Some weeks later Igor drives out of campus in a bit of a rush. He has the perfect excuse for not stopping at the hitchhiking spot: his brother in the passenger seat and a classmate in the back seat. He could still fit one, maybe two more people. But he’s still sharing his ride. As he drives towards the pearly gates he notices a silhouette that catches his eye
“why would a woman with such beautiful body dress so deliberately to hide it?”
loose, sloppy, torn jeans, an almost masculine cowboy shirt. He drives by and as his glance rises he notices long curls and a face that warms his heart and gives him a sense of trust, familiarity - yet mostly mystery. This doesn’t make any sense to him either.
They make eye contact and he drives by, convinced he can’t be so sleazy as to stop to pick up a woman, just because of her looks. But something inside makes him hesitate. He stops the car. In the rearview mirror she’s looking intently. He reverses and tells her:
“voy para el Cafetal”.
She sighs something that sounds like “I know” and boards the back seat of the car.
Not very far into the ride he realizes he likes this woman very much but can’t place her. He doesn’t want to make it more awkward than it already is. He is thankful when she starts a conversation naturally, without effort. But he’s clumsy and says
“ah, you’re María Jesús’ friend, now I remember”.
Her smile turns into an expression of surprise and dismay, as she thinks “I’m such a fool, how could I have thought that Igor would even remember me”.
He digs deeper:
“sorry, I remember you very well but couldn’t place your face and can’t remember your name, but I bet you can’t remember mine either”
You see, having a name like Igor isn’t common in Venezuela and he’s used to people not remembering his name. She lies:
– “I don’t, what was it again?”
- “Igor, and you?”
– “Gabriela”, she says, with a very convincing, cool demeanor.
So they descend from the mild, temperate, green hills of Sartenejas into the hot and polluted concrete jungle in the massive valley of Caracas. As they do they share a nice, comfortable conversation – but they both feel the tension that neither wants to acknowledge. The only thing awkward is the constant staring from the classmate on the back seat, who serves as a validator: this tension is real. Something’s going on.
They talk about cultural matters, as is normal for young adults that are intent in taking in the whole experience of this world. He’s a talker, yet can’t stop listening to her. She’s definitely not the typical shallow woman from a society so banal that it prides itself of their records in beauty pageants. She’s definitely outside his league: not just in looks and personality, but also in culture.
In the back seat Gabriela has moved on from the bitter episode of not being remembered. She won’t accept it, but somehow knows this interesting man is interested too.
“How can that be? I know Venezuelan men aren’t interested in me – not the attractive ones, at least.”
She erases the thought from her conscience, but can’t rid herself of the subconscious feeling in her belly.
As they approach the drop-off point they’re both thinking of a way to make sure that they’ll meet again: more deliberately. She harbors a secret irrational hope that he’ll offer a drive home: a few more kilometers, perhaps another 10 or 15 minutes of contact. He’s thinking the same, but is afraid to come across as too direct, sleazy. His natural extroversion conceals the fact that he’s indeed very shy with women – having grown with only his loving, conservative, mother as his main female reference: a military wife, but also an independent dentist. While he thinks about a way to break the ice she decides to take her chances:
– listen, I recently discovered this German author whose works were discovered posthumously, Herman Hesse. I’m reading his book ‘Beneath the Wheel’ and I think you’d enjoy it.
– Wow! Thanks, I’ll look it up”
– No, I think I should lend you this book
– Yes, take it
– WOW! You’re not only very interesting, but too nice. What kind of a person lends a nice book to a complete stranger?
– I’m sure you’ll give it back one day
– Sure, GABRIELA, but when? how?
– Don’t worry, we’ll meet again.
He drops her off. Thinking to himself: “stupid! stupid! why didn’t you offer her a ride home?”
She leaves and doesn’t remember the missed ride home. She’s too happy that he now knows her and has something that belongs to her. She’s weightless, full of energy, and makes the journey all the way back home by foot. When she reaches home, her sweet, loving mother and confidant notices:
– what happened? why are you so elated?
– you know it’s something
– I don’t know – it’s stupid
– you met a boy?
– I guess
– who is he?
– somebody very special, too beautiful for me
– oh, how sweet, my dear…