The difference between Argentina and England is that in England an Oxford professor does not know who Lady Di is. And if he does, he does not know her misfortune. And if he does, he does not care. And if he cares, he keeps it to himself.
—Guillermo Jaim Etcheverry, in his book The Educational Tragedy
The guy next to me wouldn’t stop talking. He had started to lecture me about half an hour ago. He did so with strong emphasis as if he were saying fundamental truths that would change the destiny of the country if they were revealed to me. At the height of his passion, he would even spit a little. I would ask him to calm down, while I watched as the droplets of his saliva fell on my pants and were absorbed with speed by the worn but thirsty jean fabric. Of course, he did not care in the least about my opinion. When it was time to get off the bus, I said goodbye, eluded the hug he tried to give me and went to the back door. The guy kept talking to me, as he turned to me like a sunflower to stay focused. The doors opened, I got off and even from the street I could hear his tireless voice trying to round up the idea of his speech.
From that same street, I was able to see how the bus continued before a lady finished getting off, which she finally did but on her head. She got up dripping water and swearing, which surprised me because she seemed so distinguished. When I went to help her I understood her irritation better, since the alleged water had not only ruined her delicate lilac dress but gave off an unmistakable rotten smell. Before I continued my way, I lied with sympathy about the seriousness of those intense brown spots that had come to stay, at least, for the rest of the day.
I looked for the stop of the next bus I had to take. I found it and set out to wait, God only knew how long. Yes, that’s life when you’re free enough. Or when you have no money, which undoubtedly was my case. Luckily, I was prepared, so I pulled out the thickest and oldest among the books I was carrying. It dealt with mathematical analysis and it was about two hundred years old. I started to read it and while I was doing so — that is, while I was trying to decipher it — the girl who was waiting next to me asked me if I studied engineering. She was right. I asked her if she had noticed it because of the book, but she said, “no, because of your looks, your face … everything”. I ended the dialogue, as I was afraid to go too deep into the details. After thirty minutes of waiting, already quite fed up, I decided to walk. A street child stopped me to ask for a spare coin. I told him I didn’t have one, the honest truth, but I offered him an apple I had. He rejected it without hesitation and left. He wasn’t doing that bad after all.
I arrived at the hospital, which was public, therefore opening the possibility of several more paragraphs for this story. There was a kind of waiting line, even though the attention system was based on taking out a number. I took one while trying to understand the impatience of the people crowding into the counter area. I moved away a little and chose an uncomfortable plastic chair that was standing alone against a rather deteriorated wall. Not too far, there was also an inexplicable little table, almost a small desk, which I brought over to rest the book. I made myself comfortable as much as the chair and my six feet allowed, and I sank into reading another of the books I was carrying, which dealt with the eternal decadence of Argentine education. I was so absorbed in the book that I got annoyed when a lady interrupted me by pulling my T-shirt. «Excuse me, do you work here?». I stared at her and wanted to ask her whether she noticed that I was reading some book, without any purpose, scruffy and in a bad mood. At that moment I understood her confusion and decided to answer, “No, I don’t work there. I am just waiting.”
By the way, I had gone to the hospital to visit uncle Armando, who had suffered his sixth heart attack. Poor uncle Armando.
After a long time of reading, I paused to rest my eyes. I looked at the dozens of people waiting nearby. It wasn’t very hot, but some insisted it was and they fanned themselves with their hands. They looked impatient, tired, fed up. “So many people that have nothing to do!”, I thought. As a professional indulgence, I quickly estimated the number of people who were there wasting their time and multiplied it by the number of hospitals, town halls, banks and other places where people must wait like poor wretches until I got lost in the calculation. If all these people were respected, even if they rebelled or studied while waiting, or all at once, we would have a much better country.
Dozens of minutes passed and passed until it became dark and the natural light eventually abandoned me. Its replacement, lamplights, was highly unsatisfactory, and since I didn’t want to wear glasses in the future (much less going to the eye doctor, to optics, etc.), I stopped reading. I gave in to the enemy and approached the TV set that was on the end, near a door that squealed like a pig every time someone opened it. A congresswoman was being interviewed, and she said, “I needed a deep transformation in my life, that’s why I decided to change the color of my hair, now it is copper-colored, a hue that fascinates me”. I laughed bitterly, with a lump in my throat, as I bit my lower lip. Next to me, almost prostrated, a very fat lady agreed in a loud voice that the copper hue was much better. Now I had no doubt: this country was going to hell. With the help of my vocabulary and everything.
Finally, it was my turn. “I want to see Armando Guerrera, please”, I told the receptionist, who was drinking mate and, by her looks, I’ll bet her name was Norma. “He’s my uncle”, I clarified, which was absolutely unnecessary. She completely ignored me, while she looked at a rather crumpled spreadsheet that had many annotations and some drawings on the margins. “He’s gone”, she finally informed me and took a bite of a delicious croissant with dulce de leche, while sprinkling impalpable sugar on the spreadsheet. “Well, it was about time”, I said to myself, while watching Norma chew with devotion. He had endured five heart attacks, no less. And his life had been pretty good, with a passion for barbecue and football. And wine. Perhaps noticing my dismay and my vacant gaze, and only once she finished eating the croissant, Norma told me that my uncle had gone “home”. I sighed with relief and, despite everything, I smiled.
I got home too late, just to eat. The pessimists would say that I lost the whole day at the hospital. On the contrary, I would say that it had been an afternoon of revealing experiences.
Someday I would write a story about them. And uncle Armando was alive. No doubt, it had been a great day.
Translation by Carolina Quintana, translator and simultaneous interpreter specialized in art and literature
Original version (in spanish)