Until a Hurricane Sweeps Through

Margarita García Robayo

Illustration by Leif Engström

My first flight was to Miami. It was the busiest international route in the city, and also the most sought after: I competed and I won. I wanted to go to Miami because buying things is cheap and the weather is warm and because the men aren't gringos. Young flight attendants don't like gringos because they don't know how to fuck; the older ones do, but they don't fuck anymore.

Have you been to Miami? I asked Julian. He said he had, but I could tell he was lying. Julian was watching TV in my living room, a boxing match was on. My brother was in the shower because they were going to a party. My mom was on the phone with my grandma, some relative's cousin had died. My dad had gone out to pay some traffic fines.

Have you been to Miami? I asked Gustavo. He didn't answer. Olga burst out laughing. Gustavo was drinking rum in the hammock, watching the sea. Olga was grating coconut for a rice dish. She was wearing a white skirt and red underwear and her tits spilled out from a black Lycra neckline.

I had gone over to say goodbye.

In Miami I stayed at a hotel by the airport, I had already been in touch with a friend of a friend from the gym to come pick me up. He was married and he showed up without his wife. This was for the best since lately I wasn't getting along with anyone's wife: young flight attendants are famous for spreading our legs in any airport bathroom. Old flight attendants are famous for spitting in airplane food and other things, too. Susana, my coworker, said that old flight attendants were ladies filled with flatulence—it was all those years of eating that packaged food—over which they lost control at certain altitudes.

My friend's friend was named Juan but everyone called him Johnny, and he was a green-eyed dark-skinned giant. He had a new car and it smelled new. He took me to eat some spicy food and then for a ride along Ocean Drive. Before going back to the hotel we went to a bar owned by one of his friends: a partner, Johnny said. Then he corrected himself: a buddy, and slapped the guy on the back. We drank negroni. I'd never had negroni, but I didn't tell him. Do you like it? Johnny asked and I nodded: I like strong drinks. He clinked his glass against mine and put his lips up to my ear: me like u, beibi.

Johnny smelled like expensive cologne.

I had to get back to the hotel by midnight because the captain said he didn't want anyone staying up all night. Our flight was at seven. Thanks, Johnny, I had a great time. And he jumped on top of me, but I dodged him. Johnny wasn't bad, but if he had his way now I'd have no one to call on my next trip to Miami. I was planning on going to Miami several times, until I'd found a way to stay there.

When I got home it started to rain. Once again, as if it hadn't rained in years. Day after day of torrential downpour that kept us from flying. The airport was closed and I was bored, watching films about people who were happy the first half hour, but then they got sad and that was what the whole movie was about, about getting over sadness; and then something happened and they ended up even happier than at the start.

A few months had gone by since I'd moved out of my parents' house. I'd moved in with Milagros, a girl who sold liquor in the Duty Free Shop, and who had put up a little sign in the bathroom: Busco roomate, two-room apt by airport. I liked the idea of living close to the airport because then I could be one hundred per cent available for the Airline. If somebody got sick I was there, in five minutes, to take their place. If a charter flight was leaving and they needed staff, I volunteered. Every time an airplane took off or landed I knew about it.

I liked the sound of airplanes.

On the third day of rain I put on a raincoat and went to visit Gustavo, but only Olga's head emerged from the door of the hut. Where's Gustavo? And she said, he's fishing. The sky fell in a single downpour. I didn't move. Olga revealed the rest of her naked body, dark and shiny. She leaned on the doorframe, her vanishing point was a tight mass of hair.

I left.

I called my parents' house, it felt like years since I'd heard from them. As soon as my mother started to talk I realized that everything was the same: she was in a fight with one of my aunts because my aunt was manipulative and she liked to sweet-talk my grandma. Me: What for? Her: What do you think? My dad had hired a new driver because the last one had robbed him: the guy took three hundred thousand pesos and the spare tire. Did you report it? What for? Nothing ever comes of it. Right. Where's my brother? He's out.

The building where I lived with Milagros was near the sea. When it rained an ominous wind blew. Toño called me every now and then, I told him I didn't want to see him. One of those rainy nights I called him. Do you want to come over and watch a movie? I don't know, I don't think so. Are you with someone? No. You're with someone.

Toño lived far away, by bus it would have taken him almost an hour, but he took a taxi and arrived in twenty minutes. I was in the shower. He must have spent all his money for the week. Toño put the movie on the TV in the living room and Milagros shut herself into her room. See you tomorrow, she said. I came out in my pajamas, smelling like soap. Before sitting down I went to the kitchen for a bottle of rum that Milagros had brought from Guatemala. First I took a swig from the bottle and then I served a glass to Toño, who barely wet his lips. I sat down and immediately climbed on top of him. I didn't even know which movie he'd put on. I came the first time, he came the second. When we were done, Toño said, marry me. I can't. Why not? Because of work. What does that have to do with it? I'd be gone a lot of the time and I'd die of jealousy imagining that when I'm not here you'd replace me with someone else. You're irreplaceable for me. For now, but when I leave you alone you'll think twice. Let's go to Canada. Canada is filled with old people. Give up your job. Never. But why not? Never, ever, ever.

He left.

It was still raining, the streetlights looked distorted through the window. Across the street there was a big, bright sign for a fried chicken restaurant but that night it looked like a shapeless blob. I went over to the glass, wiped it clear with my hand and looked down: there was Toño, standing on the corner, looking up and down the street waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened.

I thought about opening the window and telling him to come up. I thought about opening the window and telling him yes. But instead I lit a cigarette and, without taking my eyes off him, imagined our life together. It goes like this:

It's raining. I leave the airport headed for a tiny apartment in a faraway neighborhood with a view of a rotten swamp. I have plastic bags in my purse to slip over my feet when I get off the bus so my heels don't get covered in mud as I walk to my building. On the way to my building I run into noisy little kids splashing on the sidewalks; the vallenato music pouring from the cramped houses filled with yellow light is deafening. It smells like fried food, it smells like rum, it smells like rotten swamp, it smells like poverty. Hello dear, Toño opens the door for me. He's holding a sniffling baby covered in snot; that same baby will soon be sucking on my breasts. Then we'll eat watery lentil soup and go to bed and I'll turn off the light. Toño will plaster himself against my back, he'll hug my waist and say into my ear, Someday we'll get out of here. And I'll say, We'll be stuck here until a hurricane sweeps through.

When I finished the cigarette Toño was still there, but I wasn't.

translated from the Spanish by Maureen Shaughnessy