Academic journal article The Southern Review

Toward the South

Academic journal article The Southern Review

Toward the South

Article excerpt

I clearly remember, before passing through the doors of the Hotel Delfín, when Mama stopped, brushed her hands over my shoulders as if she were removing a layer of dust, knotted the ribbons of my braids, and told me again what she had repeated endless times in the taxi:

"It'll only be two hours, dear, three at the most."

Two girls entered the hotel, dressed to draw attention, their heels clicking; Mama watched them out of the corner of her eye and continued her task; their unrestrained laughter hung suspended in the air. Mama was thirty-three years old. My father had left us around eight years ago, and despite the fact that she still kept her natural elegance and attractiveness, the tough work, the hard times, the effort of providing for us in that dry dusty city--all of it had begun to leave its marks. She worked behind the window at the Central Post Office receiving packages and from time to time some stranger passing through, dazzled by the discovery of her beauty in such an unexpected place, invited her to go out. Maybe what most excited my mother was the opportunity to glide through the doors of the Hotel Delfín. It had been built a decade ago and its glass structure, tall and narrow, stood out in the sweeping plain like the promise of a world to come.

"I'll be in room 1810, like the year of our independence. But don't move from this spot, you hear?" she indicated as she slipped a bill into the palm of my hand.

After a few minutes, I was seated in the lobby and my mother, with her black glossy hair, her green eyes, and her false eyelashes, was disappearing through the golden doors of the elevator.

The sun had withdrawn beneath the edge of the plain and through the tall windows I could see the red glow that it had left behind. In the vast expanse of sky a lone cloud was heading south. I had brought my homework from school and for a long while, preoccupied with complicated mathematical calculations that weren't going well at all, time's passing had become imperceptible. When I raised my eyes, in the shadowy depths of the large floor-to-ceiling windows the first stars had begun to twinkle. I was hungry. I picked up my bag with its notebooks and school supplies and I headed toward the bar on the top floor. I knew the way well. Mama didn't like to leave me alone in the room that we rented. It was in the house of a widower who was a little odd, so every time Mama had one of her dates at the Hotel Delfín she brought me with her.

I sat down in a stool at the bar and ordered a ham sandwich with an orange juice. From their tables, men in dark suits were looking toward the corners where small groups of girls were exchanging murmurs and laughs. I could hear their voices, their whispers, I sensed the perfume emanating from their sinuous bodies. One of the men made up his mind and, gathering his courage, moved toward the girls, only to disappear shortly after behind the bar doors with one of them. And I didn't let those glances that most of the men threw toward me like lassos go unnoticed, either. I was thirteen, and my mother took great pains to make sure I didn't appear older than that. But even so, I was conscious of the attraction that I exercised over men, an attraction that I knew woke forbidden desires that, by their very nature, turned against the men with desperate intensity. I crossed my legs, encased in girls' socks, gave some tugs on my braids, and passed my index finger smoothly over the tip of my nose while at the same time taking small sips of my orange juice through a straw, knowing the effect that each one of these gestures provoked in the human specimens that were observing me. Seated next to a boisterous group of office workers, a man was looking at me with more insistence than the rest. He was a bit younger and wore a close-fitting suit with thin lapels, like Elvis Presley wore. He had a certain charm. Maybe it was his long eyelashes, his rebellious air, or the insistence of his eyes as they fixated on me. …

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