Margarita García Robayo

Illustration by Emma Roulette


There are homes that are many homes—those buildings with interior courtyards where every window faces onto another. I’ve seen a few in Buenos Aires; my friend Tamara lives in one. It’s an elegant place, which only calls attention to the total lack of privacy, the most bizarre element of which is that though everyone can see each other, no one interacts. Tamara and I will sit in her living room for tea, for example, and watch the other windows through her window—we’ll get right up to the glass so we can see the ones above and below. Each one is occupied; something’s always going on. There’s a girl who practices the violin every afternoon, making a shaky flourish with the bow before she starts. There are two dolled-up old ladies who play cards and eat cake. There’s a boy who studies hunched on his elbows in the window, and Tamara likes to say that if he were fifteen years older she’d be all over that. There’s a bird in a cage, and a little girl who feeds him sausage. Tamara doesn’t know any of their names. She thinks the little girl’s name might be Violeta, because the other day her son Pablo mentioned her, he said Violeta is disexual. Tamara asked, Who’s Violeta?, and he answered that she was the girl in 4K. I visit Tamara every so often; she chain-smokes and chatters on about her favorite subject: her divorce. I watch the windows and indulge silly daydreams—for example, that all of these people make up a cast of actors, each of whose roles—save the girl with the violin—is silent. I’m always tempted to imagine that one day someone will abandon the script and ruin it all. That someone will disturb this mute, ascetic coexistence. That someone will scream out the window Violeta is disexual! or whatever else. But it never happens. They’ve been here for more than a century: the windows, I mean. The windows, and the notion that life takes place from the inside out, and within a single frame. Tamara, when she notices my disproportionate interest in her neighbors, tries to deflect it—she says that at night the panorama changes, and the characters too; the scene turns banal. In place of the violinist there’s a boy who plays video games, and the violin lies lost behind a chair; on the old maids’ table there’s an ugly vase; in the cute boy’s pane there’s a cute girl, too, who smothers him with kisses; in the window with the birdcage Violeta’s gone, and her mother and father sit at the table—he smokes a cigar, she sips a glass of port. How do you know it’s port?, I ask Tamara. She shrugs. And in her window, she goes on to say, she stands with her eternal cigarette watching the empty courtyard, black as a bottomless pit. There she remains until it gets late, and, window by window, the curtains are drawn.


Teo and I were driving along the Costanera Sur, on our way to a dinner party. Lining the road, this was the human landscape: men and women both—smiles plastered on their faces as they sucked in their stomachs and stuck out their behinds—plying their trade as whores. We stopped at an intersection to figure out where to turn, and one of them approached: a black guy with an afro and massive fake tits wearing just a pair of blue star-spangled Wonder Woman booty shorts. He walked towards us bouncing his big, beautiful, exposed breasts to some carioca tune, Brasil, lala-lala-lala-lala!, shimmying his shoulders back and forth. We wanted to keep moving, but he planted himself right in front of the car and performed a step that consisted of vigorously gyrating his hips lower and lower until he almost touched the ground. His body went taut and you could see every one of his muscles, defined and developed as they would be on the perfect human specimen. Teo flashed his brights to signal to him to get out of the way, but instead he took the gesture to mean that he should twirl around, throw up his arms, do the lambada. Teo whistled and the man did a back handspring and, with a nimble hop, landed seated on the hood, panting with exhaustion. Thanks, sir, but we’ve got to get going, said Teo through the cracked window, and Rio flashed us a smile. His face wasn’t as lovely as his body, scarred from bad acne as a teen—but his smile was bigger than any of it: the firm tits, the agility, the histrionic feats. I felt as though I was in the presence of a divine apparition: on the hood of our car, a muse of the Buenos Aires night rested his ass, in the glow of a street vendor’s cart which was emanating thick smoke and staticky cumbia. To one side of the specter we could see the buildings of Puerto Madero burying their heads in the clouds; to the other, the river, rancid, reeking, and other muses seducing their potential customers. I looked at Rio in his boots and his starry hot pants, saw him shake his head—to whip away the sweat, or to wipe away another failure. I followed him, fascinated, even as Teo started the car back up, as he bowed gracefully to no one, and then as, walking tall, he returned, smiling, to the sidewalk.


Friday, daybreak. Party at a stranger’s house. We’ve come from another party and the group’s grown. At first it was just C, Z, and me—C disappeared two parties ago, but others who happened by coincidence to be heading to the same place have since latched on. Coincidences are beyond improbable in a city like this, with so many little bodies swarming the streets. They’re shameless. They don’t happen; they’re statistically impossible. If someone drops the word coincidence on a Buenos Aires night, what he’s really asking is: please, take me with you. And put that way, coincidences abound. Sometimes people look at you with wide, entreating eyes. Sometimes they accost you with their needle-like lashes, shooting daggers at your forehead, awaiting some signal. What are you looking at, asshole?, Z had asked one of these hangers-on from the previous party—the same one she’s chatting with now on a sofa, the one who salivates every time she throws her head back with a laugh. Once I saw a girl do that at a party, and someone doused her with mineral water—she laughed and shook her head, and drops of water rained from her hair like a shower of diamonds. Or maybe that was a commercial. A chubby guy circles a nymphlike girl with glossy lips and asks what she’s drinking. After a moment of intense scrutiny she asks What’s it to you?, though it’s clear she’d like to ask him a more elaborate question, something along the lines of: If you’re supposed to be a guy, then what’s with the tits? I step out onto the balcony. Inside, the crowd has thinned, and those who remain look docile, defeated. Inside is this: a waiting room in decline, sans television or magazines or pictures of nurses tacked to the wall—shh, quiet please. I lean against the railing on my elbows: before me, beyond the bridge, beyond the river, the lights of La Boca. From certain angles Buenos Aires could be mistaken for Manhattan. Pretentious angles. I glance inside and see a redheaded girl striding towards me. Or towards the void: I imagine that she jumps, dives with open arms into the city. You’re . . . ?, she says, pointing a spindly finger right between my eyes. In the flesh, I tell her. Ah, she says, disillusioned, turning slowly as though dragging a heavy shadow. I’ve never seen her before; I’ll never see her again. There are few promises a city like this offers, but this is one: you never have to meet someone twice. I turn back to the view, before it disappears: the river, the bridge, La Boca, engulfed by the dawn.


A father, a daughter, and a field in Vicente Lopez, near the river, where people went to fly kites. The sun ducked in and out of the clouds, flickering hysterically. It was well into autumn, chilly. The father worked the knots from the kite string as the little girl quizzed him: Why do they fly? Because they’re light. Are all light things pretty? Sometimes. When? When they’re light and pretty. The other parents watched their children from cars parked at the edge of the field; they drank maté, talked football. The father didn’t care much for football. Or maté. No one had ever taken him to fly kites as a boy so he didn’t care much for kites either. Which is not to say that he had a miserable childhood, or neglectful parents—they simply never took him to fly kites because they didn’t care much for kites themselves. Why do they fly?, the girl pressed. Because they have to. They do? Sure. He had managed to untangle the thread and now unfolded the kite, a colorful rhombus adorned with a huge drawing of a butterfly. The girl had made the kite in class and then spent several days drawing pictures of her and her father flying kites. It had been the girl’s teacher who’d suggested that he bring her out here; she’d said that the drawings were the girl’s way of asking him—and had winked as she’d said it. The father had been about to tell the teacher that if his daughter wanted to go fly kites she would say so, because when she wanted something, she said it, and because she was smart enough to know that a drawing was no way to ask him anything because he didn’t care much for drawings. But that wink had left him speechless, unsettled. When did teachers wink? When they wanted to sleep with fathers? Like this?, the girl asked, pulling the kite, awkward, graceless; she ran and it rose just a few feet, then hit the ground and unraveled. Yep, perfect, answered the father, his eyes fixed on the other parents encouraging and applauding their expert little kite-fliers. Like this?, she asked again, scampering in frantic circles as the kite meandered behind. The father approached; he grabbed her hand and wrapped it tightly in the string—Don’t let go. He lifted her up and started to run with her. The kite caught the wind and flew high into the air, and the girl squealed with glee, until suddenly she fell silent: she’d let go. What happened?, asked the father, stopping short. The girl was near tears looking at the red, swollen marks the string had left on her hand. Does it hurt?, the father asked, impatient. The girl shook her head emphatically. Then she raised her gaze—Look!—and pointed up into the sky of floating colors.


I was sitting in a café, table by the window, with my friend R and a couple of cups of tea with milk. R had on a little wool hat and his hair puffed out the sides like a lion with frizz. It was raining, the sun was setting and it was growing cold. The window glass was misting up and R was fixated on cleaning it with his fingers: first he made a circle and then another inside it, and another inside the new one, until it became just one, big, transparent circle, beginning to fog around the edges. Through the circle we could see Calle Corrientes, the Obelisco, a taxi, and a man in a green slicker smoking on the sidewalk. The man was also a café patron and it was the third time he’d ducked out in half an hour. He’d approached us to ask for a light. I’m taking a break, he’d said, pointing to the taxi at the curb. We’d nodded and he’d gone outside to smoke. Later he came back and asked again for the lighter and his interruption was a little lengthier: Would you know, I just took this girl to some clubs, a few clubs . . . she was out of her mind because she’d lost her phone. R, who was focused on maintaining his circles, whispered, What? And the man looked at me, he seemed impatient. I told him that R was Chilean, and that this was often an impediment to his understanding; things had to be explained to him two or three times. I waited for him to smile—it was a bad joke, but a joke nonetheless. The man nodded and returned to his story: But that’s what I’m saying—that people almost always end up being morons. This girl I’m telling you about was a total moron, and I don’t think she was Chilean. The guy had an unlit cigarette between his lips, quivering as he spoke. He went out to the sidewalk. R called him crazy. I watched him through the window and he seemed more tortured to me. When he came back in he sat at his table and I turned to look at him. He raised his chin: What is it, muchacha? I asked: Did the girl find her phone? The guy approached our table once again, put a cigarette in his mouth and said: No, she started crying like a baby, busting my balls, so I asked her to get out of the car—he gestured, as though opening the door of the taxi almost gallantly and asking her to leave—but she didn’t want to get out because it was raining, so I opened the door and prodded her—he gestured as though prodding her gently—but nothing, so I pushed her harder—he gestured as though pushing her violently—and left her lying there—he sighed—on the sidewalk. R and I exchanged glances. The man asked for a light, lit the cigarette: I’m taking a break, he said, pointing to the taxi at the curb. Only a patch of the circle on the window remained, about to be consumed by fog.

Scene in a Bar

A girl walks into a bar arguing with a boy: she tells him that maybe he ought to take his bad vibes, pack them up in a biodegradable bag, and toss it in the river. And that at some point he ought to make an honest list of things that—taking a real step back from himself ideologically—he finds unworthy of his words and actions, considering the qualities of a presumably decent person, and . . . and swallowing tears, she prods the boy’s chest with the two fingers most suited for the occasion, the index and the middle (connected, they say, by a vein to the heart), and says: I feel sorry for you. Fury in her eyes. The boy slaps her fingers down, turns away sharply; he tells her that at some point she will have to get over herself and learn that the rest of the world is not simply some rotten egg and she some pristine Madonna—those two words with an expression of deep disgust—that she can be a truly shitty person when she wants to, and better be glad that’s all he’s saying, and stop crying, because everyone’s looking. The girl whirls around to find us looking on perplexedly, our glasses frozen in our hands. What are you looking at?, she says. A murmur fills the room as we scramble to resume our conversations. What are you looking at!, shouts the girl, and the boy takes her by the shoulders and tries to guide her to a corner of the bar: Shhh, he says. But the girl breaks free and, in doing so, jabs the boy’s cheek with her elbow. The boy buries his face in his hands and repeats Bitch, bitch, bitch, his voice rising every time. The girl crosses her arms and says Ha. And he uncovers his eyes, shoves her; her back hits the counter and she groans in pain. Some, from the safety of their tables, mutter things like That animal; The brute; He’ll kill her; Do something, please!—because there are people who believe that their purpose is to announce those threats that are visible to everyone. A waiter approaches them, asks them to take a seat or to leave, tells them that they’re making everyone uncomfortable. Idiot, spits the girl at the waiter, who splutters, What’s that? The boy steps in front of the girl, confronting the waiter, and repeats, You’re an idiot. The waiter inhales deeply and points to the door—Out!—his jaw quivering. The boy grasps the girl’s hand, surveys the room, sweats. Together they approach the door. Baby, the girl pleads. The boy puts his arm around her shoulders, Yeah, babe? They keep moving. She snakes an arm around his waist, rests her head on his chest: Nothing. And they leave. Inside, silence: we wait for them to return, to bow, to receive their applause. But no, they’re gone for good.

translated from the Spanish by Alicia Maria Meier