Translated by Toshiya Kamei
MUFFLED FOOTSTEPS ECHO IN THE CARPETED HALLWAY and stop suddenly in front of her door. The only sound comes from the neon sign, buzzing in the dark like flies stuck in a trap of light. Delfina feels the sweat trickling down her forehead and down her back despite the air conditioner. Her heart begins to beat rapidly. Her eyes search the shadows of the room for something familiar, something that could calm her. But everything seems distant and unknown to her. Her breath comes in sharp spasms, the air flows with difficulty into her lungs. The door opens suddenly and a man appears.
On the streets of downtown, the afternoon air becomes humid and sticky: a jellyfish of fire envelops the whole city and devours all the fresh air. The old buildings, worn out like the clothes of the man who sweeps the sidewalk futilely, shuffling the dust and garbage from one place to another, seem to foresee all that happens around them, but above all what goes on inside. Under the hallways, old prostitutes lazily flaunt themselves at the door of the hotels, broken down, just as their own desires. Like a lobster in a tank full of crayfish, "La Casa de Naná" stands out among all the old buildings. The neon sign, stylish and attractive, has blue cursive letters. The façade is clean, recently painted, without graffiti. Inside, the air conditioner conceals the stifling heat of the port. The walls, covered in dark wood veneer and red carpet, with ornate golden lamps hanging from the ceiling, clumsily imitate a French brothel of the nineteenth century.
Delfina feels that the man is disappointed in her, and contemplates her own face, deathly pale, her hands visibly shaking, her eyes downcast, afraid. The man remains still, almost frozen at the threshold of the door. For a very long moment, she remembers her mother's constant screams, telling her she was good for nothing, a burden, a useless girl, a hussy who would never amount to anything--the bitter color of her childhood. Now she thinks that her mother's prophecies have come true: you don't even deserve to be a good whore, Delfina, she says to herself, without daring to raise her eyes.
The pigeons fiercely gather around the plaza: a swarm of locusts with gray and brown feathers, destroyers of the old cantera stone buildings. City pigeons, rivals of the balloon sellers who manage to live off the children who feed them; devout pigeons, more regular churchgoers than the most apostolic of the Catholics; bomber pigeons, imminent danger on the electricity wires; therapeutic pigeons, a pastime for the elderly who spend their day throwing breadcrumbs on the ground; playful pigeons, the delight of small children, land and take off to land again quietly on another place. Ideological pigeons, a symbol of peace; roasted pigeons, the food for the poorest of the poor...
"Get up and let me look at you," he orders in a deep voice with a hint of tenderness. Delfina rises slowly. She tries to calm her nerves, hiding the great fear filling her inside. She stands in front of the man who stares at her, and displays herself in the dress the madam chose for her first night: a blouse with the buttons open to the level of her nipples; her firm round breasts, like opposing parentheses, reveal her young smooth curves; her flat belly and soft hips wrapped in a black leather miniskirt; dark panty hose, shiny high heels that make her teeter and threaten to knock her over at any moment.
"Come here," the client orders her again, inviting her to sit beside him on the bed. She moves as if in a dream, the blood pounding against her temples with a dull hissing sound.
"Don't be afraid. They already told me this is your first day of work here. But don't be like that. I'm just an ordinary guy. Don't be scared. It looks as if it were your first time," he says, wrapping his arm around Delfina's shoulders.
"It's going to be my first time."
"Really? Well, I'm damned. I wasn't expecting this."
"Isn't that what all men want? A virgin?" she asks, barely audible.
"Well, for some men it's very important. I won't deny it. But that doesn't interest me."
Delfina remains quiet. A dark silence fills the room for a moment. The man clears his throat and loosens his tie.
"What is your name?"
"Roxana," she falters, fearing he could see through her lie. "And you?"
"I'm Juan... Juan Hernández," he lies, knowing it doesn't matter, but it's the game everyone plays. "Look, Roxana. I'll tell you something. This is the first time I come to a brothel, to see a girl like you. I'm married, you know. And this is the first time...well, I've never cheated on my wife before."
Just then Delfina looks at her client. She realizes he's not repulsive as she expected: a calm face, breath smelling of mint, and a pair of warm lips kisses her while a somewhat overweight body in a clean shirt embraces her softly. She breathes deeply, and without knowing why, she feels relaxed as the manly scent of lotion begins to fill her senses.
A round chalk-white moon is mirrored on the dark water that barely stirs with the splash of a few flying fish. The seagulls hiding in the empty boats sleep, making their nests in the thick ropes of the moorings. On the streets of the city, huge moths, driven mad by light, are hurling themselves against the streetlamps. Some adventurous crabs that abandoned the wharfs walk along the sidewalks, close to the wall, avoiding the pedestrians. The nightlife enjoys its prime and the hours pass quickly. In no time the drunks who finish their bash and the early risers who go to work will mix with each other in the ambiguous hours of the morning. The prostitutes who work at night go to their rooms to rest. The waitresses hurry to arrange the chairs and prepare the coffee. The carved mahogany door of "La Casa de Naná" swings back and forth, spitting out gray, fading men who melt into the morning light. On the streets, there are only garbage, memories, empty cans, unfulfilled desires, vomit, urine, and broken promises.
The city wakes up slowly. Delfina, with rings under her eyes, starving, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, wants to sleep deeply until the afternoon. With her hair in a ponytail and her face washed, she could easily pass for a high school student. But she knows her school days and the promise of improving herself are over. In her home, the need is great while the means are scarce. When she goes home, no one will congratulate her or will there be a gift for having finished her first day of work--the first day of the rest of her life. Her mother, bloated with regrets, will want to ask her, while filtering her sweet-smelling coffee, how much money she managed to earn. Her father will sink back into his chair, into a bad mood, hating himself. But no one in the family will say a word.
Delfina goes into the kitchen without saying hello. She grabs a piece of bread and pours herself a glass of milk. She just wants to sleep. She is haunted by the muffled silence of her pain, which, like the pigeons in the plaza, will become a part of her life.