isn't true; any man who goes around spreading violence is no brother of mine, and the nation comes first, everything else isn't worth shit; and if we don't kill them, they'll kill us. That’s what the colonels say: kill or be killed, this is war, these things have to be done, pull up your pants and don't tremble, don't think, don't feel, and above all don't look at the man’s face, because if you do, you're fucked good and proper. “Fire!”

The bullet jolted the skies and echoed and re-echoed in the icy patio. A startled pigeon flew away. The smell of gunpowder and the noise seemed to linger for an eternity, but slowly the silence returned. The lieutenant opened his eyes: the prisoner was sitting straight and serene in his chair, looking at him. There was fresh blood on the shapeless mass of his pants legs, but he was alive, and his face was ethereal in the dawn light. He was alive, and waiting.

“What’s going on here, Corporal?” the officer asked in a low voice.

“They shot at his legs, Lieutenant,” replied Faustino River. “All the boys are from around here. They know each other, they're not going to kill a friend.”