The building numbered 216 let out a sharp crack seconds before the walls separated and the roof collapsed. The walls fell at an hour in the early morning when no one was on the sidewalk. The dust floated up for several days and stuck to the clothes of the curious who came to see and to take some bricks from the pile of beams, wood and tiles. The rooming house next door didn’t suffer too much damage and the neighbors took advantage of the collapse because it left a wall free where they could open new windows. A year later, where the two-story building had collapsed, the trash of the whole neighborhood accumulated and passers-by urinated in the recesses formed by the columns.
The residents went to the shelter known as Venus, which is a few blocks from the central train station. They arrived there hoping theirs would be a short stay among the partitions and sheets hung up to form walls. They’ve spent more than 20 years, however, in the damp rooms full of bunk beds. Their children have grown up there, fallen in love, and procreated, while sharing the collective bathroom and the kitchen with the walls blackened by soot.
At first they believed they had relocated to a better place, but the hurricanes and deterioration have damaged the housing stock and every year thousands of people are added the list of victims. Over time, they’ve forgotten the sensation of opening the door to their own home, taking off their clothes in a room without thinking about the dozens of curious eyes watching, of taking a shower without someone pounding on the door desperately demanding their turn. They have forgotten how to live outside the shelter.