The sound of the birds startles me. They could have been outside my window the whole time, maybe I wasn’t paying any attention. It’s supposed to be such a soothing, calming sound. To me, it sounds like calling out for help, maybe a warning.
Did I fall asleep?
My shoulders feel tight, my right arm numb, and my breathing is shallow. I uncoil my body, opening my chest while rolling onto my back. This mattress is too thin. I find myself waking in the most uncomfortable positions.
I stretch and shake out my arm, trying to get circulation and feeling back to my fingers. Slowly they feel less bloated and more functional. I pick up my cell from the floor and check the time. I’ve nowhere to be. It’s more a perfunctory move than a necessity.
The popcorn ceiling is sharing stories. Its varying, discolored shades of greyish-white seem to form hidden silhouettes that change as my eyes shift perspective. Maybe I’m hungover, or still drunk. People always say, “If these walls could talk…”, maybe they just can’t hear them.
The ceiling fan has a three-inch ring of dingy tan around its base. The last impression of the fan that previously hung there. I never get why people don’t paint over that spot before hanging the new fan. Maybe they can’t match the color, so they’d have to paint over the entire ceiling. Maybe they like it like that. Or maybe they just can’t be bothered.
I should get up and make some coffee. If I had the energy, I might check out that café around the corner. I’m not really the hang out at a café type, maybe it’s because I didn’t go to college.
I don’t mind going to cafés when I travel. But then it’s more of a get your bearings, plan, and people watch. I also feel more anonymous. You can just say you can’t speak the language and avoid dealing with people.
I met a man outside a café in Buenos Aires. I was backpacking around Argentina with some friends at the time. I went out to have a cigarette and he walked over and lit it for me. We started talking, I told him about my travels and he told me about growing up as a porteño, his European heritage and his love of futbol.
He was very gracious, accommodating, always very attentive as I spoke. He would smile and laugh at the appropriate spots in my stories. I found it increasingly hard to cover my feelings, confident yet coy at the same time.
It was winter, the evening air crisp, a bit chilly, just the opposite of the muggy heat back home in Southern California. Our words were accentuated by heated clouds of air that blended as we spoke.
As I finished my cigarette, I began rubbing my arms to warm them. A flimsy, short-sleeved shirt not the best choice for this climate, but the only thing clean until laundry tomorrow. My jacket back at the hostel, I wasn’t expecting to be out this late. He stepped closer, reaching over to grasp my wrist then moving his hand across the surface of my arm. His proximity startles then soothes me.
He leans his face toward me, I feel his hot breath on my cheek. His lips close to my ear, he says with only the slightest hint of a question, “un besito”. Then, without an answer, gently presses his lips to mine.
I close my eyes to focus on the intimacy and when I open them, he is gone.
* * *
That annoying cawing continues as I look around for my cigarettes. Okay, I’ll get up and make the damn coffee. I look out the window for the birds, but I can’t see them. The sun is going down over a scorched Los Angeles and I really should do some laundry. Maybe today, there’s only one load.
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