I don’t want…
“Twenty minutes? It’s only two blocks from here to the bakery, Lena.”
“Genaro closed his store almost two weeks ago. I had to walk around until I could find an open grocery store” she replied, placid as she always was, placing the plastic bag on my side table and then opening the bag. “I bought two sodas. Which one do you pref…”
“This one.” I said, interrupting her question and grabbing from her right hand the cylindrical aluminum container, now moist with condensed water.
She did not reply. She only smiled shyly, indicating that she did not desire the soda I had chosen and she was not offended by my complaints about her tardiness. Fortunately (for me), since the beginning she had always dealt with my hissy fits and imperfections with admirable tenderness.
Elena had become part of my days as soon as her parents settled on the street east of where I lived – in a yellow house with plastic flamingos in the backyard and rattan chairs on the porch. Years ago, as I went down the street trying to keep my balance on the new pair of roller skates I had gotten from grandma, I came upon a skinny girl with disheveled hair right in front of me. We almost ran into each other like two moving vehicles. Nevertheless, I stopped and started insulting her, spitting out the worst expressions I could think of at the time. However, despite the scare she remained motionless, contrasted by my readiness to be rude. After some time (how much time, I do not know) she burst into tears and covered her flushed face with her hands. Touched, I soothed her sobs with a tight hug and tried to convince her that everything would be all right. From that moment on a bond has kept our souls together, without break. United by mutual affection, we have kept our friendship for much longer than I had initially intended.
Wearing a pleated skirt and a rosary around my neck, I used to walk to the catholic school I attended since I was very young. Lena (leaving the first letter out, gave the name an extra charm) used to go to a public school, a less austere institution, but it did not stop our meetings and outings. Under the circumstances, the differences did not seem relevant. She was a girl of affectionate character. My blood, however, was of a more bitter nature.
Full of sodas and candies, we stretched out our bodies on my bed and fixed our gaze on the ceiling. From that angle we could clearly see the drawing stuck with tape on the left side of the fluorescent lamp that lit the room. The sketch made on paperboard had puzzled me ever since I first saw it: an effigy similar to a harlequin (but without the hat, I should remark) suspended by its foot thanks to a rope tied to the top of a rectangular arch made out of tree trunks.
“Mira, Mirela,” she said pointing to the ceiling and mocking my name with a grotesque pun. “You still have the drawing I made on Christmas.”
“You probably thought I had gotten rid of it. I have to admit that I thought about it after so many days trying to decipher the drawing without success.” I replied with a smirk and changed the subject. “Don’t you think it would be better to return to the binomial system? We need to work harder on this subject; you are still having trouble with it.”
Silence. I respected her disdain for Biology, but that habit of changing the subject when I was still talking was too impertinent. I waited for an instant, and as she did not give me a response I leaned toward her. Before I could utter my thoughts or any type of reaction, she briefly pressed her lips against my half-open mouth.
Not for a second did the thought of reciprocating cross my mind. No matter how much I prized her. I stared with my eyes wide open, noticing the insistence of her insolent lips. I pushed her to the side using all the strength I had in my hands. Scared, she got up with affectation, and muttered with an unconvincing covetousness.
This was my pet-name. A sign of remorse, a desire for forgiveness, or simply cheap coyness. The revulsion kept me from considering any possibilities as tiny droplets sprouted from my eyes. I limited my response to purging my kissed lips with the back of my hand.
I could tolerate a good amount of her faults. I could keep admiring her virtues and good traits without being afraid of hurting my haughtiness. However, I would not be able to forgive her for what she had materialized then and there. It challenged all the principles that I learned in all the conceivable spheres: educational, religious, familial and the one that concerned my morals and individual perceptions.
I could not risk having a lesbian friend. And most importantly, I could not take the risk of being seduced to commit a sin.
“Get out of my face…”
I strived to seize and get hold of every detail expressed by her eyes. Black spheres that even when teary showed an opacity that incited my curiosity. The same lack of transparency of those who give up, or fail to attain a goal. It was a reflex of disappointment, I thought.
She did not protest. Seemingly understanding the extent of my request she got up dispirited and jumped from the mattress to the floor, walking toward the door without a glance or a quarrel. In that exact moment, the glass fence that once protected our bond shattered and I could feel one of the pieces piercing my heart. That pain had a name: anguish.
Without forgiveness I was not only going to stop having her in my bedroom, I was going to stop having her in my days. In my mind. In my subtly bitter heart.
“For a sorrowful moment… I thought it would work…” she said while turning the door handle in a tone that was slow and wrapped in suppressed sobs. “I promise, I will dream of a new encounter.”
And she left.
As a sailor who refrains from the sea.
As a miner who refuses to dig in search of diamonds.
As a child who is tired of staging a tantrum in order to get candies from her father.
My destiny slipped away without desire to return. And I did not stop it.
Some minutes of disagreement can sow a life of discontentment. Immediate resolutions can breed permanent troubles.
My days became infinite. The memories of the retreat turned my bedroom into a cold chamber in which I lived confined, without desire to go on. The window beside my desk in the classroom reflected Lena’s face while the teacher’s shrill voice resonated undetected by my ears. Even my taste buds betrayed me and the candies that I used to buy at the corner store did not seem as appetizing as they had once been when I was with my best friend.
I committed myself, body and soul, to renounce any reminiscence of her and of what we had gone through together. At first, I tried — in vain — to cling on to a time before I had known her. My childhood was scattered everywhere. Thus the pair of dusty roller skates on a shelf reminded me of our first encounter. The collection of lined up dolls evoked the mental contemplation of her alabaster skin and scarlet lips. The crayon drawings on the board on top of my desk brought up the memory of how gifted her hands were: talented, she was always finding reasons to bestow upon me the drafts of different faces and landscapes. However, the latest of her illustrations was the one that tormented me the most.
I was obliged to gaze at that wretched harlequin every night before I fell asleep. Wretched thing. How could it show apathy when it was immersed in such corrupted scenery? Tied upside-down like a ham in a butchery. Even though the drawing seemed a little eccentric and abstract to me, I never had thought of the possibility of interpreting its meaning. Tormented by doubt, I tried to protect my dignity by setting a goal: I would decipher each and every secret that Lena had intended to tell me through the lines and colors of that drawing. Of that wretched harlequin that spent his nights in my room and became the cause of my sleeplessness. Wretched thing.
Now there were no intermissions between the ruminations. I could not concentrate in any anything but the irrefutable: Elena’s departure and the hole it had left in my heart. The fact that I could not match her expectations kept awaking the memories of the bond (believed to be eternal by both of us) that once had tied our friendship. Now, these reminiscences could only senselessly wound my heart.
The morning of Saturday.
Mama’s voice woke me up. Serious and polite, as always, she seemed to be reproaching me again for playing with my food. Reasonably so: I had barely touched the oatmeal or the orange juice she had prepared for breakfast.
“Mirela, I am not scared of your cockiness. I never was.” She said, cold and straightforward, pouring herself some coffee. “But you have not spoken, eaten, and your grades have dropped pitifully. If you have a problem, you know there is no need to hide it from me.”
I tried to speak, but the words got stuck in my throat. After all those sleepless nights, my eyes throbbed, and soon they glistened with a coat of tears. I had lost any notion of time and space, but it was difficult to accurately reveal what was happening in my mind.
“I think… I need to talk to Elena…”
Mama raised an eyebrow. She left her toast on the plate, brought a napkin up to her lips and then inquired:
“Didn’t she tell you?”
“Tell me?” I was petrified. “Tell me what?”
“I think you know Elena’s mother and I are in the same book club. I heard she went abroad to live with an aunt… Do you know if she got a scholarship?”
A sound like an oppressed groan came out of my mouth and echoed across the kitchen. I struggled to suppress my tears and try to absorb each word. Involuntarily, a tear rolled down my blushed cheek eroding my pride and fell in the bowl of milk and oatmeal.
“You are worrying me. What is happening?”
I left mama talking to herself and rushed out of the kitchen, entering the living room and crossing the stairway toward my bedroom, being careful not to stumble. My bedroom. The stage where all my turmoil took place, but also my haven.
After exhausting my resources and sighs, the bed became my cocoon and there I stayed static with a fixed gaze on the ceiling. I did not hear mama calling my name from the lower floor, a fact that denounced the little (if not non-existent) consistency of her concern. Opposing my previous perceptions, the harlequin didn’t seem as creepy and obscure as before. The new circumstance made me identify with certain parts of the scenery before my eyes.
Even though upside down, he did not seem misplaced or peeved. He appeared passionless, as if his position was not uncomfortable. As if he had yielded to the fate thrown at him. That was when I concluded he also had given up fighting. However, I was not passionless. I had not resigned completely.
I had destroyed a life of joy, built by us as a duet, with hostility and bigotry. On top of that, Lena had easily accepted my disdain, hindering any chance of conciliation. I did not blame her: any rapprochement could be harmful and neither letters nor phone calls would have helped me convince her that everything was still as well as before. I, who had made my friend suffer and beg my forgiveness, was suffering and begging time to turn backward.
Puny, squalid and shattered, I slept with my eyes wide open for a few hours until I had an epiphany. I was not called to lunch or to watch television with the rest of the family. In spite of not knowing the reason of my whimper, they chose to respect or ignore what was going on with me.
I got up. My skin was tingling after so much time spent without moving. My feet had gone to sleep and I could not feel the floor. I walked toward the wardrobe and glanced once more to the drawing. If I could not grasp my destiny and choke it with my bare hands, at least I would be the one to call the shots from now on.
I would not submit myself to a predetermined life, devoid of affection. I would not trade my pleasure for what had been conditioned and imposed upon me since I was a child. I would not let the memories of my early life overshadow what I was going through now.
I would become a columbine who lost its characteristics. Without a hat or makeup.
“Easy, there is no need to cry. It is over, see? We did not even get hurt…” I said embracing her and using everything I had in hand to comfort her. “What is your name?”
It worked. She stopped crying. At first she seemed surprised with the sudden solidarity after all the dirty words that had escaped from my mouth, but she had succumbed to my twisted arms around her body. In tip toes to level her height to mine on roller skates she sweetly answered:
Among tears and guilt I smiled inwardly, feeling that we were tied as in the past and inside my dreams. Not as friends anymore, but as author and masterpiece.
Consequently, the bizarre outfit became a pair of pajamas. The rope became a belt. The portal became a curtain rod. The foot became my neck.
And the expression? It was the same.