Texto en español: Inquietud, capítulo 1
Traducido al inglés por Martín Shifino y Kit Alexander Maude
I'm not the woman I used to be. I realized this as soon as we landed in Europe. She needs to get away, they said. If I took my leave discreetly, I'd be in a better position to negotiate, they insisted. I obeyed.
Just before I boarded, Agustin hugged me in silence, and I covered my daughter with anxious kisses, unable to hold back some last-minute advice. The lawyer formally made his farewell. You'll soon be back. Soon is a long time. Take care of my children. I will. Finally, I rang my secretary from a public phone and promised to keep her updated while she repeated yes, doctor, yes, doctor.
I stayed glued to my seat. A flight attendant asked me if I needed anything in particular and I asked her to come and hold my hand every now and again. Are you travelling alone? Alone and against my wishes. She served my dinner first, gave me a napkin. She handed out magazines, chocolates and for breakfast, gave me an apple - fresh, polished.
As arranged, Jack came to pick me up. My flight was delayed; even so I had to wait for him, squashed under my excessive luggage, sunk into that atmosphere of identity loss and terror that airports bring to mind. At least he was tactful enough not to ask me anything about the enforced move and even said 'you look thin' which was his way of paying me a compliment. We went silent, we were both distant. Perhaps, I thought, he wanted to be with a younger woman or at the least a younger me. Villages, sown fields and the leaden sky of an unknown country passed us by, and I fell asleep, profoundly asleep.
Jack unloaded the suitcases, and surprised me with a CD player, my favourite biscuits and a bottle of wine for the first moments of my arrival. But that same afternoon he resumed his holiday. After dropping him at the Central Station, I bravely returned the car, fearing that I might get lost, run someone over or crash into one of the interminable number of cyclists. I got back on the tram just in time for Jack to check that I had returned safely - l guess he was worried about the rented car, a convertible.
They got me this place to live, as good as if l'd chosen it myself: a peaceful central street abutting onto a small square with a bench, beautiful houses, gardens with hydrangeas, manicured lawns; a warm two-bedroom flat on the first floor, low, wide, with a creaking staircase.
I immediately put up pictures of my children; in the corner that functioned as a kitchen I hung a tea-strainer which I had brought with me. I checked the clock, taps and bathroom. Opened the shutters, aired the cupboard. Exhausted, I put my feet up on the coffee table and tried the remote control of the TV: I didn't understand anything.
Armed with a plastic bag and dictionary, I went to the shops; bread, cheese, mineral water. I unplugged the phone, changed dollars, bought a city map.
l was alone.
Here I am, in this quiet small town which was picked at random. On a cobbled street sit the tables of the cafe where I write every day at breakfast, the coffee with milk and cinnamon. Beyond, where the traffic lights keep changing, graze equestrian monuments, glorifying lost battles. Well-built boulevards, winding side streets. Chestnut trees in flower, their petals falling on the pavements.
The official guide features a history of absolutism, battles and aqueducts, but everyday life here is normal, calm. There's a corny ice cream shop, an Italian pizzeria, a Chinese tea house: illegal immigrants lining their pockets. Cross at the corner, the only option; wait for the lights to change; follow the map and various directions. This is not your city, don't forget.
As soon as you've settled in, time passes quickly. Time is short, as everyone knows: exhausting when waiting, treacherous when in fear. Fear is always in the present tense. Time finds you discounting previous plans because in the northern hemisphere southern plans appear little by little. The be all and end all is to get off that kind of train.
On a day like any other your neighbour offers you a nutty bread roll that she has baked, or the local paper is left in your letter box. You're integrated. Your person resides here, distanced from the subjects and ideas that represent you. This is already your neighbourhood, the same as it always was, though without the open hallways or the bands of boys wolf-whistling at you. Boys didn't whistle at me: I was ugly, antisocial, my mother didn't help me; and if during carnival time they tried to throw water at me it was only so that my bra would show through.
You'll miss that shape anyhow, that city where you grew up and you were your former self. And you'll miss it because here there are no kisses.
Where I was born kisses abound. Women kiss women, women kiss men, men kiss women and men. Here you don't see kisses. Two girls bump into each other at the bakery after a long time - perhaps they were schoolmates or used to take their children to the same kindergarten - and exchange memories in whispers and phone numbers with laughter, but say goodbye without touching. In another scene a grandfather greets his granddaughter: she must be five, and is eating an ice cream; the old man is moved, but only holds her small caramel-covered hand.
I recall the hugs of those who left early in the morning after my birthday, of friends who stay the night and wake up at noon. I calculate how many bear hugs we gave each other when democracy returned. I remember the sweet taste of our team's goals during the world cup and my contains dancing the cancan one night on the sodden garden. Rowdy, expansive, talkative. We sang out of tune, stumbled, wolfed down food. And always, always hugged each other. Or greeted each other with a kiss. Or asked for a kiss when the children went on holiday or simply to bed. Give me a kiss, buddy, I'm still your mother.
My yearning is abundant. My famous hairdresser's, a refuge; silly magazines, faits divers, failed actors, Freudian slips. Hordes of women who look like the tortured Tupac Amarú; some get married on that same afternoon. They smoke like truckers, pig out on food, ask for coffee or tea (when it's free). We all happily fill our heads and we love concoctions.
And what can I say about the dive where I waited while my children sat their secondary school entry examination. Uneven chairs, lamps covered in flies, and the second in which they proudly came out knowing they'd passed and hugging one another.
I also recall the porters in the building where I had my practice: Gregorio and Gregorito, the assistant. Always ready to help. They take the car at the door, park it and wash it; distribute letters. As they looked after me, I was able to have a minister as a patient while his many body guards waited outside cleaning their long fingernails.
Once I've gone over a large part of what is lost, there's still my shrivelled aunt or my first boyfriends to go, the employees at home who clean my clothes and hang out the sheets to dry in the sun. No more ironing smells, nor the chirping sound of the garden fountain. I live here now, somewhere else.
As I'm unemployed, I walk more than usual, without high heels; I brought my favourite shoes and they're still in bags, the poor things. Shop windows do not interest me; besides, who can get into the spirit of Spring when it's ten degrees. I wander around the city centre, peek into antique shops, while away the afternoon. I'd never experienced afternoons like these.
People are easy to deal with: I practise the verbal skirmishes that make up part of a foreigner's adventure. You have to say something, even if it's in a foreign language, a pause at the wrong time makes you incomprehensible. To stammer or speak like a baby makes you vulnerable. The alphabet is the same as the one I'm familiar with, though the letters with mysterious sounds and words of unknown meaning put you on a roundabout of histograms.
I spend my day like that, whispering with my friends and consulting my children. I walk around with them - in a manner of speaking, don't worry - and show them where I am, the things I buy, the funny names for peas, talc or a broom. And in the Turkish market, I communicate in a mixture of languages, enough to say please, good night, it's raining, thanks, many thanks, that's very kind. And ''definitely not'' which is my favourite way of saying ''no''.
You left to get yourself to safety and they welcomed you without even asking you your real name. No one came looking for you, in the sense that you've received no invitation at all; but if you look over that fact, we'll arrive at the wrong conclusion about your place here, how much space you've got for your stuff and concerns. Our style is abrasive and criticism won't be fruitful because they don't need it. They don't need us, to be more accurate.
Time has come for me - I used to make the Chief Nurse tremble with my comments and attention to detail - to be humble. Humility is difficult, although I've just learned how, at a pharmacy in the suburbs.
l go inside having rehearsed what I want: I’ll use discrete, convincing arguments. The door opens into an impeccable, efficient establishment. I loiter by the toothbrushes. I weigh myself on the scales. The pharmacist appears, stuffed into a white coat, fat, rosy-cheeked, with calloused feet. He smiles, I smile. He greets me and immediately apologists for only speaking the local language. I wasn't expecting that. There follows a silence of a few seconds, long enough for me to forget the lines I've rehearsed. Then I improvise: inflammation, cramps, burning. I understand, he says. You know we don't sell medicines without a prescription, he also says. But, he adds after a long pause, we'll make an exception. He ceremoniously turns around, fumbles for something on a shelf at the back, picks up a box, puts it into a paper bag and, always kind, polite, sells me suppositories at the price if gold.
As I went out I didn't deign look at him. l walked on, upright, packet in hand, wishing l could reach my flat in one stride. My face burned, wrapped up in anger. l wanted to cry. For the first time since my arrival I wanted to cry. l held back the tears. Otherwise they'd win.
The be all and end all is to get off that kind of train.