Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Phone Store

I knew when I boarded the bus that I would have no luck at the phone store. Every time, it’s been the same: they tell me to come back later, it will be ready by Sunday, it will be ready by Tuesday. I bought a phone in Guatemala, you see, and for it to work here, the band needs to be opened. Whatever that means. So a kind friend takes me to the phone store the first time, because she, too, had to open the band on her phone. They tell us to come back later, and so the next time I return by myself. The third time I return with another friend, the French guy who lives in my building, the nice French guy who told me that he, too, needed his band opened but who, I suspect, just wanted a friend, a walk, a place to go on a dreary Sunday. In any case, he speaks better Spanish than I do, and so can translate when the lady says I need to come back on Tuesday.

And I return on Tuesday. I take the bus in the rain, I get off at the right stop, I go into the phone store and I dig around for the receipt. The factura, they call it. Do you have your factura? the guy at the desk asks me. He’s a slim, light-skinned guy in a tight t-shirt and black jeans and gel in his hair. I keep on digging, but there is no factura to be found. The girl who helped me out in the first place appears. Perhaps your boyfriend has it? she suggests, watching me shuffle through my bag. For a second I am stumped, and then I realize she is talking about the French guy. My translator. I am annoyed that she assumes he is my boyfriend, but I decide not to go into it. No, he doesn’t have it, I tell her. It’s lost. I keep on digging, and then give up. So, it’s lost, I tell her. Just give me my phone. Please, I remember to add.

But I must come back the next day. Without the factura they cannot locate my phone – do I know how many Samsungs they have? So many. The guy with the original copy of my factura will return tomorrow, and so I should come back then. I am huffy, I am grumpy, but what can I say? Already I feel like an idiot. I swear I had that freaking factura. I go outside and buy a cookie from the bakery and then board the bus and sit next to an old man who is doing the crossword. I eat my cookie, ignoring his disapproving glances. The ride takes forever in the traffic.

And today is the day I had to go back. I found the factura, of course; it was right in the middle of my bedroom floor, crumpled in an unimportant little ball. I picked it up and flattened it on the table, angry at myself. I made sure to tuck it into my wallet, right between my credit card and the copy of my passport that I have been told to always carry. I get back on the bus, again it is raining, again the windows are so foggy that I can barely see where we are, but again I get off at the right stop, right after the park. I take a deep breath, I reassure myself that the bakery will be open when I exit the phone store, and I go inside. Before I enter, I check my wallet once more for my factura.

But, like I said, I already knew that I’d have no luck at the phone store. Funny how your instinct can be so right on. The girl takes my factura and is not impressed that I’ve found it. She must have assumed that my boyfriend had it all along. She glances at it, she picks up the phone, she goes into the other room to talk. The guy with the gel in his hair and the black jeans ignores me. I sit on the chair to wait. I wait, I wait, I tell myself to calm down, I tell myself this is what I expected. There is no joy in Mudville, I think to myself, and I close my eyes.

Finally, the girl comes to me, a grim look on her face. She tells me some things, throwing a bunch of verbs in there that I don’t understand. No entiendo, I tell her, for this is my refrain. Finally, when she tells me se murio, I get it. My phone has died. It has died in the process of opening the band and now a technician must come, and he isn’t available until next week, because on Thursday they close at six and on Friday they close at seven. None of this makes sense except se murio. It died. I want to weep.

The thing is, I don’t even care about my phone. I hate phones. I love not having a phone, not having to take people’s numbers that I don’t really want, not having to look at my phone’s face and see that I’ve missed calls and I have text messages in Spanish that I don’t really get. I love knowing that I’ll never take my phone out during dinner and check it, that I’ll never wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of my phone ringing. But this was my phone. The lady at the phone store killed it. My Spanish, after four months in Latin America, continues to suck, and so I can’t figure out exactly what happened, and I know she won’t take me seriously when I get angry.

Come back Tuesday, the girl tells me. She wears too much silver eyeshadow but she has this power over me, this power of language, this power of being a part of a culture that I am so obviously not part of. What can I say? Hasta martes, I tell her, and I leave the store, blinking away tears. It’s not that I miss my phone. It’s that I miss understanding, miss negotiating, miss being a part of the dialogue, the process, the way things happen. I am always getting on other people's nerves, testing their patience with my faltering Spanish. I leave the phone store and I don’t even buy a cookie. I try not to cry, I board the bus, I ride it home in the rain.

When I get back to my apartment building, the lights are on. Raphael is sitting at the kitchen table, singing; he bought a vihuela - a small, deep-bodied Mexican guitar - and he's plucking it now. All the songs he sings are in English; our conversations are always in Spanish. He memorizes the lyrics and he sings then without an accent, the way Shakira used to do. He glances up when I enter the kitchen.

Hola, Katy, he tells me. Katy is my Spanish name. He offers me a coffee and then, without waiting for a response, stands up and lights the stove to heat the water. He pulls out a chair for me. He sits back down and picks up his banjo again, and he closes his eyes and starts to sing. Sweet Susie Q, he’s singing now. I take the seat he offers and lean back, listening, waiting for the water to boil.

To be continued...

(Read 'The Phone Store Part II', here)

1 comment:

  1. Kate, I wrote a rather long response to this, but Blogger did not put it up, probably a glitch in their software. I got a note that your blog did not accept comments.

    By the way, you might want to use a better platform for this blog, especially if you are going to keep it up during your entire journey and use it as your journal. I use Wordpress. Also free, but far more professional. I believe that Wordpress will transfer everything from your Blogger site to a new site, so you don't lose anything, and can have a more stable and professional platform.

    Sorry, but I don't have the energy to try to recreate the lost comment.