16 March 2018
Waking up early to the sunlight penetrating through the living room window at my brother's house hasn't been a problem. Sure, I might miss the guitar solo that I had chosen as my alarm tone, but there will be more mornings where I'll wake up to those melodies. Today is an important day for me. I know it. I feel it in every fibre of my being, as clear as the light of dawn.
My decision has been made. After two years and three months away, exposed to a different kind of life, at a different pace than usual, and to experiences I wish I hadn't had, today I'll be returning to the town where I was born and spent many years of my life. The place where I met very kind people. Where I found my soul sisters... And also, where the person I haven't been able to stop thinking about, wondering how she was doing, what she was up to is... the girl I never should've left behind.
"How are you feeling, little sister?" Lucas asks me from behind. The noises in the kitchen must have woken him up.
"Sorry for waking you up," I reply. "I'm excited to go back to La Paz. I miss the life in the town, the people, the atmosphere... everything."
"I would have woken up anyway," he laughs while preparing a cup of coffee with milk. Then, he turns to me. "If you want, I can take you to the bus station. The school where I work is just around the corner."
I nod. I don't have much luggage to take back. Over the past few days, I've been sending boxes with my clothes and belongings to La Paz, so I wouldn't have to carry much on my return trip.
Before heading out to the street, while my brother gets ready for his language and literature classes for the day, I decide to quickly send a message to Barbara, one of my best friends. I've been talking a lot with her during my stay in Goya, trying to "make up for lost time," so to speak, regarding the lack of communication with the people from my town for two years.
Morning, Barbie! I wanted you to know that I’m coming back to La Paz. Can you come home after school? - 7:15 am
With the message to Barbie already sent, I think: should I let her know too? Or should she find out that I'm back when I surprise-visit her at her workplace? I've missed Agustina Sanchez so much. Damn, the reason I can't wait to go back to La Paz is because I want to rebuild my relationship with her. For over two years, I haven't been in touch with her, so I doubt she'll respond if I send her a message. Not that she's obligated to reply.
The vibration of my cell phone interrupts my thoughts. It's Barbie.
Ciao, cara amica! Great, I’m glad you’re coming back – 7:18 am
Thank you for telling me – 7:18 am
Perfetto! See you at midday – 7:18 am
I'm glad I still have Barbie's trust.
My mind quickly goes back to Agustina as I scroll through my contacts list, which is very short. She's at the top of the list, although without a contact photo apparently. Maybe she doesn't have me saved. Perhaps she doesn't use WhatsApp specifically. Maybe she changed her number.
"What am I supposed to do?" I ask myself quietly.
Although not quiet enough for Lucas not to hear it.
"If it's about Agustina, I would say at least send her a message," he suggests, already ready for his workday. "Ready?"
I nod while admiring my brother's choice of outfit. A blue and white chequered shirt, dark jeans, a light brown leather belt, and carefully polished and shiny black shoes.
"If I didn't know you or you weren't my blood, I would say you're trying to impress a colleague," I comment, laughing softly. Not that I'm trying to hide it.
"Who's analysing whom now?" he counters, making me laugh even more. "Come on, your bus could arrive at any moment."
Minutes later, with my ticket in the pocket of my denim jacket and my bag within reach, I say goodbye to Lucas with a long and warm hug. I'm going to miss him so much. I'm going to miss the city where he found his place. I long to be able to find my place, but I still have time to do it. In the meantime, I'll try to enjoy the journey ahead of me.
Five minutes later, settled in the left section by the windows, the bus departs from the bus station, heading south. The sun shines brighter as the morning progresses, and the vehicle ventures into open countryside along National Route 12. Every kilometre brings me closer to my hometown. To my family, both by blood and by choice. To Agustina.
What am I waiting for?
Hi, Agus, how are you? I just wanted to tell you I’m coming back home. Around 10:30. Wanted you to know directly from me – 7:53 am
Hope you know who I am – 7:54 am
Surprisingly, the answer doesn't take long to arrive.
This is your town too, I’m no one to tell you not to come back. An rest assured that I know it’s you – 7:54 am
I’ve never forgotten you,, Valentina – 7:55 am
Good to know it – 7:55 am
See you this afternoon then? – 7:55 am
During the rest of the trip, and even after my arrival in La Paz, exactly at ten-thirty, the last messages still have the blue ticks.
During the last two and a half years, adjusting to a life without two of the most important, close and loved people hasn´t been an easy feat. Not that I expected it not to be so. Fortunately, I haven’t been alone. The sole presence of my best friends and Araceli, whom I see as a mother figure, has been the key to, somehow, move on and keep my best friend Valentina’s departure from town and, later on, my biological mother Camila’s death from stopping me on the way.
Right after mum’s passing, it was Araceli (by the way, she was mum’s best friend and, thereafter, her girlfriend) who would take care of me as I moved to her house. On the one hand, I wouldn’t be able to endure living at my old home without seeing my mother every day in the morning or enjoying her company before going to bed; on the other hand, I wasn’t allowed to live on my own as I was still underage.
The following year, I decided I couldn’t stand being at Ara’s house all the time doing nothing more than mourning my losses, they wouldn’t take me anywhere further. I applied for a part-time job as a waitress at La Cafeteria de La Paz (or just La Cafeteria), one of the most antique and popular places in town. I didn’t care that I wouldn’t earn much money, instead I focused on making customers feel welcome and happy while drinking tasty coffee, delicious croissants, fruity smoothies or mouth-watering waffles. I loved seeing them coming in happy and leaving even happier, or being said “thank you for the good attention” by people who weren’t having the best of days but would get out smiling.
This is the life I’m leading, and if I’m being honest, I dare to say I’m content with it. I could be better, but I have no complaints. I’m confident I’ll get there. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not within a month, or two, or six, or a year. I’m going to let the universe do its work, take me where I’m supposed to be and bring me the people I’m supposed to meet.
And if Valentina Suarez is among the plans of the universe… so be it. After all, as I’m walking towards the café, she’s already come back to La Paz after two years and three months. Not that it’s relevant to me now, for in spite of having thought I wouldn’t move on and live my life without her, time has let me know I didn’t need her at all. I have a job I enjoy a lot, friends that always have my back, and a woman that’s been my vital support for almost fifteen years. I really like the well-ordered life I’m leading.
Once at the café, customers come and go. A cup of coffee with milk and salty croissants for a woman in her thirties that usually comes in the afternoon before going to her small bookshop. One cappuccino for a seventy-year-old gentleman who’s spending his last years working at a metalworker. A pineapple-flavoured ice cream smoothie for a boy on his way to his English lesson at the only languages institute in La Paz. A recently-graduated doctor who usually orders whiskey coffee and cheeseballs on her way back home. The best thing about living in La Paz is the closeness between its people, even more when they gather at this café, so close to our hearts, proudly ours.
I really love working here. There’s nothing more gratifying than making all these people feel at home.
As I’m about to close the café, I smile, like whenever a customer gives me a thankful smile. It’s been a long and eventful day, but I’m grateful for another day in this world. Another day at home.
As I place some of our work stuff on their respective places for the next day, I hear the door opening. The sound of the hanging mobile makes me turn around to the street.
And there she is.
Wearing a knee.long rubi red dress and a denim jacket, unbuttoned.
Her wavy light-brown almost blonde hair, loose over her shoulders.
Her green eyes, shining bright despite the dim light inside the shop.
She never takes her eyes off me.
“May I come in?” she asks, somehow a bit nervous. “Or if you’re closing, can you come here instead?”
I know she’s nervous. Because I am, too. Is she really back, after all this time? Goodness, this is going to be harder than in my imagination…
“I… I have to go back home now” is all I can say as I walk through the front door and lock it with a key after Valentina comes out. I don’t have enough energy to hold a conversation with her. How to do it? Where to start? “I’m really tired.”
As I try to walk at a quicker than normal pace, she strongly grabs me by the arm.
“Now you’re running away, huh?” she claims, visibly upset. “Not even a ‘hi Valentina, I missed you so much’?”
Is she for real? How dare she?
“Says who never said ‘I’m sorry, Agustina, but I won’t be able to come to your Christmas dinner because I’m leaving town and won’t come back for two years’. Or the one who never sent at least a letter saying ‘I’m really sorry about your loss’. I used to miss you so much, believe me. But I’ve learned not to miss you. Learned not to think about how you never showed when I needed you the most.”
These last words make my eyes well up with tears. But I’m not in the mood to let a single drop fall because of her. Not after a lifetime crying bitterly that I’ve lost the ability to produce tears.
“Can you let me go now, Valentina?” I say, almost threatening her. “It seems my point is pretty much clear now.”
She doesn’t listen to me. What’s more, she pulls me closer to her until we are now face to face, so close to each other that I can smell her characteristic honey aroma from her hair… which makes old memories threaten to come to the surface.
The last thing I needed today.
“I know you missed me, Agustina” she says, her voice so soft, so hers, that it sends shivers down my spine, but not of fear. “I know you’ve been thinking of me all this time.”
I shake my head immediately, attempting to put those thoughts and memories aside. I’m in control of the situation.
“Whether I missed you or not, it doesn’t matter” I answer, imitating her soft tone. “Whether I thought about you or not, it’s my problem. But believe me, I need to go home and process all of this on my own, at my own pace.”
Against her will, Valentina finally lets me go off her hold. On the one hand, I feel relieved after a lot of unbearable tension. But on the other hand… our little intimate moment, face to face…
Without another word, I set off home from the café. And all I can think about is that Valentina’s return means only one thing. Something that terrifies me. Something I don’t think I’m ready for.
Ugh, this is going to be THE year. Just my fucking luck.
A cold shower, a homemade meal and a good movie marathon with Araceli await me at home before going to bed. Whatever can help me not to think about Valentina.
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