In Colombia there are walking ghosts, people who have crossed death's frontier. They're still alive, but many of them wish they were dead. Living, as it stands, is a burden. They're not suicidal. They're just suffering because their enemies have them cornered. The time they have left is short, and they know it. They're surrounded by threats and bodyguards. Not only is death beckoning but guilt. These walking ghosts live in a world of wakes and funerals. They have survived when so many others have perished. What's left of them is often used to hasten the end, to take that final step into the other world. While some search for safety, most of them search for a perch where they can die with dignity. They would rather be considered martyrs than cowards.
I met one such walking ghost in 1995, early in my stay in Colombia. His name was Josué Giraldo. Josué was an inconspicuous person, Colombian in so many ways. He had dark, wavy brown hair, which was neatly trimmed, and a light, European-mestizo colored skin. The first and only time we met, he was clean shaven and wearing a pressed shirt and pants. He was compact and strong. He reminded me of the wrestlers I had known in high school. His friends later told me that Josué played basketball and soccer, and jogged regularly.
But Josué's cool look couldn't hide his anxiety. He was noticeably nervous. His movements were jerky, and he had a rigid handshake. We exchanged names and a few pleasantries that day but little else. Words came quickly out of his mouth, and I had a hard time understanding him because I was still getting used to Colombian Spanish.
Josué lived in a world I was only beginning to comprehend. His main job was in human rights. He worked with a Catholic nongovernmental organization, Justicia y Paz, in Bogotá and the local human rights committee in the city of Villavicencio, the capital of the province of Meta and the beginning of the vast Eastern Plains that cover nearly a third of Colombia's territory. But