Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Two-Faced Beast

Three girls are walking down the street. They are wearing summer dresses - none shorter than mid-thigh. A homeless man lies sprawled on the dirty concrete of the sidewalk, his clothes barely distinguishable from the graffitied wall behind him. He is filthy - his hair and beard a matted mess, covered in streaks of what is probably, hopefully, dirt. Even through the reek of the garbage someone spilled further down the road, the girls can smell him.

"Hermosas," he leers, revealing yellowed teeth. "Hola chicas. Que lindas son!"

The girls duck their heads and hurry past. He is not the first one - and he will not be the last one to throw lascivious comments, whistle, or eye them like hunks of meat as they make their way around. As they make their way further from him, he yells angrily at their backs:

"Que feas son todas!"

"Don't you feel a little bit sorry for him?" one of the girls wonders, blue-grey eyes gazing questioningly at her friends. "He was even missing a leg. What has he got left?"

Cynically, the youngest one raised an eyebrow.

"If he's missing a leg it makes me less afraid he's going to attack us."

Then, as if to excuse herself, she added:

"I would have felt sorry for him last week, you know."

Of the three, she had had the most direct contact with the unpleasantness of certain men in the city.

They kept walking, keeping a careful eye on their surroundings. Night was falling, and the sunny, friendly shops fronts were slowly giving way to metallic sheets - isolating the once passer-by filled streets into long, dark, threatening tunnels, sparsely lit by the occasional electric lamp.

Suddenly, a foot scraped the floor behind them, and a few quick glances were thrown over their shoulders. It was just another woman, trying to appear as if she was part of their group. They all relaxed minutely as they hurried to a tango practica, the small, high-ceilinged room finally allowing them to breathe. The atmosphere of this practica was warm and friendly, in striking contrast with the street outside, and filled with the familiar strains if of a tango song.

As she sits and observes the singer who is performing that night, armed with a guitar, endless enthusiasm, and a huge smile, the youngest girl - the cynical one - is reminded of a Latin American singer she used to listen too, but never really understood before coming to Buenos Aires.

"En mi País," the singer's voice went, heavily charged with emotion, "qué tristeza, la pobreza, y el rencor."

Shortly after arriving, the girl went exploring - by foot, as she is want to do. She passed by the chic boutiques of Palermo Soho, up to the Jardin Japones and the tall, marble buildings in the streets surrounding it, protected by cameras and armed guards. She walked, with her friends, all the way down the busy, thrumming Corrientes Avenue past the Obelisk. She went in the streets under Corrientes, one quiet, dusty Saturday afternoon when it appeared the city was taking an exhausted breath. She walked past the flea market of San Telmo, went down to Almagro and Villa Crespo. Of course, this wasn't all in one day -

Faultlessly, she would see the poverty Zitarrosa sings about. She would see it in the faces of the homeless, in the broken down houses and the graffitied walls, in the once-great marble building that now stand awkward and dusty, surrounded by rusted cars and littered streets.

She would also see the numerous boutiques and shops, the business men, the jewellery that no one seems to wear protected by thick weaves of iron mesh, the dozens of coffee shops and bakeries.

Then she would go to the milongas in the evening, and lose herself in tango song after tango song, listening to words like Zitarrosa's, or ballads of betrayal and long-lost love. She would hear the 'piropos' going at it, then go dance to the sound of tales of eternal love and suffering - practically all caused by women of course, as is only natural in tango.

Buenos Aires appeared to her a chimaera, infused with a life of its own, an impossible amalgam of un-reconcilable parts.

- Mia

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