June 22, 2017 by The Citron Review
By Lillian Kwok
In Córdoba, I lived in a house with ten girls and one bathroom. We lit the gas stove with cigarette lighters. It was a long walk from the city center.
There were things I was supposed to be doing in Córdoba, but I wasn’t doing any of them. I was walking to town and sitting in cafes all afternoon, with a cafe con leche and croissants (medialunas). A novel in front of me, a notebook beside me, but mostly I just stared into the city. I was going to Charlie Chaplin movies in the middle of the day. Every time I walked past a used-book sale on the sidewalks, I paused and ran my finger along all the Spanish names that I wanted to know. I opened the books and loved them without understanding.
I walked through the house with ten girls like a ghost. There was Marion from France, who spoke Spanish with a heartbreaking accent. My roommate Guadalupe from Mexico, who slept like me, early and till noon. A girl from Bulgaria, who cooked a dish made of eggs and a stick of butter. (It’s cold where I come from, she said, we need to eat hearty.) People passing through. I moved through them, mostly quiet, mostly forgotten. I wanted to be solid. I wanted to walk firmly and loudly, but in Córdoba, I floated.
We had tango lessons in the house every week from a haughty man called Pablo. Pablo disdained me because I was so faded and quiet. But Pablo loved to dance with me for one reason: unlike the other girls, I was exactly his height, five feet. On your toes, he’d command, and now lean into me. I fell into him, and like water, he moved me across the floor.
In Córdoba, I walked fast; the men liked to talk as we passed by. In Córdoba, I walked slow; I always had time. Since I was doing nothing. Since I was going to movies at midnight. Movies in Spanish that I couldn’t understand. As I walked home, mostly alone, I was carefree and untouchable. I watched women getting their necklaces snatched from their necks, and kept walking. Because in Córdoba, I was a ghost, and nothing could reach me.
Sometimes I would leave Córdoba for weeks at a time, traveling alone, taking night buses to Buenos Aires, Mendoza, to Chile, to Uruguay. Days passed where I talked to no one but restaurant servers. Once in the Andes, in the snowy mountain pass between Argentina and Chile, I stepped out of the bus at the border control. There were still twelve hours till Santiago. On the day-long bus trip, I had sat next to a serious young man who looked like an artist. In the mountain snow, he asked me, Are you alright? I was closing my eyes and leaning against a wall. If I had answered better, maybe I’d be dancing tango with him tonight, ten years later, in Buenos Aires, walking through the dark streets hand in hand, speaking perfect Spanish. I said, I’m fine. Thank you.
Lillian Kwok is originally from Philadelphia, and now lives in Honolulu. Her work has been published in Waxwing, The Cortland Review, Paper Darts, and other journals. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her chapbook Piano was published by Dancing Girl Press.