A meeting between Marina and Estela in a bus station cafeteria. While they wait… Story 21 of our series ‘The journey of the heroines’, In collaboration with Clara Obligado’s Writing Workshop.
BY PAULA DUCAY
“Some conversations are not about what‘is about” (Anne Carson).
He is late and Marina tries to dislodge the taste of coffee from her mouth. She from the bar she watches beyond the windows the comings and goings of the travelers. The buses never leave on time and people walk around the building, she sees them fan themselves and check the clock every few seconds. Marina looks back at the coffee grounds in an attempt to avoid that same gesture. Since she has arrived she has not turned a page. The hands in her lap try to smooth the linen suit. She shakes her head at the waiter’s offer of something else. The first one was already a bad idea, she thinks, and she reaches into her bag for a piece of gum. She feels tachycardic. If he doesn’t show up in five minutes, I’m leaving. She knows that to calculate it she will have to move the sleeve of the shirt and look down at the wrist, but she decides to continue ignoring that detail. She also knows that it is the fifth time that she breaks the pact.
She hears the door tinkle open and turns with a ready smile, expecting to see him. A crestfallen girl sits at the bar two stools away. Marina looks back at the coffee grounds. “What can I get you, young man?” “A whiskey.” Marina and the waiter raise their eyes at the same time and look at the girl. She doesn’t even flinch. A lock of black hair covers part of her face. “We do not serve alcohol to minors.” The waiter walks away from her and the girl crosses her thin fingers on the bar. She has a chipped manicure, shavings of black polish like the remains of a shipwreck. The air conditioning is on full blast, but the young woman wipes the sweat from her temple. Suddenly, Marina hears herself: «Wouldn’t you like something else?». The eyes that turn towards her are almost gray and Marina smiles. She doesn’t want to tell him, because she knows such peculiar eyes must be close to an overdose of compliments. «What thing?», She hears the young woman’s voice, deeper than she expected. “Coffee, juice… must?” says Marina. What is that? the gray has lit up with a spark of curiosity. «Mosto is like grape juice, it is sweet…, it does not have alcohol. I always ask.”
“You don’t drink?” Marina listens to her own laughter as if it didn’t come from her. “Sometimes, yes,” she replies. “Not today, I have to drive.” The young woman looks at her.
“I would drink all the time if I could.”
“Why’s that? It’s not so much the taste.”
“Yes it is,” the girl replies with a frown. «My father has given me a try, I have tried everything, I like it. But they won’t let me anymore, my father says that now he could hurt me ».
“Of course, alcohol is not good.”
“For me, yes,” the girl murmurs. She has put a hand to her belly and squeezes. She crumples her dress, her maroon fabric slips between her fingers.
Marina takes a quick look at the coffee grounds and raises a hand to call the waiter. The girl sips her wort gingerly, then smiles, almost in surprise. She nods silently when Marina asks if she likes her. “I invite you,” she says this. “Why’s that?”. Marina shrugs and takes out a bill. Putting it on the bar, the sleeve of the shirt inadvertently rises and Marina sees the time. She watches the path of the great needle, the imaginary crescent of waiting. He won’t come, he stays in the city, she thinks. But maybe the bus was late, maybe he missed it, maybe he never got to buy the ticket.
“Ma’am,” the girl says, “ma’am, are you okay?” “You don’t have to call me you,” Marina’s tone is abrupt and she hastens to qualify “I’m not that old” with a smile, but the girl is already looking at her from another place. She has leaned back and her lips are drawn into a frown. «Excuse me», says Marina, «it’s just that I’ve been all afternoon…». “Are you going on a trip? You don’t have suitcases”, Marina doesn’t know if the young woman is laughing at her or if the question is an invitation to a truce. “Yes… no, I hope. I’m waiting for someone.”
“To who? Her husband?
Marina tries to hide the gesture of pain. Outside the travelers walk from one side to another, the buses still do not arrive. Some families have let their children doze on the benches, protected from the sun by the corrugated iron porch. Marina puts one foot on the ground and tries to get up, but before she looks at the girl.
“What’s your name?”.
Marina can’t help but bow at the name. She feels that she sees the girl for the first time, out of focus, as if in a dream. “Estela,” she repeats, “Estela had to be.” “What happens? You don’t like my name? “No, no… I mean, yes. It’s just that she reminds me of someone ». “To who?”. “I mean, I don’t know her, this person, my Estela… who isn’t mine either… it belongs to him.” “Whose? I don’t understand, ma’am.” Marina nods silently and sits back down. “And you? Are you going on a trip?». Estela takes a deep breath, considers for a moment whether she should drink the must that she has left, and says: “I’m going to the city.” “To see someone?” The girl shakes her head and adds; “To do something…, my father doesn’t know.” Estela looks at Marina, who doesn’t say anything, she only puts her index finger and thumb together, draws a line on her lips and throws the fictitious key from her. Then she sees her pick up her cup and look at her grounds. “Estela,” she says, “can’t you read coffee grounds, by any chance?” The girl says that she doesn’t, although she thinks at the time that she would like to know.
“And what’s your name?”.
“Marina is a pretty name,” Estela murmurs. And then: “Marina doesn’t remind me of anyone.”
“I’m glad,” she replies, “I’ll lend it to you.” «Well, the names do not belong to anyone. I don’t know what she would do with him either.” Marina shrugs her shoulders and agrees with him. Estela watches her, still with the sweet taste of the grape in her mouth, and she tries to say her name in a low voice. The waiter offers them two more musts.
“Should we toast?” The bar has emptied of people and the sun is already scratching the horizon.
“Sorry, I don’t have time. It is coming”.
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