El mejor regalo desde Sevilla: relato de Ana Pariente
Escribe Ana Pariente desde Sevilla
EL MEJOR REGALO
Clara volvía de su trabajo a casa, la esperaban algunos días de descanso. Los últimos del año.
Al tomar el ascensor, entró una vecina.
Clara marcó el 6 y marcó el 7.
-Ya sabes dónde vivo, ¿eh?
-Bueno, llevo aquí algunos años.
-¡Ay, hija, otro año más! - empezó el lamento la vecina.
-¡Qué bien! ¡Señal que lo hemos vivido y vamos a celebrar otro que entra!
-¡Quita, quita..! No quiero….- espetó la mujer. Y siguió hablando y hablando contra la vida.
La mente de Clara subió alto, mucho más que el ascensor. Tristemente se acordó del partir de un compañero. Un muchacho en plena ejecución de sus futuros, de tan solo 22 años...la voz estridente de su vecina le enturbia el pensamiento
Clara intenta seguir la conversación que había perdido, la mira, le sonríe
-A mí nunca me ha importado decir la edad, Clara.
-Eso está bien
-Tengo 75 años.
-¡Ea! Pues que bien los lleva…!
-Y..¡Ay! mira qué arrugas…. ¡no quiero, no quiero!
-¡Si no los representa! ¡Mira que moderna y guapa está!
-Ya, ya, pero, ¡no quiero! ¡no quiero!
A Clara le baja un cansancio de ceño fruncido:
-Con todos mis respetos es usted una afortunada, cuánta gente muere buscando un sitio donde vivir, cuánta gente muere sin haber cumplido sus sueños, cuánta gente muere sin apenas haber podido disfrutar de un poco de vida, cuánta gente quisiera estar tan saludable como usted y llegar a su edad rodeada de familia y amigos……¡y usted se queja por vivir! Es usted una desagradecida y una egoísta.
El ascensor se detuvo en el sexto piso. Despacio, mucho más que siempre. La mujer cabizbaja sale sin despedirse. Se crispa y vomita:
-¡No me gusta!
Más liviano, el ascensor sigue su camino, Clara murmulla “¡Qué injusta la vida!”, y otras frases de la rabia que se va quedando allí, en la caja de metal.
Abre la puerta de su casa y enseguida la ventana. Los rayos del sol entraban a raudales por el gran ventanal del comedor, sonrió.
-Mientras respire , seguiré celebrando - le cuenta a los aromas de su apartamento.
Mira hacia al piso de abajo.
El ventanal, como siempre, cerrado.
Escribe Marta Avellaneda desde Nueva York
Hello Kenneth, I Mean...Kathy.
Part III - Settling back to ¨normal¨
The next day I called all the employees into my office one by one, starting with Mattie, the Dominican secretary. I had prepared a little speech, which consisted of an introduction about trans-sexuality in general, an exposition about Kenneth's problem in particular, and a conclusion with a request for the person's pronouncement on the matter. I had gotten no further than half way through my introduction when I was politely interrupted by Mattie, who said that she and the rest of the staff knew all about it, that they were aware that Kenneth had talked to me, and he had explained that there might be a vote taken on the matter. She voted ‘yes’. She was also very sure that everyone else would vote to support Kenneth. Actually, everybody except Marcus, Ronald (the new Officer), and I had known about Kenneth for months. He had taken them into his confidence one by one, preparing them for the time when he would have to request that they accept him as a ‘she’.
I felt a mixture of surprise at Mattie's vote, hurt and annoyance at having been left out from the collective knowledge, admiration for Kenneth's efficient and discreet lobbying, and an instant need to confirm Mattie's assessment with the rest of the staff.
It didn't take long. She was right. They all knew, and they had all made up their minds way before I called them. I found out that if Marcus and I had tried to dismiss Kenneth without submitting it to a vote, they would have rallied in his favor.
Having accepted the vote as a fact that we would have to learn to live with, I was still curious to know if people had taken everything into consideration. So I called all the women together and asked:
“Why do you want him to do this?”
They said that they liked him, and that he was a very sad person because of what he felt was Nature's mistake, and they thought he might be able to be happy after the sex change. I asked if they realised what the transition meant in practical terms. He would be called by a woman's name, he would come dressed as a woman, but hardly look like one.
“Do you realise that he will be with you in the ladies' room, while you are pulling up your panty-hose?”
That brought a shadow of doubt over their faces, and someone said,
“Well, maybe he could knock first and if one of us is inside, wait until we come out. Or maybe he could keep on using the men's room?”
“Aha! No, ladies, either you treat him as a woman or you treat him as a man. He's not looking for ambiguity. He's looking for confirmation!”
They were all silent for a few moments, and finally, one by one, confirmed their support, and gave up their exclusive claim to the most private space in the office, the ladies' lounge.
I conceded defeat and went to explain to Marcus that even though we thought of ourselves as progressive, I had discovered that we were the bigots in the office. Then I talked to Kenneth, who was endlessly grateful, and I asked about the particulars of the schedule ahead of us. At the end of the conversation I asked him seriously if he was aware that statistics showed a high percentage of suicides by people who had the operation. He said he was, and that was that.
The rest of the story is less fresh in my mind, because it wasn't as dramatic as I had expected it to be. The process, by which Kenneth became a woman in appearance, was calculated to induce slow acceptance. His hair was already long; he only let it grow some more. The first day, he came dressed in a shirt and woman's pants. After a while he wore a woman's suit with a long skirt. In a month or so he applied a little make up. And slowly we all got used to seeing him without noticing. He changed his name to Kathy, and everybody called him that, except me, not that I didn't try. I just couldn't remember to do so. I am an obsessive type of worker, usually doing two or three things at the same time, and always in a hurry and absent minded about what's going on around me. So I would often call him on the speaker through the intercom and say:
“Hello Kenneth, I mean… Kathy.”
I would feel upset and embarrassed at being the only one who couldn't get it right the first time. Kenneth/Kathy understood, and came up with a solution. I could call him ‘K’ which to me was the initial of his name and to him it sounded like a woman's name ‘Kay’. I could deal with that, and it was settled.
Months went by of convivial harmony mixed with outsiders making strange faces, but eventually, ‘K’ resigned. He had done it twice before the business of the sex change, both times for some silly, inconsequential, neurotic reason. Twice before I had smoothed his grievances and convinced him to stay. But I never stop any one from quitting more than twice, I figure one must pay attention to someone’s need to constantly pull away. And there's a saying in Spanish, ‘la tercera es la vencida’ (the third time is the last). So I let him go. He was surprised. He probably expected that I would stop him this time, as I had done before.
‘K’ had grown so much into his new identity with all of us, that it didn’t occur to anybody that my reaction was other than job related. Everybody knew I was tough.
We never heard from him again, and I don't know if he went through with his operation in the end. I didn't stay much longer then Kenneth in the dying company, and the company didn't survive much longer when Marcus left soon after me.
A month or so after Kenneth left, I got a phone call from a potential employer requesting references. The woman sounded suspicious. Had I noticed anything strange about Kathy? I said I hadn't.
“Doesn't her voice sound very peculiar to you?”
I said it didn't, and went on to talk about what good work Kathy had done with us, carefully avoiding pronouns. I didn't really lie. I had got used to the way ‘K’ dressed, and didn't find it strange any longer. As for his voice, there was nothing peculiar about it.
It was a totally normal male voice.
Hello Kenneth, I Mean...Kathy
Part II - The unsettling business
Kenneth`s hopes that I would not be easily shocked alarmed me a little. I didn't really want to know the gory details of his sexual life, so I said:
“Not easily, but I can be shocked sometimes.”
And then he blurted out:
“The fact is that I am undergoing a treatment that leads to an operation to change my sex. Now I´m at the stage where I must act as a woman for a psychological evaluation before the operation takes place. So I wanted to know if the company would support me in this process?”
If anybody's mind ever goes truly blank, mine did at that time. With a stupid, patronising expression frozen on my face, I just sat there looking at him for a while until I could utter the not very enlightened words,
“What do you mean?”
He went on to explain that it was required of him to live as a woman in all aspects of his life for about a year, so that his doctors could determine if he was psychologically fit to have an operation that was, of course, irreversible. Since he wanted to undergo this test under ‘normal' conditions, his intention was to keep his job, continue living in the same apartment, and see the same people.
“Do you mean to say that you want to come to the office dressed in skirts and wearing make up?” I asked in amazement.
I must admit that, liberal minded or not, I was in total shock. Kenneth was the Head of
the Accounting Department and as such not only did he supervise a couple of people, but he
also was the face and voice of the Company for suppliers, bank officers and other outsiders.
The conversation became very involved. I was spurred by curiosity on a subject to which I had never paid close attention. Why did he think he was a woman? He didn't know, he just knew it.
Had his doctors been able to prove it scientifically?
“Well, not really.”
¨What about your wife? What on earth does your wife think of this?¨
“Well, she's not very happy with the idea, but she's become sort of used to it because I've been dressing as a woman on weekends for quite a while.”
“Kenneth, your wife needs more professional help than you do.”
Back to the business of his request, I tried my best at getting out of the situation graciously. So I asked him ‘Wouldn't it be better for you to start this new life in a completely new environment, where you wouldn't have to deal with people's confusion and possible rejection?’ No, he didn't. He was convinced that the best way was the hard way, because that was the ‘no doubts’ way. I was well acquainted with the stubbornness that lay beneath Kenneth's soft-spoken manners, so I became blunt.
“Kenneth, do you realise that you work in an office where everybody is South American except Ronald and yourself?”
“Well, most South Americans, except maybe the people from Rio de Janeiro, are quite conservative on matters of sex and sexual roles. I don't think you would have an easy time dealing with your co-workers if you left as a man on Friday, and returned as a woman on Monday. They live and work in New York, but their cultural codes are still those they brought from their home countries. Your condition would probably be disruptive in such a small place as this.”
He was unmoved, and asked that I think about it. I told him that in any event this kind of thing was not for me to decide alone, that I had to consult my boss, and also submit it for a vote of the entire staff. To me this was not only an issue of his rights being respected but also those of his co-workers, who would have to deal with the situation every day.
He left my office with a satisfied look on his face that puzzled me at the time, but that I understood very well later on. Without a minute's delay I walked right into Marcus' office. “Guess what, Marcus!”
“Oh, no! Don't give me any more bad news today. Keep it till tomorrow.”
I said that this news might be amusing if he chose to take advantage of his ‘Carioca’ sense of humor. Then I told him. When I was through he looked at me for a few seconds, then he got up from his chair, threw himself on the sofa and began to wail.
“Why us, why us? Why does everything happen to us? All at the same time!”
It did seem as if we had been cursed. Bills to pay, no money to pay them, our shareholder in jail, Head Office too worried with other priorities to think about our problems, business going sour, INTERPOL at our door and now this. It was too much for Marcus.
When the tantrum was over, we sat down, and half laughed, half worried about Kenneth's request and how we should best deal with it.
“Is he in love with a guy?”, Marcus asked.
I had asked Kenneth the same thing, and he explained that this was not a question of sexual desire but of sexual identity. I had understood him, but my Brazilian Carioca friend was inclined to believe that those two things always went together. We discussed our next move, and decided that we did not want a discrimination suit brought against us at this time, though we doubted if trans-sexuality could become an issue. Besides, we wanted to act fairly towards someone who in our eyes was making a terrible and dangerous mistake. We decided to submit it to a vote, not doubting for a minute that our Latin staff would be horrified and vote ‘no’ unanimously.
Escribe Marta Avellaneda desde Nueva York
Hello Kenneth, I Mean… Kathy
Part I - The setting
The owner of our company was in jail in Buenos Aires. The country was under a military dictatorship. It was 1980, I was twenty six years old and the Treasurer/Vice President of a small international finance company in New York. Our parent group in Argentina had recently gotten into deep trouble with the military authorities. No formal charges had been brought against its sole shareholder but he was imprisoned under an established law that allows a person to be detained for up to two years without being charged. He had been in jail now for a few months and his bank and companies had all been intervened, except for our office in New York.
The debacle of the parent group in Argentina had come at the worst of times for our small affiliate company. It had caught us in the middle of a process of expansion. We had just moved to larger offices, hired new people, and planned to pay the increased bills with an influx of capital from our parent group, which never arrived. Because of our association with the disgraced owner, our lines of credit were cut, and some of our clients had withdrawn their business. INTERPOL had paid us a polite visit only to check our affiliation to the group in Buenos Aires, ¨to see how we were doing,¨ and obviously to establish the possibility of some wrongdoing on our part. No matter how polite they were, I was very unhappy with the notion that now they had my name on file.
My boss Marcus, of Brazilian origin and I, shared the responsibility of management and now also of saving the company from being closed down. We were trying to prevent its twelve employees from being laid off. Communication with the Directors of the parent group on whom until now we had relied for instructions, had ceased abruptly after they called to inform us of the distressing news. There was a new Officer in our staff, an American who had joined us as part of our plans for expansion, having left a secure job at a bank in Boston for what at the time he believed to be a good career move.
Guilt and embarrassment prevented Marcus and I from sharing with him most of our troubles, and we tried to make his life at his new job as ‘normal’ as possible.
One evening I had just come out of one of those endless meetings with Marcus, where we had exchanged the latest news on the several economic groups that had been seized by the government together with ours. We had gone through the long list of problems that we already faced, and those we were about to face in the near future. We had discussed a variety of plans that would allow us to survive as a company on our own. The results of our meeting had not been very encouraging, and I felt depressed and tired, thinking ¨I'm too young for all this, it's all way over my head.¨ I had never wanted to work in finance. I had never been trained to be an executive. Mid American was an opportunity that had simply come my way and I had been endowed with responsibilities that exceeded my age and my expertise.
I stopped for a moment to watch from my corner office on Madison Avenue at 57th Street, the spectacular red sunset over New Jersey, hoping to find relief in beauty. While I was at it a faint knock was heard. The door was already open, and Kenneth was standing timidly at the threshold. I saw him standing there with one of those looks which conveyed that more bad news was on the way. Not feeling up to being burdened with any further distressing information, I spoke to him impatiently
“Yes, Kenneth. What is it?” He was taken aback by my manner, which sometimes could be brisk but never unfriendly.
“I know you are busy, and have more important things on your mind, but I wanted to let you know that whenever you have some time this week, I need to talk to you about a personal problem.”
Kenneth was my Accounting Officer and I found him rather strange. Tall, very slim, he had limp thin hair that he wore almost to his shoulders, a pale angular face and eyes that never looked straight at you but sort of shifted from side to side as if he were scared. Kenneth didn't walk, he glided softly through the rooms, so that despite the wooden floors, I could never hear him approach, but would find him by my desk, respectfully and patiently waiting for me to lift my eyes from my work and discover him. He never raised his voice, and whenever he felt nervous, which was often enough, he spoke inwardly. That made me ask frequently ‘What did you say?’ which made him even more nervous creating a vicious circle. This and the fact that he wore his nails a bit long were two things that annoyed me about Kenneth. For the rest, and in contrast to his shy attitude, he had a rather caustic, funny sense of humor and a strong will.
He was intelligent and hard working, and he knew his job.
‘A personal problem,’ I thought. ‘That could be refreshing. It will take my mind off unsolvable problems.’ So I told him to come in and talk to me.
“Now?” He said, horror-stricken.
“You said when I have time, and I have time now. Come in.”
I sat at my desk and watched him take as long as he could in closing the door and coming to sit on the chair in front of me. Then he started to stir uncomfortably, rolling his eyes from side to side, looking up at the ceiling, looking down at his hands and all the while expressing his discomfort with deep sighs. It took him a long time to frame the first phrase, and in that time my lousy mood dissolved as I concentrated on trying to figure out what could be the problem which was giving him so much pain. I had recently read an article about women supervisors and the way male subordinates relate to them.
It talked about the mother figure and the frequency with which men would discuss their most intimate problems with their female bosses.
So I thought ‘Kenneth has a problem with his wife and he needs a woman's point of view in the matter. This is a piece of cake.’
I always felt comfortable giving advice on love relationships, probably because I made such a mess of my own.
Finally, he spoke:
“I hope you have a liberal mind.”
That was definitely it; this was an intimate problem with his wife, probably involving their sex life, so I said:
“I like to believe I do.”
“Then I hope you are not easily shocked…”
To be continued. Part II will be published next Sunday 13th.
Eran sus zapatos preferidos. Pero temía usarlos. Tacones altos, aguja.
Le dejaban los pies esbeltos como ningún otro par. Pero estos no la incomodaban. No dolían.
Fernando F Villalba
Enorme, caza hombres. De los blancos. El tiburón se hizo una sombra más del velero. Nos seguía, quizás a la espera del cansancio de la presa. Insonoro, era un pinchazo a nuestra alegría por ir ganando la regata.
Lo pescamos. Lo saboreamos fileteado. Todavía tenía un poco del vino de los primeros días. Y del perfume francés de Jean, tripulante perdido.
Fernando F Villalba
Se dio cuenta por los barcos. Como siempre, fue a desperezarse mirando la bahía. Aspirante a poeta, decía:
Aunque raro, el paisaje que ve no llega a sorprenderlo. Todas naves escoradas, algunas cañoneadas. “Flotan en milagro”, piensa. Perecidas en incendios, o sometidas a la digestión férrica de la corrosión.
- Aquel es el Graf Spee ya evacuado. En el momento antes, en el lugar exacto del estallido.
Mira las calles, la gente. Todo quieto, como en su apartamento. Nada ni nadie se desplaza. Contiene la respiración. No porque quiere. Le sucede.
“Entonces, era así”, alcanza a pensar.
Fernando F. Villalba
Desperté. Me despertaste. No me molestan, por el contrario,
Te confirman con vida.
Fernando F. Villalba
El picaporte giraba. Izquierda, derecha. Ruidos a metal sin resultados. Parecía no ser una puerta funcional, sino la de un templo falso, parte de un frente de utilería hecho para la burla con cámara oculta. Hollywoodiano.
Apoyé la espalda contra la puerta muerta. Tomaba impulso para irme cuando la cerradura soltó un “Mmmmmmm” eléctrico. Se abrió. Casi caigo para atrás.
Entré. Tres hombres de mal ver y peor mirar me esperaban.
Minutos, nada más y ya suplicaba. Arrodillado, venda en los ojos. Sin billetera, celular ni lentes de sol. Hasta los chicles me sacaron. El caño frío del revólver estampaba circulitos en mi frente. Amenazaban, a viva voz, con “limpiarme”.
Fernando Fabio Villalba
La tarde pasaba por la puerta de tu casa a dos grados bajo cero.
Saliste, me acerqué. Te asustaste. Estoy acostumbrado.
Esperaste quieta y fui feliz: tu cara enrojeció y yo era el sol.
Si hubiera tenido un sombrero de cowboy, te hubiera saludado a lo John Wayne, levantándolo un poco con la punta del revólver.
Pero sólo llevo bufandas. Aprietan, me deforman la cara. Cosas de la profesión. Bajé el arma, la guardé.
Fernando Fabio Villalba