Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Homme Fatal

By Gabriela Fonseca. Translated by Carolina Orloff.


Out of all the questions that remain with me, the main one is this: when exactly did I lose myself?

I am watching José sleep and it seems as if his heart, his brain and even his behind have a restless life of their own. He rolls around on the sheet as if worms were eating him alive from the inside and all he wants is to tear his skin off. He groans like an orphan puppy and he sweats. We all get the kind of sleep we deserve. I no longer sleep.

I am not sure whether I lost myself when my vanity made me feel like I was José’s muse, or when my insecurities had me believe that I was something like his mother or his older sister. In any case, it flattered me that he would seem convinced about us sharing that special connection for which most of us humans live, although its existence has never been proven. And yet, when it does happen, and if it is real, it lasts less than a sigh.

In a conversation we once had – and which sticks in my memory more than I would want – José mentioned to me the exact date when he started working in the agency where we met, and I realised that I had spent more than a year without taking any notice of him, even though we worked on the same floor.

One day I finally saw him when I got off the lift. There he was, without a smile on his face, politely asking for a light. I had to rummage through my bag to dig out the lighter, and I was about to tell him that he would be better off asking someone else, because in my bag – like in my life – it was impossible to find anything when I wanted to.

At that point I should have realised that there was a guy who I had never seen before, but who was waiting for me outside the lift, well aware of the fact that I smoked. But instead I only noticed an ill-timed don’t-know-who with whom I would not exchange a word again.

Some time later José invited me to an event that his division was organising to promote a brand of cheap rum. He said he had spare invitations, that he was worried that the party would seem a little empty, and that the client would complain. Although I knew only too well how it feels when an event you have been paid to put together is a flop, in the end the idea of socializing with staff from radio stations and youth magazines, and with people that go to parties only because there is free booze, put me off completely.

The next day, José assured me that it was a shame I hadn’t gone, because the event turned out to be quite fun.

With remarkable clumsiness, I pretended that I had come down with a headache and that I had had far too much work to do. This is what happens to us, the guilty liars, who believe that one fake reason is not enough to cover the truth; hence, we add another one just to be safe.

In any case, José left on my desk one of the miniature bottles of rum they had given away at the party. He said that when he realised I wasn’t coming he decided to keep one for me as a “souvenir”. I should have asked myself then why would I need a “souvenir” from a party I hadn’t gone to, and realised that the miniature bottle was actually something to remind me of him. Yet instead I felt he was being kind, and that all I was doing was paying him back by being impolite. That was the day in which, finally, we introduced ourselves to each other with our full names.

And that simple exchange of information was enough for José to make it part of this daily routine to come to my desk to say hello and to chat in a tone that to me seemed quite theatrical, and which I put down to nervousness on his part. During those conversations – which I made sure were limited to mundane issues, such as the weather or work meetings – he would slip in certain naïve comments to find out things about me while at the same time give information about himself, such as the fact that he was single, for instance.

It is easy to fall into the trap of conversation when we think that what we are sharing, and what is being shared with us, is a currency being exchanged in an equal manner in order to purchase something called trust.

But you end up losing that trust because you place it where it didn’t belong.

In the midst of these conversations I also found out that he lived with his brother and mother, and that his father had passed away when he was a kid. I told him in turn that I had left home when I was 19 years old and that I practically did not see my family. I told him I had studied advertising at university and that I had been working at the agency for years. I had started working there before finishing my degree, and I had managed to progressively move up the hierarchy to the position I had today. I wanted to mark a difference between us, making clear that I – unlike him – was very proud of my job.

We are always proud of our achievements, even if none of them can save us from anything.

He, at 36, was still not very sure of what he wanted in life. He would say that the most important thing for him was to be carefree; he wanted not to have to worry about money and that was enough for him.

My female work colleagues would make fun of the attention José paid me, as well as lamenting his lack of potential as a future partner. Or even as my friend Ana would put it, from her desk next to mine:

“Carmen, you deserve better than this. He is not ugly, but it would be more fun if he were. His bosses say that his work is quite mediocre and that he does not earn very much. You are better off ignoring him. Maybe he just wants to be seen with you so that he looks credible, or he just wants to see that if by hanging out with you, he will get some of your ideas. You are out of his league. He will start repeating your thoughts as if they were his own”.

It upset me that Ana would say that a guy might be after me only for convenience. But I didn’t let on.

José, indeed, was nothing to write home about. He was taller than a woman, which doesn’t mean he was tall. He had – and still does – a round, white face, which makes him look fatter than he actually is. No feature really stands out. His voice is not bad, but it always sounded haughty, as if he was rehearsing or about to announce the time on the radio.

Ana used to say that for women to want a man, three things had to be attractive: his voice, his hands and his buttocks. She would add that as long as he had other passionate things to offer, we would be happy if two out of the three requirements were fulfilled. I ended up convincing myself that José, in good days, had a decent voice and decent hands – and that was all.

The advantages of having an admirer in the office are undeniable: it pumps up your ego, it is entertaining and comforting, and it keeps you company. Who doesn’t like being the femme fatal from time to time; feeling above the weak; assuming that there is someone at your feet who you can crush in an instant, because he needs you and you don’t need him? I never thought I could enjoy these things. I never thought I could feel sorry for someone I did not love and because he was not like me.

Guilt, which sometimes dressed up as pride, made me begin to defend José from Ana’s comments, to take his side and repeat to her the things he told me: that his bosses had it in for him, that his section was the worst paid in the entire agency due to administrative errors. I already spoke as if his work situation depended on me, as if it hurt me that Ana would not trust him, as if it was already impossible not to feel something for that man who weeks before was invisible.

In the end, there is nothing more difficult than to stop yourself from loving someone who loves you, because we learn that love must be thanked for. In fact, to love and let yourself be loved can be learnt very easily. A bear can be trained to dance: it learns to move with music and the audience learns to believe that the fake swings of a tamed beast are an actual dance.

It was during that time that I started to dream about José almost every night. Nothing would happen in these dreams. He would just come near me and there would be no one else around. I took it as a sign that I should accept his invitation to go for a coffee and a chat one day after work. He moaned a lot about his life, his salary, about how hard it was for him to break free. He tried to kiss me outside the café bar but I wrestled free and felt somewhat powerful. He told me I made him suffer. I felt bad for him, so I let him walk me home.

He praised the building as he would praise anything to do with me, and I commented that I had practically finished off paying the loan the bank had given me to buy my flat. Of course, I did not invite him in.

When I told Ana about the incident, I also felt guilty as if I was in fact “betraying” José, especially when Ana burst out laughing when she imagined my admirer pretending he was Clark Gable.

I had asked him to forget the issue of the kiss, but the tension that this request generated was not disagreeable, rather it was similar to the light drunken feeling brought on by a good compliment. It gives you confidence, and then it is forgotten.

A few months went by without any changes to the situation, and I began to focus on winning a project, which for the agency, was something like the Holy Grail. Ana and I wouldn’t leave work every evening until 10pm, and we would also go to the office at weekends. In that sea of work, José’s visits to my desk were brief and short, like paper boats. This made me feel better. I was scared that I was becoming obsessed with him; however, fortunately and thanks to work, he had returned to a very secondary place in my thoughts.

One Saturday, after working until three in the afternoon alone in the office, Ana suggested that we went out for lunch and then “do something really crazy”, to ease the pressure on us. She thought we should go and see a Tarot reader.

The place chosen for this was a small shop next to the parking lot of a cinema in Colonia Juarez. It had been there since I was a little girl, and it had never occurred to me to make use of the services it offered. Between the loud noises of the cars and the smell of petrol, the forty-something Tarot reader, dressed like any other secretary, laid out her cards while Ana waited for me. She told me my life had been tough, that I would be successful and that I was destined to a brilliant future, as far as I can remember. Suddenly, she interrupted her rattle and asked: “What did you come here for?”

I replied in all honesty and said that I had gone there to kill time.

“I can see here that someone has put a curse on you”, she assured me, pointing to a card with a devil and a couple. “What an obvious woman”, I thought to myself.

Irritated by her comment, I told her I did not believe in that sort of stuff. She continued to interpret what the cards were “saying” to me. Then she gave me the card of a friend of hers so that I could get “cleansed”.

“Even if you don’t want to believe in it, a lot of harm can be done through these curses. They can trap your spirit forever”, she insisted, as if she was diagnosing me with cancer.

I stayed outside the consulting room waiting for Ana. Someone had also put a curse on her, and she was also recommended that she should get cleansed.

The following Monday, José arrived at my desk looking pale. He asked me to go with him to the stairwell: he wanted to say something to me. He looked so shaken that I could not refuse.

He told me he had just been dismissed and he wanted to know if there was anything I could do, talk to my bosses for instance. He swore he had no idea what he had done wrong. I felt so sorry for him, so I told him to wait for me in the street. I went back to my office and said that I had to leave because my auntie was dying.

José was crushed, so I decided to take him to my house, because I didn’t want to put up with his tears in a café. He told me he could never let his mother find out what had happened, that he was her eldest son and the breadwinner for the whole family; he said he had let everyone down.

I told him that with the redundancy payment he would receive from the agency, perhaps he could do something, and I asked him what he really wanted to do with his life, because it seemed to me that the work we did wasn’t really his thing – I said this not to have to let on about the reputation he had, namely, of being totally useless.

After hours of chatting, he began to calm down. We had drunk cup after cup of tea. He started to browse my things, and to praise my taste, the amount of books I had, my plants. “I love the way you live. I love everything about you. It is as if you had never felt that you cannot find your place in the world”, he claimed, as he walked out of the toilet, one of the many times he paid a visit to it.

He left feeling much calmer, and promising that he would think about another job option. I promised back that I would let him know of any position that came up, that would fit his profile, knowing well that something like that was hard to come by.

The week following his leaving the office, I sent him a few emails to ask how he was doing. He never replied. This worried me a little when I remembered how depressed he was. I imagined that his power had been cut off, that he would be lying in bed in a daze. Two weeks went by and I carried on writing emails to him without getting any answers. I did not know where he lived. I looked for his number in the telephone guide to no avail. I pulled out his invitation to the event promoting the cheap rum and I stared at it for a while forcing it to give me a hint of where I could find José.

I would arrive at the office every morning and open my email to find that he had not written, and ignoring all the messages sent by my clients. I once went to the HR office to ask for his address and telephone number. The address did not exist, and the telephone number turned out to be a hairdresser’s.

After a month, Ana told me that she was fed up with me, because I was not looking after the projects, and she felt that all the work was being loaded on her. “You are even losing weight… What the hell is wrong with you?” She said to me furiously in front of our entire team. Days before the supervisor had cautioned me because my performance had gone down and we were about to lose several accounts. I could not tell anyone that I was unable to eat or sleep or concentrate. I simply had no will to do anything.

Later on, Ana talked to me in the bathroom. I told her that I did not know what was wrong with me and I could not help my tears. I sobbed uncontrollably like you only do when you are a child and you feel your chest is tight and you open your mouth as wide as you can as if you wanted to swallow your own soul to stop it from running away. My friend stared at me, petrified, as if she couldn’t recognise me.

“You are depressed, Carmen, and you need to get help”, Ana said. Later, she passed me the details of a psychiatrist who had treated her mother. “Don’t feel ashamed about going to a shrink. It’s like having tooth decay or having a broken leg. You go to see a specialist and get it fixed.”

Ana was right. Everything looked huge on me. I had always wanted to be thin, and now I was so skinny I could never even get warm.

Days later, I got cautioned again. This time the terms used made me realise that my job was in danger. When I left the office that day, I phoned the therapist Ana had recommended. I got an appointment for the following day, first thing in the morning.

When I woke up the next day, physically I had never felt worse. Yet, what cheered me up was the fact that I was going to talk to someone who could have the solution. I went out without having breakfast and after having a shower that went from boiling water to tepid to ice-cold water, as if it was part of the treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

When I crossed the street outside my building, I looked both ways, as I always used to do. There were some cars in the distance and I walked looking ahead. I heard a strange speeding up but no squealing of the breaks. I carried on walking. They are far away, and they have already seen me. I have two more steps to go before reaching the curb.

A hit from the side broke my knees as if they were twigs, and threw me into the air like a rag. My shoulder shattered to bits as I hit the ground, and that is why it could not cushion my head, which broke open as it hit the road. I suddenly fell mortified, as you do when you fall in public. There was no time for me to feel any pain; all my senses had shut down.

I had a sense of self-awareness and I imagined that when I opened my eyes, I would find myself in hospital. However, what I saw instead was the inside of my flat. I was not lying down, but sitting on my couch. I tried to touch my face, but I could not feel anything. I tried to stand up, and I fell to the ground, weightlessly. I tried to switch on the stereo, but I couldn’t. I peered out of the window, and everything seemed normal: an empty street with sad trees. According to the clock, it had just gone past midnight. “I am dreaming”, I thought to myself.

I went to the bedroom and the bed was unmade. I could not see my make-up or my jewellery box. The plants had dried up. The shelves where I used to keep my books and my records were half empty. I looked at myself in the mirror and I saw that I was naked, without any traces of injury. I did not feel I was naked. I did not feel I was in any way at all.

The door opened and I jumped. José walked in. The lock had been changed. He closed the door with his foot and put the key ring in his jacket. He was carrying a bag of chicharrones, an old briefcase and an urn made of what seemed to be copper. He sat in the kitchen, which was covered in rubbish and dirty dishes. He opened the plastic bag he was carrying and started eating the chicharrones.

I began to shout at him, telling him to get out of my house, asking who the hell had let him in. But I already knew he could not hear me. In fact, I almost knew what had happened to me.

He wiped his hands on his trouser leg. From his briefcase, he pulled out a piece of paper and something that looked like a naked doll; he placed them both on the kitchen table. The piece of paper was my death certificate, in which he appeared as the brother who had taken me to hospital after being run over. The doll was made out of the material from an ivory-colour coat that I had lost in the office months earlier. On its head, there appeared to be little bundles made with strands of my own hair that seemed to have been pulled from my hairbrush, which I had always kept in the bathroom.

José had embroidered my face onto the doll. With pink thread, he had drawn breasts and a vagina. On the chest, he had sewn a heart-shaped candy lolly. Within its cellophane wrapping, the red candy was broken into pieces, as if someone had stomped on it.

Interrupting his dinner of pork chicharrones, José left the table and started looking through the kitchen drawers and shelves until he came across a box containing plastic bags with a seal, the ones used to freeze food. “This is the kind of thing that only those people who have nothing to worry about go and buy”, José said to me, as if he knew that I was there.

He used a large spoon to scoop out several spoonfuls of ash and place them in the plastic bag, which he sealed carefully. He then rolled up the death certificate and put it in the urn. Finally, he also put the doll in there. Using a spoon again, he dug a hole in the soil in the pot with the ficus tree that I had in the living room, and which had already started to dry. In this grave of wilted plant, he buried me inside the urn.

José has started selling all my things and he has already found the savings I had hidden inside a boot. I have never trusted banks. He doesn’t seem to think that one day he could be kicked out of my flat.

He knows I am here. Sometimes he talks to me in the same mellow voice as before and he tells me that, above anything else, he wanted to have me and never lose me. All the photos of me lying about in old envelopes and drawers, he has now put together. He looks at them and tells me that he misses me; that he would want us to talk like we did before. He has never apologised for what he did to me.

I don’t doubt that he misses me. Now, of course, the other day he brought a woman to my house and gave her a drink, not before adding a pinch of my ashes into it. That is all it took for that bitch to get into my bed with him.


De todas las preguntas con que me he quedado, la principal es ésta: ¿En qué momento me perdí?

Estoy viendo a José dormir  y pareciera que tiene hormigas  en el culo,  en el corazón y  en el cerebro. Se restriega sobre la sábana como si los gusanos se lo estuvieran comiendo vivo y quisiera arrancarse la piel. Emite pujiditos de perro huérfano y suda. Cada quien duerme como se merece. Yo ya no duermo.

No sé si me perdí cuando mi vanidad me hizo sentirme la musa de José o  cuando mi inseguridad me hizo creerme algo así como su madre o su hermana mayor. En todo caso, me halagó que él parecía convencido de que compartíamos ese nexo especial para el cual vivimos la mayoría de los seres humanos, aunque su existencia nunca se haya comprobado. Aunque cuando ocurre y es real, dura menos que un achaque.

En una conversación que tuvimos y que recuerdo mejor de lo que quisiera, José me mencionó la fecha exacta en que entró a trabajar a la agencia en que nos conocimos y me di cuenta de que estuve más de un año sin reparar en su existencia, con todo y que estábamos en el mismo piso.

Finalmente, lo vi un día que me bajé del elevador y él estaba ahí, pidiéndome fuego amablemente pero sin sonreír. Tuve que escarbar en la bolsa para sacar el encendedor, y estuve a punto de decirle que le pidiera a alguien más, porque en mi bolsa, como en mi vida, era imposible encontrar lo que necesitaba cuando yo lo deseaba.

En ese momento tendría que haberme dado cuenta de que ahí estaba un tipo al que yo nunca había visto, pero que estaba muy al tanto de que yo fumaba, esperándome junto al elevador. En cambio, sólo percibí a un fulano inoportuno con el que no volvería a cruzar palabra.

Algún tiempo más tarde, José me invitó a un evento organizado por su división para promocionar una marca de ron barato. Me dijo que le habían sobrado invitaciones,  que le preocupaba que la fiesta pareciera poco concurrida y que el cliente se fuera a quejar. Aunque yo sabía de sobra cómo se siente que no funcione un evento que te pagaron por organizar, finalmente fue más fuerte la pereza que me daba encontrarme socializando con el personal de estaciones de radio y revistas juveniles, y con personas que asistieron porque se podía beber gratis.

Al día siguiente, José aseguró que fue una pena que no hubiera ido, porque el evento resultó muy divertido.

Con torpeza notable, pretexté dolor de cabeza y exceso de trabajo. Es lo que nos pasa a los mentirosos con culpa, que creemos que una razón falsa no es suficiente para tapar la verdad y agregamos otra.

En todo caso, José dejó en mi escritorio una miniatura del ron que repartieron en el festejo. Me dijo que me la había guardado “como recuerdo” al ver que yo no llegaba. Debí preguntarme por qué necesitaba un “recuerdo” de una fiesta a la que no fui y darme cuenta que la botella de ron era un “recuerdo” de él. Pero en vez de eso, sentí que él era amable conmigo y yo lo recompensaba tratándolo mal. Ese fue el día en que, finalmente, nos presentamos con nombre y apellido.

Y ese simple intercambio de información bastó para que José hiciera parte de su rutina diaria el ir a saludarme a mi escritorio y conversar en un tonito que me parecía teatral y que yo atribuía a nervios de su parte. En esas conversaciones, que yo limitaba a cuestiones superfluas como el clima y las juntas, él solía intercalar comentarios inocentes para averiguar cosas sobre mí y  transmitirme detalles sobre él, como su soltería, por ejemplo.

Es muy fácil caer en la trampa de la conversación, cuando creemos que lo que compartimos y nos comparten son monedas que se intercambian de forma equitativa, para comprar algo que se llama confianza.

Y al final uno pierde la confianza porque la puso en el lugar que no le correspondía.

En esas conversaciones me enteré también de que vivía con su hermano y su mamá, y que su padre se había muerto cuando él era niño; yo le conté que me había independizado desde los 19 años y prácticamente no veía a mi familia,  que estudié publicidad y que llevaba años en la agencia, donde empecé antes de salir de la universidad, para ir subiendo poco a poco a la posición que tenía. Quise marcar una distancia de él dejando claro que yo estaba muy orgullosa de mi carrera.

Siempre nos enorgullecemos de nuestros logros, aunque ninguno de ellos nos salve de nada.

Él, en cambio, no estaba muy seguro de lo que quería hacer con su vida, a los 36 años. Decía que lo más importante para él era estar tranquilo,  sin preocupaciones económicas, y que con eso le bastaba.

Mis compañeras se divertían viendo las atenciones de José hacia mí, si bien lamentaban su escaso potencial como pareja. O como me  decía mi amiga Ana, del escritorio de junto: “Carmen, te mereces más. No está feo, pero si lo fuera hasta tendría más chiste. Sus jefes dicen que su trabajo es muy mediocre y gana muy mal. Mejor no le sigas la jugada. En una de ésas quiere que lo vean contigo para que parezca que tiene credibilidad o para ver si se le pegan tus ideas. No es de tu división. Va a andar repitiendo cosas tuyas como si fueran de él.”

Me ofendió que Ana dijera que un tipo me buscaba nada más por conveniencia, pero no se lo dije.

José, en efecto, no era para llamar la atención. Era más alto que una mujer, lo que no quiere decir que fuera alto. Tenía, y todavía tiene, una cara redonda y blanca que lo hace parecer más gordo de lo que es, sin una sola facción notable. La voz no estaba mal, pero siempre parecía engolada, como si ensayara o estuviera a punto de dar la hora exacta por la radio.

Ana decía que para que un hombre fuera deseable debía tener tres cosas atractivas: la voz, las manos y las nalgas, y que normalmente nos conformábamos con que se cubrieran dos de los tres requisitos, a cambio de que hubiera en él otras cosas apasionantes. Acabé convenciéndome de que José, en días buenos, tenía manos y voz decentes, y nada más.

Son indiscutibles las ventajas de tener un admirador en la oficina: levanta la auto estima, entretiene, consuela y acompaña.  ¿Y a quién no le gusta sentirse de vez en cuando mujer fatal? Sentirse por encima del débil. Suponer que hay alguien en la palma de tu mano a quien hacer papilla en un momento, porque te necesita y tú a él no. Nunca creí sentir disfrute por esas cosas. Nunca creí sentir lástima por alguien a quien no quería y porque no era como yo.

La culpa, que a veces se disfrazaba de orgullo, me hizo empezar a defender a José de los comentarios de Ana, a tomar partido por él y  repetirle lo que él me decía: que sus jefes le tenían mala voluntad, que su división era la peor pagada de toda la agencia por errores administrativos. Yo ya hablaba como si  su situación laboral dependiera de mí, como si me doliera que Ana desconfiara, como si ya fuera imposible no sentir nada por ese hombre que semanas antes era invisible.

Al final de cuentas, no hay nada más difícil que evitar querer a quien te quiere, porque aprendemos que el amor debe agradecerse. En realidad amar y dejarse amar es una conducta muy fácilmente aprendida.  Un oso es amaestrado para bailar: él aprende a moverse con música y el público aprende a creer que los devaneos falsos de una bestia domada son una danza.

Fue por esa época cuando empecé a soñar con José casi todas las noches. No pasaba nada en esos sueños. Sólo se me acercaba y no había nadie más alrededor. Lo tomé como una señal de que debía aceptar su propuesta de platicar un día en un café a la salida del trabajo. Se quejó bastante de su vida, de su salario, de su imposibilidad de independizarse.  Hubo un intento de darme un beso a la salida del café que terminó en un ligero forcejeo que me hizo sentir poderosa. Me dijo que yo lo hacía sufrir. Me sentí mal por él, así que lo dejé acompañarme a mi casa.

Admiró el edificio como admiraba todo lo que tuviera que ver conmigo y le comenté que ya prácticamente acababa de pagar el préstamo que me dieron en el banco para comprar mi departamento. Desde luego, no lo invité a pasar.

Cuando le platiqué el incidente a Ana, también tuve culpa porque sentí que estaba “traicionando” a José al hacerlo, sobre todo por las carcajadas que soltó mi amiga imaginándose a mi pretendiente sintiéndose Clark Gable.

Le había pedido que nunca volviéramos a recordar el asunto del beso pero la tensión que esto generó no era desagradable, sino más bien como la leve borrachera que provoca un buen piropo. Da seguridad y después se olvida.

Pasaron unos meses sin que la situación cambiara, y más bien me dediqué a pensar en ganar una cuenta que era algo así como el Santo Grial para la agencia. Ana y yo salíamos todos los días hasta las diez de la noche, y trabajábamos también los fines de semana. Entre ese mar de trabajo, las visitas de José por mi escritorio pasaban rápidas y pequeñas, como barquitos de papel. Esto me tranquilizó mucho. Tenía miedo de estarme obsesionando con él, pero afortunadamente había regresado nuevamente a un lugar muy secundario en mis pensamientos, gracias al trabajo.

Un sábado, después de que habíamos trabajado hasta las tres de la tarde solas en la oficina, Ana propuso que fuéramos a comer y después que “hiciéramos algo bien loco”, para quitarnos la presión. Se le ocurrió que fuéramos a leernos las cartas.

El lugar elegido para esto fue un minúsculo local junto al estacionamiento de un cine en la colonia Juárez. Había estado ahí desde mi niñez, sin que nunca se me ocurriera hacer uso de sus servicios. Entre los ruidos de autos y el olor a diesel, la cartomanciana cuarentona y vestida como cualquier secretaria hizo su tendido mientras Ana me esperaba. Me dijo que mi vida había sido dura, que tendría yo éxito y que estaba destinada a un futuro brillante, según recuerdo.  De pronto interrumpió su perorata y me preguntó: “¿Para qué viniste?”

Le respondí, con toda honestidad, que había ido para matar el tiempo.

“Aquí veo que te están haciendo un trabajo”, me aseguró señalando una carta con un diablo y una pareja. “Qué mujer tan obvia”, pensé.

Le dije que no creía en eso, ya un poco molesta. Siguió interpretando para mí  lo que “le decían” las cartas. Luego me dio la tarjeta de una amiga suya para que me hiciera una limpia.

“Aunque no me creas, se hace  mucho daño con los trabajos. Te pueden encarcelar el espíritu para siempre”,  me aseguró como si me estuviera diagnosticando cáncer.

Me quedé afuera del consultorio esperando a Ana. A ella también le estaban haciendo un trabajo y también le recomendó a la de las limpias.

El siguiente lunes, José llegó a mi escritorio pálido y me pidió que lo acompañara al cubo de la escalera, porque me quería decir algo. Estaba tan desencajado que no pude negarme.

Me contó que lo acababan de despedir y quería saber si yo podía hacer algo, hablar con mis jefes. Aseguró que de plano no sabía qué había hecho mal.  Me dio una lástima horrible, así que le dije que me esperara en la calle,  volví a la oficina y dije que me tenía que ir porque mi tía se estaba muriendo.

José estaba destrozado, así que decidí llevarlo a mi casa, para que no tuviera que estar aguantando el llanto en un café. Me dijo que nunca podría decirle a su mamá lo que pasó, que él era su hijo mayor y el soporte de toda la familia, que había decepcionado a todos.

Yo le dije que con la liquidación que recibiría en la agencia podría hacer algo y le pregunté qué era lo que realmente quería hacer con su vida, porque me daba la impresión de que el trabajo que hacíamos no era lo suyo; esto, para  no tenerle que informar de la fama de inútil que tenía.

Tras horas de platicar, se fue tranquilizando, ya habíamos tomado taza sobre taza de café. Se puso a curiosear entre mis cosas y a elogiar mi gusto, mi cantidad de libros, mis plantas. “Me encanta como vives, me encanta todo de ti. Es como si nunca hubieras sentido que no encuentras tu lugar en el mundo”,  aseguró, cuando venía saliendo de una de las varias visitas que hizo al baño.

Se fue más tranquilo, con la promesa que pensaría en una opción laboral, y yo le juré que le informaría de cualquier chamba que supiera que se ajustaba a su perfil, aunque yo bien sabía que algo así no abundaba.

La semana siguiente a su partida, le escribí algunos correos para saber cómo estaba y no me respondió. Esto me preocupó cuando recordé su depresión. Imaginé que le habían cortado la luz, que estaría tirado en la cama como pasmado. Pasaron dos semanas y yo seguía escribiendo correos sin recibir respuesta. No sabía dónde vivía. Busqué su número en el directorio sin éxito. Saqué de mi escritorio la invitación al evento promocional del ron corriente y la estuve mirando como para que me diera una pista de dónde encontrar a José.

Llegaba todas las mañanas a la oficina a abrir el correo electrónico sin encontrar nada de él y sin leer lo que me habían escrito mis clientes. Fui a la división de personal para que me dieran su dirección y teléfono. El domicilio no existía y el número de teléfono era de una peluquería.

Al mes, Ana me dijo que ya estaba harta de mí, porque estaba descuidando los proyectos y sentía que la carga de trabajo se le estaba acumulando a ella. “Hasta flaca te estás poniendo, ¿qué rayos te pasa?”, me dijo furiosa delante de todo el equipo. Días antes el jefe de grupo me llamó la atención porque mi rendimiento bajó y estábamos a punto de perder varias cuentas. No podía decirle a nadie que no podía comer ni dormir ni concentrarme. Simplemente no tenía voluntad de nada.

Más tarde Ana habló conmigo en el baño. Le dije que no sabía qué me pasaba y no pude evitar llorar con ese ahogo que sólo se sufre de niño, cuando se siente una opresión en el pecho y se abre la boca a todo lo que da, como si quisiera uno tragarse su propia alma para que no se escape. Mi amiga me miraba espantada, sin reconocerme.

  “Tienes depresión, Carmen, y te la tienen que tratar”, me dijo Ana. Más tarde me dio los datos de un psiquiatra que había tratado a su mamá. “No te sientas mal de ir con un loquero. Es como si se te picara una muela o se te rompiera la pierna. Vas con el médico especializado a que te la arregle y ya.”

Ana tenía razón, ya todo se me veía como costal. Yo que siempre quise ser flaca, andaba tiritando de frío todo el día.

Días más tarde, me volvieron a llamar la atención, esta vez en términos que me hicieron ver que mi empleo estaba en peligro. A la salida de la oficina llamé por teléfono al terapeuta que me recomendó Ana, que me dio cita para el día siguiente, a primera hora.

Por la mañana,  me sentí peor que nunca físicamente, pero me animaba el hecho de que hablaría con alguien que podía tener la solución. Salí sin desayunar y después de una ducha que pasó del agua hirviente a la tibieza y al hielo, como si fuera una cura de manicomio.

Al atravesar la calle frente a mi edificio, miré hacia ambos lados, como hacía siempre. Había unos autos lejanos y caminé viendo al frente. Oí un acelerón extraño y ningún chirrido de llantas. Seguí caminando. Están muy lejos y  ya me vieron, faltan dos pasos para llegar a la banqueta.

Un golpe de costado me trozó como varas las rodillas y me lanzó al aire como un trapo. El hombro se me hizo añicos al caer y por eso no pudo amortiguar la caída de la cabeza, que se partió contra el pavimento. Me invadió la vergüenza que llega cuando uno se cae en público; no alcancé a sentir dolor porque se me cerraron los sentidos.

Tuve conciencia de mí y me imaginé que al abrir los ojos encontraría un hospital, pero lo que vi fue el interior de mi departamento. No estaba acostada, sino sentada en mi sofá. Me quise tocar la cara y no sentí, me puse de pie y me desplacé sin peso. Traté de encender el estéreo y no pude. Me asomé por la ventana y todo estaba igual que siempre, una calle vacía con árboles tristes. Según el reloj, era más de media noche. “Estoy soñando”, pensé.

Fui a mi recámara y la cama estaba destendida. No estaban mis cosméticos ni mi joyero. Las plantas se habían secado. Los libreros y las repisas de discos estaban semivacíos. Me miré en el espejo y estaba desnuda, pero sin rastro de heridas. No me sentía desnuda. No me sentía de ninguna forma.

La puerta se abrió y sentí un sobresalto. Entró José, la chapa de la puerta había sido cambiada. Cerró la puerta con el pie y se metió el llavero en el bolsillo de la chamarra. Traía una bolsa de chicharrones, un portafolios viejo y una urna que parecía hecha de cobre. Se sentó en la cocina, llena de basura y platos sucios. Abrió la bolsa de plástico que traía y empezó a comerse los chicharrones.

Le grité que se largara de mi casa, que quién le había dado permiso de meterse. Pero ya sabía que no me oía. De hecho, ya casi sabía lo que había pasado conmigo.

Se limpió las manos en la pernera del pantalón y sacó del portafolios un papel y algo que parecía un muñeco desnudo, que colocó sobre la mesa de la cocina. Eran mi acta de defunción, en la que él aparecía como el hermano que me había llevado al hospital después de ser atropellada. La muñeca estaba hecha con la tela de un saco color hueso que perdí en la oficina hacía meses, en la cabeza tenía hebras de mi cabello hechas bola, que parecían arrancadas de mi cepillo, el que siempre guardé en el baño.

José había bordado mi cara sobre la muñeca, le hizo senos y genitales con hilo rosa. Sobre el pecho cosió una paleta de caramelo con forma de corazón. Estaba hecha pedazos dentro de su envoltura de celofán transparente, como si le hubieran dado un pisotón.

Interrumpiendo su cena de chicharrones de cerdo, José se levantó de la mesa y estuvo buscando en los cajones y anaqueles de la cocina hasta que encontró una caja que contenía bolsas de plástico con cierre para congelar alimentos. “Este es el tipo de cosa que sólo compran las personas que tienen todo a su favor”, me dijo José, como si supiera que yo estaba ahí.

Con una cuchara sopera, sacó varias cucharadas de ceniza que guardó en la bolsa de plástico, y la cerró cuidadosamente. Luego enrolló el acta de defunción y la metió a la urna, y finalmente, guardó ahí también a la muñeca de trapo. Con una cuchara hizo un agujero en la tierra de la maceta del ficus que yo tenía en la sala y que ya se estaba secando. En esa tumba de planta marchita me sepultó en la urna.

José está vendiendo todas mis cosas y ya encontró los ahorros que tenía escondidos en una bota. Nunca confié en el banco. No parece tener miedo de que algún día puedan echarlo de mi departamento.

El sabe que estoy aquí. A veces habla conmigo con la misma voz engolada de antes y me dice que, ante todo, quería tenerme y nunca perderme. Ha juntado las fotos mías que encontró en sobres viejos y cajones. Las mira y me dice que me extraña. Que quisiera que platicáramos como antes. Nunca me ha pedido perdón por lo que me hizo.

No dudo que me extrañe. Eso sí, el otro día trajo a una tipa a mi casa y le dio un refresco al que le echó una pizca de mis cenizas. Con eso le bastó, a la muy puta, para meterse a mi cama con él.

Gabriela Fonseca (Mexico City, 1966) is a writer and journalist. She has a degree in Communication Science from the Iberamerican University and begun her career in Germany as the European correspondent for La Jornada, where she currently works as the International Politics Editor. Her first novel, Peso Muerto (2005) was chosen as part of Guadalajara International Book Fair’s literary salon in 2007; her short story collection Los Diablos de Teresa has won national literary prizes. Her next novel. Secretos del Mar y la Muerte will be published electronically this year; as will another novel, Ya no hay retratos de ti.

Carolina Orloff is a writer and translator from Buenos Aires currently based in Scotland. She has studied Literature and Philosophy at the University of York, and Translation at the University of Leeds. In 2010, she completed her PhD in Latin American Literature at the University of Edinburgh, where she is working as a postdoctoral researcher. As well as being a published poet, Carolina has worked as a translator for over a decade, with her translations appearing in the UK, Argentina, Mexico and Spain. Her research, dealing mostly with contemporary Argentinian literature, cinema and politics is available in Spanish and in English. Her book on Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar has just been published (Tamesis, 2013).

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