- A Smile Exactly like That
Up until now you’ve smiled seven times. Don’t think I haven’t counted them. For a terribly long time I’ve been hypnotizing you with my words, as a strategy or out of desperation, and seeing you smile—it seems to me—is the only indication I have of whether I’m succeeding or I’m lost.
The first time was the easiest. The difficult ones began with the second. Your first smile was automatic, impersonal. It was a reflection of mine, almost an act of involuntary imitation. A young man comes up to your table and stands there and smiles and says, “Hi.” And you, gazing out toward the street, come back from your trance and answer that smile with one of your own, almost the same, or similar.
From there, things got more complicated. It was a lot more difficult to get the next one from you. Because this unknown person that I was—and continue to be—I, still smiling, asked permission to sit in the empty chair at your table. Only a couple of minutes, I promised, not too long. A little while, because I had to tell you something. Then that smile left your face, the first one, the one that was a reaction or response to a greeting, the one that was no more than an echo of mine. And in its place there remained the surprise, the uncertainty, your eyebrows a little arched, the slightest bit of uneasiness. What did this stranger want? Where did he come from?
As I held your look, as I steadily resisted this embarrassment precisely caused by that look of yours, not this one but rather the other that came from the same eyes—the look you had as you stared out from the café, without seeing anyone, not me, not anybody else, in the moment when I passed by, running along Suipacha— as I sustained your look, as I say, I saw that you were about to tell me no, that I couldn’t sit at your table. How is it possible that a girl would permit, just like that, a stranger to sit at her table, especially if the stranger’s suit were disheveled, his tie loose, and his face all sweaty, as if he had just been running for several blocks?
You were going to tell me no, and if you hadn’t yet done so, it was because at bottom you felt a little sorry for me. For that reason, because I could see in your [End Page 473] face that even though you were sorry for me, you were going to tell me no, that I raised my hands a little, as if to hold you back, and I begged you to let me tell you about the Uruguayans in the Maracanã.
Of course you weren’t ready for that. There was no way that you could have been. Who could have been prepared for such a thing? It would have sounded equally insane to you if I had told you I wanted to tell you about how sawdust is made from grease or that the Martians were in the final stages of preparation for launching an invasion. But it seemed to me that the surprise served to deactivate for an instant your decision to reject me.
And in that instant, as in the remainder of this crazy half hour, I didn’t have any alternative but to continue what I’d started. Have you noticed how very young children cling slyly to their mothers’ legs, while the moms are busy at something, so that they’ll lift them into their arms, perhaps just reflexively, without any distraction from the task they’re doing? More or less like that you let me fall into the seat in front of you. Without stopping talking, or looking at you, and without daring to rest my elbows on the table, so as to make my landing less emphatic, I went on.
I had no other option than to launch myself into speech, although I had little...