Guatemala bajo mis alas / Jacinta Escudos

Guatemala Under My Wings

The first thing she hears as she walks towards the airport exit is a voice that clearly calls her. A voice whispers her name with joy. She looks over her left shoulder to see who it is.
But there’s no one nearby, no one who could have called her.
The good spirits are welcoming me, she thinks.

Room 508 of the Hotel Conquistador.
She calculates that the room is bigger than the cell she lives in. And the best part: it has a huge window, actually, a glass door that opens onto a tiny balcony. She opens the door, but the noise coming in from the street is unbearable. She closes it again.
They’re building something right in front of the window. There’s a giant crane and the cement foundations of what could be, she imagines, an underground parking lot.
Beyond that is a four-lane street. Buildings with flat, cemented roofs, a mixed and disorganized architecture that reminds her of Mexico City.
On the horizon, volcanoes. An immense one, perfectly conical, whose name she doesn’t know.

She turns on the television. It’s a Zenith. She thought those didn’t exist anymore.
The television box has the same cream color as the walls. It looks so ancient that it moves her. It reminds her of her childhood. Of her father. Of a world long gone.
The remote control barely works. You have to press the buttons very hard. She thinks about watching TV for a while and then taking a nap. Her insomnia from the last few months and waking up early to catch the plane have exhausted her.
The Biography Channel is showing a documentary about The Band. And when Richard Manuel sings “Whispering Pines,” she feels a melancholia that hurts.

Each taxi driver she talks to says the same thing: the situation is bad. Everything’s expensive, there’s no work to be found, crime, gangs.
They say this with resignation, without wanting to delve into the matter too much.
She wonders where things might be going well, who might be able to say things are going well somewhere.

She’s waiting for a call. As though she were fifteen. Her heart pounds each time the phone rings, but it’s not him. It’s not him yet.
A couple months earlier, while they were writing to each other, she realized she no longer remembered his features, that she couldn’t draw them in her memory. Desperation.
She finds (by chance?) a couple of his books and looks at the covers just so she can remember his face lost in time.
But while she waits for the call, she feels an atrocious certainty: she doesn’t remember the tone of his voice. Sadness.

People. Lots of people, too many people for her, the hermit.
New people.
People she sees again.
Greetings. Names. Handshakes.
Smiles. Photos. Autographs. Books.
But he doesn’t appear.

She’s scared. Scared that he’s aged, in that sudden and overwhelming way that some people age, in the worst sense of the word. That he’ll be tired, slow, fat, unrecognizable, dimmed. That she’ll barely be able to recognize his features. That from the depths of his eyes she’ll recognize the spark that reminds her of what she knew of him several years ago.
Worse, she’s scared of what he’ll think of her. That he’ll find her old, unrecognizable, slow, worn out. That they’ll be so disenchanted with each other when they meet that they won’t be able to reconnect, that they’ll look at each other with pity, greet each other cordially, fulfill the requisites of a re-encounter and then… well, that there won’t be an afterward.

But it’s not like that.
It’s not like that.

She accompanies him on an errand to an office downtown. While waiting they talk with a man who’s a magician during his free time.
He’s been in El Salvador. He’s a friend of Mago Fanci.
They talk about magic tricks.
A magician never reveals his secrets. But he mentions a couple. He must know he’s among magicians. And she won’t be the one to share these tricks out loud.
Her, who one of the few things she still believes in is magic.

They step into a café to wait for the rain to pass. They drink coffee and talk without stopping. They can’t stop.
They have to tell each other everything, as though they might die tomorrow. As though they might not see each other again, though they promise they won’t spend so many years apart again. Never again.
Then a boy walks in with his shoeshine box.
It’s been years since she’s seen one. It moves her.
The past revisited. Or the present that really never changes much.

Kisses on a corner on Zona 1, at night.
Smiling, he says, “They’re gonna rob us.”
Smiling, she says, “I don’t care.”
More kisses.

No one can touch them.
No one dares.
A white light, descending from the sky, illuminates them.

In the taxi, he says, “We looked like that photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt, the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II.”
In an e-mail, she writes, “We looked like uniformed students who’d escaped from school, sneaking kisses on city corners.”

Time is long, time is short.
Time is their sentence, their separation.

Ten minutes before five A.M., the phone rings.
She says, “I thought you wouldn’t call.”
He says, “I wasn’t gonna miss the chance to hear your voice one last time.”
Five years of absence between them were eaten up by oblivion’s black hole. A quantum bridge ignoring time, distance, silence and absence has been built.
Now there can be a tomorrow. Even though she’s about to board a plane. Even though they’ve done nothing more than hold hands and exchange a few stolen kisses in the most dangerous part of the city.

She returns.
Unpacks. Her clothes smell of Guatemala, of room 508 of the Hotel Conquistador, of another prompt flight served by Taca Airlines, of taxis, of his hug. Of him.
Of him. Only him.

The nostalgia begins.

(Published yesterday in my “Gabinete Calgari” column, in Séptimo Sentido magazine in La Prensa Gráfica. Due to formatting reasons, the spacing in the printed version was altered. It’s reproduced in its original version here.)

{ Jacinta Escudos, Jacintario, 1 September 2008 }

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