Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Couple At The Heart

I remembered a gentle space of tall trees and deep tranquility, a rarity in the constant noise of San Salvador, where cars honk at red lights and buses roar in angry bursts of black smoke with every acceleration and every turn and teenagers hang from the bus doors screaming to get people to step inside and fat women with wide heavy baskets on their heads call loudly to offer their goods to anyone within earshot and men drive around with bullhorns on their cars, talking in seductive deep voices, carefully describing the beautiful fish that they just caught that morning. But I remembered that there was quiet here, somewhere in the past, somewhere in the heights of San Benito, so we had to look for it and find it.
We drove around for a few minutes and then my Dad recognized something in the large silent houses and turned right with confidence. Ahead was a long stretch of quiet street and empty sidewalk and my Dad said: "This is it." We parked along the edge, which was carefully protected by a long metal fence, and we stepped out of the car. A man in gray overalls was walking towards us. I stopped him to take his picture and ask him if the park was open. "Yes, of course. Come right in. The warehouse is over that way." I thanked him and wondered why we would want to see the warehouse. Maybe he confused us with supervisors. Maybe there was something in the warehouse that people came to see or buy. He walked through the gate ahead of us and we followed, but he turned to the left and we immediately turned to the right.
We walked into the silent park and immediately there was a sense of deep sanctuary, a sense that this was a secret place for secret meetings to happen, a place where the rules of the city were relaxed slightly, and the few that came would try to keep the knowledge among themselves so that the hungry noise would not enter, at least not for a while. There were long tall narrow trees called "maquilishuats" and their trunks were the color of camouflage and they stood straight up without curves or accident and their branches were thin and interlaced with each other, forming a thick canopy of dark green leaves over the whole silent maze. We walked along narrow dirt paths that were flanked by trees and bushes on both sides. The paths were clean and carefully kept, yet again something that I found very unique in a city of decay and negligence and purposeful carelessness. I took pictures of the trees and the flowers and the bushes while my Dad walked behind me patiently, holding onto my video camera. Ahead of us there was a little metal play structure. There were no kids there today. I got the impression that it was rare for kids to be there at all. Continuing in that direction, the park ended with a tall yellow wall covered in whirls of shiny spiked metal, a way to protect the house next door from any unsavory guests of the park.
As we walked around the edge of the little hill that dropped off into the kid play structure, I saw a skinny brown schoolgirl in a long dark skirt and a white shirt. She was calmly walking away from the heart of the little maze. I had the impression that she was leaving some friends behind. She walked towards us without looking directly at us. I took her picture in between the trees and she looked towards me as I did. She continued to walk and, as she passed by me, her eyes betrayed wonder and distrust. The quiet remained unbroken and we continued to walk as she disappeared in the direction of the outer gate.
We followed one of the paths which curved inward. There were several small concrete circular benches, surrounded by little concrete stools, all painted in different colors which were slowly fading away. I looked up at the branches and I tried to take a picture of a bright red bird but it managed to fly away. I then turned to the path again which continued to curve towards the center, while a secondary path trailed off in a tangent towards the edge. I followed the tangent and we came to a moss covered stairway that led to a lower level of the maze. The green and gray stone stairway followed the edge of the wall that gave to the street, down to a narrow pathway where more tall trees were standing, extending their skinny arms out towards the parked cars beyond the fence.
We came back up and once again followed the original path towards the center. As we approached the heart, I saw that there was another circular bench there which was occupied. In my mind I assumed that these were the friends of the skinny girl I had seen. There, at the heart of this green labyrinth, there was a couple enmeshed in each other so deeply that I could feel a bubble of intensity around them that rippled out towards me as I stood many steps away. He was an older teenager with strong dark arms and a thick head like a small bowling ball. He was leaning back on the circular cement bench and his head sometimes leaned forward to look at the girl in front of him and his head sometimes leaned back to look at the green sky above, the roof of maquilishuat branches that cradled his silent gasps of pleasure. She was a thick brown girl in a light brown skirt and a blue shirt. She had a sweater tied around her neck and she was on her knees in between his open legs. Her thick strong upper body was leaning into him and her hand was at his crotch and she was pulling and pushing in a rhythm I instantly recognized, a rhythm which had seemed the greatest mystery once not too long ago, a beat that never fell quiet but curved upwards at its depth and twirled in the air for an instant, suspended in aching flowering need, before coming back down to a floor of quicksand and wet leaves, ready to repeat the endless cycle all over again. I looked directly at them and his head was leaning back at an extreme angle and his mouth was open and her face was a picture of intense devotion and attention as her hand worked up and down and her mouth was half open in a squeezed mask of desire. Maybe they had met waiting for a bus after school, maybe she had seduced him with a sarcastic smile and the light wink of her right eye, maybe this was the place where they held their quiet encounters day to day, every afternoon after school, "don’t be late", "I will see you tomorrow", "I can’t wait", maybe it had been weeks or months that they lived together in a secret story of their own making, away from the judgement of their parents, away from the questions of their friends, maybe the labyrinth welcomed them into its heart and was quietly nourished by their innocent warm love as it vibrated softly around them, green leaves shifting back and forth in the wind.
As I looked directly at them, she looked up and saw me looking. There were then whispers that traveled through the green maze and curved around the tall skinny trees and , when I looked again, she had turned around to sit backwards on his lap so that the boy was now grinding at her from behind, his hands around her thick waist, and so the rhythm continued, again curved in a negation of straight lines and rough edges, a rhythm that signified the place where constancy and shapelessness combined and produced a fresh wet hurricane of new possibilities.
I turned away from them and continued to follow the path and I saw from the edge that the lower level opened up further below into a secondary little forest where the tall trees grew just enough that I could almost imagine walking over their branches and peeking over the final edge. We followed the curving path all the way to the corner where it turned inwards again and I saw that the couple at the heart of the labyrinth were gone, and I couldn’t help feeling that the maze was little less alive, a bit less bright, a bit more sad.
We walked past a dark building and there was the noise of men talking inside, joking and laughing. Maybe this was the warehouse that the worker had pointed out to us, maybe some men inside had followed his advice. Then we walked through a small basketball court where there were two men sitting quietly. They had black backpacks and they were wearing dark pants and white shirts. I looked at them and nodded in silent greeting and they nodded back suspiciously.
As we came back to the gate where we had entered, behind a mountain of sand and a wall of loose bricks and some abandoned tools and sacks of cement, I saw another couple walking into the park. He was dressed in the sharp clean clothes of an executive, including a bright tie and a small black attaché. She was wearing stylish black pants and a black shirt. As we slowly walked around the park again, I saw them sitting in one of the cement structures. Their voices traveled through the silence and I could make out that they were discussing the latest events at the office, what she said to him and then what he said to her and how can they think that and isn’t it terrible? I could see that he was also edging his way closer to her, inch by aching inch, and that she was not retreating, while the whispered conversation continued. Maybe they were on a break for lunch, maybe he had told her that there was a beautiful park not too far from the office, maybe he thought she didn’t know what he wanted, maybe she let him think that she didn’t know but she knew perfectly well, maybe she wanted the same thing and she was leaning back on the cement stool waiting for him to touch her and kiss her, maybe today he would break past the invisible barrier of his doubt, maybe the labyrinth knew more than either of them and maybe it felt them coming to replace the ones that had left just moments ago so that these new ones could bring it back to deep vibrant life.
We followed the narrow path one more time and this final time, when we came to the gate, we walked out into the blue sky and the moist white sidewalk and the wide lonely street. I looked out towards the opposite corner and I saw them walking up the sidewalk hand in hand. The thick girl and her strong dark boy. They were playfully strolling away like little kids after a long day of innocent heartfelt fun and that is just what they were that day and maybe not for too much longer. I felt happy with them and for them and I smiled as I took one more picture. They looked back at me just then and they whispered once again and laughed as they turned and walked away.
The tall thin maquilishuats reaching up into the sky. The camouflaged flesh of the maquilishuats. The skinny schoolgirl walking towards us among the trees. The path that curved inwards towards the heart.The pile of loose bricks and the mountain of sand
to the right of the gate. The second couple that came to replace the first.The first couple as they happily walked away.

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