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« Después del almuerzo (part 2) | Main | Baudelaire, "Au lecteur" »

Después del almuerzo (part 1)

Part one to a short story ("After lunch") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.

After lunch I would have liked to stay in my room reading, but Mom and Dad arrived almost immediately and said that this afternoon I had to take it out for a walk.

My first response was No, Let someone else take it, and Could they just let me study in my room.  I was about to say other things, I was about to explain why I didn't like having to take it out, but Dad took a step forward and gazed at me in that way I cannot resist, riveting me with his eyes, and I felt them piercing deeper and deeper into my face until I was about to scream, and I had to turn around and answer Yes, Of course, Right away.  In these situations Mom would not say anything or look at me, but simply remain a few steps back, her two hands together, and I would see her grey hair falling over her forehead and have to turn around and say Yes, Of course, Right away.  And so they left without another word and I started to get dressed, with my only consolation being the debut of some yellow shoes that shone and shone.

It was two o'clock when I left my room; Aunt Encarnación said that she could come and look for it in the room downstairs, where it always liked to spend the afternoon.  Aunt Encarnación must have realized that my having to go out with it despaired me greatly, because she ran her hand over my hair then bent down and gave me a kiss on my forehead.  I felt her put something in my pocket.

"So that you can go buy yourself something," she whispered.  "And don't forget to give it a little bit.  It's better like that."

Happier now, I kissed her on the cheek, and passed right in front of the door to the room where Mom and Dad were playing checkers.  I think I told them, See you later, something like that, and then produced the five-peso note to smooth it out properly and keep it in my wallet, where there were some coins and another, one-peso note. 

I found it in a corner of the room.  I got a hold of it as best I could and we went out through the patio until we reached the door leading onto the front lawn.  Once or twice I was seized by the desire to release it, to return inside and tell Mom and Dad that it didn't want to come with me; yet I was certain that they would end up bringing it back and obliging me to take it up to the front gates.  They had never asked me to take it into town; it was unfair for them to ask because they knew full well that the one time they had made me walk it down the street, that horrible thing with the Alvarezes' cat had happened.  It seemed like I could still see the face of the policeman talking with Dad at the doorway, Dad pouring out two glasses of beer, and Mom crying in her room.  It was unfair of them to have asked me.         

It had rained that morning, and each time it did, the streets and alleyways of Buenos Aires slipped into further disrepair; scarcely could you walk anywhere without your feet landing in some pool or puddle.  I did as much as I could to traverse the driest parts and not get my new shoes wet, but I immediately saw that it liked the water, and I had to tug at it with all my strength to keep it at my side.  Despite all this, it managed to approach a flagstone set deeper than the others, and by the time I realized this, it was already completely soaked with dry leaves stuck all over it.  I was forced to stop and clean it, and all this time I felt the neighbors training their eyes upon us from their gardens, looking on without saying a word.  I do not wish to lie: in reality, I cared little that they were watching us (that they were watching it, and me who was taking it for a walk); the worst thing was to be held up here with a handkerchief which was getting wet and splattered with mud stains and pieces of dry leaves, all the while having to hold it tight so that it did not regain the puddle.  What is more, I was long since accustomed to walking through the streets with my hands in my pants pockets, whistling or chewing gum, or reading some trifling tales, with the lower part of my eyes detecting the ponds and puddles of the alleyways which I knew perfectly, from my house to the tram, in such a way that I knew when I was passing Tita's house, and when I was about to arrive on the corner of Carabobo.  Now that I could do none of this, and my handkerchief had begun to moisten the lining of my pocket, and I felt the moisture on my leg, so much bad luck at once was not to be believed. 

At this time, the tram was rather empty, and I prayed we could sit next to one another, with it on the window seat so that it would be less in the way.  It wasn't like it moved too much; but it bothered people all the same and I understood that.  For that reason I was distressed as we boarded the tram because it was almost full, and there were no unoccupied seats next to one another.  The trip was too long for us to remain on the platform: the tram conductor would have ordered me to sit down and put it somewhere, so I made it board immediately and took it to a seat in the middle where a lady was sitting by the window.  The best would have been to sit behind it and keep watch, but the tram was full and I had to proceed forward and sit down quite far away.  The passengers did not seem to pay much notice; at this hour people were digesting their food, half adoze with the jolts and bumps of the tram.  The bad thing was that the tram conductor stopped on the side of the seat where I had placed it, striking a coin against the metal of the ticket machine, and I had to turn around and signal for him to come and charge me, showing him the money so that he understood that he had to give me two tickets.  Yet the conductor was one of those mestizos who see things and do not wish to understand, and he kept banging the coins against his machine.  I had to get up (and now two or three passengers were looking at me) and approach the other seat.  "Two tickets," I told him.  He tore one off, looked at me for a moment, then held the ticket out and looked down, almost out of the corner of his eye.  "Two, please," I repeated, certain that now the whole tram had gotten wind of the matter.  The mestizo tore off the other ticket and gave it to me; he was about to say something but I reached for the money and returned to my seat in two strides without looking back.  The worst thing was that I had to keep spinning around to see whether it wasn't moving around in its seat back there; in doing this, I attracted the attention of some of the passengers.  At first I decided that I would only turn around every time we passed a stop, but the city blocks seemed terribly long, and I was constantly afraid of hearing an exclamation, a shout, like what happened with the Alvarezes' cat.  So I began to count to ten, just like in a boxing match, and this more or less lasted half a city block.  At ten I would turn around with some ulterior motive, to fix, for example, the collar of my shirt, or to put my hand in my jacket pocket, anything to give the impression of a nervous tic or something of the kind.    

I don't know why, but at eight blocks it seemed that the lady in the window seat was going to get off the tram.  This was the worst thing possible because she would say something for it to let her pass, and when it did not realize or did not want to realize what was happening, the lady would get annoyed and seek a way out by force.  Yet I knew precisely what was going to happen in this case and my nerves were on end, so much so, in fact, that I began to look back before we arrived at every stop.  On one of these occasions, I had the impression that the lady was about to get up, and I could have sworn that she said something to it because she looked in its direction and, I believe, she moved her lips.  Just at this very moment an old fat woman got up from one of the seats next to me and began making her way down the aisle.  I went right behind her wanting to push her, wanting to give her a kick in her legs for her to hurry up and let me get to the seat where the lady had taken up a basket or something from the floor and was getting up to get off the tram.  In the end, I think, I did push her, then heard her protesting, and have no idea how I managed to get to the seat in time to remove it so that the lady could get off at the next stop.  Then I placed it against the window and sat down very happily at its side, although four or five idiots were looking at me from the seats in front and the platform where, perhaps, the mestizo had said something to them.

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