Bay Leaves (3)


For days, I tried to forget everything that had to do with that evening and with Mike Thompson. I tried to forget the shallow conversations I had with most of Rob’s coworkers, their strained smiles, the three broken wine glasses, Mike sneaking out with one of Rob’s coworkers, whose name I later found out was Diane, the hours I had to spend cleaning the apartment the next day… Only that by trying to forget it all, I kept remembering it all. It is something explained by psychology, isn’t it. Memory being circular, going around and around, like a planet orbiting the sun only to end up in the exact same spot one year or several hundreds of years later, or something to that effect. I don’t know if I’m making any sense but anyways, that’s how I felt. Like a distant and lonely planet.

If you think about it coldly, a few broken glasses and a bit of dirt is a small price to pay for a successful party, which undoubtedly it was, since Rob was met the next day at the office by cheers and friendly shoulder taps, and soon enough everyone started treating him like one of the “team”, whatever that might mean.

Sure, it would have been easier for me to put the evening behind me if I had had something to do other than sit at home musing over broken glasses, etcetera. I think that’s when I first started missing my old job.

For five years after I graduated from technical college, I was a bookkeeper at an insurance company, back in our hometown. I had landed the job quite unexpectedly. I had applied without discrimination to all the work ads in the local paper, as I was sure many others were doing as well –the economy was down and many young graduates were forced to go back and live with their parents –so my outlook was rather grim. However, they called me to several interviews and I finally got a few job offers.

I chose the insurance job because it was the highest paying one, and for good reason. Our office was the regional branch of a major national insurance company, its scope extended beyond town and we dealt with a large clientele. My office specialized in home and car insurance, we also did life but only when a client requested it. The office was located in a stately, red-brick building on Main Street, between the bank and the library. On the main façade, there was one those digital gadgets that read the temperature and the time of day. It was a popular location, maybe that is why we had so many walk-in clients. It wasn’t usual for the agents –young beefy white males who had earned their college entrance thanks to their sportive qualities– to have to chase clients down, therefore they were not used to rejection and that made them arrogant and overconfident. This I first learned from my boss, Mr. Sheridan, who had worked for the company for over 20 years, was a nice soul and wanted to warn me against the agents, who, he said, wouldn’t make it easy for me. Soon, I was in a position to confirm that my boss had been right down to the last comma, and I understood too why so many others before me had quit.

My job consisted in crossing the dots on all the contracts issued by our office. No contract would be placed in front of a client without me having checked it thoroughly first. Otherwise, the number of mathematical errors the agents would make in the contracts could put the organization in jeopardy, legally and financially. I have always had a good eye for detail, so I was good at spotting those types of errors quickly. When that happened, the contract would go straight back to the agent’s desk and he would have to redraw it from scratch, which let me tell you they all hated.

In retaliation, they would eye me deviously whenever we crossed paths, they never invited me to their dinners or little office parties, they called me names, made fun of my clothes and of my hair behind my back and played stupid tricks on me. I knew it was nothing personal and I did not let it get to me. I regarded them as no more than spoiled children and I continued pushing their contracts back to them over and over, like a tough teacher, until they got them right.

I did not mind my situation too much because I knew that it was something temporary. I don’t think I would have felt the same if I had viewed myself in that job forever. I was killing time, so to speak. Rob, a couple years younger than me, was still in college. He had always been a brilliant student, always got straight A’s and had a promising future ahead of him, or so his professors said. Not that I expected to depend on him, but working for an insurance company in my hometown wasn’t the career I envisioned myself pursuing for the rest of my days, so when Rob graduated and got his big job, it was easy for me to quit mine. But, all in all, I had to admit that my old job had given me something to do. It had filled up my days, as they say. Now my days were full of exactly what I did not dare ask myself.

It wasn’t until two weeks after the party that I saw Mike again. We met one morning in the lobby. It was dark outside. It was raining hard, the weather regaling us with a prelude of the winter to come. Mike, empty-handed and looking his usual and casual self, immediately smiled and walked quickly towards me when he saw me. I was coming back from my shopping and was loaded with heavy bags. For some stupid reason, I had decided that it would be a good day to walk to the nearest supermarket rather than drive. I was cold and wet and I did not even make myself smile back at him. It would have been a strained smile, like those I hate so much.

–Hi, there –he said–. Let me help you.

He picked up my bags before I could refuse.

–Listen –he said–. I never got a chance to thank you for inviting me the other night. I had a great time.

–I bet you did, you…!

I was in no mood to fake civility but I must admit that even to my own ears I had just sounded like a scolding teacher. And that brought back to my mind mortifying memories of the years I had spent dealing with the insurance agents of my former job. I did not want to get on Mike’s bad side, and most importantly, it was none of my business what he did with himself. All in all, he did not seem to mind my comment. He just laughed, moving his head and in doing so, his black curls sprang in the air.

–Believe it or not, I had a very nice time –he insisted–. Thank you, really. Now it is my turn to invite you. I’m having some friends over this Friday. I would love it if you and Rob could join us.

This coming Friday? Did we have anything? Nothing that I could think of. I was pretty sure we were free as birds the next Friday. I would have to ask Rob first, of course, to discard any previous engagement on his part. But otherwise… But, wait, I told myself suddenly, was I really considering this? No, no way. I didn’t want anything to do with Mike Thompson and that was final.

–Um, sorry, I don’t think we can –I said rather sternly–. I’m pretty sure we have something.

–Really? Are you ok? You seem rather… C’mon tell me, what did I do to make you mad?

I am that obvious, I have never been able to hide my feelings. Any stranger can read me like an open book.

–What is it? –he insisted–. Just wait a minute. Is it because I left with… -he chuckled–. I think you’ve got the wrong idea. She asked me to walk her home because she felt ill. So I did, as the nice gentleman that I am. Nothing happened. Promise.

He crossed his fingers and kissed them. He sure was charming, I must admit. I don’t know how but I found myself agreeing to go to his dinner. He patted me on the shoulder, as if I was one of the “team”, whatever that might mean.

–Great! Friday at 9, then –he said and then he left.

I stood in the lobby waiting for the elevator. A big poodle of rain had formed at my feet. My hands felt raw from the cold and the rain as I picked up my bags. Before I got into the elevator I saw Mike exiting the building. He was not carrying an umbrella. It was as if he didn’t even notice the rain.

(to be cont.)



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Archivado bajo Ficción, Fiction Writing, flash fiction

Bay Leaves (2)

It was our next-door neighbor. It took me a minute to recognize him when I looked through the peephole. His hair was shining black, he had shaved and changed clothes. He was wearing a black shirt instead of the basic white t-shirt he had been wearing when I rang his bell a few hours ago. Black is the new black, I couldn’t help thinking. I opened the door. He smiled and handed me a bottle of red wine and patiently waited for a sign of welcome. I was surprised. I hadn’t expected him to be the first person to show up, even though I was afraid that he wouldn’t come in the end. Finally, he was there and I was taking too long to let him in.

–Please, do come in –I said.

He followed me into the apartment. I led him towards the dining room as if we were ready to sit down to eat. I had dressed the table with the best tablecloth we had, one I had bought during our honeymoon in Italy a few years back. It was cream-colored, made of thick linen, featuring hand-embroidered leaves and flowers. It had cost a fortune and it was one of my most cherished possessions. I had also set out our best china and glassware. He looked at the table for a while, sternly, without speaking. I had no idea of what he could be thinking. I set the wine bottle down on the kitchen counter nervously and the noise the bottle made against the marble counter seemed to bring him out of his stupor.

–Impressive –he mumbled and then he gazed at me with teary eyes–.  I hadn’t seen a table like this in years, probably since our last family reunion after my gran’s funeral, back in old Minnesota. Ever been there?

–Yes, yes, I have ­–I said excitedly­–. Actually, Rob and I are from… –I was going to say from Saint Paul but he did not let me finish.

–Nobody else here? –he interrupted me looking curiously around.

–They shouldn’t be long. Would you care for a drink?

–Sure, what you got?

–Martini, vodka, whiskey…

–A Martini will do for now, no olive.

I served two glasses of Martini, without olives, and handed him one. Then I pointed towards the living room, without remembering the embarrassing old creaking couch with its fraying fabric, on which I had quickly thrown the crocheted blanket aunt Laura had made for us as a wedding present. But he did not pay attention to any of that when he sat on it. I sat down in Rob’s armchair. I remembered suddenly I did not know his name. I only knew his last name which I had read often times on his mail box, and which read Spencer.

–Erm… may I ask.. what is your name? –I finally asked.

–Oh, right, we never got properly introduced. My name’s Mike.

–Mike Spencer –I said as if getting familiarized to the ring of his name.

–Well, no. Spencer was the previous renter. It’s Thompson, actually. I haven’t got around changing the sign on the mailbox yet –he explained.

–Is that so? –I asked with an embarrassed smile–. How long have you been living here then?

–About two months, I guess. Yes, more or less two months… How about you?

–Just under a month.

–No, I meant your name.

­–Oh, it’s Sylvia, Sylvia Crawford.

–Very nice to meet you, Sylvia Crawford.

–Likewise, Mike Thompson.

We smiled at each other over our Martini glasses. Mike seemed to me honest and trustworthy and I thought that maybe, only maybe, I was about to make my first friend in that cold and lonely city. That thought sparked a song in my mind, the famous Mr. Rogers’ song from my childhood: I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you… while Mike was telling me all about his moving to New York from Minneapolis a few years back, and how he had started working as a freelance photographer until he had gained some reputation and landed a big contract with a renown publisher. Until then, he had moved around a lot but now he expected to be able to stay put for a while. Mike’s conversation was interesting enough, even if somewhat self-centered –he did not ask me what I did for a living, which I did not mind much to be honest. It was nice to be able to talk to someone other than Rob for a change.  That’s how lonely I had been, I should have realized right then, but instead I started wishing that nobody else would show up. And when, inevitably, the doorbell rang, I pretended not to hear it. Mike pointed at the door and smiled.

–Doorbell –he said.

A long row of people walked into the apartment. It got so crowded so quickly that I wondered if we might be breaking the fire code. Rob, who barely had kissed me hello when he started dishing out drinks, seemed to have invited the whole staff of LightCommCo. I tried to tell him something to that effect, but he claimed he could not hear me over the ruckus. I feared the super might show up, alerted by the neighbors. Luckily, that did not happen.

Since there were not enough chairs for everybody, I never had a chance to call my guests to the table as planned. And what I thought was going to be a formal dinner turned out to be a loud, crazy party, where people got drunk, skipped the main courses and went right to the dessert which was eaten out of paper plates. I almost expected a painted elephant to fall in the pool. Obviously, that did not happen, we did not have a pool, nor an elephant. Worst of all, I lost my new friend, Mike, in the crowd. When the party was raging, at about midnight, I saw him talking enthusiastically to a blonde in a black pin-up dress. After a while, both of them stole out of the apartment. He didn’t even say goodbye.

to be cont.



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Bay Leaves (1)

It all started when I had to go ask my neighbor for some bay leaves. My husband Rob and I had recently moved into a flashy 4-bedroom apartment in lower Manhattan and we were still short of many things, the least important of which was spices. We still had to shop for new furniture (our old furniture, which we hauled from our old apartment in the Midwest, barely occupied two rooms and looked shabby and old), and we badly needed curtains and rugs, but when the weekend came Rob was either too tired (or too uninterested) to read the ads which I neatly cut out of newspapers and ad magazines and placed on the breakfast table in front of him. He said that he trusted my judgment and that I could spend liberally, implying that I should do the shopping myself, which drove me absolutely mad, but in time I came to accept that anything that had to do with the house I would have to deal with on my own.

But going back to the beginning. I needed the bay leaves for dinner because Rob had announced that morning before leaving for work, in that irritating way he had of announcing big news, that he was to invite some people from work, including his boss, to dinner that day. Rob had just started this new job as community manager for a tremendously successful telecommunications company, a job which he had landed quite unexpectedly after months of interviews, and which had paid for the move and for the first three months of rent, and would allow me to take a sabbatical during which I was supposed to find out what I wanted to do with my life.

Anyways. Going back to that day. It was somehow assumed that I was to prepare dinner. So, after I did my usual morning routine: yoga, shower, breakfast, I finally found myself ready to tackle the big issue of impressing Rob’s new boss. Obviously, that was up to me since he had offered absolutely zero suggestions as to what kind of food we were to serve. I flipped through some cooking magazines which had surprisingly made it through the move and out of the boxes, and decided on New England clam chowder and chicken a la Provençal, followed by an exotic (at least to me it was exotic) Italian dessert called tiramisu. I scribbled my shopping list on the back of another yet unread furniture ad and went out shopping.

Three hours later, when I unpacked my shopping on the kitchen counter, I realized I had forgotten the bay leaves I needed for the chicken a la provençal. I wondered if it would be a big deal if I did without them, but if I did I might as well scratch off the “a la provençal” from the title of the dish and leave it as simple chicken. In any case, I was not willing to go back to the grocery store just for one item, so I thought I would ask a neighbor, at least that was what we used to do in the Midwest.

Sadly, I had come to learn that the Big Apple had many years ago done with the custom of regaling new neighbors with trays of cookies or casseroles. In my experience so far, people mostly passed each other in the hallways or convened in the elevators silently, though on a lucky day someone may acknowledge your presence with a slight nod. But I was not a shy one and was soon ready to ring the bell of my neighbor’s apartment and ask if I could borrow some bay leaves. I had crossed paths with him a few times. He was tall and broad-shouldered, in his mid-thirties, and looked attractive enough to be able to afford to seem distant and grumpy. Rob had warned me about the reported coldness of New Yorkers, they were nothing nearly as affable as us Midwesterners, he had said. It took some getting used to, he added and then went on a lengthy account of some mishap at work when he had mistaken a comment by a coworker for a joke and the whole thing had turned sour, or something to that effect… I tended to disconnect when Rob extended in long explanations, which he did most of the time, so I couldn’t say now how the whole thing had ended for him. Anyways, time was running out and I was there, in front of my neighbor’s door. Before ringing the bell, I breathed deeply. To my surprise, the door opened soon after and I was confronted by a pair of dark all-encompassing eyes which looked at me in surprise.

–May I help you? –the man’s voice was deep and throaty.

–Hi, I have just moved next door –I said stupidly smiling and pointing to the door behind me.

–Ok –he said arching his eyebrows.

–I was… erm… cooking, and… I wondered if you may have some bay leaves.

–What’s that? –he asked as if he hadn’t understood me.

–Bay leaves? –I said–. Erm… it’s a spice, well, they’re actual leaves used in Mediterranean dishes.

I felt silly suddenly after repeating like a parrot what I had read in the cooking magazine.

–Never heard of it –he said shrugging his shoulders, at which point I expected him to close the door–. But I’ll have a look, come in.

I stepped inside the apartment, following my host to the family room, or at least that was what Rob and I called the biggest room in our apartment. The apartment was similar in layout to ours but not much more equipped. An armchair here and there (no sofa that I could see), a big TV unit along a wall, a small round table by the kitchen, which looked rather lonely, placed in the same spot where we had our stately wooden table which could seat up to 10 people. The walls featured photographs in black and white of different landscapes and strange-looking buildings and bridges. I guessed the idea was to make the place look modern and minimalist. But to me it all uninspiring and too impersonal.

I heard my host moving about in the kitchen. Promptly, he came back with a small unopened bag of bay leaves.

–I never knew I had those –he mumbled handing the bag over to me–. Layla musta bought them.

–Oh, thank you so much! You’ve saved my life! I’ll bring it back when I am done, I don’t need that many.

–You keep it, I only eat take out and Layla isn’t coming back.

–Are you sure?

–Absolutely ­–he said and smiled, and I wondered if he referred to Layla never coming back or that I could keep the bag. I knew better than asking for clarification even though I was tempted, instead, I thanked him again and headed towards the door. He walked me out.

As I was crossing the threshold into the hallway, at that precise moment, that was when the first mistake of a long line of mistakes took place.

–Listen –I said turning back to face him–. Why don’t you join us for dinner?

–What, tonight?


–Well, I wouldn’t want to impose just for lending you some spices.

–Please, do come. My husband is bringing over some people from work and it will be absolutely boring…

–And you expect me to entertain you? –he said looking rather amused.

I think I blushed at that point. But he was joking, he added quickly, patted me on the shoulder and smiled broadly. He’d be charmed to come, he said.

–At 7ish –I added.

–Be there at 7 sharp –he said.

I went back to my place. I was excited. My mind kept playing tricks on me. I found myself trying to turn off the thoughts about my neighbor. I wondered what he did for a living, who was that Layla he had mentioned, why she had left… I kept getting distracted, so the chowder turned out a bit too thick and the chicken almost burned, but in the end, I managed to redirect my thoughts and at 7, I had everything ready. I was also dressed and made up. When I heard the doorbell, I smiled in front of the mirror, rehearsed poses and looks and was ready to be the host everybody expected me to be.

 to be cont.





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Para Celia E.

Se despertó aquel día con la vaga sensación de haber tenido un sueño resbaladizo como el suelo de una bañera vieja. A veces le pasaba, y como que sabía por experiencia que los mensajes del subconsciente son testarudos, también sabía que tendría a lo largo del día breves flashes que acabarían por poner ante su mente consciente imágenes del sueño.

Siempre le había fascinado el fenómeno de los sueños y como estaba prejubilado tenía mucho tiempo para leer, así que pasaba horas leyendo a Freud y a Jung. El academicismo científico de Freud le dejaba un poco frío, casi prefería a Jung cuyas teorías dejaban algo más de margen a la intuición y a elementos esotéricos con los que se identificaba sin apenas darse cuente, como eran el subconsciente colectivo y los arquetipos.

Su mujer se quejaba: siempre con el libro en la mano, no sé de qué te sirven tantos libros, dónde vamos a meter tanto libro, tú, todo es leer y la mesa sin poner, que todo lo tengo que hacer yo, que no me ayudas… Y así cada día.

Un buen día se le ocurrió que quería estudiar psicología. Tras informarse bien y meditar la decisión, desenterró del trastero un escritorio que había sido de su hijo y lo puso debajo de la ventana del cuarto de la plancha. Su mujer, entrando en el cuarto con un capazo de ropa, lo miró con ojos como platos.

–¿Pero, pero qué haces?

–Me voy a poner a estudiar y necesito sitio.

–Ah, no, ni hablar, aquí no, que aquí plancho yo, ¿y qué es eso de estudiar?

–Me han dicho que puedo hacer un examen para mayores, para ir a la universidad.

–¿A la universidad, tú? –se echó a reír–. Tú no estás bien, madre mía, a la vejez viruelas. Todo esto tienen la culpa esos malditos libros, si ya lo sabía yo que los libros te iban a meter ideas en la cabeza…

Su mujer estuvo el resto del día refunfuñando, que si a la vejez viruelas, que si estaba mal de la azotea. Cada vez que entraba en el cuarto de la plancha donde él se estaba arreglando su rinconcito de estudio, ella se plantaba con los brazos en jarras. Míralo, el estudiante de medio pelo, decía. Pero él no le hacía caso. Ni caso, tú a lo tuyo, le decía su mente consciente.

Así que se puso a estudiar con furia para sacarse el examen de acceso a la universidad para mayores de 45 años y cada vez que se encerraba a estudiar, su mujer en el cuarto de al lado ponía la televisión a toda pastilla, pero él seguía sin hacerle caso y se ponía tapones en los oídos. Y así, en un año, aprobó los exámenes que le daban acceso a su sueño.

Y el primer día, de camino a la universidad, en el metro sentado entre gente perdida en los abismos de las pantallas de sus móviles, él tuvo aquel primer flash del recuerdo del sueño de la noche anterior y se vio en clase sentado en las gradas de un aula atiborrada de estudiantes jóvenes que lo señalaban y se reían de él por sus canas.  Estuvo en un tris de bajarse en la siguiente parada, volver atrás, a casa, y aceptar en silencio el desdén de su mujer, magnificado al saberse poseedora de la razón absoluta.  Pero no lo hizo. No volvió atrás. Hizo de tripas corazón y siguió adelante.

Hizo transbordo de la línea amarilla a la línea verde y recorrió el pasillo eterno que transcurre a lo largo del subterráneo del Paseo de Gracia. Mientras lo hacía tuvo el segundo flash del sueño, que no era sino un recuerdo de una vivencia real de un día, años atrás, en que había paseado por el Paseo de Gracia con Concha, antes de estar casados, y ella se había quedado con la boca abierta ante los edificios majestuosos y entonces él le explicó quién fue Gaudí y como murió atropellado por un tranvía, sin que nadie supiera quién era, porque iba indocumentado y vestido con ropas humildes. Y ella lo miró con ojos como platos y dijo, Ay, Jaime, cuánto sabes, y se cogió de su brazo y siguieron paseando, y él se sintió grande y admirado y pasearon el resto de la tarde cogidos del brazo, y a partir de aquel día él subió a su casa sin problema y cuando se despedían se daban un beso.

El túnel se acababa y al seguir al río de gente del que él era parte de nuevo, tras años de haber vivido casi como un eremita, sintió que la manada que se movía acelerada a través del túnel le cedía parte de su vitalidad. Al salir a la calle, en zona universitaria, siguió a un grupo de estudiantes que se fueron dispersando de camino a las diferentes facultades. Seguía a buen ritmo el paso rápido de los jóvenes y cuando entró en la facultad de psicología sintió como si le hubieran ido cayendo los años de encima a cada paso. Se adentró en los pasillos de la facultad y buscó su aula. Entró y se sentó en la grada del centro. El aula fue llenándose de estudiantes bulliciosos. Algunos se sentaron en su mismo banco, el que quedó sentado a su derecha le hizo un ligero gesto de saludo y él hizo lo propio, se le ocurrió que podría presentarse pero el chico ya no estaba mirándolo. El rumor de las conversaciones llenaba el aula y casi no oyó la voz tímida de una chica preguntándole si el asiento a su izquierda estaba libre.

Al poco, se acabaron las voces y la clase se sumió en silencio al entrar una profesora que se presentó y pasó a presentar su asignatura. Así fueron pasando ante los estudiantes hasta cinco profesores. Los profesores hablaban y los estudiantes disciplinados tomaban notas. Se oía alguna tos, algún estornudo, pero nadie hacía chascarrillos, el ambiente era muy distinto al que él vivió años ha en su instituto. Él se sentía bien porque a nadie parecían importarle sus canas ni las gafas que descansaban sobre la punta de su nariz.

Al final de la mañana la chica a su izquierda le dijo que el próximo día no podría venir y le pidió que le pasara apuntes. Él dijo que encantado de ayudarla y enseguida se arrepintió de la elección de palabras, quizá demasiado anticuadas para la situación, pero a la chica no pareció importarle porque sonrió y le dio las gracias.

Al llegar a casa, su mujer lo sorprendió con la mesa puesta y la comida preparada como cuando aún trabajaba. Cuando se sentaron a comer le preguntó qué había aprendido aquel primer día en la universidad y él se lo contó todo con pelos y señales. Ella lo escuchó sin interrumpir y sin distraerse.

–Me han dicho que los psicólogos ganan bien –dijo al final.

Él meneó la cabeza.

–Hombre, algunos sí.

Temió que por un momento ella volviera a la carga con los mismos argumentos que había esgrimido durante meses.

–¿Y de qué te va a servir estudiar?

–Pues para entender esto –había dicho él señalándose la cabeza–. La mente es la clave de todo, de los pensamientos, los sueños, todo, Concha, todo.

–Los sueños, los sueños… muchos sueños tienes tú, toda la vida soñando…

Pero la conversación no fue así aquel primer día de universidad y ya no volvería a serlo. Y aquella tarde él se encerró en el cuarto de la plancha a repasar los apuntes del primer día, mientras su mujer miraba la televisión en el otro cuarto, con el volumen bien bajito.



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A veces el destino

A veces el destino se disfraza de error. Por eso Anita Méndez nunca supo si se había hecho modista por un error o porque ser modista era su destino. Llegó a Barcelona a principios del 75. Sus padres habían decidido marcharse del pueblo siguiendo la estela de una prima segunda que nada más llegar a la capital entró de portera en una casa buenísima ganando un dineral. Así que, en cuestión de días, Anita de 8 años y su hermano José de 6, cambiaron el aire fresco y la libertad del monte por el hedor de cloaca y las estrecheces de una portería en un entresuelo oscuro y húmedo.

Para sorpresa de propios y extraños a los pocos meses nacieron en el entresuelo gemelos univitelinos. Ana, la madre, era analfabeta y recelosa de los médicos. En su ignorancia había confundido a las criaturas que se movían como culebras en su interior con lombrices perniciosas que se alimentaban de su sangre y le hinchaban el vientre de manera monstruosa.  Para eliminarlas tomaba brebajes de hierbas indómitas que le vendía la herbolaria de la esquina. Los mejunjes amargos le producían tembleques sísmicos en las entrañas que la obligaban a pasar la mañana evacuando. El retrete era estrecho y tenía un solo ventanuco que daba al tragaluz interior de la escalera, con lo que el matutino y estrepitoso vaciado de sus tripas se convirtió en la comidilla de vecinas, comadres y alcahuetas.

Una mañana, estando sola en el piso, Ana sintió tal dolor que no pudo más que soltar un grito agudo como una aguja de tejer que atravesó techos y paredes y rompió un juego de copas de cristal que la Sra. Enriqueta, vecina del quinto, conservaba como oro en paño en una alacena y que solo sacaba cuando tenía invitados selectos. El grito rompió, de paso, las aguas que envolvían a los gemelos, dos niños, que salieron al mundo canijos y con carita de asco, seguramente por haber pasado semanas tragando los mejunjes amargos de la herbolaria.

Entre tanto, Anita y su hermano José habían comenzado a asistir a la escuela pública del barrio. Anita no daba problemas a las maestras, al menos al principio, justo lo contrario que José que empezó con mal pie. A su edad, debería estar en segundo de EGB, pero no sabía el alfabeto, ni sumar ni restar, así que el maestro de segundo lo envió a primero. Allí fue objeto de burlas por su deje sureño y sus modales de pueblerino, de las que se defendía a patada limpia y puñetazos, y al ser mayor que los otros niños el maestro le adjudicaba injustamente más culpa de la que en realidad tenía. Los maestros de la escuela pública de las postrimerías de la dictadura solían castigar con mano de hierro y regla de madera a los que no siguieran los dictámenes del comportamiento exigido, así que José andaba siempre con el culo rojo por los golpes con la regla y con morados en la nuca donde se le clavaba el sello del maestro cuando este lo levantaba del asiento para ponerlo de cara a la pared. Un buen día José optó por dejar de someterse a la humillación diaria de la escuela y en lugar de acudir a clase se pasó la mañana vagando por la calle, con la mala suerte que su padre lo vio desde el autobús del que era revisor y al llegar a casa le dio una tunda con la correa. Al día siguiente acompañó él mismo a José y a Anita a la escuela y no se movió de la puerta hasta que salió a cerrarla un portero malcarado. A partir de entonces aquella fue la rutina matutina de padre e hijos.

La escuela se encontraba en el centro de un área ajardinada que ocupaba una isla entera entre cuatro calles con nombres de escritores insignes. Los jardines, como aledaños de la escuela, habrían de convertirse en lugar de reunión de la niña Anita con sus amigas primero y más tarde con sus pretendientes. Al crecer, Anita se reveló como una belleza sureña cuyo fulgor moreno resaltaba entre los rubios cenizos, los castaños aburridos y las pieles lechosas de las otras niñas. A medida que crecía y se hacía más guapa, Anita iba perdiendo interés en los estudios. Las maestras se asombraban del cambio y del poco empeño que ponía en las lecciones. Enviaron una carta a los padres para concertar una reunión y buscar entre todos una solución. El padre no acudió al cónclave, al considerar la educación de la hija como un asunto misterioso que englobaba otros asuntos aún más misteriosos de mujeres de los que él no entendía ni pretendía entender. Así que la madre acudió sola a la escuela.

Las maestras, tres mujeres con gafas, vestidos oscuros y largos, estaban sentadas en una mesa redonda a la que invitaron a Ana a sentarse a su vez. En la mesa había un cuaderno de tapas amarillas que las maestras ojeaban de tanto en tanto. Ana sabía por lo menos leer su propio nombre así que reconoció el de su hija en la tapa del cuaderno y entonces tuvo la sensación de que parte de su hija estaba encerrada allí. Sintió que el cuaderno representaba una distancia insalvable entre ella y su hija y le entró una pena a la que no supo poner nombre. Deseó por una vez ser capaz de leer para saber qué información contenía el cuaderno. Las dueñas del mismo eran aquellas tres mujeres a las que odió inmediatamente por poseer una parte de su hija de la que ella quedaba excluida. Mientras se perdía en aquellos pensamientos laberínticos e inquietantes, las maestras intentaban transmitirle su preocupación por el porvenir de su hija. El semblante de las maestras era serio, la madre, en cambio, tuvo que reprimir una sonrisa orgullosa cuando una de las maestras hizo mención de la belleza extraordinaria de su hija, aunque fuera como preludio a la sarta de quejas que de ella tenían: inatención acusada, falta de compleción de las tareas, pésimas notas en los exámenes. A este paso no se sacaría el graduado, se quejaron con desmayo. Por otro lado, la niña seguía teniendo buen comportamiento, nunca replicaba a las maestras y aceptaba los castigos y las copias sin quejarse. Por todo aquello no comprendían qué era lo que estaba ocurriendo con Anita. Al final, una de las maestras preguntó:

–¿Qué quiere ser su hija de mayor? ¿Alguna vez se lo ha dicho? Porque a nosotras nos dice que no lo sabe.

Ana no supo qué contestar. Nunca le había preguntado a su hija qué quería ser de mayor. Siempre había supuesto que Anita querría lo que todas: casarse y colgar la fotografía de su boda en el comedor. Estuvo a punto de decirlo, pero tenía el suficiente talento (que era como ella llamaba a la picardía) para no confesar una verdad que ya intuía que iba a dejar insatisfechas a las maestras, y al final soltó una mentira, como quién lanza un pedazo de carne a un perro rabioso para salvar la vida:

–Pues la niña dice que quiere ser modista.

Las maestras suspiraron al unísono, como si un gran misterio hubiera sido resuelto.

–Así lo más indicado será que estudie corte y confección cuando acabe la EGB, lo ideal sería que se graduara, pero si no lo hace pues tampoco es tan grave porque para entrar en la FP no hace falta el graduado, solucionado –sentenció una de las maestras, a lo que las otras dos asintieron con sonrisas melifluas.

Con un gesto, despacharon a Ana que salió de allí titubeando, aún sin comprender qué era la EGB, la FP, el graduado, ni lo que acababan de solucionar. Al cerrar la puerta echó una última mirada al trío, una de las maestras estaba escribiendo algo en el cuaderno amarillo con gran concentración. Entonces, sintió un escalofrío al pensar que la mentira que había dicho al azar estaba siendo escrita a fuego en aquel cuaderno y temió que acabara por convertirse en un nudo del cuál sería imposible soltarse, como así fue.



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