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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Same clothes, different day

I bought a razor today. It’s the first razor I’ve had since Quito, and doesn’t it look so shiny and new, with its three blades and its blue handle? I know it will be destroyed in one shower; just count all the days that it’s been, after all. And I’ve taken to stealing all the napkins from tables in restaurants, and from the little plastic holder in the breakfast room at this hostel, because there’s never any toilet paper, anywhere, and I’m too lazy to buy a roll. Besides, there’s no room in my pack for one, anyway. It’s become the norm to wear the same shirt to bed that I wore during the day, the same shirt and double-sweater combination, in fact, and I’ve gotten into the habit of waking up in it, too, and wearing it again. It’s so freezing sometimes, does it really matter? No one’s going to see the t-shirt I’ve had on for three days, anyway, not with all the sweaters I wear.

And is it strange that I’ve taken to carrying around my plastic costal full of food? There’s still the half-empty bottle of olive oil Kassidy bought in Lima and left for me when she flew to Cusco—it’s the olive oil that tastes funny, like the small, black olives they grow up there. There’s a half-eaten loaf of bread in that bag, and some cut-up avocadoes and peppers and a head of broccoli, but I swear I throw that stuff away if it starts to go brown. The half-empty bottle of red wine won’t last long, though. Anyway, the homeless people get lucky sometimes, because there are always a couple rolls in there I know I won’t finish, or a few green apples I bought in bulk because the big bag cost as much as two or three loose pieces of fruit, and so I’ve taken to handing out food instead of coins to the people who beg on the sidewalk. Maybe they snort and laugh at the food I give, or maybe they devour it, I don’t know. I don’t ever look back.

For ten days there I didn’t ever know the date. The best way I had of guessing was by checking the bus tickets I bought and then used as bookmarks, but even those weren’t reliable, after a while, the way they piled up and got shuffled around, mixed together—Potosi to Sucre, Oruro to Potosi, Coroico to La Paz, La Paz to Puno. With every transit comes a tax ticket, too, which is the price you pay (ten or twenty cents) to use the bus terminals, and so what I have now are a stack of tickets with different dates, and I’m saving them, to remember this trip by.

At least I always know the time, even though my watch gets waterlogged every time I enter a humid place, or wear it accidentally in the shower, or get heated up walking up and down the streets of God-knows-which town I’m in. But I forgot that August came after July, forgot that July was winding down, and so when I opened my email the other day for the first time in nearly two weeks, I couldn’t believe that the month had ended and another was beginning. Summer flew, I guess you could say, but it isn’t summer here, anyway, and so what good are the names of the months to me. It’s already Friday? I might ask the woman who sells me the ticket to the next town, and she’ll look at me like I’m crazy and roll her eyes. It’s Sunday, she’ll say, and then I’ll remember that the days don’t matter to me anyway, and I’ll pass my fare over the counter.

Will I sink right back in to easy laundry, to fresh clothes daily, to clean razors in a hot shower, to towels that aren’t permanently wet because it’s too cold for anything to dry here? Will I get used to five or six pairs of jeans to choose from, ten pairs of shoes, seven handbags, two kinds of perfume? Will I get used to the way perfume smells, even—will it stop catching me on the street and making me sneeze? Will I start wearing makeup again, the way I used to every day, carefully applying it before the mirror in the morning before work? Will I get used to the way I look with eyeliner, or, from now on, will I see myself as whorish for darkening my lids and lashes and mouth? And how quickly will I forget, I wonder, what it’s like to not care? Will I forget soon enough how it feels to look into my backpack and see the shirts and pants rolled up there and marvel at all the clothes I have?

How fast will I start wanting things again? Because right now, this freedom from things, from clothes and smells and hairless legs, is tasting pretty damn good. I’m starting to think that razors are a big scam, anyway. I wasted fifteen minutes in the shower, for one thing, and weren’t we born with hair on our legs? How long, I wonder, will it take before I forget what this is like? How long before I start to know the days, the dates, the month? At least I’ll stop feeling guilty for missing birthdays. And how long before I stop hoarding food like I might starve without bread on a ten-hour bus ride? How long before I start combing my hair again? When, I wonder, as I eat my lunch on the step outside my room, will avocado sandwiches stop tasting this fine?


  1. You're probably going to need about half a day.

    But the stink of perfume is so strong on some women here that you can just get a contact smell from being nearby.

  2. this is so beautiful, Kate.