'One Hundred Guinea Pigs', by Gustavo Rodríguez

When the elevated subway was finally inaugurated, after twenty-five years of construction, the applause hid the criticism that its very long wart would mark the city forever.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
16 March 2023 Thursday 15:41
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'One Hundred Guinea Pigs', by Gustavo Rodríguez

When the elevated subway was finally inaugurated, after twenty-five years of construction, the applause hid the criticism that its very long wart would mark the city forever. This is what happens when faced with desperation: in an emergency room, it matters little how the scar will look after surgery.

However, that concrete centipede, which the kindest visitors to the metropolis observed incredulously over their heads, had in Eufrasia Vela a grateful passenger at the succession of live stills that enriched her journey. A while ago, for example, he had caught a woman her age on a roof, plump like her, spinning on her axis while spinning a red bra; and now, in the middle of the curve before the Los Cabitos oval, he had discovered on a wall the graffiti of a blue pichula and bright as a neon: he knew that it had just been painted, that same night perhaps, and the association between vandalism and the train it took her back to a very old movie set in New York. A policeman with that actor, Al Pacino... what was his name?

He never had a good head for titles and, lately, he hadn't had a good head for commissions either. Fortunately, that spray paint became tempera on her head and her son's face became urgent.

As the train slowed, he reached into his pants for his phone.

He punched the keys and got up from the seat.

Strangely, for a Monday, there weren't many people and he moved forward with little friction: when his slippers began to go down the stairs of the station, his sister's voice was already in his ear.

"What have you forgotten now?"

-Why do you say that...

—Oh, Frasia...

Eufrasia Vela had those little dimples on her cheeks, like every time she was caught in a prank. Before her gaze, the great oval that would connect her with Benavides Avenue stretched out.

—Well, yes... —he smiled—, I forgot to buy a piece of cardboard for Nico.


-You will be able to?


It was an ironic statement, if you know why you ask.

"Tomorrow is his art class," he tried to justify himself, "they're going to draw I don't know what."

—Yes, he told me on Friday when I picked him up.

Euphrasia agreed. In her sister's tone, she found no other hidden message, just the satisfaction of being a good aunt and someone who knew how to help her. Feeling it and believing it put her in a better mood and, since she knew that Merta's shift started later, she kept talking.

"He woke up in good spirits today..." he informed her. I left him at school with a bread and egg and I left one for you.

"Right now I'm giving it a course."

A minibus stopped with honking horns next to Eufrasia and when she got on she noticed that there were two free seats left. The wide day flowed without many stones in the channel. Once she sat down, she relaxed the hand that was holding her cell phone. It was unlikely that they would rip it off there.

"And how will the lady be today?" asked Merta for asking.

Eufrasia responded with platitudes, but deep down she feared a plummeting degradation. Three months had passed since the accident and, although the bone seemed to have healed, she sensed that at a certain age there are wounds that no longer depend on calcium or the rest of the periodic table.

Doña Carmen had always been jealous of her autonomy, and not without reason, because fending for herself is the final milestone that separates the elderly from the infants, with the brutal difference of smoothness and smells. After a certain limit, which, depending on the person, varies from the dignified use of a cane to the disgraceful cleaning of the ass, terror ensues and, in the case of Doña Carmen, that Rubicón ran between white tiles. "I bathe her, sir," Eufrasia had told her many times, and on all of them the old woman had wanted to show herself competent. The last time, as if foreshadowing what was going to happen, Eufrasia suggested that she place a stool so that she could shower sitting down, but she didn't accept either. The scream was terrifying. And the scene even worse: a helpless chicken in a bowl of soapy soup. That scream seemed to rob the old woman of all other sounds, but what her muteness hid, her eyes howled. The nights that followed, Eufrasia's sleep was postponed by the memory of that rictus. Will my face be like this when she feels that death is looking for me?

In the dim light of the narrow bedroom for domestic servants, Eufrasia Vela huddled under her stiff blanket and hoped that the swaying of the ocean would help her communicate with the dimension of dreams. But the worst thing for Doña Carmen had not been the accident, of course, but the aftermath. Once the paramedics arrived and the elderly woman was taken to the clinic — where she was happily up to date on her geriatric insurance — the diagnosis fell like a tile: hip fracture.

"You don't come back from that," he had heard doña Carmen say several times in the past with awe, which made it all the more absurd that he had not taken more care to prevent her accident.

"Why didn't you listen to me?"

"That's how old ladies are," Merta stated.

"Are we going to be like this?"

"Now I tell you no..." the sister laughed. But a she never knows.

The van had only had green traffic lights and Eufrasia had noticed: the blocks between the Los Cabitos oval and the central Larco avenue passed like accelerated scenes from a silent movie, or that was the image that Eufrasia came up with. Swiftly they had passed the residential houses on the fringes of Miraflores, now converted into large food stores, used car shops, cosmetic clinics and some new office buildings: now that they entered the center of the district, convenience stores appeared. visited by tourists, franchise restaurants, chain pharmacies, hotels that did not fall below four stars and one or another casino with the lights on in broad daylight. Eufrasia's buttocks decompressed again, but her panties held up to her overflow.

"I'll call you back," he told his sister before going downstairs.

—Better a message, I'm not going to be with any urgency.

Eufrasia liked to walk down that wide avenue with the air of a developed country: a lane reserved for public transport, a bike path painted red, raised sidewalks for the blind, ramps for wheelchairs, and even gringos in the cafeterias. It was a pity that Doña Carmen didn't feel like walking among her restaurants, shops, and boutiques, that she argued how horrible she was now compared to her childhood, when the trees gave away blackberries and the houses shone. they spilled honeysuckle. What was ugly that day was the wind. The buildings on both sides of the avenue formed an alley through which the breeze from the Pacific entered like a salty bull. Eufrasia thought that those wet gorings would not do the lady any good, and that it was lucky that she did have a cetacean resistance to the cold. All around, the people of Lima walked with scarves and thick sweaters, while some foreigners —perhaps coming from arctic climates— did so with light jackets and even sandals. She liked feeling related to them in that friendly nuance of her outsider status: that thin sweater buttoned up to just below her breasts was enough for her.

A turn around a corner, and another one, were enough for him to make out the building that rested a few steps from the boardwalk. After years of going to him, he already felt that environment as his neighborhood: the sad guard of that hotel with green windows, the newspaper seller locked in his booth, the languid dog in a wool vest in that window, the yellow warehouse where Sometimes they would trust him when an emergency arose. Dona Carmen had once told her that Vargas Llosa had lived nearby, that it came out in her books. He liked that idea, to feel that he was traveling through a territory destined for paper, to be the secondary character in a work written by someone enormous, powerful, like a little god.

A few meters from the façade, Eufrasia took out the key, but Don Arcadio activated the latch from the goal as soon as he saw her appear from the steps.

"Well, good luck.

She smiled politely, swallowing a rock. The old man was more and more insolent when observing her tight tits. Eufrasia had come to wonder if those acts with impunity, like sliding his eyes down the slot of her breasts like a credit card, weren't a consolation prize of her old age; that perhaps the accumulation of years gave her the right not to censor herself, like when Doña Carmen still received visitors and farted without her seeming to care.


Unlike the horizontal transportation she had used for the last hour and fifteen minutes, the elevator seemed long, claustrophobic. When she finally went out into the hallway, he readied the second key and a slight twist introduced her to her other world, the peaceful one.

-Hello good! she announced.

As she closed the door, she heard quick footsteps.

-All good? —He asked the silhouette that came to meet him.

Josefina, the girl who stayed the days she couldn't, shrugged her shoulders.

"I've left you coffee," he told her, before leaving for the chaos of Monday.

Eufrasia advanced cautiously, alerted by that jaded expression.

His walk down the aisle was witnessed by the absent: Mr. Alejo smiling on a beach, Eduardito at the time the diminutive was born, Mrs. Carmen's parents very elegant in a wedding. Little windows to the past suspended on the walls.

Before entering the bedroom, Eufrasia forced a smile.

"Good morning, sir," he whispered.

Once her pupils dilated, the outline of the old woman on the bed emerged from the gloom. It looked like a little pile of clothes tumbled under her coverlet.

What you heard was a moan?

A snore, perhaps?

To be sure, he pulled the string a little so that a section of the window absorbed some of the darkness: there was his face crumpling into a fist, his eyes narrowed, adjusting to the invasion of the day.

"Sir, good morning," he repeated.

The old woman mumbled something.

They had spent several years looking at that forehead and reading between its lines, so Eufrasia dared to open the curtain completely, something she would not have done when she first met her. It is at the birth of that gradual intimacy where benevolent caretakers fork from tyrannical ones, and it was fortunate for the old woman that Eufrasia was one of the former.

"Let's make the day," the caretaker exclaimed with a smile, also encouraging herself.

Doña Carmen stretched out her hand towards the glass that contained her dentures. Eufrasia decided not to help her to encourage her autonomy and she went to the closet.

"Today we are going to wear very nice clothes," he commented.

Like every Monday, his challenge was to convince her to walk along the boardwalk, a routine that they had left after "the fall." The event was remembered like this, with gestural quotation marks, and with the traumatic reverence that other spaces give, for example, to 9/11, 3/11, the Bogotazo, the 1970 earthquake, since each house is a country in which the kitchen is the capital and the dining room the center of the debate, where history is also nourished by fictions and open lies, and governance oscillates between dictatorships and anarchies.

While Eufrasia was concentrating on the shelf of wool, Doña Carmen's trembling hand inserted her dentures. Completed her cavity, the old woman's voice was encouraged to come out of her.

"No, daughter.

The assistant heard that thread, but did not take it for granted.

—Here is this sweater that Don Eduardito sent you.

"No," Dona Carmen repeated.

Eufrasia placed the garment on the bed and pretended not to understand. She closed the curtain a little and redoubled her smile.

—I put on the TV while I warm up some little pieces.

The old woman took a long breath before answering.

"My eyes get tired," she whimpered. Everything tires me.

—I'll leave it there, to keep you company.

Eufrasia activated the remote control and left the black and white movie channel, the one where Jorge Negrete and Libertad Lamarque lived in an infinite show.

"I'm coming for you."

This time the hallway saw her go by quickly, eager to shake off that pantheon gloom. In the kitchen there was more light, but it was dim, compared to the time when she had come there to work.

Who knows, he told himself, if the debacle hadn't started then, and not in "the fall."

At first the signs were barely perceptible: the neighbor's garden turning limp, the roof of his house collecting dust, the pool turning a greener lump every week. Then there were those men that Doña Carmen saw from her vantage point in the kitchen: it seemed to her that they were taking measurements in what had been that garden populated with crotos, suches, and Adam's ribs. When the restless old woman sent Eufrasia to find out what was happening, or rather, to confirm what she suspected, the news made the subsequent conversations desolate. Not only had the bachelor neighbor died — "the sissy," as Doña Carmen called him — but his nephews had sold the house.

Since then, the two women have entrenched themselves against what was to be a slow and relentless hurricane.

First there was the arrival of the tremors, the perennial ringing in the eardrums and the dust particles that filtered through the windows and skylights to adhere to the eyes like a second eyelid; but worse was the realization that the monster was growing, fed by those endless concrete barrels; that each raised floor was one more number in the countdown towards the penumbra. Eufrasia had listened many times to doña Carmen the story of how she and don Alejo had obtained that apartment, the house with a patio in which they had lived and raised their son, Eduardito's departure to the United States, the already very large rooms for just the two of them and the real estate offer: good money and an apartment in the new building. Now staring at that plumb wall, while the microwave heated her coffee, Eufrasia felt nostalgic for that hidden bay and understood that if it was still hard for her to get used to it, for Doña Carmen it must have been devastating. In good times it was usual to find her sitting there for most of the day, her face glued to the glass, observing the unexpected elegance of the vultures when gliding and, from time to time, the passing of the paragliders with their multicolored sails: «That one makes me happy! He said hello!», she sometimes exclaimed like a girl. Today she must have missed, how she misses the happiest moments, the lazy walk of the clouds and how they turned from white to violet in the summer twilight; the planes crossing the bay and the questions she asked herself aloud about the canned passengers, what cities would they visit, who would expect them. And receiving the sound of their turbines, down there, the colorful little boats of the fishermen from Chorrillos, the scattered white sailboats, the oarsmen who left and returned to the Regatas Club, the surfers like black seals who rowed next to the breakwater of La Rosa Náutica and , sometimes, like a lottery prize, a freighter floating on the horizon or the splendid sail frigate of the Naval School. But what calmed the old woman's thoughts the most was that sea that changed colors according to the spirit of the day, sometimes gray-green, reflecting the pale blue of Lima, more often than not gray, like its enormous dome, and other times, rare, in which it turned platinum in the afternoons and San Lorenzo Island looked like a mythical pachyderm taking a bath before nightfall and before the enormous cross on the hill to the south was reflected in its waters like a trail of stars.

Losing that window had been almost like losing his eyes and who knows if more painful than having broken his hip.

Perhaps for this reason, while Eufrasia was stirring the geriatric protein next to the bread oven, the silly question she had just asked left her with an aftertaste for the rest of the day, the concern of answering what would be of her life if fate suddenly condemned her to spend your days on a windowless train.