Thursday, November 1, 2012

I turn 42, and expound on something or other.

I want to write an ethnography of the guagua—considering the way we all crush together, shoulder to shoulder, flesh spilling into each other’s space, bodies overlapping.

Everyone is there—the people neatly dressed for work, the woman listening to the radio in her phone—she has it tucked into her hairnet and is singing along—the old men, dignified and self-contained, and the old women who shout, hilariously, getting everyone laughing.

We take a bus next, with fringed curtains and a cobrador who makes change and somehow remembers the faces he needs to get money from. My face is often different from lots of the others—I am obviously not Dominican—I always have a large bag and a child—we are memorable, and people wonder if they can communicate with us. One morning the cobrador asks me something. It sounds like he’s saying, “How old is the girl?” And I tell him she’s five, but with a question in my voice like, What? (The language is moving almost like quicksand.) The cobrador exhanges a look with the woman in front of me like, I give up, whatever. Like, what can you do. And I sit there thinking about how what he could do is to like, enunciate.

And then, kilometers down the road, I realize what he must have said. And I realize another level of their look. The word sickness ends with the word age. Enfermedad. Edad. He asked me, “Que enfermedad tiene la nina?”--what sickness does the girl have--which I heard as “Que edad tiene la nina?”

Getting off the bus I say, “Me preguntaste si ella estuviera enferma?” Getting a couple of complicated tenses out there just to make myself feel better about not understanding before. And he almost smiles with relief and says, “Yeah.” And I tell him she’s just tired, and order is restored between us--because it is just as miserable, I remember, not to be understood as it is not to understand.

2 comments:

Antonia said...

Good one. So true!

CLANK said...

Thank you, Antonia!