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« Proust | Main | Después del almuerzo (part 1) »

Después del almuerzo (part 2)

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

We were already walking through Once; above us hovered a gorgeous sun and the streets were dry.  If I had been traveling alone at this hour, I would have no sooner left the tram than headed on foot to the city center.  It was nothing for me to go on foot from Once to the Plaza de Mayo; I once timed myself and made it in thirty-two minutes, running intermittently, most of all at the end.  Now, however, I had to deal with the window, since someone one time had calculated that it was able to open the window suddenly and hurl itself out, for no other reason than a desire to do so, like so many other desires that no one could comprehend.  One or two times I had the impression that it was indeed about to open the window, and I had to place my arm behind it and hold onto the window by its frame.  Perhaps it was just my over-concern, but I wanted to make sure it would not be able to lift up the window and hurl itself out.  After what happened with the inspector, for instance, I completely forgot about the matter and nevertheless it did not hurl itself out.  The inspector was a tall, thin fellow who appeared on the front platform and began punching tickets with that pleasant air that some inspectors have.  When he came to my seat I handed him the two tickets and he punched one, looked down, then looked at the other ticket.  He was about to punch that one as well when he stopped with the ticket in the middle of the control nippers.  All this time, as I prayed he would just go ahead and punch the ticket and return it to me, it seemed like the people in the tram were looking at us more and more.  In the end, shrugging his shoulders, he punched it and handed me the two tickets, and on the platform behind me I heard someone burst out in cruel laughter.  Of course, I had no desire to turn around.  I put my arm back to hold the window shut and pretended that I could not see the inspector, or anyone else for that matter.  On Sarmiento and Libertad people began to get off, and when we arrived at Florida there was almost no one left on board.  I waited until San Martin then made it get out onto the front platform, because I didn't want to pass by the mestizo who might have said something to me.  

I like the Plaza de Mayo very much.  When people talk about the center of town, I immediately think of the Plaza de Mayo.  I like it because of the pigeons, because of the Casa de Gobierno, and because it holds so many memories of history, of the bombs that fell during revolutions, and the caudillos who said they were going to attach their horses to the Pirámide de Mayo.  Peanut sellers and other vendors float about, and there's always an empty bench; walk a little more and you would soon arrive at the port where you could take in the boats and the cranes.  For that reason I thought that the best thing to do would be to take it to the Plaza de Mayo, far away from the cars and buses, and have the two of us sit there a while until it was time to go back home.  Yet when we got off the tram and started to walk towards San Martin, I felt faint.  All of a sudden I realized that I was terribly tired.  Almost an hour of traveling, and all that time having to look back and pretend that I didn't notice that we were being gawked at, and then the conductor with the tickets, and the lady who was about to get off the tram, and then the inspector.  I would have liked to be able to go into a dairy store and order an ice cream or a glass of milk, but I was certain that I simply couldn't, that I would regret it if I made it enter any place where people were sitting down and where, as it were, they would have more time to take a closer look at us.  

In the streets people were crossing about, each one of them following his own path, most of all in San Martin, which was full of banks and offices and everyone racing about with briefcases under their arms.  So we proceeded to the corner of Cangallo.  Then, when we were about to pass the Peuser store windows filled with inkwells and beautiful things, I sensed that it did not wish to follow, that it was making itself heavier and heavier, and as hard as I pulled (trying not to attract any attention), I could hardly move forward.  In the end I had to stop in front of the last store window and pretend that it was looking at the leather-embossed desk appurtenances.  Perhaps it was a little tired; perhaps this was not a whim or vagary.  There was, in short, nothing bad about our stopping here; yet nevertheless, I didn't like it because the people passing by had more time to look closely, and two or three times I noticed that one passer-by would comment to another, or they would bump elbows to get each other's attention.  Finally, I couldn't take it any more and I got a hold of it once again, having it walk with naturalness; yet every step pained me like in those dreams where you're wearing shoes that weigh a ton and you can barely lift them off the floor.  Soon its whim that made us stand here had passed and we proceeded through San Martin up to the corner of the Plaza de Mayo.  

Now the task was crossing the street, because it does not like crossing the street.  It is capable of opening the window of a tram and hurling itself therefrom, but crossing the street it does not like.  The bad thing was that, in order to come to the Plaza de Mayo, you always have to cross one street or another with heavy traffic.  It wouldn't have been so difficult at Cangallo and Bartolomé Mitre, but now I was at the point of giving up, it was weighing down terribly on my hand, the traffic stopped twice, and those who were on the curb on our side of the sidewalk began to cross the street.  I realized that we were not going to be able to reach the other side because it would decide to stop right in the middle, so I preferred to keep going and to wait until it made that decision.  Naturally, the man in the newspaper stand on the corner was already looking at us with rapidly increasing interest.  He was saying something to a lad of my age who was making faces and answering, "I know."  And the cars kept passing by and stopping and passing by again, and here we were planted smack in the middle of the street, and sooner or later a policeman was going to approach us, and that would be the worst thing that could happen.  The policemen here are very good, and for that reason they interfere, they start asking questions, they verify whether someone has gotten lost, and it could suddenly have one of its whims and who knows how it all would end.  The more I thought about it, the more it aggrieved me, and in the end I was really scared almost as if, I swear, I wanted to vomit, and just when traffic had stopped I got a good hold of it, closed my eyes, and, almost doubling over, pulled it forward.  When we had reached the Plaza de Mayo I released it and continued for a few steps on my own, and then turned back around.  I could have wanted it to die, to be already dead, or for Dad and Mom to be dead, for me, too, in the end.  And at the end of ends, for everyone to be dead and buried except for Aunt Encarnacion.

But these things pass right away.  We saw there was a completely empty bench and I restrained it without tugging, and off we went to place ourselves on this bench and look at the pigeons, who fortunately do not allow themselves to be gotten like cats.  I bought peanuts and caramels; I began peeling it both those things and we were rather content in the afternoon sun typical at the Plaza de Mayo and with the people walking from one side to the other.  

I don't know at what moment the idea came to me to abandon it here; the only thing I remember is that I was peeling it a peanut and thinking at the same time that if I pretended to go feed the pigeons roaming a little farther off, it would be extremely easy to turn at the pyramid and lose sight of it.  I think at this point I wasn't thinking about returning home, nor about the faces of my Mom and Dad, because if I had thought about it, I would never have done such a silly thing.  It must be very difficult to take in everything at the same time as wise men and historians do; I thought only that I could abandon it here and walk on alone through the city center with my hands in my pockets, then buy myself a magazine or go somewhere and get some ice cream, before heading back home.  I kept feeding it peanuts for a while but had already made up my mind, and sooner or later I pretended to get up and go stretch my legs and noticed that it did not care whether I remained at its side, or whether I was off to feed peanuts to the pigeons.  I began tossing them what I had left and the pigeons swarmed around me from all sides until I had run out of peanuts and they were all tired.  From the other side of the Plaza one could hardly make out the bench; it was a matter of a few seconds to cross over to the Casa Rosada where there were always two grenadiers on guard, and along the side I set off to the Paseo Colón, the street that Mom said little boys should not go to alone.  Out of habit I kept turning around and looking back but it was impossible for it to follow me; what it most wanted to do was roll around the bench until a policeman or some beneficent lady approached it. 

I do not remember very well what happened at this point as I was walking down the Paseo Colón, which is an avenue like any other.  All of a sudden I was sitting by a shop window below an export and import trade house, and it was then that my stomach began to hurt.  It was not like when I had to go to the bathroom immediately; the pain was higher up, in the stomach itself, as if little by little I were twisting myself into a knot.  I wanted to breathe but that was so hard; so I had to remain still and hope that the cramp would pass.  Before me appeared what seemed like a green spot with tiny dancing dots, and then Dad's face; in the end there was only Dad's face because I had closed my eyes, and in the middle of this green spot was Dad's face. After a while I could breathe better, and some boys looked at me for a moment and one of them said to the other that I was drunk, hammered, but I moved my head and said that it was nothing, that I would always get cramps, but that they would pass immediately.  One of them asked whether I wanted him to get me a glass of water, and the other suggested I dry my forehead because I was sweating.  I smiled and said that I was already better, and I started walking around so that they would go away and leave me alone.  I was sure that I was sweating because water was falling on my brows, and a salty tear entered my eye.  So I took out the handkerchief, passed it over my face, and on my lips I felt a scratch.  And when I looked, there was a dry leaf stuck on the handkerchief which had scratched my mouth.

I don't know how long it took me to get back to the Plaza de Mayo.  Halfway up there I fell, but got up again before anyone noticed, and I crossed in a hurry through all the cars passing by the Casa Rosada.  From afar I saw that it had not budged from the bench; yet I kept running and running until I got to the bench, and, dead tired, I threw myself towards it while the pigeons flew away scared and people turned around with that air they assume when looking at little boys running as if it were a sin.  After a short time, I cleaned it up and said that we had to go back home.  I said this to hear my own voice and to feel happier, because the only thing that worked with it was to take a good hold of it and carry it; it did not hear or pretended not to hear my words.  Fortunately this time, none of its whims surfaced as we crossed the streets, and the tram was almost empty at the beginning of our ride back home.  So I placed it on the first set of seats, sat down beside it, and did not turn around a single time during the whole trip, even as we were getting off the tram.  We walked so slowly through the very last block home, as it wanted to sit in the puddles and I struggled to keep us on dry flagstones.  But I didn't care, I didn't care at all.  The whole time I thought, "I abandoned it"; I looked at it and thought, "I abandoned it"; and even though I still had not forgotten about the Paseo Colón, I felt well, almost proud.  Perhaps some other time ... it wasn't easy, but perhaps ... Who knows with whose eyes Dad and Mom would look at me when they saw me arrive, holding it by the hand.  Of course they would be happy that I had taken it out for a walk downtown; parents are always happy about such things.  But I don't know why at that moment I came to think that sometimes Dad and Mom also produced a handkerchief to dry themselves off, and in that handkerchief there also was a dry leaf that hurt their faces.

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