He stopped for a while, then continued walking

By Manuel B. Ibarra
Published on LatinoLA: May 15, 2003


David Nirvana took the trolley that morning, after one and a half hours of qeueing in the Tijuana/San Ysidro border. He was wearing a blue shirt which smelled of his breakfast, dirty old Levi?s and black shoes which darkly shined under the cold, burning sun. Spring in California, half an hour until the rendesvouz with Washington, his old friend that had been living in San Diego for eight years. Nirvana sat next to a black kid, his skin grayish and somewhat surreal. He realized he had never spoken to a black person, except for that time when an African-American gentleman asked him for the hour and, amazed by the fact that he wasn?t a gang member or a criminal, answered, in his thick, broken english ?Eeeet esss Oooan-Thorty, Serrr.? The streets unrolled like a paradisiac vision, everything seemed so neat and clean, nothing like the muddy streets of suburban Mexico. He looked at the dirty soles of his shoes; it?s almost impossible to keep them clean in Mexico, unless you live in San Pedro Garza Garcia in Monterrey or in Polanco in Mexico City. ?The essential difference between first and third world is basically that in the first world you can keep your fucking shoes clean,? he thought.

The trolley speeded thru Barrio Logan?s murals; the first time he saw them an idiot called Dan Neura said: ?why don?t they call it Barrio Wolverine?? Nirvana didn?t laugh. He thought of those murals as one desperate attempt to cling into a fading identity. The trolley stoped; he switched cars to get to the Convention Center, the salty air that came from the bay filled his lungs with something very close to ecstasy. He thought of better times, age sixteen, when everything seemed larger than life and exciting and he wasn?t stuck in his current cynical, expect-nothing-from-life, frame of mind. He jumped out of the cart, looked at his watch and realized there he was about ten minutes early. He walked around for a while, watching people pass thru: young couples running, trying to keep in shape; happy old men walking their chihuahuas and french poodles with ghastly smiles on their faces, pretty artsy chicks sketching the city on their notebooks and drinking latte or mocha or whatever they liked to drink. ?This isn?t the real world,? he thought. ?This is Disneyland.? He sat on a bench right next to a coffee shop, the aroma of coffee all over the place, the kind of aroma which reminds you of the good old times, when your parents where still together and they made a pot of coffee and hot cakes on Saturday morning, after the cartoons. Nirvana opened a book called El Lugar by some guy called Mario Levrero. It was a damn good book. Actually it was the third time he had started to read it.

Washington finally arrived, half an hour late. Nirvana smiled a little, but he quickly concealed his happiness. He thought that that would help him to avoid get hurt. He was a sensitive young man, maybe too sensitive for his own good. He put the book back in his back pack and walked to the car.

?There was an accident on the highway, sorry there dude.?

?No problem,? he answered.

It?s always good to catch up with an old friend. David wanted to practice his rusty English with Washington: ?Let?s go to the bookstore, there are some books I would like to buy.? Washington looked back at him with a dark, empty stare.

?Me gustar?a que hablaramos en espa?ol.? was the reply.

??Por que??

?Tengo seis meses que no hablo nada de espa?ol.?

??Que no hablas con tu mam???

?No mucho,? he answered, with his sad, brown eyes fixed on the highway.

Washington didn?t talk much; he was exactly the same in ?95. Nirvana did most of the talking and he just nodded his approval or dissaproval. A black veteran, carboard sign laying to his side, pissed on the streets; an old man looked for food in a garbage can.

?Nunca hab?a visto tanto pinchi loco aqu? en San Diego,? David said.

?Siempre salen en la ma?ana,? was the cryptic answer.

Washington drove to a bookstore in the bay area. They exited the car and Nirvana slammed the door just a little too hard. Washington nodded his disapproval.

?Cuidado con la puerta,? dijo.

?Sorry, tendr? m?s cuidado,? answered David.

The bookstore was a small, cozy place which smelled of incense and wisdom. He scoured the stacks of books until he found a couple of obscure works by Burroughs and Bukowski. He paid for them. The clerk wanted to make small talk. Small talk made Nirvana very uncomfortable. The thing he liked about Mexico was that there, everybody minded his own business, nobody ever attempts to have empty conversations with you unless it is strictly necessary. You can go to a bookstore, pick a couple of books and pay them without even looking the clerk in the eyes. Things were cleaner and impersonal. But at the same time, small talk in America was superficial, glittering with business-like hipocrisy. The friends exited the bookstore/ The next stop was an used record bookstore, where Nirvana acquired, among other things, a couple of ska-punk records and some electronica, music almost impossible to get in his hometown. Washington made vague comments about Cheri, a girl he had met on the internet, and how he was so much into her. She lived one and a half hours from San Diego. Nirvana said nothing. He seemed sullen.

Day became dusk, then night. Washington had warned Nirvana about a pajama party at Tracy?s appartment. Nirvana had met Tracy the year before, a remarkably beautiful and tender youg blonde with a fixation for his friend. They had sat one long July night, drawing comics on Washington?s bed, sulky expressions on their faces.

Nirvana didn?t had a clear idea about the relationship between Tracy and his friend. He saw her, mad with love, and him harshly indifferent, except for when his lust kicked in; her body was the tender and nubile body of a well-fed teenager. When he asked Washington about the true nature of their relationship, he just sneered at him, then made drew a comic about the whole situation; it appeared to be funny to him, apparently. The comic said that they had sex and some sort of distant sentimental connection, but that was about it; both of them were free to see other people. Nirvana dissaproved, but made no comment on the matter. A year had passed and as Tracy greeted him warmly, he started to think about the issue again.

Washington went out to buy beer and wine. Nirvana started a conversation with Tracy?s roomate, a young man called Gustavo; he was from the same city as Washington, but the talk between them strictly in English. That appeared like the pinnacle of absurdity to him.

??Por que hablan siempre en ingl?s?, he asked.

?He insists on it,? said Gustavo.

People started to come in for the party. Nirvana, which had virtually no social skills, decided to immerse himself on the book he was reading; it was very interesting. At some point, a pretty, punk girl called Cayenne sat besides him. She was wearing the same old, dirty jacket she was wearing when they met briefly the previous year. Her expression was sorrowful and empty, clearly the expression of a girl with no real direction in his life, or goals, for that matter. She just was, and it was painful to her. They widely discussed painkillers, a subject in which both where experts. After a while, Washington joined them. Nirvana smiled and asked him if they where going to go to KFC the next day, some sort of requisite every time he visited his friend.

?Oh, so do you guys actually eat meat?,? asked Cayenne.

?Hell, yes,? said Washington, with a certain confrontational tone in his voice.

?Do you know what they do to the poor chickens in those big corporations??

?Tell us,? said David, intrigued by the girl?s sudden burst of energy among what seemingly was a solid sea of apathy.

?They keep these poor little animals in cages, with a potent light bulb above them. They never get to sleep, about one-third of them die because of the stress. They make food out of those corpses and they feed the other chickens that. They use cruel and inhumane methods to kill them, they die in a lot of pain. Washington, would you really like to die like that??

?Well, we?re all going to die, anyways. And I do like to have a nice piece of chicken once in a while.?

?I second that,? answered Nirvana.

?I thought you where more intelligent, David,? she said. Nirvana sat darkly quiet for a moment, thinking carefully about his answer, until he finally let words come out of his mind without fearing the sullen consequences.

?Can?t you see, my dear, that from where I come from, people can count himself lucky if they get to eat a piece or two of chicken a week? Here you have all kinds of yummy vegan food, like tofu and shit. But back there, it?s almost a privilege to eat meat on a daily basis. Most of the people are vegeterian not because they want to, but because they have to, so, come on, don?t give me any of that politically correct bullshit.?

Cayenne said nothing. She retreated into the corners of her mind and remained silent. Nirvana opened his book and continued reading. He thought the party was dull. It was nothing personal; he thought the same of almost all parties. A great many polite, well-educated young couples came in after them. A bunch of noisy high-school kids joined the reunion. They promptly arranged a game of strip-poker. The kids, very discreetly, or so they thought, started to drink the wine and the beer Washington had brought. He said nothing to them, but he made a remark to David.

?Nadie invit? a estos ni?os?

?A mi que me dices, yo ni los conozco?, he replied, without lifting his eyes from his book.

Washington was a lousy poker player; he quickly lost all his clothes, except for his boxers. He used Nirvana as a pretext, arguing that he would be very offended if he got naked in front of him.

?He?s an old friend from Mexico, we have different customs there, he isn?t supposed to see me naked.?

Nobody seemed to defy that argument. Washington, who was Mexican only when it was convenient, quietly put his robe on and walked to Tracy?s room. Gustavo and David talked about Soda Stereo and Cerati for a while.

??Has oido algo de lo nuevo de Cerati??, Nirvana asked.

?Don?t like it, man. I?m not into electronica. I liked him better in Dynamo and Canci?n Animal. He was great back then.?

Tracy got out of her room. She looked sinister and was obviously drunk, her cheeks had a healthy pink touch on them. She sat in the floor in front of a huge mirror. Washington sat next to her. They didn?t said a word. David took his camera out of his backpack and took some pictures. He liked pictures more than people actually; he liked to spend his evenings watching pictures of his friends.

It was the beginning of a new day. Some people had left; the ones left seemed sad and apathetic. Nirvana decided it was time for his monologue. He cleared his throat and began the show.

?You know, once I had a girlfriend. I loved her lots, we were going to marry. She was bisexual?? The kids looked at him, surprised by the fact that he was able to speak English quite fluently. He had been very careful to speak mostly in Spanish. He was pleased, for he had managed to get all the attention. The monologue went on.

?Met her at my school. She was from Pittsburgh. I showed her some of my writings without the explicit purpose of impressing her, but the next day she told me that she had read all of them, about forty, and that she would like to be the girl those poems where all about. That really surprised me.?

?We took a long walk that day, basically telling each other the story of our lives. I learned that she had been with other girls. I was somehow surprised with that, yet curious at the same time. After a couple of bad experiences with a lesbian and a bisexual girl respectively, I had catalogued them as unstable beings and swore to stay clear out of them. But that evening, when we sat on the bench of a lonely, dirty park, I couldn?t help but to fall in love with her. I don?t know how, but I told her I loved her, that I believed that it was ?love at first sight? even though I didn?t believed in that bullshit. She stared darkly at me. Her answer was no. I was so overjoyed by the fact I had acted bravely for the first fucking time in my life that I didn?t feel bad, not at all. She kissed me good-bye and we parted ways amiably. Next day she calls me to my house, early in the morning, telling me that she had dreamed of me, and that yes, she wanted to be my girlfriend.?

?Things where great, we wanted to marry and move together as soon as possible. Our relationship was based on having as much confidence on each other as possible. She told me about how she felt like ?damaged goods? because her grandpa abused her when she was little, I confided her my darkest sexual desires, which I won?t discuss in detail in this moment, we where so happy together? ?till she had to go back to her city, ?cause she just was taking a course at the University. We agreed to met in her house in Pittsburgh that summer. But for some reasons, I couldn?t contact her for a week. When I finally got back at her, she had changed, told me that we should go on with our lives separately. Even today, I can?t fathom why she couldn?t wait. Perhaps she was hurt by my absence -- her fiance? had broken their engagement some months before we met -- but after in a while I learned that she was apparently dating this other girl. Whatever. I can?t believe why she was such a? a??

?A bitch!? one of the kids yelled.

?A bitch, allright. And you know what? The thing that makes me sad isn?t the fact that all the plans we had together where crushed by her indifference. No. What makes me sad and angry is the total lack of honesty, and the fact that two persons that shared so much of ther lives, their dreams, their demons, can break up with one of the parties involved acting as if she didn?t give a shit about things.?

The monologue was over. Nirvana quickly retreated into the kitchen and helped himself to a sandwich. Washington walked towards him with a warm expression in his face.

?Ella estaba en rebound.? he said.

?Tu ex? c?mo la acababa de cortar su novio, necesitaba conocer a alguien que la hiciera sentir deseada? amada? para despues desecharlo al primer pretexto. Ese fuiste t?. As? es como son las pinchis gringas.?

??Por que no me dijiste antes??

?Nunca me hablaste de ella. Si hubiera conocido la situaci?n te podr?a haber advertido.?

?What are you guys talking about?? said Tracy.

?You,? said Nirvana, clumsily winking his left eye. She smiled.

It was three in the morning. Almost everybody was gone, except for Cayenne; she was laying on the couch with a dazed expression, and three or four other kids. Tracy was hugging Washigton in such a way that it made Nirvana sick with envy. She was whispering ?Let?s go to bed? in his ear. He remained indifferent. At some point, she went to her bedroom. Washington sat besides Cayenne and the others; they stared at the T.V. silently.

Nirvana headed to Tracy?s bedroom. The door was wide open. She was was laying in her bed, eyes fixated on the roof, languid and beautidul, glass of red wine on her hand.

?Can I come in?, he asked.

?Sure, you can sit on the bed if you want.?

He sat on the bed besides her. Her hair was brightly red, like solar storms burning on the horizon. She smelled of wine and deception. Pheromones wasted in the dawn.

?How long has been since you and Washington met??

?Almost ten years, we were just a couple of high school kids. It was almost a miracle that we became friends, since I?m more of the anti-social type and he almost never talks.?

?That?s so true! Doesn?t it bug you when you?re just talking and talking and he just doesn?t answer??

?Used to. But now I?m used to do the talking.?

?Well, you sure talk a lot. That was one hell of a show you on put back there. Did you made that up or was it true??

?One-hundred per cent true. I?m not so brilliant just to come up with random weird shit.? Tracy smiled, it was a smile of empathy.

?You sure seem to have lots of energy.?

?Not as much as I would like to. You have lots of energy too.?

?I don?t think so.?

?Trust me. I?ve feelings about people, you seem quite different, Tracy, I can see it in your eyes.? She seemed please with that comment.

?Tell me about you and Washington. What did you guys do in Mexico??

?We used to draw comic books together, that?s how we met. We where the only couple of guys in high school that liked comic books, so we basically became friends because of that.?

?How did he behave? Was he as cold as he is today??

?Sure thing. Maybe even worse. He seemed to be quite a charmer with the ladies, though.?

?What else??

?Well, he basically moved here after a couple of months, but we have managed to catch up with each other ever since.?

At that moment, Washington came into the bedroom, looked at them, smiled and went out without saying a word. Nirvana yawned, seemingly unimpressed. Tracy?s expression was a mix of anger and sadness.

?See? He always acts like that!?

?You?re just being clingy, my dear.?

?What do you mean by that??

?What?s the thing you desire the most in this life, Tracy??


?So, what do you think we?re having right now, little girl??

Tracy stared at the roof again, she was getting sleepy. Nirvana looked at the computer monitor, the ever present electronic-eye. He toyed with the computer for a while.

?Say David, I?? Tracy said, spilling the wine all over her sheets. He quickly grabbed a piece of toilet paper that was around and cleaned the mess. He politely took the glass out of Tracy?s hands.

?C?mon girl, you don?t need this shit.?
?Why, David??

?Why what??

?Why don?t you live around here? Why can?t we hang out more often?

?That?s the way things are, baby, sad but true?

?Will you visit us more often??

?Of course?. say, why do you look so sad all the time??

?It?s just that? I miss my mother??

?Where?s she??

?Florida. She got a job there.?

?Why did you stay here??

??Cause I wanted to be around them,? she said, pointing at the living room, where the sad lot was staring at the tube.

?Well, what can I say, except that I admire the fact that you?re able to support yourself at such a young age.?

?I just want to be loved David, is that asking too much?

?Maybe, maybe not, who knows? I don?t know a damn thing about nothing.?

Tracy smiled, they continued talking for a while, until the sun started to rise. The last couple of kids went to her bedroom to say goodbye.

?Too bad we didn?t get to talk more, you sure seem to have an interesting conversation,? said the girl, with polite hipocrisy.

?Yep, too bad,? said Nirvana, sarcastically. They didn?t seem to notice.They finally went away, and so did him.

?Good night, or day, more like it?.

?See ya tomorrow!? she said, with an small hint of hope on her voice.

David dragged himself into the bedroom. Washington and Cayenne were asleep on the black couches. He tapped him in the head.

?What do you want?? said Washington.

?Let?s cut man, I want to sleep.?

?Let?s go where??

?To your place, of course.?

?Dude, it?s fucking late, let me sleep!?

?So, where I?m supposed to sleep, then??

?Anywhere, in the floor, I don?t know, leave me alone, man!?

Nirvana wandered around the house, he ended sleeping in the corridor, in front of Tracy?s room, like an old guardian dog defending his beloved master. One hour later, he felt a kick in his ribs.

?Wake up!? It was Washington.

?What do you want??

?Go to sleep to the couch.?

?But why? Dude, are you nuts??

?You?re obstructing Tracy?s room entrance, get your ass over the couch and sleep there!?

?Aw, man, I??

?I?m waiting, David.?

David got up and they, for a brief moment, exchanged defiant glances. But the war was over when Tracy?s voice echoed in the corridor.

?Washington, are you coming??

?Best of luck, pal? said Nirvana. He went to the couch; Cayenne was moving around, she seemed to have nightmares. He read for some minutes, until he felt sleepy again and finally let himself go into the dream realm.

Washington woke David up some hours later. The sun seemed magnificent over the window, filling the skies with vibrant, exhuberant energy. They had to go to his house to get breakfast and take showers. David wanted to say goodbye to Tracy, but Washington insisted that they where too late.

?Nada mas quiero decirle adi?s.?

?No, v?monos, es tarde.?

?Un minuto nada m?s.?

?Yo ya me voy, all? t? si te quedas.?

Washington left the house. David stubbornly went to Tracy?s room and said goodbye. She told him that she was going to meet them at Washington?s house. He ran to the garage, his friend had almost left him there. He hopped in. Cayenne was in the back seat, complaining of a headache. Washington didn?t say a thing until they left Cayenne in her suburban nightmare house.

?Just remember that now you?re on rebound, my friend.?

?What was that?? asked him, deeply exasperated.

?Nothing, I just care about you and??

?I can fucking take care of myself, thank you pal.?

They said nothing else on what was left of their way home. They took showers and watched a movie. Tracy came in. She seemed almost catatonic. That made David sad. ?Let?s go eat? said Washington. They went to a Chinese restaurant. Nirvana was surprised to see so many Chinese people eating in the restaurant. He confided that to Tracy. She seemed like she didn?t have an idea of what he was talking about.

?Thing is that, in Mexico, the Chinese guys run the place, they never sit or mix with their customers.?

They ate, talked about nothing, It was almost time for David to go back home, he felt relieved. He lazily sat in the back seat, nobody actually said a thing. Washington drove to exactly the same spot where he had picked him the previous day. David took some pictures of them. Finally it was time to go.

?Good-bye?, he said, giving his hand to Washington. He held it weakly. He tried to tell Tracy, in his primitive french, that she was the nicest person he had ever met, but she didn?t seem to understand, nor care. She just stretched in the front seat of the car, transpirating sorrow.

He walked a few steps towards the trolley, the blue line, that was going to take him back to Mexico. He stopped for a while, then continued walking.

?Regresa pronto?, said Washington.

Nirvana wanted to go back, hug his friend, kiss Tracy, do something, but he didn?t have the energy to do anything of that. Reluctantly, he waved his right hand at them, without even bothering to look back.

About Manuel B. Ibarra:
Manuel B. Ibarra, 21, currently studies translation and is working on his second novel about childhood and its nightmares.

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