Translated from Spanish by Mar Domínguez.
Original title: Sancochado de Pangolín
Valerie, 41: «Swipe left if you are looking for an ONS; I am not that type of girl». All of them, with no exception, like travelling, eating good meals, going shopping, having “smart conversations” (Tinder is not where you are going to find the ideas that will save us, girls, but it’s all up to you). They use the emojis of the plane, the cup of wine, the couple dancing, the biker wearing lycra. They mention how “special” their kids —with a shared custody— are.
Sunday morning, I have spent it looking at the screen of my phone, swiping pictures to the left, also to the right. It was a sunny morning, now it seems to start raining again, as if we didn’t have enough with this lockdown. It is better to play Mozart, the Jupiter, or Tchaikovsky’s violin concert: visceral energy to control the virus of loneliness; the one that makes you talk to yourself; to think, at three in the morning, if we will move into the next stage of lockdown, to more restrictions. It is like a piano swinging over my head. Rachmaninoff’s piano concert will be for later, once the Chinese curse is over; it is not the right moment to become (even more) melancholic. I refuse to repeat the name of the damn virus. I promise not to ever drink the Mexican beer to avoid doing that again. I stopped watching the news because I don’t want to hear about it, not even one more time in my whole life, that I expect it to be long; however, due to what is happening, you never know. Also to avoid seeing all those people queuing for a roll of toilet paper; carrying kilos of pasta in the shopping trolley; liquid soap bottles as if they wanted to immerse themselves in their bathtubs. I could throw the TV through the window; I won’t need it in the next weeks…or months. Who knows. The Champions League semi-finals, the Moto GP races and La Liga matches have been cancelled. They can cancel the Japanese Olympics games if they want to —that ceremony with the Olympic flame is the height of human ridiculousness—. But please, do not cancel the UEFA Euro nor Roland Garros. Don’t mess with that. «Subscribe to Netflix —my mom tells me on the phone from Piura, six time zones away from here— it’s not expensive, my cholito». No, my dear viejita, I like watching the movies sitting on a velvet armchair, with la francesita on my right hand and the aisle on my left, with talking people around me (not too many, and without canchita in their big mouths, please), not laying on my couch with the cactus I bought in Ikea as my only living companion, even though it doesn’t answer when I talk to it. Couch that has been lately starting to soften on one of its sides. I will need to change it when this collective insanity is over. My two kids’ Saturdays hockey matches have been called off too “until further notice”. The practices also cancelled, delayed, forbidden until after Easter… or more. Who knows? How am I to fill the emptiness I feel in my stomach? It is to protect us, they say. Protect us? They have us on the floor and keep beating us. All they need to do is to kick us in the stomach by forbidding us to walk in the park too (only once per day and alone, but walks anyway). The infection will slow down, señores politicians, but the number of people jumping through the windows will increase. It’s all up to you with your restrictions.
Geraldine, 45: «I am a happy mother, with a shared custody, of two pre-teens. I have a very busy life. I am looking for a strong man who knows what he wants in life». I am really sorry, dear Geraldine, but I don’t meet your last requirement. I prefer to tell you that up front and I wish you good luck with your search.
The most pathetic thing is the pictures that they post jumping with open arms. Didn’t anyone tell those already mature women —mothers, most of them— that they look ridiculous with their feet on the air? Also those where they are blowing kisses to the camera. Close up should be forbidden on the "dating app” for people of our age. The "dating app” is how it is called. They say that it helps to fight loneliness. It’s not true: in the times of pangolin stew, Tinder isn’t even a palliative for the illness that has infected me. What do I do if one of the dancing lovers —all of them, with no exception, “love” dancing— matches me? Hello, baby: what about a coffee, a glass of wine, some cocktails… in seven or eight weeks? There is not a single place open in three thousand kilometers around. Forget your latte at Place Jourdan with the tales of the master Lucía Berlín in your hands, campeón; about eating Asian food in the city center; a Rioja with pata negra at the Chatelain market on a spring Wednesday; some Belgian beers at Luxembourg Square, in the European quartier of the so-called European capital. Brussels is in bed, with a dry cough, sore throat and temperature, not too high, but it is increasing. It is a bit like those days of the terrorist attacks in the underground and the airport four years ago; but that paranoid lasted a few days, three or four for the fearful ones. Now we don’t know how much this thing will last, but they say that it’s going to be long. No theatres, expositions or performances in case your new match identifies herself as “committed” to art with the emoji of the palette and the brush. For now, we’ve only got the park left. What if we get some old bread and feed the ducks in the Ixelles lakes, pretty face? As if we were a couple of retirees, one of those who also talk to themselves, but all the time. That in case it doesn’t rain, of course. So we can get to know each other, but keeping the one and half meter security distance established by the WHO, honey. We are responsible citizens: we blow our nose with tissue papers and throw them in the rubbish bins, with lids so the beast cannot escape.
Laura, 41: «The secret for a strong relationship is like good wine: it takes time». Apologies, Laurita, I don’t know from where you get that, but I have to disagree with you: the longer I stayed with my ex, the more it tasted like vinegar.
There are so many Tinder profiles, so many bodies eager to have a love story that I could spend the whole quarantine looking at them. That about yearning for a different life is so widespread, so global, like the pandemic. Anyway, I don’t need a new match, I’ve got the francesita, she’s eighteen minutes away from me according to Google maps; almost one hour and a half if I walk fast, and the newspaper store in the square is not opening on Sundays anymore “until further notice” too. I have to kill time with something. Reading the Sunday magazine of El País on the iPad is like making love with a condom: it is better to abstain.
I saw her last night. The francesita, I mean; but not at my flat, at hers. That wasn’t the original plan, however, but all the original plans went to hell in few days. Guess what’s the reason. «The nounou cancelled at last minute, she cannot come to take care of my boy and I cannot leave him alone; désolée, mon chéri». Did the nounou have a dry cough, problems breathing, high temperature? She didn’t. She was just afraid to take the tram: «The poison is in the air, madame». My private life (sorry for the euphemism) is also being messed up too because of this messy thing. «I would like to see you anyway, mon amour’». Well, with a request like this, even more if it is in French, any man with a good physical and mental health would get into the Wuhan central market itself, there where the Chinese people sell the pangolins for the stew: they offer them hanging from the head right next to the plucked ducks for the chifa… and the flies. «You can come from 18:00 to 20:00 for the appetiser; then, I’ve promised Victor —that’s the name of the inopportune kid— that we will watch Angry Birds together». «Sure, sure, I perfectly understand, bonita». You cannot compete against maternal love, Luciano; what are you thinking, compadrito? Moreover, that was better than staying in my 85m² place trying to start a conversation with the Ikea cactus. I texted Carlos. «That’s an irresponsibility, Luciano, don’t go». He answered. How easy it is to preach, brother, when you have someone to hug before switching off your bedside lamp, and two cats that pee on the immaculate majolicas of your kitchen. «Two tits have more pull than two wagons, Carlitos, especially if they are French», I explained to him. «Movements are only for essential reasons, Luciano». «This is an essential reason for my mental health, believe me, my friend».
I walked to Carrefour, I wanted to bring something: a bottle of wine, some peanuts, maybe a dessert. They do not accept cash anymore, not even for a lettuce bag. It is better to free the pockets from coins and bills “until further notice”. In addition, you have to scan everything by yourself at the automatic till. I’d rather pay at the other ones, the “human” ones, those who smile, have a traditional chat with you (without a Zoom or Skype screen or others in between), but those are just for older people. It is written on a poster at the only entrance open, next to the huge bottle of liquid disinfectant you must use before getting in. In spite of the bad nights and the six day beard, I don’t look like I’m sixty-five. No way. I got into a mess weighing the mandarins, the bananas and the tomatoes. Can’t you make things easier, gentlemen? Don’t we have enough with all of this? The rest of the shops are closed except for the pharmacies… but things have changed there too. In the one I usually go to since I moved into this neighborhood, at the corner of the square, they have drawn a thick canary yellow line on the floor, one meter and half away from the desk. You must not cross this new limit by any means, with the risk of being expelled. I wonder what those with a paper prescription will do. Will they make a little ball and throw it? No more than three people are allowed inside at the same time either, one for every 10m³ of air: the attack range of the beast. The emergency law says so. I had to wait outside for twelve minutes. The three shop assistants —beautiful ones during peace times— look at the clients scrutinising them; they have specialised in detecting those who carry the virus by just looking at them, without a PCR test or any other bullshit. If you ask for Panadol, cough syrup and a thermometer, they open their eyes widely, make their nose holes vibrate and move back a few centimeters. Zero point zero percent probabilities of getting a match on Tinder with those face masks, girls. Not to mention those hospital robes and the latex gloves that they wear. I asked —well, I screamed— for a Redoxon tube. «Anything else, monsieur?». «Well… yes, a box of Durex too, s’il vous plait, madame». «Could you speak a bit louder, mousier?». «Yes, madame, ultra-sensitive». Privacy is the first thing that blows in times of a crisis. I left with a weak immune system: sure target for the invisible menace.
«Avoid huge avenues, then —Carlos advised me—, the police has started to control». I drove by small cobblestone streets (I didn’t know they existed). I passed by residential areas and parks with spring shining swings that were empty like a Monday in January. It was rush hour traffic, but I arrived ahead of time; one of the few side benefits of quarantine. A young yellow chicken with teeth and a girly voice opened the door. With my arm fully extended —kids are the main carriers of the virus, it is said everywhere— I handed over the strawberry pie. Just to get some points with the inopportune kid. «I just eat chocolate, monsieur», he said. Yep, a frenchie in his pre-teen stage. Don’t worry, Luciano, anyone can make a wrong movement, especially during these times. I will roll up the pie, box and all, and stick in my but. We sat on the brown couch, quiet witness of previous less unfortunate encounters. Everything was ready: Bordeaux, cheese cut in slices, salami, baguette, fabric squares and two crystal cups: The French culture displayed on a glass table. Chips and orange juice for the young yellow chicken with teeth. «Your son is mignon —I said to the francesita; I had to overcome the impasse of the strawberry pie by all means— he looks a lot like you». Yes, I am not going to get the Originality award of the year with a contribution like this, I humbly accept it, but this is the time of common places, of “wisemen”, of “brilliant minds”. Any mediocre person with a smartphone is now a reputed epidemiologist, a prominent figure in pandemics, an experimented specialist in sanitary disinfection techniques. These new species spread with the speed of WhatsApp, Facebook and the rest of the social mess. We will have to develop a vaccine against human stupidity as well. It is so urgent too, señores scientists, please. She —the francesita, I mean— gazed at me with those loving eyes she lights me up with sometimes: clear blue, shining, demanding. Keep calm, madman, relax, no matter how close to the global apocalypse we are, you are not going to succumb to cheesiness at this point in your life. What you need to keep in every moment is your positive spirit, mate. Even though we were three people on the couch this time, not everything was lost. «Can I go to play PS4, maman?». «Oui, mon chéri, tu peux» Thank you, thank you, I bend the knee and take my hat off to you, genius creator of the PS4. May this crisis find you with a strong immunity system, and the Lord —wherever he may be confined these days— protects you and provides you a long life. But we must not count the chickens before they hatch, Luciano. Remember that there’s always something that tries to screw us: the francesita remained inflexible: she just allowed me to take her hands and touched her inner right thigh only after I’d had plenty of soap and disinfectant gel, and only over her blue jeans. Nothing else. Nothing else? Are you kidding me? «It is not safe», she said. «What do you mean is not safe? Hunger, thirst and even survival instinct are cancelled when kids are playing with their PS4. There is nothing that can make their hairless butts move away from the TV —I explained out loud—, I know it from my own experience. I’ve got kids with the same pathology: they can stay there for a whole working day». «It’s not that, Luciano, you have been taking the underground this week, the virus have an incubation time of four or five days in the human body» Yep, another outdated expert. The shame I suffered at the pharmacy was for nothing. The effect of the pill I took before leaving —that was obvious at the beginning of the fingers contact— was gone forever. Money invested with no return, compadrito, and you call yourself a banker. You should learn the lesson.
Rebecca, 46: «Kindness is what I am looking for, not reality. Dreaming of a surreal escape; honesty is not required». Honesty is not required, Rebecca, are you sure? I may consider it if the francesita keeps on being so hard-headed.
At 20:01 I was outside, back in the darkness. (It’s been fifteen years since you arrived to North Europe and finishing visits at certain time still sounds impolite for you: there are things that will remain stuck in your Peruvian brain per saecula saeculorum, Luciano; there’s nothing you can do about it). I went back home following the same route, even less alive than before. Belgian people get things seriously, not like in Piura: “The most irresponsible city in Peru”, according to President Vizcarra. «Your father does not understand —my mother says—, you have talk to him, cholito»
I cooked some food. I still had a packet of rice and chicken that I bought at Raíces Latinas —the store of a Peruvian compatriot, close to the Meiser roundabout— before the lockdown. If something is going to take me, it is better that I am properly fed. I followed the instructions, however, what came out of the rice pot was a greenish mazamorra, not the arroz a la chiclayana like the one in the picture. The onion sauce, according to YouTube, did not improve it. When I left my house and moved in here —what has become my lockdown place— my sister, who was worried about my eating future as a mature divorced man in a foreign country, sent me Nicolini’s ¿Qué cocinaré? from Lima. But learning to cook at fifty years old, after so many years of specialising in pots washing and kitchen cleaning is like trying to ride a horse in a stampede: it cannot give any satisfactory result.
«Mommy’s lomo saltado is better, daddy», my kids —two boys, two teens— told me one Saturday they were with me, when my war with the belga —their mother— was still open and aggressive and I wanted to gain some territory. I am the Peruvian one… however, she’s the one who can cook Peruvian food. I got the message, kids. Let’s simplify it to spaghetti Bolognese and sausages with rice and choclo. There is no risk with that. Developing new skills at my age has some limits. Lesson learned. Knowledge is also accepting your own limits, knowing what you don’t know and won’t ever know, Luciano. Apart from the page where how to prepare the pisco sour is explained, the yellow little book has never been opened again in this house. Désolé, sis.
Amelie, 45: «Curvy Flemish Carrie Bradshaw, with a fashion abuse problem. Looking for Mr. Big (meaning Mr. Right). Perverts or married men do not apply». Well, Amelie, dear, if what you really want is to avoid degenerates, I advise you to clarify that of “Mr. Big” as soon as possible.
I agreed to stop —just for a few weeks, I hope— the shared custody, and that my kids would stay with their mother during the lockdown, with football goals, ping pong table, trampoline, a PS4 room in the basement and a balanced diet. It is better not to test filial love from two teenagers: you could have your feelings destroyed, Luciano. That wisdom I mentioned before. I need to invest in a PS4 to improve my negotiation power. «PS5 preferably, daddy; it is coming this summer» So be it, then. «But come to visit them twice per week», the belga strongly suggested. It only takes ten minutes by car from my apartment to my old address, but there’s no way to get there without driving by the ring. «For sure you will be checked there», Carlos says. I talked about it with a Belgian colleague whose wife is a policewoman. «Please, ask your wife if going to see your children is “essential travel”, if I could be fined for that», I messaged him using the internal chat of the bank where I work. «It depends» he answers. Depends on what, brother. «Depends on the interpretation that the police officer makes» You are helping me a lot, bro. «Rent an electric scooter; you won’t have any problem with it». Is this guy mocking me? If I am not hospitalised for shortness of breath, I will certainly be for a bleeding head injury. Forget it, “friend”, and express my sincere gratitude to your “lovely” wife for her support.
I rented a bike from the city town hall. Exercise is allowed and even recommended. It is not raining, but I arrive with my hair wet and a sore butt. The way back is downhill, I console myself. The three of us walk into the woods. The eldest one won’t stop talking to me. He is still attending online classes from his school. «It’s great, daddy, I see my friends every day». The other one answers with binary language: “yes”, “no”; sometimes he’s inspired and says: “I don’t know”. «He’s upset because he cannot go to see his girlfriend —his mother warned me with a text message—; make him understand that it is dangerous». And who is going to make me understand that all this makes any sense? Now, besides my father, I also have to talk to my son; sixty-five years separate them, but the topic is the same: the damn virus; what else? Will I have the shame to lecture my fifteen years old son who wants to see his girlfriend, with civic responsibility? Me, the one who produces so much less testosterone than before, but that still is unable to get rid of the anguish that invades us when we cannot smell, fondle, touch the warm body of our woman? Accuse me of anything, but of being incongruent, please. I could drive him to visit his girlfriend myself, even with the risk of a 250€ fine. It is urgent, official. «Essential travel, monsieur?» Yes, it is a life-or-dead matter, or haven’t you ever been in love, señor policeman, feeling the imperative call of the flesh? The perspective of confronting his mother more than doing it with the whole Belgian Police forces makes me reject the idea. I am sorry, son, I hope you agree that there are family scenes that we should not repeat.
We go back. I say goodbye to my kids from the pavement and get on my canary yellow bike (as if the situation was not ridiculous enough). «Come in and have a drink», the belga says from the door of the one that used to be my house. «These are exceptional times», she explains due to the mentally disordered face I must have made. Exceptional times, indeed, let them last forever, then. I am not infected, but I feel a sudden lack of air in my lungs. The place is very familiar, of course, but this unchartered territory to me. You understand me, don’t you? I wash my hands in the kitchen sink, take the kitchen towel, a glass from the cabinet and the usual water pitcher. The automatisms are still there; it’s like driving a car, you won’t lose them. Thankfully, I brought a Doritos bag in my rucksack for the trip. No one can say that I, like the prodigal son, came with empty hands and my head down. The four of us sit in the living room. It took twenty two months and a global pandemic to get to this point. Nobody told me to do so, nobody was surprised I did it either, however, I sat on my usual spot at the table without thinking about it, facing the postcards collage, framed in pairs, hanging on the wall in front of me. I focus on the ones in black and white from La Herradura, in Lima. They remind me of my mother. Has anyone been sitting on this spot all this time? Would other mature masculine buttocks warm it up now? I shouldn’t ask, nor think. Not to think is living in peace. My favourite cup to have coffee comes to my hand. I bought it in Copenhagen on a men-weekend with a Peruvian friend. The dynamics are still the same: she corrects the kids, proposes conversation topics that are educational and asks for comments. I assume my role (the same as always, too): support, complement, promote the exchange of different points of view. It is a matter of showing them that there is harmony between both their parents. That we share values… even though we sometimes don’t. But it’s not time to disagree. I need to take advantage of this situation; it will probably take long until a new virus strikes us again. I carefully do it. Calculating every intervention. So does she: the waters are calm now, but the wind may start picking up again any time. You never know. It is an emotional chess game on the rectangular board of the living room table. «Great, daddy», the eldest one says to me in my ear when I say goodbye. The other one kisses me with his hood on. «He won’t take it off even in bed», his mother complains. Should I say anything to him? I express my gratitude to her from one meter and a half away. Not because of the contagious risk, but for the distance that separates us yet. Has she uploaded pictures to Tinder clicking her heels in the air, blowing kisses to the camera? I don’t think so. Even though the depths of the feminine brain are unfathomable; you would need two lives, with their full nights included, to understand a Belgian, French or Peruvian woman. It is all the same.
Larissa, 39: «I am looking for my “perle rare”; I am not here for drama nor emotional blackmail. 1’80m without heels. No smoker». Pretty and tall, Larissa. You won’t miss candidates, but I am not sure that that “rare pearl” you are looking for breaths inside the 50 km. around that you have set on your search parameters.
A Bulgarian friend called me to invite me to an “online dinner”. Online dinner? Are you kidding me, Iris? «Each of us is going to order pizza from our own house, Luciano; choose the pizza place you like, but we need to synchronise so it is delivered at the same time to all the guests» Did she say “guests”? And? «And then we talk on Skype while we have dinner». Aha. «Which part didn’t you understand, Luciano?» Well, Iris…«Then, we can all watch the same Netflix movie; as I say, the time synchro is important, peruanito. Nathalie, Ali and Pilar have already confirmed. I asked them to prepare an idea or conversation topic for next dinners: I am going to organise them every Saturday during the lockdown». Great initiative, Iris. «You could teach us how to cook a Peruvian dish, Luciano». You don’t want to see me cooking, believe me, Iris. Thank you very much, but I am going to decline this time; I will tell you something else later… in case I am so desperate to push pizza slices through my throat in front of my laptop.
I got an email from the Services Agency. They are going to stop too. «We cannot put our people at risk. Please accept our apologies and thank you for your comprehension, monsieur» So, Clady, the Brazilian woman who comes every Friday won’t come until God knows when. Besides cooking, I now have to perfect myself in cleaning the bathroom, mopping the kitchen floor and ironing shirts. Keep calm, Luciano, I am sure you will find a YouTube tutorial to get out of this too. A couple of sparrows built a nest on the kitchen window of my 85m². After I have breakfast, I give them some bread crumbs, I talk to them. They flap, peck, sing… they don’t notice anything. Nothing is going on here, mate.
Anne, 43: «Personal hygiene is something fundamental in the man I am looking for. In addition, if you are classless or your look is very simple, don’t make me waste my time, please». Did you say ‘time’, Anita? But time is the only thing we have left now, girl. If you want to find that fashionable and spotless man you are looking for you need to adapt to the new circumstances, darling.
At 9:00 AM I log on into the bank system from my kids’ bedroom (it has been empty lately) for my everyday job virtual meeting. Thankfully, the big bosses have forbidden video calls to avoid the web collapsing with three thousand bodies working remotely at the same time. I can attend without having showered and wearing the pyjamas my ex-wife gave me some Christmases ago. From one day to another, a light version of a medieval plague destroyed the fundamentals of the “good use of Human Resources” and we started working from home on a permanent basis. «Teleworking is compulsory”, the Management was forced to clarify, and they deactivated the photo check, when some employees kept showing up, firmly decided to enter the building during the first days (let’s leave it to your imagination why those colleagues would rather face the beast than staying sheltered at their homes). Not seeing my boss with her miniskirt is another of the invaluable advantages of teleworking. Doesn’t she have a husband, a friend, someone who appreciates her that can tell her that certain clothes don’t fit some bodies, especially when you have half a century of wear and tear behind you? Doesn’t she have a mirror in her bathroom that reflects her chicken legs before going to the office? I am sure you can find one in Ikea, “dear” boss. The stores are closed, but delivery is free now. Use it now before we have to go back to the office… if we ever go back. Although, being objective with oneself is a bit difficult, it doesn’t matter how many full-body mirrors you have. The other side of the coin is that I don’t see the Greek goddess that joined the team last summer either. Plenty of hair, honey eyes, just made fruit salad with yogurt smell. Those are a pair of legs! Strong, active, almost new, with good blood circulation. You cannot have everything, Luciano, accept it and you’ll live longer.
«How are you this beautiful morning? How was your weekend?» My boss follows line by line the motivational techniques that she learned in the seminars that Human Resources organise for people managers. Be interested in your employees’ health, in their families’, they told her. «Everything ok in Peru? In Greece?» It is as natural as a one liter and half Coke plastic bottle. I don’t see her giggle, but I can hear her skin blush, her hands shivering, the vibration of her blonde-grey hair. There are things that no seminar can change, no matter how good the speaker is. I am sure she will die of stress before the vaccine is developed. «I would like to ask you to remain silent for a minute for our colleague O who died last night —she continued—; sadly, his body couldn’t resist it». What? That’s serious. I typed his name on the database of the bank and saw his picture. I know him… I knew him, I mean. A nice guy with a belly. He used to go to every desk every year handing over the calendar and the trade union pamphlets. The virus took him. He was sixty-one. He had only two years left to retire. Any pre-existent breathing illness? They don’t say it. It’s early, but I already need a drink; right now. This is getting closer. You can hear the steps, the wings of the beast flapping getting closer. It is better to go to another place. But where? The already low motivation that I had left for the day. We go over the day’s to-do list. I intervene when I have to speak. I explain what I did last Friday and what I’ve planned for today. I also ask if I can buy a monitor and a keyboard. If not, I am going to destroy the bank’s laptop with my huge fingers, which have been more stressed than ever lately. «Yes, you can —my boss says—, the bank is going to pay for it, you just have to write COVID-19 on the reference of the refund request». It is inevitable to write that word if I want my 100€ back.
For the first time since I became a father 17 years ago, this month I have made it to the pay day with money in my account, with a positive balance, I mean. And that even after the monthly transfer to the mother of my kids (sorry for the formula, but I cannot find another one). I calculate all the money I pay for coffees, football bars, restaurants, weekend journeys with the francesita, book presentations, shopping useless stuff, the cinema, quite expensive here, by the way. Apart from food and disinfectant gel, I haven’t bought anything in the last few weeks. Neither the windbreaker jacket for summer nor the wine glasses nor the coffee table to place it in front of the TV. All those “essential and urgent” things from three weeks ago stopped being so due to an invisible killer insect. I will ask the francesita to clear the nest that is growing in my head (hairdressers are closed too, obviously). One less payment for my account. A few more quarantine weeks and I will be able to order the PS5 for my kids. Money, money, money.
Marta, 42: «I am looking for a smart man, independent, economically stable and owner». Owner of what, mamita?
People are bored. From the beginning of the lockdown the number of WhatsApp texts I get has "exponentially” increased (the word is a trending topic). Creativity exacerbates in extreme situations… so does ridiculousness. I set the plane mode of my phone before (I try to) sleep. My Peruvian friends are the most active ones. The next morning I see a message from the francesita —among 120 more that I got during the night— I leave it for the end; first, I have to disinfect the device. There are posters, opinions, jokes, articles, videos, videos, videos… Guess what the 99% of them is about? A group of Piurans queuing with beer boxes in their hands, the sun of my homeland perpendicularly over their heads, two centimeters of “social distancing” between every sweaty body. «What a shame —a friend from school writes—, Piurans are the most undisciplined ones in the whole country, the President said so in his speech to the people'' Another one says: «It is people’s ignorance, the lack of education». «That’s why we are how we are», highlights another one. Calm down, compatriots, what is essential is invisible for the eye, a petit prince said so. «Challenge accomplished», a woman screams while she does her abs on a gym mat (inside a flat?); a dog licks the sweat in her legs; a man (her husband?) claps; you can see some curtains in the background. Should I give her a “like”? She appears as Facebook’s friend, but I don’t remember knowing her. «That’s good, my friend —another unknow female friend comments—, it’s good to set some goals in this difficult time that the Lord is using to test us». Does God have anything to do with this? “Bishop Edir Macedo affirms that coronavirus is a strategy from Satan, that only affects people without faith, and proposes ‘coronafaith’ as the antidote; it is only effective for those who truly believe God’s word”. Well, I have nothing to add, gentlemen. There are homemade recipes to make disinfectants; a cop hitting a kid (I got that one from the school chat, the Piurans group in Lima and from a friend who lives in Canada); Pornhub advertising and Cortazar’s tales for smartphones (something to be grateful for). The conspiracy topic never fails: “The virus was created in a Chinese lab to dominate the world”. «Racism», someone says. «I do believe there is something like that behind all this», texts another. Excuse me, people, there’s no doubt that the Chinese —I mean Xi Jinping and his friends, of course— hid the “thing” that is getting us busy these weeks; they are responsible for that, but thinking that they made the virus in a lab to screw our lives is a fantasy; do not use YouTube that much, mates. Another one: “Miguel Bosé says that Bill Gates is behind all this, that they are going to inject us with a chip with the vaccine he’s financing and will control us with the 5G”. «Everything is possible», one writes. Everything is possible, you say? If this is not the unfailing defeat of intelligence what is it, then? Look, bro, if you believe something like that do not complain nor be surprised if Donald Trump, the clown, is re-elected at the end of the year. My advice is that you read a bit more, that will help you to get out of the darkness, to broader your mind; you can start with the classics, for example. And let Don Diablo do his thing and leave us alone. “A baby-boom is coming”. “Conjugal violence cases shoot up”, I get this one every day and with some variations and in different languages: French, Spanish, English. Someone sent me an advertisement of lawyers specialised in express and low cost divorces. Why didn’t I get this one a couple years ago? «Hello, my name is Pilar Sordo…». Who is Pilar Sordo? What’s this woman’s contribution to the world for me to listen to her for twelve minutes straight? To get her “virtual hugs”? My sister sent me the YouTube link for the Sunday mass. Should I watch it? «My cousin works with one of Vizcarra’s consultants. It is a fact that they are going to extend the lockdown until Easter —someone I don’t know either says— to avoid drunks infecting one another when they share the beer glass». Yep, no comments, amigos.
The young yellow chicken with teeth is going to his father’s for a week. «I could stay with you for a few days, mon cheri», the francesita texted me. If I were a dog I’d be jumping in the air, whipping with my tail right now. I try to keep the number of heart beats under control, just in case vital signs can be transmitted by WhatsApp too. You need to show women some indifference so they won’t realise they have us playing in the palm of their hands all the time. The wiseman Sun Tzu said it in The art of war: “A leader must remain calm and inscrutable the whole time, his plans must be impenetrable”. Relationships between men and women are also a fight for power, for controlling the “loved” one; I do know it; I have twenty years of experience in this field. Of course, you’re always welcome, my dear francesita. Keep your voice levelled, Luciano, neutral. «When would you like to come, pretty?». Just to shave, put the dishes in the washing machine, hoover the floor, change the bed sheets, order two servings of vol-au-vent from the trattoria, a few portions of risotto with mushrooms. Also, to make a visit to the pharmacy at the least busy hour. Getting my hair cut has become something urgent, but I will have to control it with water and gel for now. There’s no other option. «I will confirm in the next days, mon amour, but promise me that you haven’t been exposed to the virus these days, Luciano». «Sure, sure; don’t worry, I sign with blood that I’ve washed my hands with soap seventeen times a day, done my gargles with mint Listerine before going to bed, taken my Redoxon pill after coffee». I don’t want to end ventral decubitus in a Belgian hospital with nobody next to me. «That’s not lockdown, but a sex marathon», Carlitos says. Call it anything you want, my friend, but this is the best news I have received since the darkness fell on this planet.
Francesca, 46: «The only thing I miss to reach happiness is a hammock. 50% Italian; 50% German. FR, EN, DE, IT, ES». A hammock, aren’t you in the wrong application, mia cara Francesca?
5:30 PM. I logged off of the bank system, time for fresh air, sunlight, to see human beings… but keeping a safe distance, of course. Yesterday I jogged in the park. I am going to walk and read today. You don’t have to just take care of your body, mental health is also vulnerable to the sanitary crisis. “Sanitary crisis”, another formula to say the same thing. I cross under the green vault; it used to be an elevated railroad, now it is a dirt road, a road without nervous drivers nor hot motors; 5 Km. of squirrels, foxes and calm in the middle of the city. There are also aggressive bikers and poopy dogs —nothing’s perfect—, but not too many, luckily. I look for a bench in the shade and open Journey to the end of the night. The best part of the day has begun. I got a text on my phone, a call right after. «I have just sent you a link for the Urbe et Orbi blessing that the Pope is going to give in ten minutes from the San Pedro square, you have to see it, my cholito». My dear mother, what should I do? Do I go back to my lockdown to hear Bergoglio on the laptop or do I stay with Celine under a tree? Where is peace found? Where is the antidote for this fear I feel in my stomach? «The world is going to change after this, son, we need to learn the lesson; God is sending us a message». Who knows, dear mother? «I am hanging up, it’s about to start; do not forget to call your father, he’s really troubled due to the lockdown, he doesn’t understand, he wants to go to the gas station to fill the tank every day, to run errands, to the office that is closed». To make him change his mind at 79 years old will be a bit difficult, mother; we better pray so the Piuran heat kills the beast with boredom, make it to leave to another planet. The mother of my friend, the consul of Peru in Brussels passed away in Lima. Because of her heart, I think, not the vulgar virus. «I couldn’t travel —he texted me—, there are no flights; all the planes —KLM, Air France, Iberia— are now on sick leave; and If I had gone there swimming I would have been locked down, all wet, in a shitty hostel for fifteen days». That’s how everything is going in my country. I should have to get to the Regional Hospital of Piura… or to a church. It’s better not to think about it. To think is to live worrying. I’ll talk to my dad, maybe if I scare him a bit he will calm down. A security guy from the park comes close to me: «You need to leave, monsieur; the lockdown rules do not allow you to be sitting on a bench more than five minutes». He smiles as if asking for forgiveness. I agree with him, I apologise and walk with Celine in my hand. I have developed the ability to read while I walk. Yes, I am me and my circumstances, as one Spanish philosopher said. A guy in his underwear walks in his balcony. He is showing himself; he finds himself interesting; he wants to be seen. We all find ourselves interesting, attractive, special, we all want to be seen. He’s got a glass of something in his hand. I think of the ice Palm can that is waiting for me at home, in the bottle of rosé I have in the fridge. Alcohol does not kill the plague that has come, but it dazes the lockdown symptoms. A guy is coming riding a bike. He is holding the handlebars with one hand and filming himself with the other one. He finds himself interesting too. Two women, young ones, pass by me. I can’t help looking at them. I don’t make an effort to not do it either. It is not the best moment to go against nature; we need to keep our strength to fight the invader when it arrives. They are wearing black leggings. Tight flesh, exposed belly buttons, they talk while they run (an exclusive feminine ability). Their rounded things move, they give me ideas. They feel attractive too. I confirm: they are attractive, unsettling, palpable, breathable. Welcome, spring.
Sophie, 41: «Single, no kids. I am looking for a serious relationship; good orthography and a minimum of education». Very important, dear, orthography is essential in every relationship, I fully agree on that.
“Wisemen” keep spreading; however they have mutated into gurus, fortune tellers and clairvoyants. We will have millions of unemployed people; an estate agency crisis without precedent; new dictatorships; (more) populism; (more) reduction of liberties; (more) sexism; new lockdown in winter; illegal vigilance of the citizens; women’s rights at risk again… Anything positive to share with us, beautiful people? Haven’t we had enough? Speaking of which: «We don’t know yet when we will go back to the office, but some banks announced that they will do it in September», my boss tells us in the morning meeting. Is this woman trying to tell me that I am going to spent summer on this third floor, looking at the green world through my window, and not in a terrace with a beer in my hand and human sounds around me? Look, woman, I take my magnesium dose twice a day, but the effect is not unlimited, it doesn’t make miracles. «The priority of the bank management is the health of our employees», she continues. How altruist! How broad-minded! I am touched! Would they say the same if teleworking —which they barely granted before— wouldn’t work properly? Is the bank going to pay us the increase in the electricity bill, water bill, transfer us some of the money they are saving? I thank you, dear boss, for the “good” news and rest assured that my productivity can only improve after what you’ve told us. Why don’t we better sell the building so we don’t see your skinny legs anymore? «I suppose that you all have enough in your plates, don’t you?», she goes on with the overworked sentence of every week. I clarify: she is not interested in how well we feed ourselves, but checking that we have enough work, that we are not going to take a nap after lunch, look videos on our smartphones during meetings, cut our nails on the keyboard that belongs to the bank.
Using a mask will protect you; using masks does not guarantee anything. The hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the virus; the WHO advices against using hydroxychloroquine due to the increase of irregular beats in patients. Take vitamin C to increase your immunity; buying vitamin C only increases the income of the labs. Do salt gargles every morning; gargles do not have any proven effect on the virus. Banana blocks the entrance of the virus in your body due to the lectins; bananas don't block the cellular entrance of the COVID-19. There’s going to be a second wave of infection after summer; it is not demonstrated that there is going to be a new outbreak in autumn. Once you got it, you are immune forever; immunity lasts 2-3 months. It is just a summer little flu; a pandemic without precedent. The killer bug was created in a lab in Wuhan; it is dismissed that the virus was artificially created, genetically modified. Hot water steam kills the beast; that’s viral fake news. The vaccine will be ready in December; scientists estimate that we will be able to count on a vaccine against COVID-19 by the middle of 2021, if everything works properly… To whom we believe, gentlemen? The only truth is the uncertainty; someone who lived in Athens many years ago already said so.
Aurelie, 43: «I am looking for a tall big man with an outstanding IQ and EQ; sophisticated and simple at the same time». Sophisticated and simple at the same time ma chère, Aurelie? Speaking of contradictions. But you are right, beauty this is Tinder: you have to think big.
My friend Ch texted me from Lima. I hadn’t heard from her in a long time. Getting in touch with her again is one of the few positive things that came with this plague. She asks about my health, my family’s, she has read that the infection curve in Belgium is narrowing, that the hospital capacity is getting better. She is always so well informed, so formal when she writes. We worked together in Lima. «Maybe fate will put us together when we are old, Luciano», she told me in the parking lot of the pizza place in San Isidro, a few nights before I left my country with a wife, two babies, plenty of luggage and a baby stroller. She writes: «I ask you Lord that you make us better when all this is over; just like you dreamed us at the time of your perfect creation». Strong believer, Ch doesn’t miss a mass. My mom would like you. The francesita, on the other hand, does not put a foot in a church, not even during midsummer heat. «The poem is Benedetti’s», she says. I read somewhere else that the Uruguayan didn’t write it, a Cuban comedian did. Another contradictory thing. Who should we believe? Mierda! Whether it is the writer’s or the clown’s «I think it is a bit optimistic, anyway», I answer. She insists: «When the storm is over you won’t be the same person that you were at the beginning. You must agree on that, don’t you, Luciano? I don’t say so, Murakami does». Yep, she likes the Japanese writer. I say yes, that it will probably happen; I don’t want to discourage her, but I am afraid that we all will go back to our frivolous, selfish and accelerated lives after the shock and some little attempts of improvement. Javier —Mr. Pessimistic— Marías has the same opinion as me, I read it in his last Sunday column. Has Ch got married? I ask her but she doesn’t answer. Has she created a Tinder profile with a picture? I should expand my search radius to 15 thousand Km. to check it. Forget it, amigo.
After some days, I turn the TV on. The Belgian Prime Minister, still beautiful in her middle age —I would give her a like if I found her on Tinder— announces on live TV her plan to ease the lockdown. It is going to be gradual, ladies and gentlemen. First, fabric shops will open, so the citizens can make their own masks. Shops and grocery stores will follow a week later, but always respecting the social distancing rules. Schools only in three weeks, and only for the critical grades. Hair salons too. Hair salons too? Don’t you know, madam, that there is a waiting list, that hair dye demand has exponentially increased? In three weeks the sparrows on my window will move from their nest to my hair. I must do something before that. «I like your hair like this, mon amour, the francesita says. Then it will remain like this until you say the contrary, whitey, beauty. We always need a woman to tells us what is good for us, to save us from this masculine tendency to go back to the cavern; c’est comme ca and there is nothing to add. I still have to wait six weeks to go to a cafe, to a restaurant, to my favourite sports bar… and it is not confirmed yet. «It depends on the infection curve evolution, dear compatriots». One month and a half more? That’s a kick in the stomach, Madame Prime Minister. Couldn’t you reconsider it, please? I beg you. I am sick of the pesto ravioli; of the carrot and tomato salad; of having my beer looking through the window: reading Celine while I walk is destroying my neck. I need to sit down, need someone to bring my spaghetti Milanese and my double espresso to the table; don’t you? A maximum of seventeen people on the tram; a few less on the buses. How many on the underground, madame? I will need to wake up at 6:00 AM to not be late to the office… if we ever go back to on-site work.
When are we going back to normality? Normality, normality, normality. Do you really want to go back to normality, Luciano? To keep beating up the planet? To never find a place to park? To a full, crowded, strident life? To live pretending? To the frivolousness of the mid-season jacket? What is really normality? Wasn’t it forever until one day it wasn’t anymore because of a pangolin stew? Is the “new normality” going to be better than the old one? The previous one? The one of the sound and the fury? What about the Champions League, dear Madam, my plane tickets to Peru, my kids’ scouts camps, the summer holidays, the weekend in Paris with the francesita? The sooner we book the hotels the better, I have to buy the tickets for the 250 years Beethoven’s birth concert too, ask the neighbor if she can water the Ikea cactus when I am not here. We need to organise things, madame, make our plans. Plans? If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans, Luciano. We are nothing. A lost year… or a gained one? It is better to forget everything. Not to think. Living is easier with closed eyes. John said so.
Inge, 43: «La vie est un voyage et non une destination». Yes, I agree with you, Inge, dear: to live is to live now and let someone else take care of tomorrow.
Belgium, March-April 2020.
Special thanks to ERALP TEZCAN and CAROLINA SZOKE.
 City in the north of Peru
 Name used in Peru to address people in a tender way.
 The word ‘vieja’ (translated as old woman) is used to tenderly address someone’s mother.
 Tender name to address a French woman or girl.
 Toasted corn typical from Peru.
 High quality Spanish ham.
 Chinese food restaurant in Peru
 There is no similar saying in English. The idea is that sexual attraction makes men do stupid things just to satisfy the most whimsical ideas of women.
 Latin expression that means ‘forever and ever’.
 Typical dessert of Peruvian cuisine made from concentrated purple corn with starch.
 Typical dich from Chiclayo, city or province of the department of Lambayeque, in north of Peru.
 Popular Peruvian dish.
 Cocktail made with Pisco and lemon juice.
 Tender way to address a Peruvian man.
 Expression to refer to women.
 A Spanish song made popular by Miguel Bosé
 Life is a journey, not a destination.