Crónicas by Margarita García Robayo


On Calle Bolivar, if you follow it almost as far north as the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires, they’ve put up these scaffolds. Walking past there the other day I saw a girl scaling them, all the way up to one of the highest platforms, where she then tried to find her balance. She was posed in a contortion: bent at the waist, chest out, arms unfurled at her sides like wings with one leg thrust out behind. This girl had the longest legs I’ve ever seen. She was dressed in a grey miniskirt and black stockings, and her hair fell to either side of her face, framing her smile–she was exquisite, like some sort of mythical creature: half woman, half bird. Watch this!, she called to another girl, seated on the curb below in wait. This other girl–we’ll call her, as a nod to her complexion, Cabbage–glanced up for a vague instant and replied, Watch what? Longlegs said nothing. She held the pose some ten seconds, during which she wobbled dangerously twice, her eyes welling with that black swampy liquid wrought of fear. Each time I imagined her fall: her light, languid body would ricochet from bar to metal bar against the scaffold until, ultimately, her beauty would explode against the sidewalk in one final fulminant blow. In those ten seconds, her friend Cabbage, concentrating intently on some amorphous element of the air, yawned twice and leaned back on her elbows in an angle of repose against the sidewalk. Legs remained resplendent–her extremities drawing perfect vectors, her smile occupying the better part of her face. In one instance, a thin tress of hair fell very close to her left eye, and she puffed it away: the first tremble. I was at fault for the second–I’d been staring at her all this time, and when she finally noticed she spun her head in my direction. This tremor was more violent, but she conquered it, reassuming her rigid, refined posture for two seconds more. Then she lowered her leg, and took a rest. Then, she slumped. Her body curled over like a hook; her mouth, absent its smile, became a downcast line, which gave her a lamentable look. She climbed down and dismounted the scaffold with a hop, falling inelegantly to the sidewalk. She smoothed out her skirt and said to Cabbage, Ready? I watched the pair slink away, crude and clumsy. The whole ordeal put me in a reflective mood, and I came to three conclusions. One: we must settle for ephemeral beauty. Two: the natural end of utmost beauty is extreme hideousness. Three: two seconds, sometimes, is all it takes to cross the line. I sighed, disenchanted, and continued on my walk.

The Tick

Someone was telling me the other day about the life cycle of the tick. It really was a lovely story, though I couldn’t reproduce it here if I tried because it so depended upon the gesticulations of the narrator, and on the emotion and the tenor of his voice–and on the ray of sun that slashed through the window to illuminate his ashen face, bouncing up and down like a yo-yo to the cadence of his words. He was so affected by the sad, flat life of the tick that at one point he even broke into a nervous snicker, the way one does when so transparently sentimental about his subject that he ridicules it to avoid appearing vain. But he failed–to ridicule it, that is–and ensured instead that his audience perceived him as just the opposite: the poet-sage of the world of mites. The tale went more or less like so. The tick is born underground, where its mother has deposited her eggs before dying, because the moment the tick lays its eggs is too its final moment–pretty metaphor. When it grows hungry, the tick climbs slowly, very slowly, up into the leaves of a tree. It’s blind, distinguishing among flora by the texture of bark–though it does sometimes get the whole thing wrong and wind up in a measly shrub–and, once it’s settled up there, it waits. That’s what it does for most of its life: waits. And for what? For a mammal to pass beneath it, to hurl itself onto its back, to suck its blood. It distinguishes among the mammals by scent: in this, in its nose for fragrance, the tick might well be the forebear of Perfume’s aroma-driven executioner Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Often, when a tick jumps for a mammal, it misses; it splatters on the ground, most likely to be flattened by a sole. But when it hits its target it scurries through the hairs on the animal’s back, finds the skin, attaches, sucks. After a few days, assuming it survives the host’s scratches, it drops back to the ground, where it lays its eggs–and then, as aforementioned, it dies. The tick repeats this cycle three times in its life: twice in its youth, and once as an adult, once fertile. And there it is. Its life is a mise-en-scène of graceless futility. Its life is a mise-en-scène of the fragility of our ecosystem, in which there are those so wholly dependent upon another. Its life is, plain and simple, plaintive. How profoundly this moved the narrator of the story. While his face bounced up and down like a yo-yo, we listeners followed and, suspended in contemplative ether, we imagined millions of ticks going round in their cycles, from earth to leaf, from leaf to back, from back to earth to leaf… over and over, forever.

New Year’s Day

It was a warm, humid night, inside and out. The mosquitoes had been buzzing about and the only way to evade them was to remain in motion. To pace back and forth, or to jump up and down–like Nini, Marcela’s girl, seven years old–or to bathe oneself in repellent. Marcela’s fridge was ill-stocked, just a piece of pategrás cheese leftover from the New Year’s barbecue, and a warm beer recovered from the patio. They’d slept all day; only just now, nine o’clock, was Marcela digging into the remainders from the night before. Nini jumped. Roberto, man of the house, launched a Raid offensive against the unrelenting fauna. Nini sang a silly song that Roberto had taught her about a speck of dust that floated so high into the clouds that it made God sneeze. Hush, Nini, Marcela said, fanning herself with a cleaning rag. Nini didn’t hush, continued singing until it was Roberto’s turn to implore her, Shhhhhh. The heat and the mosquitoes were incompatible with the child’s strident voice, the inane tune. They came to this same conclusion at the same time–and concluded also that they had a very small house, with a tiny courtyard that really didn’t merit the term; better put, a little shit alley. Quit it with the Raid, you’ll poison us all, said Marcela, and Roberto panted. Within half an hour Marcela was clamoring for him to get up from that fucking couch and fumigate the house, or the mosquitoes would suck them all dry: they’ll finish Nini off first, the munchkin! Roberto grabbed the Raid and started spraying. Marcela washed the steak knives with a greasy sponge. Nini jumped with her arms in the air now, and asked Roberto how the rest of the song went. Roberto didn’t answer, shaking the bottle of Raid. It’s out, he said. Marcela, sudsy knife in hand, stared at him in horror: You’re nuts, it was almost full. Roberto said, It’s out, and started towards the couch. Marcela spun about to intercept him, and in doing so caught her forearm with the tip of the knife, leaving a small gash. She screeched, dropped the knife, thrust her arm under the cold water of the faucet: I’m going to bleed out. Roberto looked on blankly, Nini kept jumping. Aren’t you going to do anything? Marcela asked them. Roberto took her arm and said, It’s nothing. Nini parroted: It’s nothing, Mama. Marcela pulled away from Roberto. Roberto returned to the couch and Nini clambered into his lap. It’s hot, Nini, why don’t you sit next to me, he said, but Nini didn’t budge. Marcela served him the beer and went outside to the courtyard. She sat down at the table: the ants were descending upon the scraps of leftover meat. The full moon shone with a sweet, clear light. Marcela extended her arm to inspect the injury. It was nothing, but it hadn’t stopped bleeding, it bled on.


Margarita García Robayo

Margarita García Robayo was born in 1980 in Cartagena, Colombia, and lives now in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has published four story collections: Hay ciertas cosas que una no puede hacer descalza (2009), Las personas normales son muy raras (2011), Orquídeas (2012), and Cosas peores (2016); and two novels: Hasta que pase un huracán (2012) and Lo que no aprendí (2013). Her books have been published in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Spain, and Italy. In 2008, the magazine Cambio chose her as one of the top fifty leaders in Colombia. In 2012, the Colombian government named her as one of the one hundred most successful Colombians abroad. In 2013, the Fundación Han Nefkens and the Universidad Pompeu Fabra awarded her with a grant for literary creation. She served as executive director of the Fundación Tomás Eloy Martínez until 2015.

Alicia Maria Meier

Alicia Maria Meier is a writer and translator from Spanish and Catalan based in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her MFA in nonfiction writing and literary translation from Columbia University in 2015, and currently manages Global Programs for Columbia’s School of the Arts—among them the Writing Program’s literary translation exchange program, Word for Word. She is a recipient of a 2016 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for her translation from the Catalan of Marta Carnicero’s El cel segons Google ("The Sky According to Google").

Las personas normales son muy raras. Copyright (c) Margarita García Robayo, 2011. English translation copyright (c) Alicia Maria Meier, 2017.