Argentina, Buenos Aires
Gabriel and Lucia were driven to the airport by a friend she had known her entire life. Sat up front two women spoke fast about a useless man the friend was with. He had a penis for a brain, little more ambition than to lay on his back until shadows covered walls and carne was served up to fill his belly.
‘This asshole thinks buying groceries is being romantic, what is that?’ Claudia said, ‘he cannot make a meal that does not end up looking like coal.’
‘Chica we have been over this, you need to find someone new.’
‘There is no new in this puta capital, they are all like that here.’
‘No, they are not.’
‘Your memory is short, you will see soon enough.’
‘Why? You told me this one is not listening anymore.’
Gabriel grimaced, turned a page in his mind that took him to a once romanced beginning, first-time experiences of knowing the other’s being.
What a thrill to be alive, he thought.
As teenagers, Claudia had remained loyal throughout the early stages of her best friend’s illness. She brought flowers and cake to Lucia’s home on days of recovery, stayed overnight when there was pain, silenced those who dared to make fun of her thinned appearance. This afforded her an autonomy of speech Lucia would not tolerate from anyone else.
‘I am destined to be with an asshole,’ Claudia said.
‘Mirra, the car.’
Swerving, Claudia steadied the wheel. Then she returned to her complaints as though reacquainting with an old friend.
‘Joder, this animal even managed to forget my birthday.’
‘What was his reason?’
‘When I realised he had no idea what day it was I was already kicking his fat ass out the front door. Two years with this man-boy.’
‘Well,’ Lucia said, glancing in the rearview mirror, ‘at least now you know.’
‘I know too much.’
Hot air blew in through open windows. They drove along the motorway at a car bonnet rattling speed.
I could die in this tin can, Gabriel thought, how embarrassing that would be.
They drove towards the airport on a busy road full of potholes. Claudia began to speak of a football match they’d play on land rented out to local teams by a lawyer uncle on the weekend.
‘A totally immoral savage,’ she leaned on the horn, ‘I pity his wife.’
She spoke of uncle as though he were a racketeer charging a fee.
‘He is just another business porteño.’
‘This man will die with a coffin full of pesos to keep him warm and in my family, total success.’
‘Forget him chica.’
‘He tried to touch my tits once at a party, this animal.’
Resting an arm out the window, Gabriel listened and didn’t listen.
‘Chico, tienes hambre?’ Lucia said, ‘there is a deli we can visit on our way, they have pumpkin empanadas.’
‘I’m good, chica.’
They drove on, away from a city that had changed Gabriel in ways he was unready to acknowledge. In the second-hand bookstores of San Telmo, a place where dust rarely settled, he had discovered the short stories of Louis Borges and fallen in love with his tough prose. Words that spoke to the hard lives of people born into an unforgiving world. Themes of fate and identity which once echoed in vivid dreams now existed in his reality.
At the end of their relationship, as cicadas hummed among the purple bloom of jacaranda trees, as an evening breeze came to soothe the cracked skin of locals sat in vests sipping mate on caged balconies; Gabriel read to Lucia in bed. And when emotional, he wiped tears from her eyes, kissed hot lips and whispered to an ear: I love you. These evenings brought relief from the fighting. And Lucia enjoyed reading about her people, of portenos who would not back down to nada in the backstreets of La Boca. A barrio where football was god and the sound of Tango drifted through calles full of colourful murals of dock workers. As they drove, Gabriel considered dignity, the tough obreros of Buenos Aires, their will to fight.
‘Chico,’ Lucia said.
He looked in the rear-view mirror at eyes encased by mascara. ‘It’s okay.’
He could still taste salt.
On a plane, on a plane that rose through puffs of cloud towards the sun, Gabriel shaped a heart from a headphone lead, ordered whiskey, and whispered as he stared out a window. ‘How did I get here?’