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He’s fat and his belly presses against the navy blue polo shirt. She had imagined him less bald, perhaps a bit more tanned, like the last time she had met him at the airport, returning from a trip with his recently married wife. The strangest thing is the boy’s lack of viscosity, the kid’s color is aurora white and it emphasizes his red lips, like those of a shy girl.
“Is that you?” She says, a self-contained question that holds air at the end of the syllable giving the impression that she still wants to say something else. Instead, she takes his hands in between hers and shakes them firmly, as though she was greeting a politician. Will he notice the difference on her face?
She is alone in the restaurant because her mother, who has always left the yoga class in time to have her weekly lunch with her daughter, today decides to stop by her house beforehand. Her husband is coughing and doesn’t go to work, what interrupts their ritual. They’ve been together for six months, but her mother still behaves as though they are in a honeymoon. It is her third marriage, since the death of her father, six years ago.
But it’s not only that. Right there, she feels vulnerable, wants to cry, ever since she left the hospital. Maybe the company of her mother would distract her. They are mixed emotions. If, on one hand, the last thing she wants to do is to find someone from her past, capable of unveiling the cruel passage of time, on the other, shouldn’t she be proud with the results of the operation?
The boy continues to look at her as though searching for other eyes, behind hers. They are standing still, making the shape of a triangle, in the middle of the salon. At that moment, she’s certain that she’s made the right decision not to have children or to get married with the same man that was possibly her ex-boyfriend, in the past. If that had happened, she would have met herself, in the future, with an insipid child of fat cheeks and curved back. Like a weather-guard, the boy is over-weight.
The oddest thing is that the man, contrary to his son, avoids her gaze, soon letting his hands separate from hers as though they were fruits falling from a tree. He seems sad. Or were that the shape of his eyes? Soon after, he begins to walk away, distancing from her, aiming at a table in the end of the room, near others where there are many empty baskets of bread, accumulated in between objects that appear to come directly from a deposit.
They don’t say goodbye. Perhaps they don’t want to be seen, she thinks. Her will, in truth, is to chase after him and introduce herself once again, assuring he is the man from her past and who recognizes her behind the bruises. She hadn’t imagined she was going to feel that way, a stranger in her own skin. The past is a whirlwind of moments that makes the present unforgiving.
He barely hears her greeting when caught like a fish in her claws. She, which at the same time wants to be avoided, as though the plastic surgery was some sort of shame that she now carried underneath her eyes, a swelling, deep down she also wants to be seen in her new image, beautiful, lovely and younger. She takes a deep breath. She needs to change focus and position.
The image of that man incites her will to be observed, as though in front of a mirror. She tries to control her desire to be seen, even if by a possible ex-boyfriend. She decides, then, to concentrate on her mother. She takes the phone and sends her a message, where are you?, while checking the updates on Facebook. The only thing to do now is to wait for the ticking of the seconds, the sensation that her skin is extended each minute, and an internal timing that never stops resonating. She looks at him one last time before changing chairs, as though hoping to say goodbye or something. He seems lost, in a corner of the salon. His son plays with the cell phone, and on and off looks at her direction.
Sitting there, in a restricted section of the room, he feels he can breathe calmly now. He doesn’t know where he had met that woman before, but her unsettling shape distresses him. His son, magnetized before her face, stared occasionally. He, on the other hand, keeps remembering the marks on her neck, and the purple stains on her skin, as though she had just walked from an operation. What was she doing there, in such a state? The ugliness of the lady makes him think about his own body. Ever since he lost his job, he had put on five kilos, the excess of weight on his clothes already evident. The imminence of someone known terrifies him, even if apparently from a distant past. But the woman seemed happy to see him.
Lately he feared being observed, especially by his own wife. His image called for a diet, but he lacked strength to begin. His son, less bothered by his appearance than him, asks the waiter for a hamburger with fries. He hesitates, but ends up choosing the same. He should contain himself, like his old working peers who ate fruits during lunchtime. But it was difficult, especially when they are staying in a hotel. If his wife hadn’t invited him, maybe he could have started this week.
It is an important conference, she stressed, and all flight controllers will be present there. She had been selected to lecture and they offered her a place to stay. Even though they lived in the city, she decided to accept the deal. Was it meant to be a second honeymoon? He wondered. But the boy never left his side, and his wife was never around. In the end, he saw himself as a babysitter, ever since he started to spend more time at home. The most revealing side of this child was his lack of scruple. Was that the real name of his behavior?
The boy stared without piety at others, showing a blank gaze. He considered children happier because they could think whatever they wanted, without saying anything. Was he like that, as an adult? The waiter approaches the table and he asks for a tomato juice, spicy. Tomato juice isn’t fattening, is it? He wants to ask someone, but whom? He recalls his wife’s body, extremely lean. That morning, when she woke up early to exercise at the hotel’s gym, he had noticed her pointing bone at the curve of her waste.
Different from him, she didn’t accumulate fat. He stayed sleeping, or pretending he was asleep, while he observed her clothes hanging on the chair, what she was going to wear later on, black skirt, silk shirt, pink and professional. It was the outfit that marked her hips, giving her an even thinner posture. What did others think of her? Modern, a woman that didn’t need a husband, free, and ready to conquer the world? Was that what they think of her?
He only knew that when he lay down near her in bed he had the impression that he needed to excuse himself. Was he showing signs of depression? Yes, he was over eating, and low in energy. At least he no longer drank.
When he was still working in the cookie business, he used to drink beer after he left the gym, located in the same building, but no longer. He needed to react, but he didn’t know how. It was a matter of internal dwelling, willpower, and not exterior motivation. The woman had changed position, and he no longer could see the marks on her skin. Who was she? Maybe she could be someone nice. He missed talking to someone nice. His wife always lost her patience whenever they need to extend the subject to a topic outside the official agenda: children or work. She was always in a hurry these days.
When the hamburger arrives he is afflicted before the full plate and internally blames his son, for having ordered it first. The addiction to unhealthy meals brings a voracious appetite in him, a want to devour the meat and the melted cheese all at once. He opens the ketchup and hands it to his son, who seems paralyzed, observing him. He doesn’t know why the boy looks so much at him.
“What is it?” He asks.
The boy nods his head and then catches his phone, which is over the table. “Look, it is a water truck,” the boy answers, opening an Internet page that explains how water is distributed in the neighborhood.
“And so what?” He asks, confused. The kid doesn’t say anything and they continue eating in silence.
“Dear, isn’t that an ex-boyfriend of yours, from a time when your father was still alive and thought you were going to have a big family, like his relatives on his side of the family?” She asks, after arriving late and noticing the restaurant is barely empty. Her daughter is a bit slow, late to respond.
As a mother, she wants to offer some help, even if just for words. She’s noticing a burning sensation on her skin, perhaps impressed with the marks on her daughter’s skin. Besides, the power of the air conditioner in the room oppresses her. Or was there something else? The image of her daughter worries her. She was so pretty and thin at a younger age but now needs an operation to look like that again, and at what cost?
She didn’t want to be sorry for the girl, but unfortunately, that is how she feels now. The operation isn’t going to create a new person or change her personality. What happens to the melancholy, loneliness and lack of purpose? Her daughter’s sadness overshadows her. For the moment, it was better not to tell her about the trip overseas with her husband. He was going to take some time off, and the two would rent an apartment in Miami, where they would spend the season.
“You are very thoughtful today, mom,” her daughter says.
It’s important to bring up something, any subject. What to say? The weekly meetings carry a blue loneliness, a silent murmur. She had spent so much time worrying about the girl during her childhood, that now it seems hopeless. They eat a pineapple for dessert, but later, when the coffee arrives, her daughter asks for a chocolate cake, unexpectedly. Despite having operated on her belly fat, the excess is still inside of her, in her manners.
As a mother, she tries not to worry, concentrating on her own future. She’s already forgotten what she ate during lunch anyway. The important thing is to arrive at the embassy in time, without telling her daughter about the interview for a visa to the United States. What excuse will she give her not to accompany her home?
To her surprise, however, her daughter informs her she will go for a walk on the mall. Is that safe to walk on those conditions? Isn’t she tired? The girl, who is already a made woman, and still feel pains in her body, repeats, I am, but what I want is to be on my own. She seems disconnected from everything, perhaps a collateral effect of the anesthesia. The valet brings the car and soon after she still insists with her daughter, “are you sure you don’t want company? You’re very debilitated still.”
But she doesn’t appear interested and continues to walk slowly in the direction of the mall, looking back as though she had forgotten something in the restaurant, which is still empty, just the same man and the child, sitting at a table near the back. Now she realizes her daughter hadn’t answered whether the man was her ex-boyfriend, he seemed familiar, but nowadays so many people looked alike that it is hard to tell. Maybe it is better that way. Her daughter, the ex-boyfriend, and the little boy become a note from the past, as she drives away, towards the embassy.
The boy notices the car leaving. They are alone in the restaurant now. The passage of time creates illusions in his body. Or is that anxiety? In the fiction book, the main character complains of anxiety. He’s young, but he knows what it means, anxiety. The hamburger, sitting in his stomach, shows his inability to digest present time. He doesn’t know how the father manages it. It is difficult to be a single child these days. If he had a brother, maybe he could occupy his mind by talking with him.
When at school, he keeps thinking about his father, what he is doing at home, alone between furniture and maid. He doesn’t know what an unemployed father does. His impulse is to defend him from his mom, utter something that will explain why she thinks he is depressed. But he doesn’t know what to think. He didn’t like to see either of them sad, but the truth is that he always felt more comfortable near his mom.
Now, destiny had united them, and he met his father every day after school. Before, he barely talked with him. There, in the restaurant, the same home scenario is repeated, silence and lethargy, intersected by food. It is Friday, and he wonders whether the hotel bed is soft, so he can sprawl out to read his book. It is the first time he will sleep alone in a hotel room, even if only separated from his parents by a door.
They have been sitting still for some time when his father asks for the bill. “Do you want to go to the movies?” His father asks, walking ahead towards the exit, moments later. He is late to respond because he’s never asked that before, and he doesn’t even know if it is allowed. What is his mother going to say? They leave the restaurant and his father moves slowly, as though his body weighted tons. The unknown woman from the restaurant table is minutes ahead of them, soon disappearing inside the mall, when he forgets her presence.
He tries to start a conversation with his father but he seems indifferent. “Do you want to play videogame before the movie?” He asks, entertained by the possibility of having his father as a close friend. But his father says no and encourages him to play alone, while the movie doesn’t start. He doesn’t have patience with electronic games. “So can I go?” He asks as an echo, just to extend his sensation of closeness. But the question falls into emptiness.
When he arrives at the videogame arcade, he watches his father standing on the line to buy the ticket. Again, he feels like starting a conversation, filling the anxiety, telling him how much he loves him, in a way that he doesn’t even know how to explain. The possibility of proximity causes anguish, is what the character had said, he recalled now. He buys a dollar worth of coins with his lunch money and starts to play.
The sensation of pleasure, minutes before the beginning of the game, puts a smile on his face. The woman from the restaurant, with marks on her neck, is standing in front of a store with many bags on display. It’s my favorite game, he tells himself, sitting in the driver’s position and holding the wheel with all his might. His father is quiet on a bench, and his eyes are fixed in something he can’t guess. He puts the coin into the slot and his face is filled by a smashing, all-encompassing red light.