[Leer cuento en español]

Overwhelmed by her cilantro’s stubborn insistence on turning yellow, Angélica imagines her own death with shattering clairvoyance, as she has countless times before. And that’s even though she quit smoking. Before, when she would sit for hours on the wall by the Casa de Cortés, to watch people strolling and whispering ephemeral fictions to one another while she filled herself with billows of smoke, she was never invaded by thoughts of obituaries.

The green glow of her lettuces at sunset often fills her with verve, but sometimes she empathizes with the cilantro: since she’s in a high-risk group, her husband and the son who still lives at home barely let her out. She tears off the badly wounded leaves because to let herself be hypnotized by their ocher moods would be like going back to the bitter years in the United Arab Emirates, when the mere idea of getting sick or dying caused her such panic that she would either sink into the clutches of insomnia anchored in anxiety or into deep sleeps of up to twenty hours in order escape from reality. 

There she truly had been sentenced to be alone: pushed into exile by the massive layoffs of that criminal company that, from one day to the next, put eight thousand five hundred families out on the street, without declaring bankruptcy or providing severance pay or compensation or lost wages or anything else. Even the workers’ savings accounts were robbed with the support of that thief Calderón, who was never worthy of the honor of presiding over the Mexican Republic.

In the Emirates, her children didn’t hold out for long before decamping, and her husband took endless shifts as a pilot: he was nowhere to be seen for six days at a time and then left again within hours of returning home. «Home,» in that case, served as a euphemism for «apartment infused with the imposed loneliness of existing in the middle of the sand in a country where a woman’s words are worth nothing and her value can only be in relation to a man, especially as a foreigner, which ensures the status of third-class citizen.»

She escapes these warmed-over torments thanks to the tangibility of a ripe fruit from her orchard. A few days ago she read that “avocado” in Nahuatl means “testicle,” so she savors it, basking in the etymology and avoiding looking out of the corner of her eye at the dry coriander leaves, which remind her of all the people who are dying: tens, hundreds, thousands: the figures just won’t stop rising. Through taste, she returns to her being, to her presence in Coyoacán, where she lives and where she will die, because she no longer thinks of ever dwelling or dying anywhere else on the planet.

That other time she glimpsed the grim reaper, she was trapped almost at her home’s antipodes with a depression crowned by the certainty that it would kill her. Her fear led her to make her husband swear over and over that, if death came, he would send her remains to Mexico so that her ashes could be scattered across every corner of Coyoacán; it didn’t matter if on the sidewalks, the flowerpots, the puddles or even the garbage cans: she wanted to be scattered in her beloved neighborhood, in the land that filled her with sobs and nostalgia even when she plunged into those deep dreams from which she awoke drenched in sweat and sighs, with her love for her polychromatic land deepened. If her remains were to dwell until the ends of eternity in these remote territories, it would be like dying twice over.

In the Coyoacán, immersed in helplessness, suffering through some of the worst years of her life, she got used to threading words together in the most absolute silence, and now she waits for the day to turn black and for her family to let themselves be seduced by the drooping of their eyelids so that noise will remain only a rumor of the past and of the future. And then, only then, she manages to write the portentous tiny stories and poems that spring from her fingernails into the secrecy of her bewitching twilight lair.

But there are times when the silence is shattered with noise caused by the uncertainty of tomorrow, and then she yearns for the inspirations of that world before the pandemic: she can no longer sit on the fence of the Casa de Cortés, her favorite place to people-watch and make up stories. Although all the better, actually, since the mayor’s brat has added one more massacre to his list of atrocities already committed and to be committed, disfiguring the building by covering its radiant yellow in white and removing every wisp of inspiration from the area.

During the lockdown, she has clung to literature and is more active than ever: at fifty-seven she has become a tech geek, teaching online courses, participating in virtual writing projects, and making muses of the news, longings, reminiscences, and routines. On days like today, she questions her own survival and is convinced that she will remain in this world by crystallizing herself through literature.

She has started a story — «The sweat of various bugs dripped over her webs…» but she needs to fill herself with fresh air to be able to continue it. She goes up to the roof of the building to take in the night breeze that seems so clean (pollution camouflages itself, devious, among the wonders of the night) and enjoys the sound of the trees swaying in the wind and the crickets chirping as they celebrate summer. Her house, that refuge where she narrates herself from the inside is wrapped between the warm pages of her books, the delicious swaying of her plants, and her intertwining with her family.

A summer storm reminds her that she is alive with its force of rain and the fleeting art of lightning against the violet sky; and she gently bears the ever-repeating certainty of her own death, but she refuses to succumb to its promises of rest because she doesn’t wish to leave this world just yet. Although, if she perishes now, she will have fulfilled what she has come to do: she is in her country, her children are already self-sufficient, and she has planted literary seeds here and there: she is not afraid of her departure, not at all, however, she is terrified of leaving with pain and suffering.

Safely rooted where she belongs, she allows herself the luxury of becoming finicky: if she were to die now — suddenly, please, suddenly — she wouldn’t want her remains to drift into just any hole in her neighborhood: she would love for them to swirl around the kiosk in Hidalgo Park and caress the mimes and street clowns who entertain an audience, now half absent, for a few coins; she would relish her ashes dancing among the sones and huapangos that the jaraneros rehearse in La Conchita Park; she would enjoy having them slip into the nostrils of the gringos who crowd Frida Kahlo’s house yet refuse to ever utter a single word in our language, to make them at least sneeze in Spanish.

From the tranquility of the rooftop, she feels more Coyoacanese than ever. She is happy and in the right place, even with death lurking. She meditates a little (but not too much, otherwise she will fall asleep) and says to herself that tomorrow she will flood her family with love, kisses, hugs, delicious food, and she will tell them that they already know that she is very apapachona — because she’ll if she does not fill her mouth every day with her favorite word, meaning affectionate, although exiled from the official dictionaries — and she will invent that they’re lacking something essential and will head out to the supermarket or the pharmacy just to soak her senses briefly in the urban panoply currently under siege by the lockdown.

The pandemic has not taken away even an ounce of hunger, and today Angélica dreams that the streets are free to stroll again and that she eats quesadillas at the antojitos market, a chocolate at El Jarocho, and then fig ice cream with mezcal sitting on a bench listening to the splash of the Coyotes fountain while she fills her pupils with the colorful people who, without realizing it, gift her those stories that nourish the ravenous lines of her writing.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]
[Ler a história em português]

When he goes to get fresh air on the balcony, Phil is immersed in the everlasting dance of the treetops that strain to mask the urban reality of cement and brick. His light red hair may not take any more walks than is fair and necessary; but his mind knows no such restrictions: this greenery hypnotizes him once more, and his imagination runs wild until he sees —feels— the eternally-damp soil of London under his shoes, the lavender twitching in the wind, and the tiny hand of little Colin, who in turn intertwines the fingers of his other hand with Adrien’s.

On the way to the urban farm, Colinho is jogging alongside his parents, chattering about how his first day of preschool went and endlessly asking why, why, why. Phil entertains him by teaching him the numbers in Portuguese, Adrien fills his ears with little French stories, and then they hum Thinking Out Loud, because they always find a chance to sing their song. At the farm, Colinho laughs out loud and starts suddenly at a growl and goes through the names of the animals in all the languages of his universe. When his son craves a treat, Phil realizes he doesn’t know if his choice would be a muffin, an éclair or a brigadeiro, and this uncertainty pulls him out of his reverie.

The interruption does not bother him, however, because the return to reality becomes a delightful limbo where the time he spends in the treetops passes in slow motion. He is struck by how his subconscious always chooses the most British names that exist (today he had a Colin, but yesterday he imagined a Prudence, Thursday a Freddy and before that a Daisy,) and he finds it very funny how right away, he lusophizes them, as if his mother tongue reasserts itself almost indignantly after his years and years of residence in England.

His return to reality becomes complete with the ping of a new email. Every time the name of the social worker pops up on his screen, his heart skips a skip, he crosses his fingers, calls Adrien (“a message from Ginnie”), and the two steam open the digital missive together. They sigh: once more, news without news, yet another joint interview.

They never quite know what the next appointment with Ginnie will bring. Adrien is a bit short with words, but for the talkative Phil there is always more and more and more to discuss. In the individual interviews, over a rambling two hours, he outlined in painstaking detail his favorite uncle’s love life, the feuds that characterize the dark side of his family history, and how his grandmother defied the rigid social norms of 1960s Brazil when raising her daughters. The joint interviews force them to stare deep into each other, to confess beliefs they had not even realized they had before, and to decisively make distant and intangible decisions. And it’s not just exploring each other: with each meeting, Phil and Adrien feel like they’re delving a little deeper into their own depths.

Despite their initial fears, the pandemic has actually given them certain advantages in the process. Meetings with the social worker before the lockdown meant both were obliged to ask for a day off work, arrive with very British punctuality, comb their hair, dress up and conceal any nervous tics that should suddenly manifest. But now everything is much easier, because Skype appointments are easily fit within the workday, haircuts are less scrutinized, and talking from the warmth of home brings a more relaxed atmosphere.

At the last interview, Ginnie warned them that during the next stage they would have to decide the age. In the event that they opted for a baby, one of them would have to stop working for a year, but their company would only grant them thirteen paid weeks, but London is very expensive and they do not have that much savings, but they could pull it off if they moved to a cheaper flat, but moving is a sign of inconsistency and the adoption agency demands rock-solid stability, but maybe with government assistance, but all this would only be affordable for Sir Elton Hercules John himself.

In the next interview, they will have to talk about why they want to adopt. That’s what Ginnie tells them, as well as the date and time, which they confirm immediately. Adrien grumbles and walks back inside; Phil prefers to do his grumbling on the balcony and searches and searches for a slightly less hackneyed reason that he can give. Before leaving the breeze on the balcony, Phil takes one last look outside and feels a certain friction between the overwhelming inactivity of those streets (where nothing seems to be happening) and the elation of the imminent change that will come in weeks, months, a year? Unlike the world out there, their lives are filled with speed and excitement.

Today it’s Adrien’s turn to cook and, since he knows that Phil tends to melancholy, and that he misses the nights out in Camden, he has prepared fish and chips, just like at Poppies, accompanied by a pint of beer and the best songs from his favorite bar, The Hawley Arms, temporarily closed, but reopening today only in a nondescript London home. To avoid dwelling on Ginnie’s questions and the fears, expectations and challenges of parenthood, they catch up on how telecommuting is going: Adrien has been putting together a hummus commercial for the Luxembourg market, and Phil has been collecting drawings from their friends’ kids to appear on the television channel where he works. As their social life extends only to their counterpart, the conversation chosen for this special evening soon peters out, and they cannot prevent the future from returning to their lips, and they find themselves talking of when the three of them will go to Mantes-la-Jolie to visit Adrien’s parents, of what a good example Phil’s loving goddaughter, Lily, will be, when they visit Petrópolis to officially present the new member of the family, of the living room dance sessions to the rhythm of the Spice Girls.

Every night—even Camden nights—the couple watches a show, and today they’re in luck: they have a new episode of one of their favorites. But at six minutes and sixteen seconds, Adrien is already sound asleep, as usual, so Phil has to resign himself to finishing Killing Eve tomorrow, because he knows the moral code of their sacred union has some immutable tenets and thus that he cannot watch even one more scene by himself. More nocturnal by nature, Phil still has a long time before exhaustion will set in.

Since Friends doesn’t do anything for Adrien, Phil spends two episodes stifling his laughter at every single joke, even though he knows them by heart. Between jokes, he glances out of the corner of his eye at his husband, who, when he sleeps, overflows with tenderness and seems centuries younger. Little by little, he curls up next to him, and Adrien’s body turns automatically to snuggle up, as if magnetized within the sleepy inertia of his idyll. At that moment, as every night, Phil falls asleep with the absolute certainty that their bodies fit perfectly, and he remembers Colinho and Prudencenha and Freddinho and Daisynha, and his eyelids surrender to nostalgia for the future.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]
[Lire l’histoire en français]

This house. The one next door. Doh-ba-doo-ba-doo. The curly hair in the wind. The communal garden. A timeless ballad by John Coltrane. The beauty of chaos. Doo-ba. The beauty in chaos. Dream companions who come and go depending on the season and love. Love. Doo-ba-doo. A voice. That voice. Doo-doo. Méli had never before fit so well into a place and, melding into it, she now no longer knows where her skin ends and where the orchard, the stone, the air of her home begin.

And now the arrival of a baby, ba-ba-boo, to that family that is not a family but is a family. Be-bi-boo. Lily and Martin are going to be parents, remember when they told us, we’re going to be mothers, remember? Be-ba-ba. And the bad news about her health, remember when she told, remember, how supportive they were, remember? Love. Ba-ba-boo. That house. Love.

In that house in Toulouse lives music. And politics and love and the tenor saxophone and reflection and love and we’re going to have a baby and creativity and let’s change the world and sickness, ssh, ssh, nothing negative, nada, da-da-da, don’t think about it, sing, play. Let’s change the world. Doo-doo-doo. The piano. Doo-doo. And love. Méli smokes and feels and utters beautiful gibberish with the magic of her throat, da-da-da, and forgets everything that has no place in the house.

When she goes into the home recording studio they jury-rigged at the beginning of the pandemic, her whole body fills with one, two, three, and, and do, re, fa, la; that studio, t-t-tcha, from which several musical projects have already sprouted, tcha. Now there is not so much coming and going and only four live in the house, two couples, all musicians, t-t-tcha, all music, and they create, rehearse, record, rehearse, create, create, t-t-tcha, record. It took her a while to get into a rhythm, to be honest. The musicians she met during the years she lived in Spain and those in France became hyperactive during the lockdown, and at the beginning she would get new videos from them every day. But she was overcome with timidity and doubt. Tcha. Daily. What a talent. What talent? Tcha. And you, Méli, what about you?

She judged herself. She judges herself. Always. There is no judge who is stricter with her. She has started a thousand texts, melodies, rhythms that crowd her throat and begin, but they get stuck, wrong, Méli, wrong, terrible, Méli, they get stuck, they stay, a throat clearing, wrong, wrong, Mélissandre, c’mon focus, girl. She demands so much of herself because the mirror and the videos do not show the glowing aura that appears to her when she sings. She doesn’t realize how her voice rides on the notes of a piano, of a trumpet, of whatever instrument is put in front of her. How it makes love to the notes, her voice. You shine, Méli, look at you. Good. Good, good. Wonderful. But it could be better, couldn’t it? Di-da-di-la-la-la. Two unequal forces confront each other in her being, her inner authoritarian, ta-ta-ri-a, and her interior voice, which struggles tirelessly, to assert itself and get out. To assert itself and get out. To get out. Di-la-la.

Now, Méli has learned to open the floodgate instantly. She lets her primitive voice, her instinct, her guts speak. It comes to her and she sings it, ti-ti-ti, she records it and hides it away, well tucked away, tay-tay-tay, far from that authoritarian self, in a place where she could never find it, nor judge it, because she doesn’t have the key. She has nothing but fear. And when the fear passes, pa-poh-pa, Méli will go to the hiding place and rescue the song. Not today. Tomorrow? No. No-na-no. Well, maybe. Maybe. Maybe tomorrow. Today you learn from others. Tomorrow? Well, maybe tomorrow.

She and Emilio, her boyfriend, are a musical duo. Before the lockdown, they used to trot out the ii–V–I progression on every corner of Toulouse, ba-bop-ba-ba-dop-bop, but the winds of the present no longer permit that. Now they are experimenting with Brazilian music. Lily and Martin receive a government grant for having played more than seven hundred hours and are expecting their baby unburdened by too many financial worries. But Méli and Emilio haven’t reached the required number of minutes, so they are forced to draw from their savings, dop-bop, because they can’t play in bars, concert halls, or parks. For months they’ve been getting concerts canceled on them, months in advance. Ba-dop. Toulouse is silent. Everything canceled, postponed. No, no, no. May? No. August? No. October? No. No. Maybe in 2021 the silence will be broken. January? No. Maybe. The silence misses being torn open by Méli’s voice. Silence is filled with meaning thanks to music, but for the moment the notes are locked in the invisible cage of the communal garden.

The communal garden adores the merriment of all the musicians who inhabit it. Just musicians? Well, musician-ethno-psycho-carpenters. How many are there now? Eight? Ten? I don’t know. Twelve? I don’t know. How many people live in the other house? People come and go. I don’t know. From the garden. From life. Ny-ny-ny. Like when, at the age of two and a half, Méli arrived from Tahiti with her mother, who started out singing in bars and concert halls and parks. That’s how Méli grew up, going from stage to stage, immersed in melodies, and that’s why she now feels, at the age of thirty, that the musical-chaotic-creative house in Toulouse is a home par excellence. People come and go. Méli hasn’t been to Tahiti for ten years. She will go back. Ta-ta-hi-ti-ti. She will go back. She doesn’t know when, but people come and go. They come and go. She will go back. Or not. Ta-hi-hi-ti. She will go back.

They have done everything in the common garden. Everything. Clarinet. Sewing masks for hospitals. Double bass. Cooking competitions. Piano. Yoga, pilates. Saxophone. Packing food for the homeless. Trumpet. The garden is the most ironclad and harmonious present. Remember the concert of Balkan music for the neighbor who couldn’t return to Romania as planned? Everything. Everything. Ting-ting-ing. Everything. The shared garden, the shared house, the shared life. They share everything. The food, the clothes, the joints. They debate, argue, question the government measures. It doesn’t matter. They love each other. Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone. The common baby. Ting-ding-ting-ing. The vegetable garden shines because every morning — if she feels like it, to tell the truth — Méli waters it singing, ding-ting-ting, and merges with the earth and, while the plants occupy themselves with trills, she photosynthesizes.

Shortly before the lockdown, the health problems began, and Méli broke isolation to go to the hospital, and then they discovered the spots on the MRI. The news of the baby was mixed with news of her multiple sclerosis and all the feelings crowded together in that house in Toulouse. Grief. Rage. Happiness. Grief. Happiness. Love. Surprise. Fear. Love. Love. Joy. Fear. Love. Love. Love. 

She waited to tell her parents until after the lockdown. She wanted to tell them in person. To her grandmother, nothing. Not a peep-pi-pi. Her grandmother gets too much bad news. She loses friends every month. Nothing. Not a word-pi-pi-peep. She is a very cheerful woman, she does not want to spoil that. Everything remains the same with her grandmother, but her relationship with her parents has changed since they found out. She now calls them more. They give her space. They know that Méli will tell them any news. Pi-pi. They love each other, they trust each other, they stay hopeful.

The music, the orchard, the politics keep her alive. Fi-fi-fa-fa-fa. A few months ago, the police wanted to arrest a girl from the other house for hanging an anti-Macron banner in her window. Then they came up with the idea of filling the streets of Toulouse with questions, and now they go out from time to time to hang posters. Fi-fi-fa-fa. Méli has received scholarships and welfare and thanks those who fought to get them and honors them by fighting. During the lockdown, the government took the opportunity to pass new legislation worsening workers’ conditions. Fu-fu-fu. The struggle cannot stop. The posters don’t say anything outright, they just ask, open the debate, fi-fa-fa, and people look at them and curse them or discuss them or applaud or exchange opinions or reflect for a moment and move on, with the question inevitably trailing behind them. What are my core values? Fa-fa. Can hope be cultivated? Fi-fa-fa. Do you want to return to abnormality? Fi-fi. Do you develop your critical thinking? Fi-fi-fa-fa.

Music, the orchard, politics, love. Love. Da-ya-da-du. Méli owes her mental strength to all those who surround and care for her. Love. She is persuaded, more than ever, of the great power of salvation of love and solidarity at this time. Ya-da-du. Displays of fondness and affection do not cost money. They cost time, dedication, and sometimes commitment. Méli is a composition of harmony and love and encouragement, a whirlwind of musical notes swirling in her throat and exploding in the air, and she knows all too well that in this life we have no choice but to improvise.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]

The first arrival will be early riser Manoli, the baker, an untroubled pond in an undiscovered forest, from whose tongue words must be ripped; next up is Juan, the one who just bought a little house in the new development, a parrot particularly proud of his ability to speak who leaves one’s head feeling like a drum; later he will have the two sisters, the older ladies who live a little bit up the street, beams of sunlight who always compliment him on the striking contrast of his eyes, one amber and one green; at four o’clock the owner of the bar in Church Square, Mari, will arrive, taking this rare respite from her loneliness as a chance to vent to an audience and inevitably releasing one of those little tears that leave a lump in the throat, but with her self-esteem boosted through the roof by the time of her departure; then the little guy will come in, the young man who works at the lottery, what’s his name, he can’t sit still and gets on your nerves and the only way to calm down is to tune out all sound and count to one hundred; showing up as the day wraps up will be Julito, the school janitor, who appreciates Dioni’s advice and mastery and leaves looking sharp; and squeaking in before the bell, Antonio, the potato chip maker, who brings tranquility and a breath of fresh air, and they catch up amidst the unrelenting banter of solid friendship.

For the first day back, it’s not half bad. It’s been difficult to piece everything together: the phone has been ringing nonstop since he announced the reopening less than a week ago, and he’s had to skillfully juggle clients, because the slightest chance of overlap must be avoided for safety purposes. He is dying to get to work. It’s been hard, so hard. And so weird. At first, he saw everything through his amber eye and took to endlessly brushing the cat from pure nervousness. He would come across him and, snap, grab him in a flash and kill time brushing and brushing, the cat enduring without a meow, with the patience of a saint not at all confident of his own hunting ability. Now, although Dioni could touch the finish line by stretching his fingers, he still has bouts of anxiety and tries to comb the animal, but the cat is no fool, and there is now only an unkempt blur as soon as he spots his comb-wielding master.

At last, the tables are about to turn, and no one will flee his combs — quite the opposite: the people with appointments for today will arrive, eager, as if drawn by a magnet to his brush. He swelled with anticipation just raising the metal shutter of the salon — the dry click of the padlock, the clattering ascent, the sweet chime of the bell — and his spirits have continued rising with each step towards opening. Now his shining green eye surveys the scene: he is passionate about his work, and the masses of untamed lockdown hair he takes as a challenge which will require creativity and drastic transformations, snip, snip, snip. He can imagine today’s parade perfectly: tangles and mangles and ends split to their base and traces of that dye from the supermarket, which saturates the hair and drowns it — look, I warned you not to use that swill, but you wouldn’t listen. 

Since he started as a barber at the age of sixteen in the posh Salamanca district and then opened his own business in 1991 in his native Leganes, he had never sheathed his scissors for such a long period. The last week before lockdown he felt certain misgivings and worries, but the virus seemed distant and alien, so when he actually announced the closure of the establishment, he did so in disbelief, and his entire vision of the world was focused through his amber eye.

The lockdown has given him a strange feeling of desolate calm, no longer the incessant bell of the door that opens and closes constantly, the sudden absence of people entering, ring, ring, and leaving, ring, ring, and entering, ring, not straining to keep one conversation going, and then another and another, discovering the silence of the abandoned hairdryers. Overnight, his universe took refuge within the four walls of his home, now also his prison, with all the time he had never had before with Reme and the children, getting to know each other.

Yes, getting to know each other, because before they only crossed paths at dinner time and on weekends, but in the last two months they have done everything together and created wonderful memories; although, of course, there are also moments when he feels a build-up of pressure in his amber eye and flees like a cat from a brush. Then he goes down to the garage for a while, no time at all, thirty, forty minutes, and he follows one step with another and is plunged into the claustrophobia of gas, electricity, water, the telephone bill, condo fees, rent, insurance, property taxes, VAT, invoices, product inventory, self-employment tax, accountants, social security payments for his employee… and then his anxious thoughts drift to his children, whose only concern is high school, hastily scribbling their homework just before handing it in. And he follows one step with another, pacing from wall to wall in that dark, musty garage, and he secretly smokes again, and his thoughts unravel with each step, and he takes deep breaths —inhale, exhale— and returns home with the green eye on fire and with determination to improve his new skills in the kitchen and to play Parcheesi with that well-coiffed family and enjoy the frenetic energy of his son, the curiosity of his daughter, and Reme’s humor.

It was she, Reme, who seized the reins to power through and get all their expenses in order and tighten their belts however necessary, end of discussion. She was also behind decorating the salon’s window for Mother’s Day, as she ingeniously does for all special occasions, and this was going to be no different — we will entertain ourselves, even if in the end we aren’t able to open and the shop stays locked up, because the government ultimately decides that we can’t progress to the next phase, and nobody else even sees the display. It turned out beautiful: those flowers, those colors entered Dioni through both eyes, amber and green, and he still carries them inside, whirling around his stomach. That explosion of bloom made him love his partner more, what great fortune to have her by his side, but don’t tell her, she doesn’t like that sappiness, and he planted a kiss on her lips that echoed in the empty salon, and she realized that he had started smoking again, but this time there was no scolding, because she understood.

This government, well, well, who knows what another would have done, the same or worse. The ambiguous limbo of the early days ate at him, financial ruin stalked him like a fateful storm, and anguish swirled in his amber eye until he tore at his hair and screamed and cried as he paced and paced in the garage. Fortunately, it never got so bad that he had to borrow money from his friends, because little by little he was granted this and that: deferrals on VAT payments, breathe, waiver of the self-employment and social security taxes for March and April, breathe, breathe, concession of discounted rate for water and electricity, breathe, breathe, breathe. And the banks, well, as bad as always, veritable vultures, massive profits only years after being bailed out: he’d been forced into a high-interest loan just to get a little liquidity and be able to make payments.

In recent days he has been going to the salon to set it up and start getting used to the strict protocols: wipes and sprays, disinfection after each customer, mandatory masks, limited capacity, sterilization of utensils… As he goes back and forth, he walks through the neighborhood in disbelief and thinks of all the other small business owners and each shuttered storefront breaks his heart. He wonders how the other businesses are doing, if they managed to apply for aid by the deadline, if they will meet all the requirements, if they were granted it. His amber eye starts to water. He expected rising optimism, but in those streets filled with infection and death, uncertainty and worry reign. Dioni gives a name, surname, and face to each of the victims, because there is no scalp in the neighborhood that has not passed through his hands: his parents were among the first to arrive there when this was nothing more than cottages and shacks and narrow, unpaved streets. Dioni is the neighborhood, everyone knows him. His customers are a second family, and his family helps with the customers. They help each other in their time of need… Lately, people in the neighborhood always want to help, there are initiatives, donations, food drives. He muses that human beings are wonderful, and the green eye begins to sparkle.

The clock is about to strike ten. He puts on a surgical mask and the N95 on top to be extra safe. Reme’s handyman has made him and his employee protective shields that cover their entire face so that they can fix those rivers of hair that will flow in starting today. He has missed it so much… He has spent thirty-six years dedicating himself to meandering through that branch of psychology that involves listening and advising while he washes hairs, snips away — and a little more, just a little bit, to neaten things up, you’re gonna have an a-do-ra-ble cut — straightens, curls, shapes, pins and sprays, from morning to evening, hour after hour.

Manoli arrives with a long mane and asks him to cut it, to cut a lot, because she is going to donate it. He wants to hug her, give her a kiss, but he has no choice but to transmit everything through his voice, a voice distorted by the endless regulations. As he brings scissors to hair, he feels a gust of breath on his arm that escapes the woman’s mask, and a shiver runs through him, but he continues, because a long day remains, and we have to transform fear into rational caution and come to terms with the new normality, and his irises turn to rainbows.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]

Immensity stretches before their eyes: the infinite orange melts into the blue, which then turns pink, purple, yellow, until the tea-scented darkness begins to make inroads, a darkness that is flooded with soup and yogurt and dates and honeyed sweets and milk; and they eat for the first time all day, with restraint more than greed, grateful for another day of learning.

The party begins around seven in the evening, and there’s no knowing when it will end. Moha can’t remember how long it’s been since they were all together or when was the last time he didn’t have to gobble down these delicacies, barely tasting them — there was always a tour leaving early the next morning, and he had to sleep at least a couple of hours. Those days, when it seemed like he couldn’t slow down for a single moment, not for a miserable second, now exist only in memory. Remember? Up, down, a kiss, another kiss, goodbye, tomorrow we have four excursions, yallah, yallah, yallah. The communal experience of Ramadan with the family (his grandmother, his three sisters, his brother) fills him with happiness.

It is clear to him, fortune is smiling upon him: undoubtedly there is no better place than Merzouga to spend these uncertain times. In the cities, people are packed together and can’t even take a walk without worrying. Just thinking about it sends a shiver down his spine. He cannot conceive of life without the caress of the dunes, without the freshness of the early morning, without the whispers of Dihia in the folds of the wind.

When their hunger is sated, they walk among the hillocks now dimmed and cooled by the night. Whether whispering or silent, they inevitably sink into the overwhelming peace of the landscape. Some evenings, that little slice of vastness surrenders to the wishes of the ghaita, the gembri, the qraqeb, the bendir, accompanied by clapping and singing and dancing, and there is nothing else, no other place, no past, no future, no virus. Inshallah. The silhouette of the tea with sugar decanted from a certain height lingers until the sun’s rays shatter the dawn, and only then do the Berbers embrace sleep to annihilate some of the sixteen hours of fasting that the new day brings with it.

Leaving the dream world, Moha dons his robe, wraps his turban, and slides on his babouches, ready for whatever the new day brings. Inshallah. The desert is emptier than ever. How beautiful to be able to see it constantly only through his own eyes: he takes all this as a lesson to value what he has and repeats to himself over and over again, like the chanting of salah: who knows where this world is going to take us? At least we have time for ourselves, time for ourselves, time.

For now there is no work, but there are chores — buying this and that, feeding the camels, going to the mosque — and he strolls through the town, which is suffused with an unsettling strangeness. Not only have the restaurants and hotels temporarily closed, but there are also residents who prefer to greet each other with words alone. It seems to Moha that the salam labas bikhir is left empty without touch: if something will happen to us, it will happen to us; there is only one death, there are not two. Perhaps if anybody here got infected, the story would change, and he as well would refuse handshakes and kisses and hugs and kisses and kisses.

Ramadan has also changed, because people do not gather in large groups. All right, it’s okay: this family time is more golden than the reflections on the sand at three in the afternoon, when the sun is shining, and it’s 92 degrees, and you can’t drink. But they bear it well, because the scorching heat and desperate thirst themselves are clad in togetherness. It could be worse.

When hunger tears into him, Moha dreams that he is traveling again: he has never left Morocco, but he travels the world through the people whose paths lead to his land. On the rare occasions when he lets go of the present, he misses spending time with tourists, talking to them about the constellations, teaching them the Arabic alphabet, leaving them speechless in the Dades Gorges, showing them how to move their tongues to make the zaghrouta maghrebiya, telling them the traditions of the Berbers — or of the barbers, as he liked to call them, ever the class clown. For every nationality and every language, he has a joke prepared. Perhaps because of a life balancing on a tightrope spanning three worlds, the Berber, the Arab and the Muslim, he has a predilection for cross-cultural humor. Without those international experiences, his self-confidence would not exist, nor his magnificent command of Spanish, which he practices daily with his friends from the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, whom who knows when he will see again, Inshallah. But the insistent messages he sends to keep himself and his business at the front of their minds are answered ever less frequently.  

Now the only tourists who come arrive with their own vans, and they rigorously keep their distance. All the better. All things that happen always bring some good. Although he would never confess it, unconsciously he knows that there is a certain beauty in not watching for the thousandth time how argan oil is made, in not having six Spanish women in the van singing David Bisbal at the top of their lungs, in not searching endlessly for cheap restaurants and hammams for moneyed tourists whose first words in Arabic are walo floos, “No money.” He has not chosen this rest, but he welcomes it with open arms while, at the same time, he is ready to return at any time to enjoying the new friends from abroad that life may bring him.

The streets of Merzouga — the orange buildings, the sacks of spices, the daily hubbub, the aromas — follow their natural rhythms. The virus accentuates the sweet leisureliness of Berber life. “You have a watch and you don’t have time, and we don’t have a watch and we have plenty of time,” he always used to say, while peering at his phone out of the corner of his eye to see when the next tour would arrive. Moha always enjoyed trying to make his guests understand the Berber lifestyle, but he realizes that he himself had stopped really living it. Now he is filled with the prodigious harmony of not having to give a single explanation about his culture, of just immersing himself fully into it. He no longer has to submit to Western dictates, which he does not fully understand anyway. And what is the point of tirelessly following demands to the rhythm of tick-tock, tick-tock? It makes much more sense to let oneself be borne along by the suns, the moons, and al-Qurʼān.

In the afternoons, Moha and his friends take videos and photos of themselves jumping from the high dunes, and their wake in the sand is forever crystallized in images. Tourists love these types of snapshots, so he shares them, so that those places will not fall into oblivion. The Sahara of the 21st century is made up of sand, sun, stars, and direct messages, and like, like, like. But capturing every moment is more something for foreigners: his family doesn’t live trapped in the gallery of his phone, but rather in the present of each shared moment. What is the point of photographing his grandmother cooking if the smell is left out of the portrait? Why immortalize his sisters playing if their laughter will vanish without clinging to the image?

There are weeks of fasting left. It seems that this year Moha will celebrate Eid al-Fitr with the whole family. It seems, it seems: nothing is ever certain. Like a good nomad must, Moha lives in this day and will savor every moment until the great feast arrives, which will also be fantastic, as will the days, months, years to come. Inshallah. But those thoughts do not overwhelm him, they simply live in him as peaceful certainties. Now he just sinks his feet into the heat of the sand, feels the gentle breeze on his face, contemplates immensity and becomes engrossed in the purely spiritual.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]

There is nothing like the luxurious sensation of cat fur on her taste buds. With Isis, it can get quite complicated to harvest those hairy delicacies, but Nut acquiesces to more shenanigans, and so Abril yanks her fur out and turns it into haute cuisine and enjoys its touch and spits it out and swallows it, and it dances and dances through her mouth.

Abril pursues the cats on all fours down the hall. Nut and Isis finally give in. They never learn. Or they do learn, but they forget, or it’s worth it, or they actually enjoy it, or they don’t care, and they are ensnared once more by that modern fur trapper. Nut, more maternal, usually sleeps with Abril, despite the peril of baldness, although there are times when she gets fed up and gives a gentle warning bite or even leaves her side. Isis avoids her more, but Abril still plucks the occasional trophy from her, because the tickles of that fur, its toothsomeness magnified by the thrill of the hunt, are an explosion of flavor.

But cats are not always so easily hooked. When the chase proves fruitless, she settles for other furs: hippopotamus hair tastes like green somersaults, bear locks have a bright pink aftertaste, monkey mane has tones of violet sweetness. But, in the end, the ones she rips from the book clump up in her mouth, and she struggles to swallow them, so she sets out once more after the cats.

For some reason, Isis is more amenable to petting on the balcony, where she likes to relax in the bright Madrid sun. Abril follows her, sneaky, and then lingers there for a long time, regardless of the success of her culinary mission. Since the rides in her carriage stopped, she has adored this space: it is here that the breeze blows, the wind chimes rustle, the colors shine, that clapping and dancing live. And at eight in the evening, it is usually she who initiates the nightly applause for hospital workers.

The people who live in the neighboring apartments play the same songs over and over, over and over again, every afternoon, and Abril enjoys their familiarity and dances to them and claps enthusiastically when they finish. The lady who always called her «little cutie» when they met in the halls is the one who launches the daily festivities with We Will be Together Again, by Lucía Gil, which is a bit sappy, but well, the melodrama goes over Abril’s head, and she never turns her nose up at a chance to applaud, clap, clap. Then comes, by tradition, the turn of that neighbor in his sixties — the one who scratched her with his mustache every time he saw her in the lobby— he plays I Will Survive, and by then Abril is already high and moves like one possessed and sings loudly and to her own tune and claps throughout the song and the sum of the clap, clap, clap reaches the end with tiny enormous enthusiasm. The hubbub concludes every night with the melody of the couple across the street —the one with the rectangular red, yellow, red cloth proudly fluttering from their small window— who insist on playing a song that reminds her a bit of a lullaby but is much more difficult to follow for Abril, who always gets confused and applauds after that part where her parents sing “and King Juan Carlos washes it with soap,” clap, clap, because it seems like the melody ends, but then it starts up again. It always continues. Clap. So much the better, that just means there is more applause. Clap. Clap. Clap.

When daylight savings begins, the neighbors across the street can see the little girl much better at that hour, and they blow her kisses and call out greetings. Abril is very good with grannies, so she returns their greetings with self-confidence, but she still doesn’t know how to blow kisses, so she unwittingly leaves them unsatisfied. Who knows: maybe she’ll learn soon and hurl little bits of happiness back at the women in the form of floating kisses.

Abril is happy bathed by the spring breeze. It doesn’t matter if she is in her bedroom playing with her reflection, or if she is hanging on to her mother while she does her housework: at the mere sound of the word «balcony,» Abril abandons everything and her hands start with the clap, clap, clap, as if pulled by irresistible force. She knows that she must clap her hands, and she complies. Just as she does when she goes out on the balcony, even if it’s not the right time for applauding first responders. By force of Pavlovian habit, the balcony has become infused with that gesture of joy: she spends time in the morning blowing soap bubbles with her mother and clap, clap; she stands in the sun with her father as he reads her a story and clap, clap, clap; she is dazzled by the windchimes and claps her hands and laughs every time the little bells ring, clap, while she bites the clothespins; she follows Isis to the terrace, and the cat lowers her guard, and Abril first claps her hands and then goes rip and yum in the blink of an eye. And at eight o’clock the clapping extravaganza begins, something she would miss dearly if the routine ever changed.

Abril already knows how to say “mama” (quite well-enunciated) and “Ithith” (with a lot of drooling accompanying the lisp), calling those whom she must stubbornly chase to feed herself. She often goes out with them to eat on the terrace —and not only dairy and fur— now that spring is in a good mood, clap, clap; and she gets mash all over her face trying to use the spoon and feels great happiness every time the sun hits her and she never tires of applauding.

Afternoons in the park and at the pool fade into the mist of oblivion, and she no longer remembers how quickly she used to get tired, or that she went to bed much earlier; and she has gotten used to seeing her grandparents via video call and pointing at them and smiling at them to indicate that she recognizes them, and then continuing trying to eat Nut and Isis’s fur. Normality for Abril does not mean going out into the street (street? what street?), but taking naps, eating fur and yet more fur, clinging to furniture, laughing out loud at peak-a-boo, breastfeeding, frolicking in her playpen, and listening to the neighbors’ music.

Abril’s first April is born and dies with the reality of the balcony —the awning with painted oak and eucalyptus leaves, the pink chairs, the dried-up cacti, the windchimes— as her only contact with the outside world. New truths and habits and teachings dance incessantly in her memory. One month is ten percent of the little girl’s existence, so the balcony is no little oasis of open air, but a whole universe.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Leer cuento en español]

In all of Navarrevisca, only Aunt Tomasa still retains memories of memories of the 1918 flu, and, until now, they had always seemed to her like tales of ghosts or distant worlds.

The anecdotes were bequeathed to her by her mother, Fermina, and had not cropped up in her thoughts for decades, but for the last few months they have become incessant reminiscences that appear to her even in dreams.

Aunt Tomasa rises very early, opens the window to air the room well, and those gerontological winds that shape her thoughts begin to invade her. At ninety-four years old, every action must be carefully planned — before going downstairs, not to return until evening, she washes, dresses, takes her pills, and makes her bed. Her mother and her mother-in-law died in that same bed, and very likely also her grandmother, Maria, with the flu, because back then in villages, one died at home. Once she is ready, she creeps down the stairs slowly, slowly, because her leg is a little bit crooked, and the descent aggravates the pain.

In order to distract herself from the ordeal of going down, she thinks, step by step, if back then they would have had vaccinations. Yesterday, she wondered if they would have worn masks. And the other day she was assailed by doubts about social distancing. The answer is always no to everything — that’s probably why her grandmother María died of the so-called Spanish flu: because they had nothing, and they didn’t know anything, and they didn’t protect themselves. Or maybe they did, who knows, nobody remembers those times anymore. As always, she reaches the ground floor without arriving at any firm conclusions, but at least the digression is useful for ignoring the pain.

She has her daily rituals, Aunt Tomasa, tidying up the house with energy and flair: she sweeps, gathers the dishes from the night before, and makes breakfast. Today there’s no need to cook, because she still has some croquettes left over from last week, as well as some tomatoes and torreznos that Maritere, her neighbor who keeps an eye on her, brought her yesterday. Tomorrow she will make an armada of empanadas and freeze them to eat them bit by bit.

Her leg is giving her a hard time. No wonder: yesterday she went with Currita to the pharmacy, and then they had a coffee and some churros at Casa Victoria, which filled them with enough energy to walk to Las Pezuelas and reach Uncle Ufe’s door, almost to San Antonio, and the morning flew by.

Today she’s due for a rest. She dangles the basket with her crochet tools on the crook of her elbow, grabs the wicker chair and skips nimbly out the door of her house, where she skillfully positions herself in the sun, her gray hair shining under the gentle caresses of the mountain air. If the town was already slowly fading away even before the pandemic, now abandonment has seized every street. This morning there is not a soul, except for a couple of kittens mewling in famished pleas, feeling the absence of humans directly in their stomachs.

Aunt Tomasa settles herself on the wicker chair, totally molded to her frame, and as soon as she joins the needles, the clinking invokes the figure of Fermina, and those memories rush back to her in a confused whirlwind and get tangled in the yarn. Her mother was always chatty at the loom, as she warped and interweaved, but those words were carried away by the wind and time, because they seemed unimportant.

Fermina survived the previous pandemic but was left motherless at the age of eighteen. Who knows if someone else in the family was infected, who knows at what age the flu took Grandma Maria, who knows how she faced the grim reaper, who knows where she died. Even though they were immediate family, Aunt Tomasa says she doesn’t know who those people are — I wasn’t even born yet, how would I know? She does not sigh, because she is of a cheerful disposition, and she is not worried about forgetting, but the loop of uncertain thoughts becomes unavoidable during these times.

And those days… How hard they were, my God. Aunt Tomasa grew up among reeds and reels, and from a very young age, her grandfather and her father taught her the art of weaving, to which she devoted herself body and soul until she married her Aurelio, may he rest in peace, a handsome goatherd who captured her heart with the countless letters that he sent her from the front lines of the Civil War. She knitted better than her sister, anxiety personified, no comparison. Aunt Tomasa’s hands filled with peace and patience, and she didn’t break a single thread when she made the blankets for the shepherds. But she didn’t just weave: she also dyed the blankets on the fulling mill and cut them — from fifty meters to twenty-five and then to five and then to two and a half, it echoes like a chant in her — and left them to dry and made them neat and pretty, and she traded them around the nearby villages of Avila with her father. Struggling to heft endless blankets that seemed sewn from lead (especially when it rained) in exchange for cheese or chickpeas or paprika or potatoes or chestnuts or figs or oils or raw wool or whatever there was, sometimes a few pesetas, if you were lucky.

She eats in front of the TV. They say on the news that the people who were spared during the Spanish flu were those who did not go outside and lived in well-ventilated spaces and that they even banned keeping pigs at home. The rich were the ones who survived, of course. Here in the village, there used to be a lot of people and a lot of crude houses of piled-up stones with tiny windows, and there was always a pig in every home, which was enough to keep the pot full for the whole year. And the families lived all together (parents, children, grandchildren), and they didn’t even have running water, just the common troughs, and the streets were swamps. Her mother told her that during that horrible flu, there were days when they could not even carry all the corpses to the cemetery of La Mata, the one down there, the old one.

After eating, she returns to her chair. One by one, Aunt Paula, Aunt Leoncia, Aunt Maria, all the widows who live in the street, come out. Each one with her archaic wicker seat, her social distance, her needles, and without her cards. They miss that more than anything else: the games for hours and hours every Sunday, the heft of the deck in their fists, the dry sounds of shuffling, the triumph of calling “brisca.” They play less and less, because Aunt Felisa, Aunt Fidela and Aunt Rosario have passed away, but they pay homage to them with lively laughter and the occasional random affray.

Now they have to talk to one another each from a different corner, and sometimes they can’t understand each other, but they answer, «What can you do?», and they always end up understanding, because they’ve been keeping each other company since there wasn’t a wrinkle between them. When someone passes by, if someone passes by, they put on their masks. They spend the whole afternoon chattering like parrots, without a break in their weaving and, amidst the bickering, the days fly by, even though they miss the hustle and bustle of visitors whom they can no longer ask in the marked dialect of the village, «Where’s the crew headed?» or «When did you get here?» or «Has your sister arrived yet?».

They are fine, they are careful, no one who lives in the town has died, there is not much danger in this remote village of 200 people. Aunt Tomasa is an oak tree, if it weren’t for the pain in her leg… Although, a few weeks ago, she woke up feeling queasy and nauseous and, no problem, they gave her an injection, they took her to the town of Burgohondo, where there are doctors, and they shoved a little stick in each nostril, and it turned out she was fit as a fiddle, no coronavirus or anything. Who knows if she would have caught the old virus herself, and what tests did her grandmother take, the poor thing, so young, so young. It seems that two or three other women died that same day in Navarrevisca. Surely back then there were no tests or anything.

Today there is mass. From the door of their houses, the aged friends can actually see the shadow of the stone tower crowned with a stork’s nest, but they prepare themselves well in advance, because what a scramble it is whenever the bells ring: ooh, where’s my cane, ooh, where’s my mask? They go in and out, in and out, until they finally have all their gear. And they walk slowly, well apart, without holding each other’s arms, relying on only the support of a cane and the presence of their friends.

And now, you see, you have to do all kinds of things before entering the church: wipe your shoes on the doormat, wash your hands well with that gel that’s like an icicle, sit at practically opposite ends of the pews (one seat yes, one no, one yes, one no, meaning there is no one to give the sign of peace to properly), take the body of Christ in your hand, with a mask for the priest and a mask for the person taking communion. In the end they laugh, the old ladies, because all this fuss lends some excitement to the affair — there have been no changes in the mass for a long time.

At the end of the day, Aunt Tomasa feels happy in her home, in this mountain village. She has to make the most of the days she has left. Autumn is coming, and it’s starting to cool down, and on the news they ramble on endlessly about the second wave, and her daughters want to take her to Madrid, for another possible lockdown. She would not like to return to the months of isolation in the city, when the days stretched endlessly, because the only entertainment was looking at the European royal families in magazines, making socks for her great-grandchildren, and watching the police from the balcony. And, on top of that, when she went out for her first walk after two months of lockdown, her leg hurt something fierce: she was seeing stars, couldn’t take a step. But, my child, I’ll have to give in: if I stay here and get sick, what’m I gonna do? Her Maribel and her Lumi just want the best for her.

She is convinced that it could be worse when she recalls the blurred chronicles of the previous pandemic in the village that her mother narrated to her over the loom, testimony that now dwells only in her memory, because it is not collected in any newspaper library or in any church register or in any other collective memory of this world, and it is sinking deeper and deeper into the mysterious recesses of history. Those memories of memories are hidden like an ephemeral treasure in the oldest person in Navarrevisca, who has just gone to bed to rest her leg, which hurts less when she stretches it. Aunt Tomasa dreams of dreaming that her grandmother survives and tells her everything that happened in Navarrevisca during the Spanish flu.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.


[Leer cuento en español]

Hilda looks at her daughter through the window and fills her with light. She’s been regular as clockwork over the last couple of weeks, splendid, a mirror of the universe, without missing a single day. Yazmín experiences it differently every day —with skin flooded, with vermilion fury, with harsh calm, with her spirit in bloom— but she always, always, always comes to the window at around six o’clock to receive the maternal twilight. Because that way, and only that way, does #StayAtHome make sense: without Hilda’s colors, the house still seems like a home stripped of its soul.

Águas de março plays on a loop, which somehow seems inevitable, and Hilda smiles in orange and violet and sings é a vida, é o sol in a pink-tinged voice. Yazmín, however, finds the song gets stuck in her throat, and she can’t unsheath a single note — musical though she is— because la noite and la morte are still beating in her temples.

The sunsets of Lima have never been more beautiful. People credit it to this rare respite in the frenetic life of the gray and polluted city, but those are just idle rumors: Yazmín knows all too well that it is actually her mother at the fim do caminho —because she was buried at exactly 11:11 in the morning, with the portals to another dimension open, whence she shines — and that the sunsets will continue to carry her light and her face until she receives a proper funeral. It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks: she is certain that Hilda Luz honors her second name every day at around 6 PM.

After sunset, Yazmín wipes away her tears and does yoga and then runs for a while on the rooftop, to open her chakras, stretch her body, and try to banish that mistério profundo, but she can’t make it stop being either mysterious or profound. 

Hilda always said that the spirit is eternal, and the body is just a garment, and she is now following her belief to the letter and appearing at every dinner in the mouths of Yazmín, her father, her brother, and Celestina —more than a housekeeper, part of the family—because her memory is always evoked at some point by a flavor or a squeak or a word or her favorite fork. And from memory, she passes into melancholy eyes. And from the eyes, she descends to the tongue. And the tongue makes her the star of every dinner. And Hilda is there, there, a promessa de vida no teu coração, chewing, savoring, existing, existing such as she can.

She also insists on appearing in every movie, on every show, in every book: the Aristocat Marie’s eyes invoke Hilda, Khaleesi’s courage is also that of Hilda, Jo’s intelligence is identical to Hilda’s. Everything. Absolutely everything screams «Hilda, Hilda, Hilda.»

Yazmín tries to go to bed early, because she rises at seven for work and because routine is healing. Her mother cuddles her with a faint autumn breeze, and with o corpo na cama, she drifts off to sleep.

Alone in the hospital, due to the pandemic restrictions, Hilda switched off her body at the time of her choosing: she departed on the same day as the equinox and Saint Joseph and was lowered hurriedly into the ground, one of thousands on that day, isolated from friends and family by the plague sweeping the land. Just as it was she herself, and not the cancer, who chose the day of her departure, Yazmín fears that Hilda’s spirit will make the decision to leave when the confinement is over, and she has a recurring nightmare in which the real funeral is completed, and Hilda’s light goes out. 

But the next day, Yazmín gets up, and the state of emergency continues unabated, and she works from home and, at around six, her mother bathes her once more in orange and purple through the window.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus


[Read story in English]

Chiyo necesita estar sola ahora mismo. Va a pedir un té en una de sus adoradas cafeterías tradicionales de Kioto, olvidarse de lo que ha pasado y escribir en su diario mientras siente el abrazo eterno de la ciudad. Y luego, cuando esté más calmada, volverá a ver a su padre.

Es todo tan raro… Al principio, intentó paliar la soledad impuesta con Zoom, Skype, LINE y cualquier otra cosa que la distrajera de estar consigo misma. Ahora, sin embargo, hay veces que no puede soportar no estar a solas con Kioto. A solas, sin nadie más. Eso es todo lo que necesita, se ha dado cuenta de que ese es su verdadero amor: su ciudad y el aroma del incienso y el zumbido de las cigarras y los susurros del pasado, en esa forma tan especial en que Kioto le sonríe con templos, jardines, ríos y montañas.

En parte, su profunda conexión con la ciudad tiene sus raíces en la supervivencia. Japón ha pasado por guerras, hambrunas, revueltas políticas, inundaciones, terremotos… Y ella siente que ha pasado por cosas similares. A pesar de todo, Kioto sigue resistiendo y permanece pacífica y tranquila, como una estatua de Buda. Chiyo se aferra a la fuerza y la serenidad de la ciudad cuando siente que está a punto de romperse en mil pedazos.

Ahora intenta alcanzar ese estado de ánimo, porque está a punto de desmoronarse después del ritual del hatsumōde. Como de costumbre, la primera visita anual a un templo sintoísta la ha hecho con su padre. Después de rezar por tener fortuna y prosperidad en el nuevo año, han probado su buenaventura con el tradicional omikuji.

Con una expresión alegre, tan suya —la sonrisa perenne, los ojos centelleantes—, ha probado suerte con la esperanza de obtener daikichi. Sin embargo, el papelito le regala el peor augurio de todos, kyo, una maldición que rara vez aparece, y mucho menos en el día de Año Nuevo. «Debes cuidar de tu salud», «Compórtate», «Sé paciente», «No te hagas demasiadas ilusiones». Los últimos dos años, con la pandemia, han sido durísimos para su salud mental, así que la mala ventura le ha caído como un jarro de agua fría. Se ha sentido más sola que nunca y tristísima: lo último que esperaba era otro año duro.

Kyo —ha murmurado, al borde de las lágrimas.

—Venga, que no es más que un juego —le ha dicho su padre, fijándole la mirada y riéndose para quitarle hierro al asunto.

No esperaba esa respuesta. Lo que de verdad necesitaba era consuelo, pero ni su padre ni su fortuna ni el año nuevo parecen estar dispuestos a animarla. Desde luego, la realidad mundial no la consuela. Ni su situación amorosa. Su única compañera fiel durante todo este tiempo ha sido Kioto. Por todo esto, le ha pedido a su padre que se separen durante unas horas y le ha prometido que lo llamaría cuando estuviera lista para volver a verlo.

Los ginkos y los arces bailan en una colina lejana al sol de los vientos de hoy. Chiyo se dice que, cuando una tormenta llega a la montaña, los árboles más desprotegidos y vulnerables caen primero. Antes, estar sola la hacía vulnerable, como si ella misma fuera uno de esos árboles; pero ahora se refugia precisamente en la soledad para sentirse fuerte. No es más que un juego. No es más que un juego. Las palabras de su padre le resultan socarronas, huecas. ¿Por qué llevan haciéndolo desde que era pequeña si no es más que un juego? Ya está bien entrada en la treintena: si no significa nada, no tendrían que haber mantenido la tradición hasta ahora.

Camina rodeada de su bella ciudad, que la arropa. Siempre la arropa. No es más que un juego. No es más… Las palabras se desvanecen poco a poco, y ella se sume en un estado meditativo durante ese paseo en el que los adoquines le alteran los andares y se le va la mirada hacia la madera con bellas imperfecciones de las puertas y el gris puro de las tejas. Inhala, exhala.

Estar soltera ya le resultaba difícil de por sí, pero la llegada de la pandemia empeoró su situación: dejó de salir con amigos, de tomar algo con sus compañeros después del trabajo y de charlar con desconocidos. La mayoría de sus interacciones en persona pasaron a ser virtuales y todo su mundo se redujo al móvil y el portátil. Ha acabado hasta las narices de las relaciones enmarcadas en una pantalla.

Kioto también se murió de pena al principio. A la ciudad, acostumbrada a ochenta millones de visitantes al año, le desconcertaron sus arterías vacías. Cuando se declaró el primer estado de emergencia en la primavera de 2020, Chiyo pasó por la calle comercial de Kawaramachi y todos los negocios estaban cerrados, excepto las tiendas de alimentación y las farmacias. El paisaje era desolador.

Chiyo se sentía como un personaje de una película postapocalíptica: ¿cómo podía estar tan vacía la ciudad con ese calor y ese sol y sin una nube en el cielo? Pasaron los días y las semanas y no había ni un alma en las calles. Qué aturdimiento. Ni una sola alma. Nunca se habría imaginado esa imagen de Kioto.

Poco a poco, empezaron a brotar carteles por toda la ciudad: el nuevo lema de las tiendas de suvenires, de las cafeterías, de los restaurantes y de los hoteles recién construidos para los Juegos Olímpicos de 2020 era un triste «Cerrado». No se trataba de un simple desastre financiero, sino de la pérdida de las ilusiones y los sueños de mucha gente.

Se para frente al templo de Bukkoji para observar el humo que sale del quemador de incienso. Chiyo prefiere no aturullarse con malos recuerdos y pasea para evitar a su padre y su propio destino. Piensa en todas las personas que han pasado por aquí a lo largo de los siglos para buscar consuelo después de perder a sus seres queridos, en esos días en que las oraciones y la cuarentena eran la única forma de luchar contra una enfermedad. Por lo menos ahora tenemos vacunas y lo entendemos todo mejor. Al principio, a Chiyo le desesperaba ver los templos vacíos. Vivía sola y solo salía para sentir la soledad de Kioto. Así es cómo ambas, la mujer y la ciudad, se encontraron. Al haber estado en más de setenta ciudades en todo el mundo, le empezó a dar mucha ternura la gente que depende del turismo para vivir y pensó que podría convertirse en viajera de su propia ciudad.

Desde que tomó esa decisión, engancha la bici todos los fines de semana y va a una o dos cafeterías para darles todo su apoyo. Las cafeterías tienen alma, Kioto tiene alma: sus gentes. Chiyo siempre insiste en mostrar su agradecimiento, porque esos lugares la hacen sentir que forma parte de una comunidad. Ella usa siempre la expresión がんばって, «ganbatte», por la que les desea a los dueños que resistan; y ellos responden, sin perder la sonrisa, que lo harán. Y luego Kioto inhala y exhala y se percata de que irradia belleza sin que la pisoteen hordas y hordas de turistas. Hacía muchísimo que no tenía esta sensación.

Y Chiyo se siente menos sola cuando está a solas con Kioto. Esta ciudad carece de carteles de neón y de publicidad agresiva que creen un simulacro de actividad, de ajetreo. El silencio ha llevado a Chiyo a encontrar un centro dentro de sí misma y ha aprendido a disfrutar sobremanera de su propia compañía. La relación entre ambas se ha dibujado, en cierto modo, como un proceso muy curativo.

Mientras pedalea, le parece como si hablara con su ciudad: «Oye, gracias por estar ahí. Me encantas. Me gustaría conocerte más, quiero pasar más tiempo contigo». Y Kioto le responde con murmullos de viento y le cuenta historias sobre la emperatriz Go-Sakuramachi Tennō y sobre el monje Shinran y sobre tantas personas que ya se marcharon hace mucho tiempo y que alguna vez sintieron la misma congoja que a ella tanto le aflige. «En el año 869, hubo una pandemia y la gente celebró un festival para rezar por la purificación…». Al estar tan receptiva a lo que le cuenta su ciudad y caminar por los mismos lugares una y otra vez, Chiyo viaja en el tiempo.

Hoy le resultan más reconfortantes las historias del pasado de Kioto que los pronósticos para el año nuevo. Pero no lo piensa, no lo piensa: no quiere volver a caer en un bucle de soledad y autosabotaje. Prefiere remover el té matcha que ha pedido para llevar y disfrutar conscientemente de su sabor herbáceo. Las adivinas han vuelto a las calles para ofrecer lecturas de manos. Eso es buena señal, le da esperanza, pero hoy prefiere ignorarlas. Se sienta a orillas del río y se queda mirando el agua mientras se pregunta cuántos tifones habrán arrasado esta zona, cuántas veces el río se habrá desbordado con ira para inundar la ciudad. Se imagina a las tantas y tantas personas que habrán colocado sacos de arena en la ribera a lo largo de la historia para proteger el paisaje que se abre ante sus ojos en el presente. Se siente agradecida por todo lo que tiene: un techo, salud, satisfacción laboral y familiares y amigos maravillosos. Hay tantas cosas de las que disfruta y que el virus no le ha arrebatado: leer, escribir, cocinar, hacer crucigramas… El covid no puede quitárselo todo. El jardín zen y el sonido de las cigarras y de la corriente le recuerdan que saldrán de la pandemia, como lo hicieron todos los ancestros de esta ciudad. La ciudad y su cultura han sobrevivido mil veces. Lo harán una vez más.

Su padre se sienta a su lado. Llevaba un rato buscándola. 

—No es más que un juego, te estás preocupando demasiado —insiste.

Le dan ganas de levantarse y separarse de él de nuevo. Siempre ha habido altibajos en su relación. Nunca se han llegado a entender del todo. Pero se dice a sí misma que es mejor que se quede ahí.

—Claro que me preocupa. He pasado dos años muy duros. Ya basta.

Su padre queda pensativo y, poco después, saca la cartera y le da un billete.

—Vuelve a intentarlo.

—¿Para qué? No quiero tirar el dinero a la basura.

—Merecerá la pena. Ve a ese templo y repítelo.

Chiyo va a un templo cercano y paga una vez más para conocer su sino. No cree que esta vez cuente, pero bueno. La miko le da un cilindro de bambú para que pruebe fortuna. Chiyo reza por obtener un augurio más optimista y saca un omikuji nuevo. Recibe un número diferente. ¡Uf!

—Aquí está tu fortuna. Buena suerte para el año nuevo —la miko sonríe y le entrega una tira de papel doblada.

Chiyo abre la tira y lee el augurio.

—¡Me ha salido daikichi! —le dice emocionada a su padre, que la está esperando a orillas del río.

—Ah, ¡muy buen agüero! ¡Qué alegría! —contesta su padre—. Siempre es mejor empezar el año con esperanzas.

La joven observa la orilla del río y piensa que hoy su padre ha colocado sacos de arena alrededor de ella para evitar que se inunde. Chiyo es ahora un paisaje lleno de esperanza y lo seguirá siendo, porque se acordará de intentarlo una y otra vez, hasta conseguir el daikichi que anda buscando.


Más cuentos pandémicos basados en historias reales en
El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus,
de Patricia Martín Rivas.

El amor en los tiempos de coronavirus_Patricia Martín Rivas


[Leer cuento en español]

Chiyo needs some time to herself now. She’ll get a drink at one of Kyoto’s tiny family-run cafes, forget about the whole thing, and write in her journal while in the city’s timeless embrace. Then she’ll be able to rejoin her father. 

It’s funny. When it all started, she was forced into loneliness, and she resisted with Zooming and Skyping and LINEing and anything that would distract her from herself. But now she actually sometimes can’t bear not being alone with Kyoto. Just the two of them. That’s all she needs, that’s her true love, she’s realized: her city, full of aromas of incense and the buzz of cicadas and whispers of the past, and that special way Kyoto smiles at her with temples, gardens, rivers and mountains.

Part of her connection to the city is rooted in survival. Japan has been through wars, famines, political uprisings, floods, earthquakes… And Chiyo feels she’s been through something similar. Yet Kyoto has remained an island of resilience – after all, it’s been through, it remains as peaceful and calm as a gentle Buddha statue. The strength of the city and its serenity is what Chiyo clings to when she feels she’s about to break into pieces.

She’s trying to reach that state of mind at this precise moment. After the ritual of the hatsumōde, she’s about to crumble. For her first visit of the year to the Shinto temple, she went with her father, as is their tradition. After praying for the best of luck and prosperity in the new year, it was time for the fortune-telling custom of omikuji.

She tried her luck with her usual cheerful expression —her perennial smile, her eyes sparkling— really hoping for daikichi. However, her little strip of paper turned out to be the worst of all, kyo, a curse that appears rarely, especially on new year’s day. “You must be careful about your health”, “Behave yourself”, “Be patient”, “Don’t expect too much”. The past two years of the pandemic have been terrible for her mental health, so this prediction hardly helped. It made her feel lonelier than ever and deeply sad — the last thing she was hoping for was another challenging year. 

Kyo”, she muttered, near tears.

Her dad looked at her and laughed, trying to play it down: “It is just a game!”

That was not what she was hoping to hear. She really needed comforting, but neither her father nor her fortune nor the new year had been willing to grant it. She certainly could find no comfort in the state of the world. Nor in her luck with love. Her only faithful companion during all this time has been Kyoto, and that’s why she asked her dad to separate for a few hours, promising she’d contact him to meet up again.

It’s a windy day in Kyoto, and the gingkos and the maples dance on a distant hill. Chiyo thinks that when a storm hits a mountain, it’s the exposed, vulnerable trees that fall first. Before, being on her own made her vulnerable, just like one of those trees, but now she needs to be alone to feel strong. It is just a game. It is just a game. Her father’s words sound like pure mockery, like emptiness. Why have they been doing this together since she was a little girl if it is just a game? She’s in her thirties now, it should have stopped years ago if it’s so meaningless.

She walks, surrounded by her beautiful city, who enfolds her. Always enfolds her. It is just a game… It is just… The words start to fade away, and she falls into a meditative state on her stroll, feeling the cobblestones alter her gait and fixating her gaze on the beautifully imperfect wood of the doors and the pure gray of the roof tiles. Breathe in, breathe out.

If being single wasn’t already hard enough for her, the pandemic has only worsened matters. She hasn’t been able to hang out with friends, have a drink with her colleagues, or chat casually with strangers. Most of her face-to-face interactions have been replaced by a laptop or a phone — her entire world reduced to a 15-inch monitor. She’s long sick of that.

Kyoto was sad too at the beginning. Used to eighty million visits a year, the city was left bewildered by its empty streets. When the first state of emergency was declared in the spring of 2020, Chiyo walked through an arcade in Kawaramachi to find everything closed except convenience stores and pharmacies. It was depressing. 

Chiyo felt like a character in a post-apocalyptic movie — how could the city be so empty on this sunny day of clear skies and warm breezes? Day after day after week after month, there was nobody in the street. She felt befuddled. Absolutely no one. She would have never imagined seeing Kyoto like this.

Then the signs started popping up all over the city — “closing down” became the new motto of souvenir shops, of coffee houses, of restaurants, and of the hotels newly-built for the 2020 Olympics. This was not merely a financial debacle, but also people’s drive and purpose and dreams going down the drain.

On her stroll to avoid her father and her fate, she stops by Bukkoji temple and watches the smoke rising from an incense urn. She can’t help but think of all the people over the centuries who have sought solace here after losing their loved ones, of the days when prayers and quarantine were the only weapons against disease. At least we now have vaccines, and we understand everything better. At the very beginning, Chiyo had felt hopeless seeing the empty temples. Lonely in her apartment, she went out only to feel the loneliness of Kyoto. And then the two of them, the woman and the city, found each other. Chiyo had visited over seventy cities around the world, so she felt great sympathy for the people who rely on tourism for a living. That’s when she realized she could be a traveler in her own city.

Ever since that realization, she hops on her bicycle every weekend and rides to one or two cafes she really wants to support. The cafes have a soul, Kyoto has a soul, and that is its people, so Chiyo always makes sure to let them know how thankful she is to have places like theirs that make people feel part of a community. She tells them “がんばって”, Ganbatte, to stay strong, and they reply, with a smile, that they will. And then Kyoto breathes in and breathes out, and feels so beautiful, untrampled by milling flocks of gawpers. It hasn’t felt this in a very long time.

And Chiyo feels less lonely when she’s alone with Kyoto. The city has no neon signs or loud advertising to create a simulacrum of life and activity. Silence has driven Chiyo to find a center within herself, and she has gotten to greatly enjoy her own company. Their relationship has been, in a way, a healing process. 

She feels like she’s talking to her city by pedaling her bike: “Hey, thanks for having me. I really like you. I would like to know more about you, and I want to spend more time with you.” And Kyoto murmurs back in the wind and tells her stories about the empress Go-Sakuramachi Tennō, and about the monk Shinran, and long-vanished figures who have faced tribulations like those she faces. “Back in 869, there was a pandemic, and the people held a festival to pray for purification…”. Listening to her city over and over again, walking back and forth in the same places, back and forth, she has become a traveler of time.

Today, those stories of Kyoto’s past seem more soothing than the ones about her future. But she’s not thinking about it, not thinking about it, she won’t fall back into that spiral of loneliness and self-sabotage. She just stirs the matcha tea she ordered to go and savors its herbal fragrance. The palm readers have returned to the streets. That’s a good sign, that gives her hope, but today she ignores them. She sits on the riverbank, watching the surface of the water, wondering how many typhoons have riled this placid ribbon, how many times it has risen in anger to flood the city. She can picture all the people placing sandbags across history to preserve the landscape that unfolds in front of her in the present. She feels grateful for what she has —a roof over her head, health, fulfillment at work, wonderful relatives and friends. She can still enjoy reading, writing, cooking and doing crosswords. Covid can’t take it all from her. The zen garden and the sounds of the cicadas and of a stream remind her that they will get through this pandemic, just like the people of this city always have. This city and its culture have survived. It will do so once again.

Her dad sits by her side. He’s been looking for her. “It is just a game, you’re worrying too much,” he insists.

She feels like getting up and walking away from him again. Their relationship has not always been easy. They’ve never quite gotten each other. But she tells herself she must try to stay.

“I do worry. The last two years were very tough for me. I’ve had enough of it.” 

After thinking for a moment, her dad pulls out his wallet and tucks a bill in her hand. “Go and try again.”

“What? No, it is a waste of money,” she objects.

“No, it’s not. Just go and get another one!”

She goes to a nearby temple and pays for another fortune. She isn’t quite sure if this one really counts. The miko hands her a bamboo cylinder filled with lots to draw. Chiyo prays for better luck and then pulls out a new omikuji. She gets a different number. Phew!

“Here is your fortune. Good luck with your new year,” the miko smiles, handing her a folded strip of paper. 

She opens the strip and reads the fortune.

“I got daikichi!” she excitedly tells her dad, who’s where she left him by the river.

“Ah, ‘great fortune!’ What luck!” her dad says. “It is always better to have a hopeful start to a new year.”

She gazes at the riverbank and thinks that her dad has placed sandbags around her today to stop her from being flooded. The hopeful landscape she is today will live into the future because she’ll just remember to try and try again, until she gets the daikichi she’s seeking.


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.


[Read story in English]

Con mucho mimo, Lana le ofrece a Vladimir un poco de guacamole de edamame para que se le calme la garganta. Él le ha dicho que es vegetariano y que le encanta la comida picante, pero Lana siempre duda cuando una persona blanca presume de tolerancia a las especias. No hay más que verlo: apenas unos minutos después de pavonearse, una insignificante rodajita de chile rojo lo ha llevado hasta la náusea.

A ella no le sorprende en absoluto porque ha presenciado el mismo espectáculo mil veces en Malasia; y mastica tranquilamente trocitos de pollo teriyaki y coliflor con cúrcuma y rábano mientras observa a lo lejos cómo unos niños en la pista de patinaje junto al puente de Waterloo se caen, se levantan y vuelven a empezar. Le encantaría encenderse un cigarro para que este momento fuera perfecto, pero está prohibido fumar en los restaurantes de Londres. Tendrá que conformarse con el cielo azul, la sopa y los niños cayéndose y levantándose, cayéndose y levantándose, como si fuera una metáfora cutre de su propia vida. Esperará a que el rostro de Vladimir vuelva a la normalidad para romper el silencio. Hasta entonces, seguirá disfrutando de la ruidosa tranquilidad de la ciudad.

Justo antes, estaban hablando sobre Albert Camus, a raíz de que Lana soltara con cierta indiferencia una cita suya que leyó en una exposición de arte el otro día: «¿Debería suicidarme o tomarme un café?». A lo largo de la comida, han charlado sobre filosofía, leninismo, Beauvoir, comunismo, Butler y Chomsky. ¿Por qué no sacar a colación otro tema así, ligerito, como las enfermedades mentales?

Pero tampoco se han limitado a hablar de temas impersonales. Él le ha contado que, durante la pandemia, se ha estado centrando en la fotografía en un empeño de distraerse y no volverse loco, que ha sentido una profunda soledad, que toda su familia vive en Eslovaquia y que apenas hablan.

Ella menciona así por encima que también tiene una relación bastante complicada con su familia, pero decide no entrar en detalles. No le cuenta que no la aceptan tal y como es por el qué dirán, que la rechazaron y desheredaron, que hace poco su madre la llamó «Lana» por primera vez porque necesitaba dinero, que ya no se preocupa por lo que le pase. Su madre… Ay. En Malasia hay un dicho: «Mira la cara de tu madre y verás el cielo». En el fondo, a Lana le encantaría sentir esa frase como suya. Tras la cadena de pensamientos, en silencio, suelta de la nada: «A veces, ayudamos a quienes nos hacen mucho daño porque en la vida hay que ser buena persona, ¿no crees? No hay otra manera de pasar página».

Está mejor desde que aceptó enviar dinero a su familia. Siente como si les hubiera compensado por haber huido. Ahora puede alejarse por completo de ellos y de Malasia, el país que la vio nacer y que luego la castigó por ser quien es, que denigra a las personas como ella, que las encarcela. Al ser refugiada política, aún le quedan al menos tres años para arreglar todos los papeleos y poder volver a su país. Pero no le importa: desde hace un par de años Inglaterra ya es su casa, porque le ha dado la oportunidad de ser ella misma y ​​no hay mejor hogar que aquel que le permite habitar libremente su cuerpo. Por eso es voluntaria en un centro de acogida: quiere que otros solicitantes de asilo y refugiados también (se) habiten aquí. Nadie mejor que ella sabe lo importante que es que el cuerpo propio se convierta en hogar.

Vladimir es majo, pero no entendería ni papa sobre todo este embrollo. Tampoco maneja las artes de la psicología. Parece creer en los rincones más oscuros de la mente tanto como en la comida picante e, ignorante de todo el sufrimiento por el que ha pasado la mujer que tiene enfrente, responde a la cita de Camus con un chiste un tanto despectivo sobre el suicidio.

Lana no se lo toma como algo personal, porque está muy orgullosa de todo el camino que lleva recorrido hacia su sanación. Y, en todo caso, le dan pena las personas que desconocen sus propias mentes y sus patrones tóxicos, ajenas a sí mismas y a quienes las rodean. Vladimir se le dibuja como un ser muy transparente, sin un ápice de hostilidad ni maldad. Sin embargo, a Lana le gusta pasarse de la raya de vez en cuando y, solo para ver cómo reaccionaría, se plantea responder a su chistecito hablándole de las treinta y seis pastillas de paracetamol que colocó en fila sobre la mesilla de noche, de su llamada desesperada al teléfono de prevención del suicidio, de los policías que entraron en dos ocasiones a su casa para corroborar que estaba bien, de los psiquiátricos, de los calmantes, de sus varios intentos de suicidio a raíz del aislamiento por la pandemia. Pero le da una pereza horrible verle el rostro incendiado de nuevo; ya ha tenido bastante con el espectáculo rojo y ridículo de chile picante.

Aún en silencio, Lana se transporta a la primera mañana que despertó en el hospital psiquiátrico y nevaba con fuerza, algo que esta criaturita tropical nunca había visto antes. Le invadió un anhelo súbito y desesperado de sentir la nieve en la cara. Sin embargo, para cuando los médicos le hicieron todas las pruebas y le dieron permiso de salir, ya había dejado de nevar y solo quedaba un rastro de hielo marrón en el suelo. Qué puta suerte la suya. Le dio igual: corrió y corrió y corrió como una niña hasta agotarse por completo. Cuando paró, se prometió que esta vez sería diferente. Ocho meses después, esas ganas de nieve se le agarran con una claridad visceral.

Vladimir por fin se ha tranquilizado. Todo él parece calmado ahora: su cabello gris y alborotado, sus ojillos marrones y su barba bien recortadita. Lana no le contará nada sobre sus intentos de suicidio. El resto de gente en su vida sabe que lo está pasando fatal, pero él no tiene por qué enterarse. Le gusta que él la vea así, liviana, ingeniosa, y ocultarle su trastorno límite de la personalidad. Mientras mira de reojo cómo los niños se caen y se levantan, se caen y se levantan, le viene a la mente de nuevo la cita de Camus («¿Debería suicidarme o tomarme un café?») y se ríe y suelta mientras Vladimir bebe agua: «Ya que no tenemos leche para el café, supongo que lo mejor es que me suicide».

Vladimir la mira un poco desconcertado, pero enseguida suelta una carcajada. Aunque a Lana le queda claro que no la ha llegado a comprender, le da igual: se ríen juntos. Se entienden en cierta manera. A ella le parece que tienen una especie de complicidad padre-hija, pero enseguida se quita esa tonta idea de la cabeza, porque reconoce el patrón de búsqueda constante de una figura paterna sana, algo que nunca le ofreció su propio padre y que nunca lo hará.

—Me gustas, niña. Eres directa, tienes la voz grave y sabes mucho sobre filosofía —observa Vladimir—. Recuérdame tu nombre.

Lana se siente de maravilla. Qué felicidad. Vladimir no se ha equivocado de género. La muchacha lleva más de cuatro años en terapia de reemplazo hormonal y no siempre pasa por mujer. Pero Vlad —puedo llamarte Vlad, ¿verdad?— asume que Lana es «ella» y le dice «niña» y qué sensación más alucinante. Quiere gritar a los cuatro vientos: «Hola, atención al cliente, ¿esto que siento es euforia de género? Si es así, quiero máááás. ¿Puedo hacer un pedido al por mayor?». Para no delatarse, responde sin más: «Me llamo Lana Isa».

Los pequeños detalles marcan la diferencia (y qué diferencia); y los valora más aún desde que tuvo hace poco una experiencia extracorpórea después de fumar un poquito de marihuana. Ese viaje cambió para siempre su forma de sentir la vida. Un vacío a nivel atómico absorbió su alma, arrojada a otra dimensión. Con el alma absorbida, Lana viajó a la velocidad de la luz, hasta que, aterrada, se dio cuenta de lo pequeña que era —una mera entidad de partículas como cualquier otra— y cayó en la absurdidad de su existencia en la Tierra. Por algún extraño motivo, al sentirse tan pequeña, se sintió también enorme, y pasó a ser una persona radicalmente distinta, que ahora valoraba todas las pequeñas cosas de la vida que no significan nada pero, a la vez, significan mucho.

—Mira, Lana, yo soy artista. Y me encantaría pintar un retrato tuyo leyendo a Camus. ¿Me harías el honor?

Ella lo observa, deslumbrante con su jersey verde, con esa boquita llena de amabilidad, y decide no responder. Pide la cuenta y se dispone a pagar, porque ella ha sido quien ha tenido la idea de ir a comer, pero Vlad insiste en que él invita, que él invita, venga, y ella acaba aceptando. Después de todo, Lana está acostumbrada a que los hombres paguen por todo. Hace poco, ha empezado a contarle a la gente que lleva una doble vida como trabajadora sexual desde hace años, porque guardar el secreto no le ha hecho ningún bien a su salud mental y porque se le da de maravilla y se merece presumir de ello. Durante la pandemia pudo sacarse un dinerillo extra gracias a las plataformas con servicios de vídeo, que le salvaron el culo. Pero no piensa contarle esto tampoco a su amigo, porque no están en ese punto de la relación, por mucho que todo esto forme parte de ella y de su vida actual. Ahora está ahorrando lo que gana con el sexo para poder pagarse la cirugía de afirmación de género, porque no le da para todo solo con su salario como programadora. Y es que esta ciudad es carísima, chica.

Todavía no le apetece despedirse de Vladimir, así que lo lleva a su tienda favorita, ese lugar que no suele compartir con nadie, porque es su rincón secreto en Londres para comprar regalos extravagantes. Le divierte pensar en cómo les ha contado a todos sus amigos todas sus experiencias más dramáticas, pero no les ha dicho ni mu sobre esta tienda de regalos; y con Vlad ha hecho todo lo contrario. Desde luego, hoy es otra versión de sí misma. ¿Por qué siempre ha mantenido esta tienda en secreto y ahora de repente lleva a este tipo? Quizás le dé pena la soledad que irradia Vlad, porque ella la ha vivido en sus carnes. ¿O puede que sea por lo bien que se han caído? ¿O porque Vlad se rió de su comentario sobre Camus?

A fin de cuentas, se han conocido hace tan solo seis cigarrillos. Lana estaba dando un paseo hacia el oeste por Southbank, a orillas del Támesis, en dirección al Teatro Nacional, disfrutando del calorcillo —quedan pocos días así este año…—. El sol brillaba con fuerza suficiente como para plantarse frente a él con los ojos cerrados y sentir la cálida brisa a través de los párpados.

Mientras escuchaba música, respiraba profundamente para vivir el momento con más intensidad. Fue entonces cuando un hombre de unos sesenta años la interrumpió para preguntarle si podía hacerle una foto así, sujetando el cigarro, tal y como estaba, y con la catedral de San Pablo al fondo, al otro lado del río. Ella le pidió explicaciones. Él dijo que le gustaba hacer fotos de personas desconocidas. Lana se preguntó si a ese señor le gustaría fotografiar a personas tristes y si podía ver su aflicción o si, por el contrario, la escondía bien.

En realidad, hoy se ha despertado con la sensación de que estaba muy sexy. Quizás ese era el motivo: lo sexy es fotogénico. Después de cambiar los nombres de sus plantas por otros solo femeninos y neutros —Miss Lolita, Adura, Rapunzel, August, Lil-Cupcake, Farina, Lily, Durjana y Sembilu— porque los hombres son una mierda, Lana se ha marchado de su estudio con una falda gris por encima de la rodilla, una chaqueta a juego con un top rosa chillón debajo y el pelo suelto y salvaje. Hoy es la primera vez que sale de casa después de que ese capullo le rompiera el corazón hace cuatro días.

Al salir del estudio donde se suponía que iba a vivir con otro capullo (¿son todos una mierda o quUuUuUé?), no tenía ningún destino en mente: solo quería marcharse de ahí para no volver a caer una vez más en un bucle depresivo. Como ya ha terminado el máster y ha pedido la baja laboral para centrarse en la terapia y la recuperación, ahora mismo tiene tiempo de sobra para pasear por la ciudad. Tal azar en sus horarios la ha llevado a conocer a Vladimir, posar para él y comer juntos.

Y ahora no les apetece despedirse porque ambos se han sentido muy solos durante los múltiples encierros y están carentes de calidez. Le ha sentado de maravilla este día. Le alegra mucho haberse atrevido a seguirle el rollo a este señor. Lana le agarra del brazo y le susurra: «Todos estamos tan inmersos en nuestro mundo que olvidamos la humanidad que habita en la gente que no conocemos y con la que nos cruzamos en nuestro día a día».

Lana quiere sacar a relucir su lado más pícaro y alegre y ocultar todo lo que ha sufrido. De repente se da cuenta: ¿por qué mierdas habrá pasado él? En esta vida, todos sufrimos y él, con su edad, seguro que habrá caído en la mierda más de una vez. ¿También atravesará fases autodestructivas? ¿Habrá perdido a algún ser querido? ¿Qué problema tendrá con su familia? Cuéntamelo todo, Vlad. Sincerémonos. O no. Mejor otro día; quizás. Disfrutemos de la compañía mutua sin compartir traumitas. Sigamos siendo desconocidos, Vlad, aunque solo sea por un día, sigamos hablando de Tolstói y Wollstonecraft, seamos superficiales, Vlad, distraigámonos con baratijas, ignoremos toda la mierdamierdamierda para crear una ilusión de perfección solo por un día.

Tiene clarísimo que no va a hablar sobre sus cosas ni a preguntarle a Vlad sobre su mierdamierdamierda. Prefiere esto: agarrar una estatuilla de la Reina y embelesarse en lo bien que está hecha. Las pequeñas cosas… Después de describirla con minuciosidad, Lana comenta, por si él nunca hubiera reparado en ello —y porque de vez en cuando necesita decírselo a sí misma—: «Los pequeños detalles hacen que la vida valga la pena, ¿verdad?».

Vlad le sonríe con esa tranquilidad y bondad que parecen caracterizarlo. A Lana no le gustaría que la relación que tienen ahora mismo se echara a perder. Quizás lo mejor sería despedirse para siempre, dejarlo así, pequeñito, seguir siendo eternos desconocidos, cristalizar este azaroso encuentro idealizándolo ad æternum. ¿O tal vez no? Esta maldita pandemia ha sido tan dura para ambos que sus soledades se desvanecerán al menos por un rato si él la pinta. Además, así Lana tendría otro motivo para quedarse en este mundo un día más. Con Isabel II todavía en la mano, también vestida de rosa y gris, le dice a Vlad clavándole las pupilas: «Quiero llevar exactamente este modelito cuando me pintes».

{Pintura de @morganico_com}


Más cuentos pandémicos basados en historias reales en
El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus,
de Patricia Martín Rivas.

El amor en los tiempos de coronavirus_Patricia Martín Rivas


[Leer cuento en español]

Cette maison. Celle d’à côté. Do-ba-du-ba-du. Les cheveux bouclés au vent. Le jardin en commun. Une ballade éternelle de John Coltrane. La beauté du chaos. Du-ba. La beauté dans le chaos. Des compagnons de rêve qui vont et viennent selon la saison et l’amour. L’amour. Du-ba-du. Une voix. Cette voix. Du-du. Méli n’avait jamais été aussi habitée par un lieu, elle n’a pas de frontières et ne sait désormais plus où finit sa peau et où commence le jardin, la pierre, l’air de son foyer.

Et maintenant l’arrivée d’un bébé, ba-ba-bu, dans cette famille qui n’en n’est pas une mais qui en est une. Be-be-bu. Lily et Martin vont être parents, tu te souviens quand elle me l’a dit, elle et moi allons être mères, tu te souviens ? Be-ba-ba. Et la mauvaise nouvelle concernant sa santé, tu te souviens quand elle nous l’a racontée, tu te souviens ?, à quel point ils l’ont soutenue, tu te souviens ? L’amour. Ba-ba-bu. Cette maison. L’amour.

Dans cette maison à Toulouse vit la musique. Et la politique et l’amour et le saxophone ténor et la réflexion et l’amour et nous allons avoir un bébé et la créativité et changeons le monde et la maladie ?, chut, chut, rien de négatif, rien, na-na-na, n’y pense pas, chante, joue. Change le monde. De-de-de. Le piano.  De-de. Et l’amour. Méli fume des joints et se laisse entraîner et chante de beaux charabias avec sa voix magique, da-da-da, et elle oublie tout ce qui n’a pas sa place dans la maison.

Lorsqu’elle entre dans le studio d’enregistrement fait maison qu’ils ont improvisé au début de la pandémie, tout son corps frémit, un, deux, trois et, et do, re, fa, la; dans ce studio, t-t-tcha, d’où sont déjà nés plusieurs projets musicaux, tcha. Maintenant il n’y a pas tellement d’activités et seulement quatre personnes habitent dans la maison, deux couples, tous musiciens, t-t-tcha, tout en musique, et ils créent, répètent, enregistrent, répètent, créent, créent, t-t-tcha, enregistrent. Il a été difficile pour elle de prendre le rythme, à vrai dire. Le confinement a permis aux musiciens qu’elle a rencontrés pendant les années où elle a habité en Espagne et en France de développer leur créativité et au début ils lui ont envoyé des vidéos tous les jours. Mais elle était remplie de timidité et de doutes. Tcha. Tous les jours. Quel talent. Quel talent ? Tcha. Et toi, Méli, et toi ?

Elle se jugeait. Elle se juge. Depuis toujours. Il n’y a pas pire juge qu’elle-même. Elle a commencé des milliers de textes, de mélodies, de rythmes qui s’accumulent dans sa gorge, ils se coincent, mal, Méli, mal, fatal, Méli, ils se coincent, ils restent coincé, un toussotement, mal, mal, Mélissandre, s’il te plaît, concentre-toi. Elle est très exigeante car les vidéos ne reflètent pas son aura resplendissante qui apparaît quand elle chante en direct. Elle ne se rend pas compte à quel point sa voix accompagne les notes d’un piano, d’une trompette, de tout instrument jouant face à elle. Comme sa voix est en symbiose avec les notes. Tu brilles, Méli, rends-toi en compte. Bien. Bien. Formidable. Mais ça pourrait être mieux, non ? Dis-da-dis-la-la. Dans son être, deux forces inégales s’affrontent, celle de son moi autoritaire, tai-tai-taire, et celle de sa voix intérieure, qui lutte inlassablement pour s’affirmer et sortir. S’affirmer et sortir. Sortir. Dis-la-la.

Maintenant, Méli a appris à ouvrir la porte instantanément. Elle laisse parler sa voix primitive, ses instincts, ses entrailles. Ça vient et elle le chante, te-te-te, elle l’enregistre et le cache, bien gardé, dé-da-da, loin de son moi autoritaire, dans un endroit où elle ne pourrait jamais le trouver, ou le juger, parce qu’elle n’a pas la clé. Elle n’a pas la clé. Elle a peur. Et quand la peur sera partie, né-na-né, Méli ira à la cachette et révèlera la chanson. Pas aujourd’hui. Demain ? Non. Non-na-non. Eh bien, peut-être. Peut-être. Peut-être demain. Aujourd’hui elle apprend des autres. Demain ? Eh bien, peut-être demain.

Avec Emilio, son partenaire, elle forme un duo musical. Avant le confinement, ils arpentaient la progression II-V-I dans tous les recoins de Toulouse, ba-bop-ba-dop-bop, mais les évènements actuels ne le permettent pas. Maintenant, ils essaient de jouer de la musique brésilienne. Lily et Martin bénéficient d’une aide financière pour les intermittents du spectacle, pour avoir joué plus de sept cents heures et attendent leur bébé sans trop de soucis financiers. Mais Méli et Emilio n’ont pas atteint le nombre d’heures requises, alors ils doivent dépenser leurs économies, dop-bop, car on ne peut pas jouer dans des bars, ni dans les salles, ni dans les parcs. Ses concerts ont été annulés il y a des mois et les prochains aussi. Ba-dop. Toulouse est plongé dans le silence. Tout est annulé, repoussé. Non, non, non. Mai ? Non. Août ? Bah, non. Octobre ? Non. Non. Peut-être qu’en 2021 le silence prendra fin. Janvier ? Non. Peut-être. Le silence manque d’être déchiré par la voix de Méli. Le silence est chargé de sens grâce à la musique, mais pour le moment les notes sont enfermées dans la cage invisible du jardin commun.

Le jardin commun adore le brouhaha de tous les musiciens qui l’habitent. Juste des musiciens ? Eh bien, musiciens-ethno-psycho-menuisiers. Combien sont-ils maintenant ? Huit ? Dix ? Je ne sais pas. Douze ? Je ne sais pas. Combien de personnes habitent dans l’autre maison ? Les gens vont et viennent. Je ne sais pas. Du jardin. De la vie. Na-na-na. Comme quand, à l’âge de deux ans et demi, Méli est arrivée de Tahiti avec sa mère, qui s’est lancée à chanter dans des bars, des salles et des parcs. C’est ainsi que Méli a grandi, de scène en scène, immergée dans la musique, et c’est pour ça qu’aujourd’hui à trente ans elle sent que la maison musico-chaotique-créative de Toulouse est sa maison par excellence. Les gens vont et viennent. Méli n’est pas allée à Tahiti depuis dix ans. Elle y retournera. Ta-ta-hi-ti-ti. Elle y retournera. Elle ne sait pas quand, mais les gens vont et viennent. Vont et viennent. Elle y retournera. Ou pas. Ta-hi-hi-ti. Elle y retournera.

Ils ont tout fait dans le jardin commun. Tout. De la clarinette. Coudre des masques pour les hôpitaux. De la contrebasse. Des concours culinaires. Du piano. Du yoga, du pilates. Du saxophone. De l’emballage de nourriture pour les sans-abris. De la trompette. Ils vivent vraiment le moment présent en harmonie dans le jardin. Tu te rappelles du concert de musique des Balkans pour la voisine qui n’a pas pu rentrer en Roumanie comme prévu ? Tout. Tout. Tou-tou-tou. Tout. Le jardin commun, la maison commune, la vie commune. Ils partagent tout. La nourriture, les vêtements, les joints. Ils débattent, argumentent, doutent des mesures gouvernementales. Peu importe. Ils s’aiment. Tout appartient à tout le monde, rien n’appartient à personne. Le bébé commun. Tou-dou-dou. Le jardin brille parce-que chaque matin —si elle en a envie, à vrai dire—, Méli l’arrose en chantant, tant-tant-tant, et se fond avec la terre et tout s’entremêle : les plantes chantent et Méli fait la photosynthèse.

Peu de temps avant d’être confinée, les problèmes de santé ont commencé et Méli a dû quitter la maison pour se rendre à l’hôpital où ils ont découvert les tâches à l’IRM. La nouvelle du bébé se mêlait à celle de la sclérose en plaques et tous les sentiments étaient entremêlés dans cette maison toulousaine. Peine. Rage. Joie. Peine. Joie. Amour. Surprise. Peur. Amour. Amour. Joie. Peur. Amour. Amour. Amour.

Elle a attendu après le confinement pour le raconter à ses parents. Elle voulait leur dire en personne. Pas à sa grand-mère. Pas un mot. Sa grand-mère a reçu trop de mauvaises nouvelles. Elle perd des amis tous les mois. Rien. Pas un mot-mo-mot. Elle est une femme très gaie, elle ne veut pas l’attrister. Tout est resté pareil avec sa grand-mère; mais la relation avec ses parents a changé depuis qu’ils le savent. Maintenant, elle ne les appelle plus. Ils lui laissent de l’espace. Ils savent que Méli leur donnera des nouvelles. Mot-mo. Ils s’aiment, ils se font confiance, ils ont de l’espoir.

La musique, le jardin, la politique les font vivre. Vi-vi-vre-vre-vre. Il y a quelques mois, une fille dans l’autre maison était recherchée par la police pour avoir accroché une banderole contre Macron à sa fenêtre. Ils ont alors eu l’idée de remplir les rues de Toulouse avec des questions et maintenant ils sortent de temps en temps pour accrocher des affiches. Vi-vi-vre-vre. Méli est reconnaissante de la lutte sociale qui lui permet de bénéficier d’allocations chômage et elle continue la lutte. Pendant le confinement, le gouvernement en a profité pour rédiger de nouveaux décrets qui aggravent les conditions de travail. Bou-bou-bou. Ils doivent continuer à lutter. Les affiches ne disent rien de tranché, elles posent seulement des questions, ouvrent le débat, vi-vre-vre, et les gens les regardent et ils critiquent ou discutent ou applaudissent ou échangent des opinions ou réfléchissent un petit moment et continuent, avec la question qui traîne, inévitablement. Quelles sont mes valeurs fondamentales ? Vre-vre. L’espoir se cultive t’il ? Vi-vre-vre. Voulez-vous revenir à la normalité ? Vi-vi. Cultivez-vous votre esprit critique ? Vi-vi-vre-vre.

La musique, le jardin, la politique, l’amour. L’amour. Da-ya-da-du. Méli doit sa force mentale à tous ceux qui l’entourent et prennent soin d’elle. L’amour. Elle en est persuadée, plus que jamais, du grand pouvoir salvateur de l’amour et de la solidarité en ce moment. Ya-da-du. Les démonstrations d’affection et de tendresse ne coûtent pas d’argent. Elles coûtent du temps, du dévouement et parfois des compromis. Méli est un mélange d’harmonie et d’amour et d’encouragement, un tourbillon de notes de musique qui bouillonnent dans sa gorge et explosent dans l’air, et elle sait très bien que dans cette vie on n’a plus qu’à improviser.


[Leer cuento en español]

Lana solicitously offers Vladimir some of her edamame guacamole to soothe his throat. He claimed to be a vegetarian who loves spicy food, but she has learned never to take white people’s word for it on spice tolerance. A scant few minutes after his bold claims, the old man is practically heaving over a tiny slice of red chili.

She’s not surprised. She’s seen this a thousand times back in Malaysia. So she calmly chows down on little pieces of teriyaki chicken, turmeric cauliflower, and a radish while gazing at the kids falling and getting back up and rolling on in the skate park by the Waterloo Bridge. She’d love to light another cigarette to make this moment a perfect one, but smoking is not allowed in London restaurants. She’ll have to feel content about the blue sky, and the soup, and the kids falling and getting back up, falling and getting back up, a cheap metaphor for her own life. She’ll wait until Vladimir’s face fades to a less inflamed tone to rip the silence away, but for now she’s enjoying the noisy tranquility of the city.

They are in the middle of talking about Albert Camus, after Lana nonchalantly mentioned a quote of his she had stumbled upon in an art exhibition the other day, “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” They’ve been chatting over lunch about philosophy, Leninism, Beauvoir, communism, Butler, and Chomsky. Why not discuss another light topic like mental illness?

They haven’t limited themselves to such impersonal matters though. He’s told her about his efforts to avoid going stir-crazy by keeping himself occupied, which is why he’s been focusing on photography, about his deep loneliness during the pandemic, about how his whole family is back in Slovakia, and he barely talks to them.

She tells him she also has a complicated relationship with her family but opts not to go into detail. She leaves unmentioned the part where they wanted her not to be herself because of what the neighbors would think, the part where they disavowed and disowned her, the part where her mom recently called her “Lana” for the first time… while contacting her to ask for money, the part where she has given up caring what happens to her mom. Her mom… There’s a Malay saying — “Look at your mother’s face, and you’ll see heaven.” Deep inside, Lana longs to be able to feel that again. Instead, she just adds without any real context: “Sometimes you help someone who hurt you deeply because life is about being the bigger person, right? And that brings some closure.”

She does feel better since she sent the money back to her family in Malaysia. It is almost as if she paid them off for her escape, and she can now completely walk away from them and from the country that birthed her and then punished her for who she is, that vilifies people like her, that throws them into prison. Because of her status as a political refugee, she won’t be able to go back for at least three more years, but that’s fine with her, because England has been her home now for a couple of years — it has given her the chance to be herself, and what’s more home than freely inhabiting your own body? All this inspired her to volunteer for a housing shelter — she wants to help other asylum seekers and refugees to also feel like themselves here. She knows how important it is for one’s body to become one’s home.

Vladimir’s kind, but he probably wouldn’t understand all this. And he’s not keen on the arts of psychology. He seems to believe in the darkness of the mind about as much as he does in spicy food, and, not knowing how much the woman in front of him has been suffering, he replies to Camus’s quote with a somewhat scornful joke about suicide.

Lana doesn’t take it personally because she’s proud of the progress she’s made with her healing. If anything, she feels sorry for people who are so unaware of their own minds and their harmful patterns, oblivious of others and themselves. Also, she reads him and concludes he is devoid of any hostility or malice. However, just to see how he would react, because sometimes she kind of enjoys pushing limits, Lana considered replying to his jokes by telling him about the thirty-six Paracetamol pills she lined up, about her desperate call to the suicide line, about the cops who have entered her place twice to check on her, about the mental wards, about the diazepam to help her calm down, about her various suicide attempts spurred by pandemic isolation. But then he ate that stupid chili, and now Lana feels like she shouldn’t make him even redder than he already looks.

Immersed in the lack of conversation, Lana transports herself to the first morning she woke up in the mental ward, when the snow was coming down heavily, something she’d never seen before, tropical creature that she is. A sudden desperate need to feel the snow on her face overcame her. But by the time the doctors had finished their evaluations and given her permission to go out, the snow had stopped, and only a trace of dirty brown ice remained on the road and pavement. Just her fucking luck. Never mind — she ran and ran and ran like a child until she was exhausted. When she finally came to a rest, she decided this time would be different. Eight months later, that longing for snow lingers with visceral clarity.

Vladimir seems calmer now. His gray messy hair, his squinty brown eyes, his well-trimmed beard — all of it seems calmer now. Lana won’t tell him anything about her suicide attempts. Everybody else in her life knows she’s struggling, but not Vladimir. She wants him to see her at her lightest, at her wittiest, to see that part of her untouched by borderline personality disorder. As the kids fall and get up again, fall and get up again at the edge of her vision, she thinks of Camus’ quote — “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” —, and then chuckles and remarks as Vladimir takes another gulp of his water: “Since we ran out of milk, I guess killing myself is the better option.”

Vladimir looks at her slightly bemused, then laughs, but she can tell he doesn’t quite follow. Then they are both laughing. There’s mutual understanding between them. It’s almost like father-daughter complicity, but she doesn’t want to see it that way, because she recognizes her pattern of eternally trying to find a healthy paternal figure, and then she’d confront once again that this is something she never had from her own dad and never will.

“I like you, girl, your bluntness, your deep voice, your knowledge of philosophy,” he states. “What was your name again?”

She now feels over the moon. She’s glowing. He definitely hasn’t misgendered her! She’s been on hormone replacement therapy for over four years, and she sometimes still doesn’t pass. But Vlad — I can call you Vlad, right? — just assumed she was a she, and, girl, that feels like heaven. She wants to scream, “Hello, customer service, is this what gender euphoria looks like? ‘Cuz I want moarrr of it! Can I make a bulk order, plz?” But she would give herself away, so she just replies, “My name is Lana Isa”.

These small things are so huge. So huge. And she values them even more since she had an out-of-body experience not too long ago after smoking some pot. That trip changed how she feels about life forever. Her soul got sucked in into a vacuum at an atomic level, hurled into a different realm, and she kept getting sucked in, traveling at the speed of light. Terrified, she realized how small she was, an entity of particles like any other, and she felt the meaninglessness of her existence on the earth. Somehow, feeling so tiny made her feel enormous, and she became a totally different person, valuing all of these small things in life that mean nothing but mean so much.

“Listen, Lana. I’m also a painter. I’d love to paint a portrait of you reading Camus. Would you let me paint you?”

She looks at him, shining in his green sweater, with that kind little mouth of his, and decides not to answer that question. She asks for the check and wants to pay, because it was her idea to have lunch together in the first place, but Vlad insists and insists, and she eventually just gives in. After all, she’s used to men paying for things. Recently she’s been revealing to people that she’s been living a double life as a sex worker for years, because doing it hush-hush has done her mental-health no good whatsoever, and because she’s so fucking talented, but she won’t confess this to Vlad either. Lana keeps it to herself because she doesn’t think she and Vlad are at that point yet, even if this is part of who she is and of her present life. The pandemic didn’t stop her from making extra cash — all these platforms offering video services saved her ass. She’s now putting the sex money away to fund her gender affirmation surgery, because her salary as a programmer is just not enough. This city is damn expensive, girl.

She’s not ready to say goodbye, and she takes him to her favorite alternative gift shop, a place she normally never shares with anyone, because it is her own Hidden Gem in London for buying unconventional gifts. She thinks it is funny how she’s told all of her friends now about her more dramatic experiences but not about this gift shop, but in Vlad’s case, it is the other way around. Today she’s another version of herself. Why did she always keep this store such a secret, but now suddenly she takes this guy? Maybe because she feels sorry for Vlad’s loneliness — she knows that feeling very well. Or is it because they have bonded for real? Or because he laughed at her Camus comment?

After all, they met only six cigarettes ago. She had been taking a stroll in South Bank along the Thames, heading west towards the National Theater, enjoying this increasingly rare warm and sunny day, most certainly one of the last of the year. The sun was just bright enough that she could close her eyes facing straight into it and feel a warm breeze through her eyelids.

She was taking deep breaths to soak it all in and listening to music when a man in his sixties asked her if he could take her picture holding her cigarette with a backdrop of St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames. She asked why. He replied that he liked taking pictures of strangers. She wondered if he liked to take pictures of sad strangers, if he could even see her sadness, or if she hid it well.

She had actually woken up feeling very sexy. Maybe that was it. Sexy is photogenic. She left her studio after renaming her plants with female and queer names because men are trash: Miss Lolita, Adura, Rapunzel, August, Lil-Cupcake, Farina, Lily, Durjana and Sembilu. She put on a gray over-the-knee skirt and matching jacket with a hot pink top underneath, wearing her hair down and wild. This walk would be her first time venturing out of her apartment after that wanker broke her heart four days ago.

She left the studio where she was supposed to live with the previous wanker (are they trash or whaAaAat?) with no destination in mind, determined only to leave the house so as not to fall into a spiral of depression again. Now that she has finished her master’s degree and is taking some time off from her day job to focus on therapy and recovery, she has more free time to wander around the city. That randomness gave her the room to meet Vlad and agree to pose for him, and to have lunch together.

And now they don’t want to say goodbye because they have both felt damned lonely during the multiple lockdowns, and this warmth is a big deal. She needed a day like this. She’s so glad she wasn’t afraid to talk to a stranger. She tells him, grabbing his arm, “You know, we are so focused on ourselves that we forget the humanity of strangers that we come across in our everyday lives.”

Lana is choosing to be sassy and cheerful and not to tell him all the horrors she’s been through. It suddenly hits her: what has he been through? We all go through shit, and he’s old-ish — he must have been through shitshitshit. Does he also have self destructive patterns? Has he lost someone he loves? What happened to his relationship with his family? What is it, Vlad? Let’s be honest. Or not. Maybe another day. Let’s enjoy each other’s company without digging up our traumas. If only for today, Vlad, let’s keep being strangers, let’s keep talking about Tolstoy and Wollstonecraft, let’s keep it simple, Vlad, let’s look at trinkets, let’s ignore all the shitshishit to create an illusion of perfection only for today.

She’s determined not to ask him about his shitshishit, nor tell him about hers, so she holds a figurine of the Queen and admires how well it is made. The small things, you know? After describing it thoughtfully, she tells him, just in case he’s never thought about it — and because she often needs to convince herself — “Don’t these little details make life worth living?”

Vlad smiles back at her. He seems so serene and good-natured. She wouldn’t like to spoil what they have right now. She thinks maybe it would be better to part forever, to keep it small, to remain eternal strangers, to crystallize this idealized encounter for good. Or would it? This damn pandemic has been so harsh for both of them, their solitudes will retreat at least once more if he paints her portrait. Plus, that would give her yet another reason to stick around here one more day. With Elizabeth II, also dressed in pink and gray, still in her hand, Lana looks directly into Vlad’s eyes and says, “I want to wear this exact same outfit when you paint me.”

{Painting credit: @morganico_com}


More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.


La alarma de Flózar-262 suena a las siete horas, cuarenta y siete minutos y cuatro segundos cada mañana, ineludiblemente. Esa cadencia (siete-cuatro-siete-cuatro) le transmite una calma supersticiosa que jamás le confesaría a nadie, porque en el planeta Rraau parece no haber hueco para cosas de hechicería.

A ella tampoco es que le guste demasiado la brujería, pero aún le quedan ademanes de haber crecido en el planeta Lirú, al que de momento no puede volver, porque las fronteras espacio-temporales llevan cerradas desde mar20 y, si cogiera una nave para visitar a su familia, no podría regresar a Rraau, porque aún no tiene el estatus de residente astral, a pesar de llevar cuatro años en este territorio.

Desde luego, los años se pasan volando en Rraau —vino como para ocho meses, pero tuvo estrella y logró quedarse—, pero no puede evitar pensar en Lirú y buscarlo en cada rincón del planeta en el que reside sin residir oficialmente. A una distancia de mil millones e-18 años luz, Rraau y Lirú poco tienen en común: a diferencia de su ciudad natal, la actual es segurísima y nada caótica y no tiene tanto tráfico intergaláctico ni cláxones, cláxones, cláxones. Ambas ciudades solo se parecen, si acaso, en el olor a mar y la humedad costera. Quizás: los recuerdos se tornan a menudo en caprichosos espejismos, más aún sin poder volver a su tierra.

Vivir con otra liruense hace su vida más hogareña, pero prefiere no contarle aquello de los números de su alarma a su compañera de base, Neytius-79. Una cosa es que sepa que es religiosa y otra muy distinta, supersticiosa. Mejor así. Después de todo, Flózar-262 siempre ha sido algo reservada y muy práctica. Puede que por eso se haya quedado en este planeta, porque su naturaleza casa a la perfección con la rraauchí.

Con su característico temple, compara las cifras a diario desde hace meses y meses, sin soltar esa calma compulsiva de observadora curiosa y racional. Forma parte de su rutina: se levanta, se asea, enciende el medidor de CO2, se hace un café y revisa gráficos. Desde abr20, el día que más casos ha habido en todo el departamento astroestatal de QuD, en el planeta Rraau, fueron veintisiete. En Lirú, se cuentan por miles. Claro que la densidad de población varía mucho, pero las comparaciones per cápita asustan igual.

A veces lee estas cifras con la distancia que imponen los números y la distancia interplanetaria. Equis casos, sorbito de café, equis hospitalizaciones, sorbito, equis muertos, sorbito, sorbito. Es tan rutinaria la tarea que no da cabida a la sensibilidad. Vino a estudiar negocios a Rraau: le apasionan los datos, las medidas, adivinar hacia dónde van las cifras. En todo este tiempo de estudio no oficial del coronavirus, sus intereses han ido variando: al principio las páginas webs no le daban toda la información de la que estaba sedienta, así que creó un documento de Excel para apuntar sus propias pesquisas, como cuánto tiempo tardaban en doblarse el número de casos a nivel planetario o dónde había más hospitalizaciones; más adelante consultaba varias fuentes oficiales, ya más robustas, y comparaba las cifras dispares; ahora le dan esperanzas los aumentos de las vacunaciones.

Sabía de sobra que algunos planetas falseaban los números. Un día se despertó con un salto desproporcionado en las cifras de Lirú, que no cuadraba con sus cálculos, y luego descubrió por las noticias que habían cambiado la forma de contar o de testear o de a saber qué exactamente. Por lo visto, el gobierno liruense había adoptado una de las formas más honestas de conteo en su región interplanetaria, algo que Flózar-262 agradeció con una especie de orgullo patrio por comparación, pero a la vez le daba cólera que el resto mintieran. Los números serían mucho más hermosos si transpiraran verdad. 

Las cifras en su planeta de origen y lo que le cuentan sus amigos y familiares la llenan de tristeza, pero se trata de una tristeza ajena, por la impermeabilidad que le dan los mil millones e-18 años luz de distancia y su propia experiencia pandémica, radicalmente opuesta. Debido a la estrategia COVID-zero, Rraau ha cambiado más bien poco durante este año y medio largo. Hay que llevar mascarillas y las fronteras están cerradas. Punto. Por lo demás, la vida de Flózar-262 permanece casi inalterable: sigue estudiando una maestría en la universidad, donde además trabaja a jornada parcial para cubrir gastos, queda con sus amigos para surfear, dar paseos junto al mar e ir al cine al aire libre cuando los niveles de CO2 se lo permiten. Ni siquiera ha tenido preocupaciones económicas: en las pocas ocasiones en que la administración rraauchí se ha visto en la tesitura de instaurar el confinamiento forzado durante más de una semana, todos los trabajadores han recibido un pago gubernamental equivalente al sueldo no ganado.

Esa tristeza ajena por la situación liruense aumenta cuando las cifras se convierten en nombres y les sale rostro: de cuando en cuando, las redes le muestran una ventanita de realidades. Amistades que han perdido a su papá o a su abuelita a causa del virus, gente de su edad enganchada a un respirador y mandando mensajes de esperanza, trabajadores precarios despedidos sin beneficios… Horrible, todo horrible. Ella nunca ha sido de esas personas que se impregnan de pesadumbre, sin embargo. Es práctica: si el problema tiene solución, lo resuelve, y, si no, lo olvida. 

Al principio compartía sus descubrimientos y especulaciones con Neytius-79, pero su compañera de base le pidió que por favor, por favor, no lo hiciera más, porque la realidad de su planeta de origen le daba una angustia cósmica que para qué y le llevaba ora a ataques de ansiedad ora a vacíos existenciales. La gravedad de la situación se incrementó cuando la mamá de Neytius-79 se contagió del virus y no había camillas ni respiradores libres en la capital de Lirú y Flózar-262 intentó solucionarlo y movió cielo y tierra, pero no sirvió de mucho, porque la mamá acabó muriendo. Por un tiempo hubo una nebulosa oscurísima dentro de la base y cada una de las cifras tenían la cara de la mamá. Una cara multiplicada por cientos, por miles. 

Aun así, Flózar-262 llevó todo el drama con estoicismo. Todo va bien en Rraau, se repetía, todo va recontra recontra bien. Pero no ha conseguido mantener la calma todo este tiempo. Casi cayó en un agujero negro al ver varios vídeos sobre cadáveres apilados en una ciudad en la selva de Lirú y en algunos otros puntos de la región interplanetaria. No vio las imágenes por masoquismo, sino por una mezcla de curiosidad antropológica y hambre informativa. En los planetas de Quior y Brabra también estaban las morgues y los cementerios colapsados y los muertos se amontonaban sin control en las calles. Flózar-262 no era de piedra y se le grabaron las imágenes con el fuego de esos horrores que superan cualquier ficción: los difuntos se le aparecieron durante unas cuantas noches en sus pesadillas y las cifras entre sorbito y sorbito de café se aplastaban entre bolsas mortuorias. Siempre con los números como bálsamo, consiguió encontrar su centro de nuevo repitiéndose la cadencia siete-cuatro-siete-cuatro de su alarma y volvió a soñar con galaxias.

Lo que no parece afectarle, desde luego, es el peso histórico de Rraau. Ni siquiera el hecho de vivir en un planeta concebido por los colonos de Lonuk como cárcel la hace sentir prisionera. De momento no puede salir. Y qué. Podría ser peor, mucho peor. En realidad, podría marcharse para regresar a Lirú, pero no le permitirían subirse a la nave para volver a entrar a lo que ya es su hogar, donde tiene su vida hecha. Y ¿para qué ir a un lugar donde poder enfermar con tanta facilidad y sin soltura económica? Ya saldrá. Qué le va a hacer.

Ahora todo parece ir a mejor y sus dos planetas están de buena luna: los casos, muertes y hospitalizaciones no hacen más que bajar en Lirú y hay niveles normales de CO2 en Rraau. Se pondrá la mascarilla e irá a la universidad en bicicleta, sintiéndose relajada y bendecida.

Está hasta arriba de tareas, pero le gusta. Agradece la suerte de vivir en este planeta y más aún los jueves, como hoy. Los jueves a sol puesto, Flózar-262 va religiosamente al restaurante típico liruense donde trabaja Neytius-79. Los precios son bastante altos en Rraau y el sabor de la comida virtual no está del todo logrado: el pescado del tiradito a veces se digitaliza un poco seco y para la causa rellena usan una papa quimérica algo dulzona, pero la nostalgia y el sempiterno olor a mar de Rraau rellenan las oquedades gastronómicas.

Cuando salga de la universidad, irá de cabeza al restaurante y no le mencionará a Neytius-79 nada sobre el trabajo ni los estudios ni las muertes ni las hospitalizaciones ni la cadencia siete-cuatro-siete-cuatro. Se relajará hablando de bagatelas y tomando lo habitual: primero un vasito de chicha morada cuasianalógica y luego ya unos piscos de alcohol gasificado, que le harán volver a la realidad de un plumazo. 

Y su realidad es eso: vivir entre dos culturas, amar esta y aquella, comer lo de allá estando acá, sentirse a la vez en su hogar y a más de doce mil kilómetros de su casa, habitar dos mundos, extrañar siempre Perú y nunca querer marcharse de Australia. Y entonces Florencia Gózar le dirá a su compañera de piso: «¿A veces no te da la sensación de que Lima es un planeta completamente diferente a Gold Coast?».


Más cuentos pandémicos basados en historias reales en
El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus,
de Patricia Martín Rivas.

El amor en los tiempos de coronavirus_Patricia Martín Rivas


Amira sigue teniendo pesadillas sobre Penélope hundiéndose en el río Ámstel, aferrada a su telar para intentar mantenerse a flote, en vano, mientras ella la observa paralizada desde la ventana del apartamento al que se acaba de mudar.

Se despierta de golpe, con sudores fríos. Ya hace unos meses desde que ella y su marido, Jan, regresaran a Ámsterdam después de un buen puñado de años en Berlín, ¿por qué seguirá soñando con todos esos personajes literarios luchando por su vida en las gélidas aguas del río al que da su edificio?

Sí, vale, fue un disgusto lo que pasó (o toda una tragedia, si nos ponemos materialistas): el matrimonio empacó todos sus libros sin ayuda de nadie, porque no valía la pena invitar a amigos a casa y que alguien se contagiara de otro alguien que no supiera que se había infectado antes, porque parece que el virus se pega con solo mirarse, no me digas; y porque el precio de la mudanza habría aumentado de forma desorbitada si hubieran pagado a la empresa de transportes por hacerlo, y por hacerlo sin ningún cuidado, seguro, seguro, mezclando siglos, desbaratando el orden alfabético, colocando a autores rivales en el mismo paquete. Y bueno, el proceso fue una tortura: a veinticinco obras por caja, para que no fueran muy pesadas, y con los dolores de espalda que martirizan a Amira ya casi crónicamente, guardar dos mil quinientos libros resultó del todo agotador.

¿Será que la mudanza resultó traumática y por eso tiene estas horribles pesadillas? Hace un par de noches soñó que se ahogaba el monstruo de Frankenstein, un poco antes, Voldemort se hundía sin remedio y, dos semanas atrás, fue el turno de la bruja de Hansel y Gretel. A pesar de su villanía, le da siempre no sé qué mirar cómo desaparecen en la negrura de las aguas sin intentar salvarlos. Sin poder hacerlo. Solo observar, vislumbrar el hundimiento desde la lejanía, quedarse a salvo. Los personajes cambian de madrugada a madrugada, pero Amira siempre mira desde la ventana impertérrita, da igual el grado de adorabilidad de la víctima, hasta que se despierta con mal cuerpo, unos sudores con olor a río de ciudad y una angustia que le arruina el descanso. 

¿Es muy exagerado tildar lo que ocurrió como tragedia? No, desde luego que no. Llevan décadas atesorando esos libros, que olían (a) ellos siempre y estaban subrayados por las manos de quienes fueran sus dueños antes de derretirse en el canal. Cuando se planteaban si dejar atrás tal o cual obra, la abrían y veían las marcas a lápiz y las anotaciones, que los llevaban al pasado y se olvidaban de la posibilidad de deshacerse de las páginas. Mientras las guardaban una a una metódica y cuidadosamente en las cajas, Amira y Jan iban leyéndose los fragmentos que hubieron destacado hace años, sumidos en los bellos recovecos de la nostalgia. Mientras que Josef K argumentaba que «No tienes que creerte todo lo que te dicen», Raskólnikov soltaba que «Los verdaderos grandes hombres deben de experimentar, a mi entender, una gran tristeza en este mundo», algo que llamó la atención de aquellos lectores en algún momento dado, que decidieron marcarlo para la posteridad. Y la posteridad es ahora y cómo van a tirar esos libros, por Dios, habría que estar como una regadera. 

Con las ganas que tenían de volver a vivir en Holanda, ahora el matrimonio no sale mucho de casa por miedo a la variante delta, porque la pauta de vacunación completa aún no llega al cincuenta por ciento, porque hay un mayor número de casos causado por el movimiento veraniego y, sobre todo, porque a saber quién de los desmascarillados se niega a ponerse la vacuna, a adoptar el sano juicio. La pandemia ha empequeñecido su vida social y los únicos amigos que pueden acoger en su salón se encuentran entre portadas y contraportadas. 

Los tendrían que haber dejado en Berlín, porque ahora muchos de esos libros —esos personajes— ya están en el fondo del Ámstel, algo en lo que Amira no puede dejar de pensar, tanto por los remordimientos de haberlos ahogado como porque tanto tiempo libre da mucho espacio a la imaginación (y a las pesadillas). ¿Sellaríamos mal las cajas, las colocaríamos mal?, se pregunta, ¿o sería más bien un fallo de las poleas?

Amira y Jan viven en una de esas viejas casas de Ámsterdam conocidas como grachtenpand. Cuando se construyeron siglos ha edificios como el que habitan, los impuestos se elevaban cuanto más ancha fuera la fachada, por lo que comenzaron a hacer casas estrechas y largas, sibilinos, con pasillos tan angostos que imposibilitaban cualquier mudanza desde el interior. Para solucionarlo, el diseño arquitectónico hegemónico encontró la solución de inclinarse hacia adelante y colocar un gancho en la parte superior de las grachtenpand. Desde el siglo XVII, se llevan haciendo mudanzas en estas casas con un sistema de poleas exterior que supone una maniobra única en el mundo. Por eso, cuando les ofrecieron subir los libros al apartamento a través de este sistema centenario, no se lo pensaron: claro, sí, ellos saben, de sobra saben, y ya tenemos una edad, no nos vamos a liar a cargar cien cajas de una en una, quita, quita.

Con cansancio y confianza, el matrimonio aceptó la propuesta sin pensarlo demasiado. Esa mudanza con despedidas sin abrazos, limpieza infinita y fronteras palpables los había dejado molidos. Esto último, lo de las fronteras, los inundaba de incertidumbre. Desde los ochenta, cuando Amira llegó desde su Colombia natal a la recién creada Unión Europea, apenas si había notado los pasos de un país a otro en el Viejo Continente, y eso que lo había recorrido pero bien. No obstante, en los últimos meses, con un hijo en Bélgica y el traslado, han tenido que estar pendientes de cada norma y obligatoriedad para pasar de un país a otro y a otro. Qué raro notar ese muro invisible así de repente. Y qué embrollo.

Y entonces llegó la tragedia: la plataforma se tambaleó y un par de cajas saltaron al río, abriéndose en el aire, con los libros expandiendo las alas, volando sin la destreza de las aves hasta caer al agua y hundirse poco a poco, las frases subrayadas, las notas de Amira y Jan cuando eran otras versiones de ellos mismos y Julieta gritando que «La vida es la tortura y la muerte será mi descanso» y Heathcliff vociferando que «Sé que los fantasmas han vagado en la tierra» y los demás personajes sumidos en lamentos, que le transmitieron a Amira una pena que le partieron el corazón y las noches de descanso.

Se le repiten las frases de aquellos personajes ahogados, que las dicen en sus sueños entremezcladas con burbujas mientras Amira los observa desde la altura de su ventana bajo el gancho para poleas. Esos malditos seres inventados se han convertido en sus fantasmas. ¿Qué querrán, qué querrán?, se pregunta mientras se dedica a perfilar ella sus propias ficciones, con una literatura interrumpida por los recuerdos de las cajas cayendo al río, de los libros queriendo volar como pájaros torpísimos y con la concentración rota por la falta de sueño. Así no hay quien escriba nada bueno.

Si le hubiera hecho caso a su amiga Adela… Antes de irse de Berlín, Adela le regaló cinco mil trescientos treinta y seis libros dentro de un pincho, que Amira copió en su ordenador en un par de clics, mientras su amiga, amante de la lectura digital y del minimalismo, trataba de convencerla de que donara gran parte de las obras y viajara más ligera. Si le hubiera hecho caso, ahora otros ojos podrían disfrutar de esas historias que se habían merendado los lucios y las anguilas y no habría contaminado el Ámstel con más basura de la que ya tiene.

¿Qué querrán estos personajes, qué querrán? ¿Por qué le perturban los sueños? Amira mira cifras a diario de los casos que suben, de la lentitud en la vacunación, de las restricciones fronterizas… Es insoportable. Un vídeo de YouTube la lleva a otro y a otro y, con ese masoquismo inevitable en el que confluyen la curiosidad humana e internet, acaba viendo entrevistas a antivacunas, con sus argumentos de pacotilla y sus teorías conspiranoicas y sus excusas baratas. 

Después de ver un vídeo de una muchacha que explica que no se quiere vacunar porque para ella no supone en realidad ningún riesgo, apaga el ordenador. Y cuando esa noche se despierta sudando a ríos tras observar a Lolita hundirse, se le enciende la bombilla. «Jan», despierta a su marido, «Jan, Jan, ya lo entiendo todo». Y el hombre le besa la frente con el cariño de los años y se da media vuelta para seguir roncando.

Las frases de los ahogados le vienen una detrás de otra, sin que lo pueda ni quiera evitar. Ajá, ajá. Los agrupa. Ve más y más vídeos para establecer categorías. Ajá. Están los jóvenes, como Lolita, Julieta, el Principito; quienes no creen en la medicina tradicional, como Voldemort y la bruja de la casita de chocolate; quienes viven aislados y piensan que no (se) van a contagiar, como Penélope y Heathcliff; quienes se sienten invencibles y no les importa causar daño, como el monstruo de Frankenstein; y quienes piensan que es todo un plan del gobierno, como Josef K y Alex DeLarge.

Oh, no, los está juzgando. Los está juzgando con la perspectiva del siglo XXI. Craso error. Eso es lo que ella siempre le recrimina a Adela en sus discusiones literarias: hay que ver a los escritores y sus personajes en su contexto histórico, le dice siempre que su amiga se lía a tachar a Fulanito de machista, a Menganito de racista y a Zutanito de no sé qué cosa más. Pero es que lo eran. Lo son y punto. El pincho de Adela tiene más indecentes apelotonados que para qué. Amira se niega. No, no, no, no hay que juzgarlos con el prisma actual. 


Pero es que todos estos personajes que se le cuelan en los sueños para convertirlos en pesadillas tienen razonamientos de mindundi, y ahora hay tanto mindundi suelto controlando el mundo que le resulta insoportable. La mujer respira tranquila: ella no ha matado a ninguno de esos mequetrefes literarios, sino que se han ido de su vida tirándose al río aquellos que jamás se vacunarían si pudieran hacerlo. 

Al fin, Amira duerme serena. Los fantasmas por fin han abandonado sus pesadillas y se asoma a la ventana de su bello apartamento contemplando el Ámstel sin un nudo en el estómago. Su sueño más recurrente ahora es que los peces han montado un club de lectura y que juzgan a los bípedos desde su escamosa perspectiva. Ya no releerá esas obras, ¿para qué? Anda que no le queda a ella literatura por devorar.


Más cuentos pandémicos basados en historias reales en
El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus,
de Patricia Martín Rivas.

El amor en los tiempos de coronavirus_Patricia Martín Rivas


Tras comprar el billete, J culpa de su decisión repentina no solo al imán sino también a la fiebre, y Manolo ladra cada vez que su cuidadora le suelta alguna reflexión en voz alta o viaja en el tiempo o cuando ve un pájaro a través de la ventana.

En estos días de fiebre y entumecimiento, a la J de este plano del presente le ha cambiado el destino un imán de la nevera con un dibujo de Nueva York y un mensaje ñoño —Magic works only for those who believe in it—, que la acaba de convencer para comprarse los pasajes a Gringolandia. Ya hace más de un año que no se monta en un avión, con lo que ha sido ella, tan nómada ella; y la adrenalina de reservar ese vuelo, de imaginarse el cosquilleo en el estómago al despegar y de aterrizar en lo que se imagina una tierra tan distinta le hace olvidarse por un ratito del dolor de cuerpo que siente.

La fiebre no es para tanto, pero el entumecimiento no le deja dormir. El dolor es rarísimo. Ella se lo imaginaba como el del dengue, que lo ha pasado ya ¿tres, cuatro veces? y que ataca a las extremidades. La comparación del virus presente con el tropical la transporta al día antes de que se marchara el brasileiro, y del padecimiento físico pasa al emocional. En el plano al que J viaja, el chico del que se ha enamorado no se marcha de Playa del Carmen y cuarentenean felices en el frote de las pieles y en esa conexión anímica que no habían sentido ni él ni ella desde hacía ya tiempo.

Manolo la saca del trance con un ladrido áspero que parece carraspera y J regresa a este dolor que tanto la sorprende porque le importuna los sueños. Desde que se contagió, J siente como si hubiera ido mucho al gimnasio o como si le hubiesen dado una somanta de palos. Lleva desde anteayer así, con la paliza, y con una falta de flexibilidad tan lastimera que no le deja ni tocarse los pies con las manos.

Sospecha —bueno, sabe, carajo, sabe, dejémonos de tonterías— que se infectó con el dichoso virus cuando estaba haciendo fermentos y yogures veganos con su amiga y socia hace unos días y, en un momento dado, se relajaron, se sacaron las mascarillas y se tomaron unos vinitos. Luego la otra chica comenzó a encontrarse mal y después la siguió J, que se empezó a sentir regulín de camino al supermercado, pero le tomaron la temperatura antes de entrar y todo bien. ¿Todo bien? Mentira: ella ya se notaba la fiebre. Lo vio del todo claro cuando una J del presente que vive en otro plano, trabaja en el Chedraui y lleva meses observando cómo durante toda la pandemia nunca le han impedido a nadie la entrada a un súper de Playa del Carmen le susurró su teoría antisistema: trucan los termómetros, porque, si no, perderían ventas. Cuando visitó el supermercado, por suerte J no habló con nadie más allá de las cortesías ni se quitó el tapabocas. Quién sabe si lo propagaría entonces. Tampoco lo piensa mucho, porque es imposible averiguarlo y no le gusta quedarse atascada en el plano hipotético.

Al menos no tiene que pasar por los dolores ni las fiebres ni los males de amores en el ruidoso Ejidal, donde lleva viviendo dos años. Ahora está descansando como una burguesa en casa de sus amigos en una urbanización cerrada a la gente común, con calles privadas y todo, donde se aloja durante todo el mes a cambio de cuidar a Manolo, un buen compañero de mimos y maratones de series. Le encantan los trueques así. Lleva años practicando esta forma de relacionarse sin que medie la plata. En su casa casa, la que habita a cambio de dinero, existe el ruido constante del taller de autos, de las conversaciones a gritos, de la música a todo volumen. Pero acá reina el silencio, que es calidad de vida.

Y también lo es no someterse al yugo del trabajo. Que «trabajar» viene del latín tripaliāre, Manolo, «torturar». Por eso no echa de menos en absoluto el hotel del que la despidieron a causa de la pandemia. Ya no está abocada a volcarse en el proyecto de esa gente, que tenía tan poco que ver con ella. En ese hotelazo de Cancún, iba a comisión: se dedicaba a fotografiar a turistas, que a veces compraban las fotos y solo así ganaba dinero. Los dueños europeos y estadounidenses de los hoteles de lujo de la zona evitan pagar sueldos a los empleados tercermundistas. Solo así se mantienen primermundistas, Manolo.

En esta casa y sin ese laburo explotador sí se puede cuidar y recuperar como es debido: quiere verduras, verduras, verduras, se ha visto todo el catálogo de Netflix y HBO aprovechando que sus amigos sí tienen suscripción, medita con el canturreo matinal de los pájaros y se queda embelesada mirando el imán cada vez que saca algo de la nevera. Todo se resincroniza, le cuenta a Manolo, babeante bajo el imán, todo son cambios, ¿viste? J mantiene la argentinidad en la boca a conciencia, porque no quiere que se le borren jamás ni el acento ni los modismos, por mucho que se patee América de norte a sur y que se le mezclen y remezclen las variedades del español. Y el perro la comprende: siempre que le habla, él la mira hasta adentrito del alma con sus ojillos marrones y la contesta con su característica voz de cazallero. Ella se siente arropada por su ladrido y su mirada, pero a veces recurre a los audios de WhatsApp con humanos digitales para conversar de una forma un poco más silábica.

La J del futuro en Estados Unidos prefiere no molestar a la del presente para contarle nada, por no arruinarle la sorpresa y porque no se creería ni en pedo todo lo que amará ese país tan execrado por la antiimperialista J adolescente: sentirá un cosquilleo al presenciar Manhattan desde el puente de Brooklyn, le encantarán todas las opciones veganas en supermercados y restaurantes, trabará una amistad bellísima con una generosa desconocida que la hospedará durante semanas en una autocaravana en un lugar muy verde con atardeceres muy naranjas del norte de California con el nombre de cuento que es Ukiah. Le gustarán la gente, los paisajes, la libertad de ser y hacer. No se acordará del brasileiro más que de vez en cuando y ya nunca desde los ovarios, como ese antaño que es ahora. No, no, todo esto le parecería una locura si se lo narraran en el presente. Mejor que no lo sepa, que se recupere tranquila, que lo descubra más tarde. 

Lo más importante es que puede tomar la decisión de marcharse porque es libre y está sola y no tiene que rendirle cuentas a ningún hombre ni ninguna mujer ni a sus padres allá en Argentina ni a nadie de nadie. Le encanta la soledad elegida, pero se le hace raro cuando es obligada. Duele, duele más que el dengue y el coronavirus cuando es obligada. Esta soledad no formaba parte de sus decisiones: el chico del que se había enamorado se quedó atrapado en Brasil en una visita a su familia cuando cerraron las fronteras y ya nunca volvió. Al menos ha sabido aprovechar la soledad impuesta y escribe y vende fotos por Tulum y bebe mate y medita y lee cuentos de Lorrie Moore y ahora siente que le ha dado la vuelta a todo, que, al no haberse hundido, su plano presente lo ha elegido ella.

El día que él tenía que coger el avión de vuelta a México y no lo hizo, a J le dolían los ovarios más que nunca en su vida. No el corazón, no el alma, no la boca del estómago, sino los órganos con el que más lo quería y extrañaba: qué feo dolor de ovarios. Y ya nunca volvió, Manolo, qué sola me sentía. Encima no podía ver a sus amigos con tanta frecuencia y no pensaba volver a La Plata con su familia. De ninguna manera. Qué sola, carajo. Y ahora qué enferma. Antes no creía que pudiera cambiar todo de forma tan radical de un momento a otro, pero ahora sabe que sí, y a veces le inquieta la idea de que pueda variar tanto el presente, de que se desestabilicen tanto los planos. Y otras veces me vale todo verga, Manolo.

En alguna ocasión la arrastra la J que vive en un plano más tremebundo y se obsesiona con que no quiero vivir así el resto de mi vida, Manolo. Aunque estuvo un poco paranoica al principio, en realidad nunca le ha dado miedo miedo el virus —ni siquiera ahora que le mordisquea los adentros—, pero sí le aterroriza la pérdida de albedrío. ¿Acaso el mundo va a ser ya para siempre así? Y le confiesa al perro que esto nos va a cercenar la libertad a los hippies. Se sonríe por haber comprado el vuelo. Ojalá no lo cancelen. Ojalá pueda volar.

Tose, le duele un costado, le da flojera pasar por todo esto. Por supuesto, cree en el virus que tiene dentro, que le provoca esta fiebre horrible y delirante y que no le deja dormir con tanto dolor corporal, pero eso no significa que no sea una herramienta de manipulación de los gobiernos y resto de autoridades, que nos tienen ahora bajo su total control, Manolo, que no nos podemos mover con libertad (el placer de cualquier político…), que somos tan aparatitos sociales que damos asco, che. Y el perro ladra con ronquera a cada rato para reafirmar las sentencias. 

Encima en México tratan a la gente de a pie como si fuera idiota perdida. J se empezó a indignar cuando salieron los anuncios gubernamentales protagonizados por la superheroína contra el coronavirus, Susana Distancia (¿te puedes creer ese nombre tan absurdo?), y ahora le apesta todo a infantilización del pueblo, desde el semáforo —rojo, «no salgas si no es estrictamente necesario», verde, «podemos salir pero con precaución y prevención», buf, buf— hasta los disparates sobre no renunciar a los abrazos que han salido de la boca del presidente en los peores momentos de la pandemia. Al final los ricos se quedan en casa, pero para la gente de la calle no hay semáforo ni Susana que valga, solo pobreza, solo formas de intentar llevarse algo a la boca. Con toda esta mierda, siente un trato más directo con la incertidumbre, por momentos insoportable, y se dice que todo lo que tenga que pasar, pasará, para tranquilizarse con un tonto mantra que se cree a ratos.

A J le gusta de siempre apegarse al presente; pero una vez se despegó y se imaginó un proyecto a largo plazo con su brasileiro y llegó el COVID-19 y él se quedó en su país y ella se la pasó comiendo almohada, esperando como una ilusa rebozada de mitos del amor romántico. ¿Cómo habría sido el presente con él si no hubiera habido pandemia? Le encanta pensar en presentes paralelos, en cosas que están pasando en otro plano de otro presente de otra J. ¿Cómo estás, J? Se dice a sí misma mirándose al espejo para comunicarse con todas sus vidas paralelas de cualquier momento de su historia. En una de ellas, jamás se despidió del brasileiro, jamás cumplió los cuarenta llorando por teléfono con él, esperándolo como una loca, con tormentillas en los ovarios. Otra J estará cogiendo ahora con el brasileiro como una descosida. Otra se estará masturbando obsesivamente mirando las fotos en Instagram de ese pelotudo. Esta J al menos está en paz. O casi. Fui una boluda esperándolo, Manolo, y le espachurra la cara al perro dejándose atrapar por el pegajoso pasado, una boluda, no mames, espachurra, espachurra. Su configuración mental se está tambaleando con la enfermedad, pero da igual todo eso ahora: la J del presente y de este plano se cuida la mente con terapia, las energías con flores de bach y los buenos presagios con alguna tirada de cartas que otra.

Para quitarse el mal sabor de boca que le traen los momentos feos pretéritos, va a la cocina a comer algo. Le da gracias infinitas al universo no haber perdido el sentido del gusto ni del olfato. Ya tiene bastante con no poder dormir ni coger con total libertad. Este virus ataca en los pecados capitales. Al menos puede recrearse en la gula. Se debate entre un paraíso de apetencias y se revuelve de pronto solo de pensar en lo evidente, en lo que no se habla más que en petit comité, porque, che, Manolo, acá nadie dice que todo esto de la pandemia mundial empezó por comer animales.

El imán la mira a los ojos y le susurra una vez más que «Magic works only for those who believe in it» y le manda un guiño con ese dibujito de un paisaje urbano del verticalidad inverosímil (¿será así Nueva York de verdad?). El perro, orgulloso pecador, la sigue, a sabiendas de que la nevera aguarda sabrosa felicidad para su hocico. ¿Tú crees en la magia, Manolo?, pero él solo la mira con ojillos de cordero degollado, porque cree en la magia del ruego culinario, de la relación humana-perro para saciar las hambrunas.

J piensa que el brasileiro es el pasado —ya no lo llama por su nombre para distanciarse más aún de él— y que el imán sirve como bisagra del presente, y se le dibuja un mañana lleno de estereotipos gringos. Qué risa le daría ahora mismo conocer el plano futuro a esta J, verse montada en bici entre los rascacielos de Manhattan o trimeando marihuana en las montañas californianas mientras piensa en México como un lugar lejano en el pasado que quizás nunca haya existido o en su romance con ese brasileiro que ¿de verdad me enamoró? Qué encrucijada: sus pensamientos la arrastran hacia atrás y su imaginación hacia delante e intenta meditar en vano y así no hay quien se centre en el presente.

El imán la mira y Manolo la mira y sus emociones se le revuelven todas y la nevera pita porque lleva un rato abierta y, al mismo tiempo, el perro le da un par de lametazos en los pies y J sale de la ensoñación y vuelve a este extrañísimo final de la primavera.

Manolo la mira con su cara de perro callejero —las babas en las comisuras de la boca, los ojillos rojos—, y J decide que sí, que hoy se van a la cama pronto, sin series ni nada, solo con los gorjeos, chasquidos y chillidos de los geckos de fondo. Mañana irán a ver el amanecer. Procura no perderse tal espectáculo, que la ayuda a transitar los cambios y a lidiar con el pasado, el presente y el futuro, porque la salida del sol es sempiterna —ayer, hoy, mañana—, a diferencia de todo lo demás, que está inexorablemente en constante cambio. Su vida de burguesa es también temporal, pero se ha acostumbrado a ella y a su silencio. Ah, el silencio con sonidos (que no con ruidos): los cantarines reptiles, el vientecillo, los ronquidos de Manolo y ya. Por este silencio igual se plantearía volver a la aplastante rueda del sistema opresor que es el trabajo. Y. La fiebre le hace desvariar de nuevo. Tampoco vale tanto el silencio.


Más cuentos pandémicos basados en historias reales en
El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus,
de Patricia Martín Rivas.

El amor en los tiempos de coronavirus_Patricia Martín Rivas