I'm not a believer of big stuff. Big stuff being, I don't know, whatever makes this world tick, or whatever makes our stories weave into each other and makes us meet the people we do and whatever makes us go "holy fuck what" every now and then. I don't! I'm sorry. I just like focusing on the little things, on the transitory, right-now-right-here. Details, simple and mundane things. Candy, colored bandages, pretty trees. I don't know if that makes me dumb, dull, or dim, but it is what it is.
I always want sweet stuff. I don't know what is wrong with me. But seriously, all the time. Dessert! And so, last week, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday, I got off work and o muse! I had the most brilliant idea: I was going to a store before getting on the bus to go home and get! Ice cream.
I went into a small store near my bus stop, and headed straight towards the ice cream fridge. As I was trying to keep myself from taking the whole thing home with me, a little girl walks into the store and stands right next to me, in front of a door reading "Restricted Access: Authorized Personnel Only". She must've been five, or six. A street child: barefoot, face dirty with smoke, torn clothes, highlighted hair (as often you can see in indigent children; the lack of nutrients causes melanin deficiency, which makes them unusually blonde in parts of their hair), and she was holding a dirty water jug. A second later, a girl pops her head out of the Restricted Access door, and says to her "we've got no ice", and slams the door again. Little dirty faced girl tilts her head and looks back outside to the 113ºF street. She turns to me, still rummaging through the popsicles, and says:
- "¿No sabés que querés, verdad señorita?"
- "No, no sé, mi vida.", I answer.
I look at her, and she's staring down the fridge.
"¿Cual elegirías?", I ask. She chooses as I expected, and points towards a strawberry popsicle with a bright green and pink wrapper. I grab that one, and the one I decided on buying, and I give her my hand so she'd follow me to the cash register.
As I'm paying for our ice cream, she asks,
- "¿Vos sos casada, señorita?"
- "No soy casada, ¿por qué?"
- "Sos muy linda, señorita."
- "Vos también sos muy linda. ¿Cómo te llamás?"
- "Estrella.", she says.
I put my wallet back in my purse, and I give her her popsicle. She says thank you, and strolls back outside, and so do I, to my bus stop. I didn't really make anything of it; I was content, she was content. Pretty sweet deal.
Today I had to change my bus route. I usually take the bus straight home after work, but I'm starting school next week, so I had to go and fill out some forms over there, so I took another bus.
There's a, well, inconvenience. Since I'm done with my introductory university course, I'm relocated to continue studying to another university campus, which is located right next to the port, and to the biggest slum cluster in the city. So, because of my work schedule, I barely have time to make it to college, so I have to take the fastest route possible, which is taking a bus that goes right into the slums.
Now, this bus rarely has more than five people on it. Nobody takes this bus because it's a target for criminals living in the slums. The MO is something like this: they climb into the bus, select a target, walk up to them and force them out of the bus with either a gun or a knife or whatever. Whatever happens after that, I don't know. Anything. Everything. The driver is either in on it, or too afraid to do anything, so he plays blind.
This, of course, probably doesn't happen everytime, but it's rather common. Anyways, I have to take this bus. And I did today.
I'm pretty fucking careless, lemme tell you. I don't recognize hazard unless it's INMYFACE, so, sometimes, I'm not as cautious as I should be. But this time I swear I was. I didn't put my earphones on, I took my earrings and necklace off as I climbed into the bus. I sat almost next to the driver, and near a possible exit.
Sometimes cautious is just a word.
The bus was reaching the end of the slums when three men jumped in. Barefoot. Laughing. One was shirtless and had a bottle in one hand. They greet the driver with a pat in the back, and don't pay their tickets, then proceed into the bus. My first instinct is, of course, to not make eye contact. I look out the window until I notice something next to me. Don't want to turn don't turn don't turn don't turn don't turn, but I have to. There's one man standing at my side, another in front of me, and one behind. They say nothing, but they're smiling. I hear the bus driver say, in some Spanish-Guaraní dialect, "I think this is your stop".
My heart was crawling out of my neck. I wanted to run, but they were blocking all of my exits. There was only one other person in the bus, a man up ahead, seemingly sleeping. I devoted all my strength into looking cool, not looking afraid, don't bark at this dog. The man next to me said, "we'll help you get down from the bus", and flashed a knife he took from his back pocket.
Something rather interesting happened as I was confronted with two choices with similarly dismal outcomes (getting off the bus with these fellows, or refusing and getting stabbed right there). I just started considering completely stupid and ridiculous alternatives. What if I kick one. What if I just start screaming my head off. What if I flip them off. What if I jump out the window. What if I start singing and spinning around until they think I'm insane. What if. What if if if if if if if if.
The bus slowed down at a bus stop and I thought that was it. That I would have to get down right there. Oh god I have to get down and and and and and whatever is it that they want to do to me. I almost wished they would just randomly attack me so I wouldn't have to deal with the imminence of danger and what are they going to do just what what WHAT.
Instead, in climbs someone, and the bus accelerates again. I stare intently at the passageway now blocked by one of the men.
The same girl I bought a popsicle for last week climbs on the bus and she knows these men. She knows them and greets them and then she greets me! Hello Miss. Hola Señorita. She touches my hair and asks, again, if I'm married. No sweetie, not married, no. She pushes another one of these men off the way and says something in Guaraní to them. What. What does that mean. She goes to the back of the bus. Another man answers back in a growl. Estrella says something again and the men move. They move. They go to the back of the bus. I can breathe. One. They go to the back of the bus and then they ring the bus bell and they get off. They get off. I can breathe. One two one two. I look back and there they are, on the street, becoming smaller and smaller as the bus drives away, smaller and I can breathe better and more and one two three four five all the way to the next safe spot.
I don't believe in big stuff. I don't. I still don't. Caution, coincidence, destiny, meant to be, it is written, whatever. Nothing. It just happened. Expecting life to treat you well because you are a good person is like expecting an angry bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.
And yet, sometimes things happen. Good things. Small things.
I learned something in kindergarten. It was a magic trick. If you cut through an apple horizontally, the way you don't cut apples, so that the stem is on one hemisphere, you can see a little star where you cut through. I bought two apples on my way back home. I don't know why, my stomach was still in a knot, but I wanted an apple. Only one, but for some strange motive I bought two. I got home and cut through the first one and it was rotten inside.
But I had another one, one I shouldn't have had. I bought two.