By Mavis Alvarez
—If you are a woman and have also had the dubious good luck of being pretty, sensual and charming, which is very much the same thing as being flypaper in a candy store, then you will have to wait for retirement age to enjoy the enormous pleasure, of looking around on your own terms, calmly and freely, without anyone looking at you.
Age erodes certain capacities, but brings others to life. For those of us who have spent a great deal of our lives under the gaze of others, this business of observing the world around you, peacefully and without pressure, is a delight: from watched object to watching subject.
And what wonders I discover every day without moving from my balcony.
I have lived in this city since my adolescence, and yet I barely know it. People from my neighborhood pass by and I greet them without knowing their names; young couples with their arms around each other cross my sidewalk on the way to the nearby movie theater, and they kiss as they walk, as if they were the only ones on the planet. Boys come by with their backpacks on their backs, running after the girls, and the girls, with their backpacks as well, running after the boys. It’s the hour that they get out of school and the clamor of their voices, the laughter and the shouts draw me to watch them from my doorway.
Why do some people insist that “before”, when we were young, things were better? Nothing of the kind – I, envy this present life.
How I would have loved to walk along the streets with my arms around the boys I liked, to be able to kiss them in the middle of the park, to run after them and then tease them, doubled over with laughter because I won the race. And to have a big school like the one on the corner, with seats for everyone and books, so many books that I could read or take home to read to my grandmother who couldn’t read herself, but who loved to listen to the stories that I made up.
And beyond that, to be free of reprimands with that old refrain that “decent young ladies don’t do these things.” Caramba, I think of that little girl – the other me – and the things that I remember make me sad.
Just as well that now some young girls come running down the middle of the street. The second that they step off the school grounds, they hike up the blouses of their uniforms and pull down their skirts a little to feel the fresh air on their navels, in this country where it’s always so hot. And on they walk, joyful and full of themselves, free and unprejudiced, with their backpacks full of books, just like the boys.
This happens every afternoon at the same time until summer vacation, a mere few meters from my balcony. It’s been happening this way for many years, only I never bothered to look.