07 April 2013


“Conservation instinct,” you write. I’m at my grandmother’s birthday celebration in Manila, you’re at a local hammam in Morocco, and I ask you to confirm that I didn’t really stand a chance. Did I? “I knew you were leaving,” you reply. “Now, do let me say no more.”

You don’t have to. It’s all I need.

Le Bistrot, on Nueva de Lyon, between Los Leones and Tobalaba. Remember? November. The last time we met. La Especial Bistrot salad for you, salmon fettuccine for me. Afterwards, a bottle of bad Cab at a Cuban bar where one of the waiters, a plump young man with a cringe-worthy mustache, gamely offered us girls. Bellas mujeres de Brasil, de Colombia, de Argentina! I think he was missing a tooth, too. When finally he left us alone you told me about the ex from Mexico who, in the ten years you were together, didn’t ever really know who you were. Or what you did. “I think it’s important to find someone to talk to,” I said. “It’s rare to be able to find someone to talk to.” I believed this myself. After the wine, I said goodbye to you on the street. You gave my face a friendly, affectionate slap. A farewell.

Librería Ulises, near Café Wonderful, in Barrio Lastarria. This was after our early dinner at Urriola, where Rodrigo, our waiter, acted, in your words, like such a “cock tease in search of tips.” Second to the last time we met. Also in November. It was just at the beginning of spring, wasn’t it? We were looking at the bookstore display. “I can’t believe they have it!” you said—it being the Humboldt ‘metabiography’ by Nicolaas Rupke. This brought to my mind Daniel Kehlmann’s teasing portrait of Humboldt in Measuring the World. “Do you know—” I began. “I know,” you said. About Humboldt. “There’d been plenty of rumors, all right.” Rumors. Stories. Books. I remember: you had Anna Karenina on your phone. I had Howards End on mine. Before sunset, you dropped me off at Santa Maria corner Pio Nono, in front of the university, the law school. You in your red shirt, your red car, your favorite color. We shook hands. “Thanks for coming out to dinner, Raskolnikov,” I said. Because you played him, didn’t you, in school, in a musical? I couldn’t believe it when you told me.

Plaza Italia towards Monsignor Müller, via Providencia. The daily walk. The streets of Santiago. Cowboy John Mayer through my earphones, singing, “It’s such a waste to grow up lonely.” September to November, from the last of winter to the first signs of spring. The times we didn’t meet. Or I couldn’t see you. The months I thought we’d meet. I wasn’t sure what the problem was. But you were in Peru, Bolivia, Belgium, China, America. Or you had a reaction to pollen. Reachable only through WhatsApp. You asked about my Spanish: how was I doing with it? “I decided not to take lessons,” I confessed. “But you’ll be proud: I’ve been studying the people.” “BS!” you said, to which I replied, “I’m a writer. Everything I say is BS.” “If you say so,” you said, “I can only concur.” My reply: “Meanwhile, you’re an economist, researcher, and professor. Trained to detect BS all the time.” Your reply: “Yes. Including my own.”

Roaring towards Costanera Center, through Costanera Norte, along the Mapocho River. You were more than an hour late; it was past midnight. A time during August that made one desperate to avoid the sordid charms of Grindr flirtations. You picked me up at Patio Bellavista after your dinner with colleagues. We  didn’t really talk much. But we were going—we were going 80 to 85 miles per hour. Something like that—too fast, that’s for sure. “What’s with the noisy phone?” I asked. “The app is called Waze,” you said. For navigation. For avoiding cops. I could hear the beeps, I could smell the alcohol, I could smell the danger. But I had no one else to talk to, you know? Or maybe it was the danger—not the romance of talk—that attracted me. Second time we met.

Rishtedar, on Av. Holanda, close to Metro Tobalaba. A detour from Café Liguria, because Café Liguria was too noisy; we wouldn’t have been able to talk in there. This was August. Winter, still. First time we met. It was so cold, I was shaking. Remember? You were wearing a red dress shirt under the overcoat. I was wearing a white dress shirt. We ordered spicy chicken curry, spicy shrimp curry, heaps of Basmati rice. We went for Kunstmann beers at Bar de Willy, then walked to Augusto Leguía Norte, past the sex shop, past the stray dog trying to cross the road. “The poor thing is going to die, I cannot bear to look,” you said. You once had a dog that went out through an opening under the fence in your farmhouse near Concepción, you never saw him again, it was awful to think of how he might have died. But this one crossing the road, he lived. Once we reached the front of your apartment, you asked if I wanted to come up. I said sure. I noted the red Welcome mat, the red walls, the red dining chairs. “So I guess you really like red,” I said, while you poured Pinot noir into the glasses. “My favorite color,” you said.

When I got up the next morning, I found the day’s El Mercurio on the red mat and eagerly picked it up without your asking. Should I have done that? It felt to me like I did something wrong, because you avoided eye contact when I said goodbye.

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