The next day:
“Hola … ”
“Ah, the beautiful señorita is back. What a surprise.”
“People don’t often come back?”
“Nobody ever comes back.”
Today the sun is up, which is another surprise. The mist is still lurking somewhere out at sea. The streets are less crowded but the everpresent droning of traffic from a million cars you can’t even see reminds you that this is Buenos Aires – a capital.
A few people have found their way to Plaza de Mayo, along with me, however … a lone Japanese tourist, lost in his love-affair with the camera; an old man picking up garbage and putting it into a can; a smart lady talking into a cell-phone, adjusting her sun glasses … They all seem strangely upbeat even though you can’t see it directly if you look at them. They don’t smile, but they seem to be filled with some kind of … energy.
Perhaps it was an energy that only I could sense, something I longed to have myself: A sense of somewhere to go. But I saw nothing new for me in this city, after the fat mist had finally been torn away by the fierce winds I could hear outside my small room at the hostal all through the night, like they were trying to tear apart the building itself.
Nothing except him …
The veteran smiles vaguely. He still wears the faded uniform, as if he hadn’t changed from yesterday:
“I wonder if you’ve read my leaflet, señorita?”
“I have … as a matter of fact.”
He starts breathing in deeply, then suddenly lapses into a cough.
“Are you all right?” I ask lamely.
He just smiles and nods, then bids me sit down on the hard stone of a a small ‘wall’ they built to protect some of the fresher looking flower beds dotting the Plaza in front of Casa Rosada. He searches his bag. He pulls up a scratched thermo, unscrews it. Coffee, black and steaming pours into a small plastic cup.
I receive it, gratefully. The sun is up, but it’s still damp and cold. Somehow I get the feeling it’s like that most of the time here in B.A. …
“If you read my leaflet,” he muses ” -then you must either be more accomplished in Spanish than pretty much every other blonde gringa coming here, or more patient, or both.”
“Or I could just be someone who doesn’t know what to do with my time … ”
I put the warm coffee closer to my lips but without touching it.
He doesn’t take offense, at least not yet.
He just looks out over the Plaza, regarding for a while the multitude of people coming and going, to and fro. Like he was used to it.
Well, of course he is. He is on some kind of eternal guard here, isn’t he?
“Why did you come back?” he then asks, suddenly, sharply.
” … I read your leaflet.”
He grins, even more coarsely than I would’ve have imagined. Then he extends his lab; the worn hand of a worker – or a soldier:
“Miguel Sanchez Palomino – encantada, señorita.”
I take his hand.
“You are a strange gringa, Carrie Soier. Not like I would have imagined.”
“I am not like I would have imagined.”
The coarse laughter again, brief and hard. Then he is silent for awhile, like he suddenly revealed an opening and he wants me to forget about it.
A horde of tourists pass by, led my a small red-haired girl who frantically tries to be heard in 3 different languages.
“You’re not going to give them some leaflets?” I ask, not really knowing if I want to be sarcastic or not. It’s like I suddenly regret coming back here and now I have to find some way of retreating. Making him angry would be one way.
But he just shakes his head, looks down.
“They will not read it. And even if they did, it would make no difference.”
“Does it make a difference that I read it?”
“Is there anyone else who could read it and then it would make a greater difference?”
He looks a me again, a slight glint of hostility in the blackness of his eyes.
“Have you come to mock me, señorita? Am I some kind of … experiment to you? Are you perhaps a traveling artist whose only reason to feel worthy of doing art, is if you go out and meet ‘real people’, pretend to participate in their sorrows and then go home and write a book about it?”
“I wish I was.”
He gets up, suddenly and brusquely. “Keep the coffee,” he says. “I’m moving to another spot.”
I reach out, instinctively, and only just manage to catch his sleeve. I look rather pathetic as I say it:
“Miguel, I’d like to buy you another coffee – or a beer – if you want it.”
“Now you are mocking me.”
I get up too and brush my faded jeans for no apparent reason. The stone we sat on was fanatically cleaned during the night, unlike most stone and concrete here in Aires.
“I’m serious,” I say. “I want to.”
“And I don’t want to.”
“I’m not trying to … ”
“I know what you are not trying to – that was never on my mind, señorita. But that which you are trying to is perhaps even more loathsome to me. Go away.”
He turns, walks.
Damn. I …
He forgot his bag.
I look again.
I grab the green army bag, get up … and run a few steps.
Somehow he managed to make himself invisible in a helluva hurry. Did I really insult him that much?
I don’t know what to do, except spending some more time drifting around downtown B-Aires. I take the bag with me, although I probably shouldn’t.
B.A.’s a friendlier big city than you’d expect, even with the loud boulevards, the plethora of multi-storied buildings stretching for the sky and the incessant sidewalk chatter in ‘italianized’ Spanish from passers-by.
No surprise, I guess that when evening falls I end up in one of the Italian restaurants. The service is friendly. Not many customers this hour. An air condition propeller turns lazily in a corner. Outside the window there’s a roaring boulevard, but now that I’m inside it’s like it’s sufficiently muted; enough for me to sit here in a half-lit corner and get my thoughts together. I order a mineral water and study the menu engagingly, although I’m really not that hungry.
I sit in my hideaway-spot all evening, until other people begin to show up for supper at around 2100; I manage to make a little bit of pasta and two slices of bread last 4 hours. A single glass of white wine but I don’t drink it all. I like to drink, but not alone. Not yet in any case.
As I slug back to my tin-can sized excuse for a ‘hotel’ I wonder if I should write Julia again – or maybe even mum. But what should I tell them? Can I give any more good reasons for why I left them. Have I really found anything during these – what, a million months or so ago – that was worth leaving for?
Isn’t the truth really that I have only bad reasons left?
But as a good little addict I keep sucking on them – ‘the reasons’ – my imaginary pastels of explanation – hoping they’ll yield a bit more of that sugar that kept me going thus far: the equally imaginary promise of salvation.
It’s like … when I said goodbye to Nadine back in Columbus – in my previous life; she was one of many friends that could’ve been a lasting but never really got to be any more than a study …
The night has caught up with the city but I still sit here. I refuse more service for the third time and the waiter glares.
I just look at the bag.
I haven’t opened it … yet.
Last edited: 30 Nov 2018