Translated by David William Foster
Illustrations by Pancho Madrigal
Big-eyed Anita and curly-haired Mariano
For my nine-year-old cybernaut granddaughter
I’m at the airport, about to board the plane, and I’m writing you this short note to tell you about Anita, remember her?, the freckle-faced kid who used to come to play with your sisters.
Anita is also waiting at the airport. I just ran into her and said hello. I’m friends with her parents. She’s grown, Anita, and her black eyes are very pretty and so are her freckles.
She made me think about what all us older people think. How fast time goes by!
I also remembered how many years ago I wrote a book for her with the title Big-Eyed Anita and Curly-Haired Mariano. I just saw Anita and I wonder what became of Mariano?
It’s time for me to board the plane.
Kiss my grandson for me.
ANITA AND MARIANO
Anita and Mariano are not friends. They don’t even know each other. She’s got dark hair and black eyes. His hair is curly and he has a small mouth. Neither one of them knows yet how to write well. Mariano writes “an” instead of “and” and every time Anita talks about her eyes, she uses a “z” and writes “eyez.”
Anita and Mariano go to different schools, live in different countries and, of course, have different parents. They both like to explain things very well. Mariano goes to a school in a country to the north because he’s blond. And Anita, who has freckles, goes to a school in a country to the south.
“They call me Billy,” Mariano says.
“They call me Freckles,” Anita says.
Mariano is studying Spanish because once he heard someone sing a song in that language and he liked it very much. Anita is doing English because her parents don’t have much money. In addition, they both study math, history, science, sports and geography, which, guess what!, they both like a lot. Mariano’s teacher doesn’t like him, but Anita’s teacher adores her.
Mariano and Anita don’t know each other.
But I’m sure they would both be happy to know each other.
MARIANO AND ANITA
I know that if Mariano and Anita knew each other, they’d be good friends.
The first thing they’d do is ask each other:
“What’s your name?”
“Mariano, but my friends call me Billy. What’s your name?”
“Anita, but my friends call me Freckles.”
And then they’d each ask where the other was from and they’d be happy they were studying geography, because that would allow them to know where north was and where south was and the country the other’s parents home is, the ones they lived with.
Little by little they would learn that Anita has two older siblings and Mariano only one. That Anita’s father takes her to school on the bus and Mariano goes to school in his mother’s car. That Anita sleeps with her sister who’s in high-school and Mariano sleeps alone (poor kid, Anita thinks) in a room with toys (not bad, Anita thinks).
Anita’s parents quarrel loudly. Mariano’s parents scowl at each other and one of them, the one that scowled the worst, sleeps on the couch.
“My parents try to see who yells the loudest.”
“My parents try to see who can make the worst face.”
“What do you do when there’s a thunder storm?” Mariano asks.
“I turn the TV up,” Anita answers. She’s been learning how to take care of herself as best she can ever since she was little.
“What do you do when they start throwing nasty looks?” Anita asks.
“I go to my room to get away from the laser rays from one of my parent’s eyes,” Mariano answers. He’d learned to keep from getting hurt by hiding.
Ah, someone might say, these two children are not alike at all. No, they are not alike because they have different fathers, they go to different schools and they live in different countries. The only thing that makes them alike is they like to ask questions.
“Why are you called Billy?”
“I know they call you Freckles because you’ve got freckles, but why are you called Anita?”
In reality, Mariano’s name is William, which is why he’s called Billy. And Anita is named Ana, which is why she’s called Anita.
ANITA AND MARIANO
Anita and Mariano live far away from each other and are too small to travel alone. Besides, Anita’s dad says that it’s very expensive to travel to other countries, and Mariano’s dad says that the countries to the south are nothing but cesspools. For all these reasons, Anita and Mariano, who despite all this want to meet each other, decide to describe themselves to each other until they can meet.
“I’m dark-skinned,” Anita says, but it makes her a little ashamed, so she adds: “light dark-skinned, with big black eyez my mother says are very pretty and my face has freckles.”
(We know that the word eyes is not written with a “z,” but Anita likes to see her eyes, and only her eyes, written with a “z,” because she thinks it looks very, very cool. Anita is clever.)
“I’m blond,” Mariano says, “an my hair is curly an I have a small mouth.
(We know Mariano is learning Spanish and he doesn’t know that “and” is written “and,” which is why he writes “an.” But it’s a detail that’s not very important because Anita isn’t good in spelling either and always changes the letters to suit her taste, which is why her teacher she’s just turned an assignment in to with “open” written “opin,” scolds her gently: “Anita, what’s this?” Anita replies with her pretty eyez, “It’s a wold that opens all the doors, teacher, and when it comes to your room at night it squeezes right in because it’s got a skinny “i.”
Anita and Mariano would like to see each other’s picture. They say so.
“Why don’t you send me a picture,” Mariano says.
Anita has never given anyone a picture and no one has ever asked her for one. She stops to think and then answers truthfully.
“Because I don’t have one. All my pictures are with my parents, from when I was smaller or from my birthday parties with my grandparents.”
“Then take one,” Mariano tells her.
“Alright,” Anita says.
And from that moment she decides to save her money and not buy “kandy” (she writes “kandy” instead of “candy”) at school until she has enough money to have her picture taken.
“You take one, too,” Anita tells Mariano, “and send it to me.”
“OK,” Mariano says, thinking he’ll ask a schoolmate to take his picture with the camera his and aunt and uncle gave him who hope he’ll be a great photographer.
Almost at the same time, both Anita and Mariano realize it’s very late and they have to go to school tomorrow. And they each tell the other:
“It’s very late,” Anita says.
“It’s very late,” Mariano says, who repeats many of Anita’s sentences so he’ll learn Spanish faster.
And they both go to bed.
MARIANO AND ANITA
Mariano, so he’ll have a picture to send Anita, has one taken outside his house in front of the garage with the camera his aunt and uncle who want him to be a great photographer gave him. Mariano wants the picture to include his dog, whose name is Charly.
Anita, after saving her money for two weeks by not buying “kandy” at school (“candy is written with a ‘c’,” the teacher who loves her so much tells her) goes to a fast photo booth (“what does ‘fast photo’ mean,” Anita asks. “It means you get the picture right away,” the teacher who loves her so much answers her, “that is, lickety-split,” Anita concludes, since she talks like how old she is). Anita goes to a booth and takes a series of four pictures in black and white, because colored ones would mean she’d have to save her “kandy” money for two more weeks and she can’t stand one more day without buying something from the small store at her school.
“It doesn’t matter,” her sister who’s in high school and who sleeps with Anita tells her when she sees her sad because she can’t afford to pay for color photographs. “It doesn’t matter, Anita. After all, you’re dark-skinned, so why would you want color photographs?”
“Do my freckles show?” Anita asks.
“Of course your freckles show,” her sister answers, “look at those little dots on your nose and those spots on your cheeks. “What else would they be”? Anita.
“And can you see my eyez” Anita asks.
Of course you can see your eyes. What do you think a picture without eyes woud look like, Anita?!”
“But I didn’t say “eyes.” I said “eyez,” Anita insists.
“If what you mean are your big eyes,” Anita’s older sister says, “Yes, you can see them, Anita. How could a picture hide those enormous eyes you have in the middle of your face?”
Anita looks at herself in the mirror, looks at the photos and sees that her greatest asset is her eyes.
Mariano meanwhile went to a “moll” to develop the pictures his friend at school took of him outside his house with Charly, standing in front of the garage.
“What’s a ‘moll’,” Anita asked Mariano.
“I have no idea how you say that in Spanish,” Mariano says.
“Then something like that doesn’t exist in Spanish,” Anita says.
“A mall in English,” Anita’s teacher tells Anita, “is what we call a shoppng center in Spanish.”
“Oh, so then it does exist in Spanish,” Anita told Mariano, “and it’s called a shopping center.”
“Okay,” Mariano said, “send me the photogaph.”
And each sent the other one a photo.
Mariano’s photograph was in color and you could see how blond he was. Anita’s was in black and white and you could see how dark-skinned she was.
When Anita saw the photo, she said to herself:
“What chubby cheeks Mariano has under his curly hair!”
When Mariano saw her, he said to himself:
“How pretty Anita’s big eyez are under her dark hair!”
Because they had chatted so much with each other, Mariano was starting to use Anita’s words and Anita always used the same words so Mariano could learn them and use them as his own.
Strangely, Anita and Mariano dreamed the same thing that night.
Or almost the same thing.
Mariano dreamed he was in a photo with Anita, one in color, in front of his house.
Anita dreamed she was in a photo with Mariano, one in black and white, in the photo booth.
And one of the two, or both of them at the same time, dreamed they were together in another photo and that her, Anita’s, side of the picture was in color and his, Mariano’s, side was in black and white. But the two were in the same photograph.
As a result of having talked so much, Anita and Mariano were already sharing dreams.
ANITA AND MARIANO
Mariano goes into his room, where there are no brothers but plenty of toys. He’s just gotten Anita’s black and white picture and he studies it.
He pays no attention to his toys. He just observes Anita’s picture. “She sure is pretty!” he tells himself. He’s most attracted to her big eyez and her dark complexion and the freckles.
Mariano writers “big eyez” with a “z,” because even though “big eyes” is written with an “s,” Mariano copies whatever Anita says in Spanish.
Anita does the same thing: she writes “moll,” which is a word in English like Mariano writes it, but in reality “moll” is written “mall.”
Anita and Mariano copy everything from each other because there’s now a bond between them.
Anita has also received her picture, in color, from Mariano and she also went to the middle of her room (because she shares her room with her sister who’s in high school) and lay down on her bed to look at Mariano’s picture.
“He’s blond an has curly hair an blue eyes!” Anita exclaims, using “an” instead of “and” because if Mariano copies her when he writes “eyez” with a “z,” she copies Mariano by writing “and” as “an.”
Anita’s sister is watching her from her bed and asks her:
“Your friend who lives in the US is named Charly?” Ana’s sister, whose name is Susana, asks her.
“No, my friend’s name is Mariano and they call him Billy. Charly’s the dog’s name. Can’t you see he’s standing in front of his house with a dog?” Anita says.
“What a pretty house,” Susana says. “I’d like to have a house that’s that pretty, with a yard and a garage.”
It was in that conversation that Anita found out her friend Mariano lived in the United States, because on the basis of what he’d said, she thought he lived in the USA. How things changed from English to Spanish!
“And as far as the garage goes,” Anita said to herself, “Susana is crazy like all the high-school girls. Just like my Mom says, why would we want a garage if we don’t have a car?”
Mariano is also thinking as he looks at the photograph, surrounded by the toys in his room. Since the picture Anita sent him was taken in one of those things that looks like a tiny closet, Mariano thinks how small the rooms are in Mexico, where Anita lives, so small that Anita couldn’t even have a dog, because there’d be no room for him.
That night, Anita and Mariano wrote to each other, happy that they had met by photograph.
“Now we know each other for real,” Anita said.
“Now we know each other for real,” Mariano repeated.
“In Mexico we say, “Con mucho gusto,” Anita told Mariano.
“Con mucho gusto,” Mariano repeated.
“How do you say it there in the United States where you live,” Anita asked him.
“In the USA we say ‘nice to meet you’,” Mariano replied.
“Ah,” said Anita.
“Come on, repeat it,” Mariano told her.
“Nice to meet you’,” Anita repeated.
“Very good,” Mariano said.
Before saying goodbye, because it was night again, they happily changed places and Mariano, the North American, told the Mexican girl that finally that day they had met by photograph: “Mucho gusto, señorita.”
And Anita, the Mexican girl, answered Mariano, the North American: ‘Nice to meet you, sir’.”
MARIANO AND ANITA
Since they now knew each other, Mariano and Anita began to tell each other very personal things.
“What class do you like the most,” Anita asked Mariano, because women always ask more questions than men.
“Geography,” Mariano answered, who always answers whatever they ask him right away even though his teacher doesn’t like him.
“Besides geography, what other class do you like?” Anita asked Mariano, since we all know that women never ask just one question.
“Computers,” answered Mariano, who always tells the truth, even when his parents give him nasty looks.
“Why?” Anita asked Mariano, because as soon as women start to ask things, there’s no way to stop them. Anita is a woman, even if she is a very little woman.
“Because,” Mariano answered, and he turned red on the other side of the computer screen, for the first time, “because…, because that’s how I can talk to you an because I met you by computer.”
“Hold on, let me see if I understand,” Anita demanded, with the same tone with which her teacher, who loves her very much, talks to her. “What do you mean, young man?”
“I like computers,” Mariano answered, more sure of himself, “because the more I learn about computers, the better it lets me talk to you, honey.”
“Ah!” Anita says, who has just blushed because, like a good little Mexican girl, she has learned to react to flirting, as little as she is, and she knows from her English classes what honey means and that parents in the United States, where Mariano lives, when they are not scowling at each other say honey to each other instead of saying “cariño,” love, as Mexican parents do.
Anita has never heard her father say “love” to her mother.
Her father always calls her mother: “Old woman.”
And her mother always answers her father: “What do you want, old man?”
And then her father tells her what he has to tell her.
“And what class do you like the most?” Mariano asks Anita.
“Young man,” Anita tells Mariano in her most teacher-like voice, “I’m the one asking the questions here.”
“Ta bueno,” Mariano says, who’s learned to write “Ta bueno,” OK, instead of “Está bueno,” Okay, because he’s spent so much time talking with Anita and he’s now learning the kind of Spanish “that’s not in the book,” but he doesn’t tell anyone because he’s afraid his Spanish teacher will scold him for nadita, something unimportant, as he did once, making him skip a break because once when his teacher said “Do you understand now you can’t say nadita,” and Mariano answered “Ey,” and the teacher added “And you can’t say ‘ey’—it’s ‘sí’ for ‘yes’,” and Mariano answered the teacher peevishly: “The problem here is you can’t say nuthin.”
That really made Anita laugh!
She was really tickled by how naughty she was to teach Mariano “a word that you can’t say in class.”
“Never mind,” Anita said to Mariano, turning serious now, “I like studying computers more than geography.”
“Why,” Mariano asked her while they chatted.
“Because since you live so far away, geography separates us and computers bring us together,” Anita answered.
“How’s that?” Mariano asked.
“Earth, which is what geography is about,” Anita explained to Mariano, “separates us with its miles and kilometers and distances and we can’t hear each other or meet, and computers, with the Internet and its landscapes, brings us together and we can talk to each other and get acquainted just as though we were neighbors.”
“Ah!” Mariano said, as he learned, thanks to the subtlety of a small Mexican girl, how to be surprised in Spanish.
No response came back from Anita. She had just fallen asleep in front of the lighted monitor of the computer. No matter how much the Messenger said “knock, knock,” she was so lost in sleep she couldn’t find the word “opin” that might have awakened her because, as her teacher could have told her, the letter “i” is so slender you sometimes can’t even see it in a little girl’s dreams.
ANITA AND MARIANO
Now that they know each other by photograph, Anita and Mariano both sit down at their computers at the same time and log onto Internet so they can chat.
Each one lives in his own country, in his own parents’ house, because they are minors and go to school. A school that Mariano doesn’t like even a nadita because when he grows up he wants to be an adventurer. While Anita, who likes school, wants to be a cybernaut.
“You’ve got to learn to spell to be a cybernaut,” Anita’s teacher, who loves her a lot, tells her.
“An why’s that, teacher,” Anita asks.
“So a misspelled word won’t get you lost in cyberspace. For example, if you want to go in your cybernetic navigation to the highest part of a mountain, you’ve got to tell your computer to take you to the “tip.” If, on the other hand you want to go to the depths of the interplanetary abyss or the bottom of the sea, you’ve got to give it the command to take you to the “pit.”
“Gosh,” Anita thinks, “that’s harder than “z,” because even if you write “eyez” you still understand it’s eyes. That’s why Mariano says English is easier because you just write top when you mean up and bottom when you mean down and you don’t have to worry about “s”’s and “z”’s that sound the same.
To talk with Anita, Mariano, who lives in the United States, sits comfortably in his room with a bag of potato chips and a soft drink designed just for kids with chubby cheeks like him. (Anita’s parents won’t let her eat or drink near the computer.) Mariano’s dad gave him the computer as a present and it’s permanently connected by cable to the Internet, and he said to him, “Navigate the web so you’ll learn what life is all about.” So all Mariano has to do is click on the Messenger icon and he’s connected to Anita right away.
Things are a bit more complicated for Anita, who lives in Mexico. She’s not like Mariano, who has three computers: one for his dad and his mom in the study, another for his older brother and one for himself. But Anita’s house has only one computer, in a corner of the living room, where the television is, and she has to hope her sister in high school doesn’t need it because, just like every Sunday, she’s just broken up with the “man” she’s going with. And she has to wait until her brother’s done with it, the older one, because that’s the time when he chats with a famous magazine model. And she has to wait for her father to stop hogging it urgently because he has to finish a task “that very night,” which means checking out the animation on nakednews.com.
“What does ‘naked news’ mean in English” Anita asks Mariano.
“No-holds-barred news,” Mariano answers her, red with embarrassment because he thinks what he found in his English-Spanish dictionary is a bad word.
In reality it’s not so easy for Mariano, because on the days in which his parents are exchanging dirty looks his mom takes refuge in his room, fleeing form the laser looks of his dad, and asks him (she calls him “Billy”) to let her use his computer “just for a moment” to talk to her psychiatrist.
Mariano gets into bed with his dog Charly becaue he knows she’s going to be on all night. He sees how his mom, just like she always does, begins to chat with her psychiatrist, saying:
“I don’t want to set a bad example for the children… That’s why I don’t say a word when we have an altercation… But I can’t stand this hellhole a second longer… My superego is destroying itself… My emotional balance is in imminent danger…”
Charly falls asleep, as does Mariano, because his mother deliberately uses words he doesn’t understand: “altercation,” “superego,” “imminent.”…
“Hey,” the same thing happens in my howse,” Anita tells Mariano (Anita’s teacher corrects her: “It’s spelled ‘house’”), and I can’t get on the computer. When my dad and mom start yelling, trying to see who can yell the loudest, my mom also tells my dad she can’t stand it any longer and needs to go see the psychiatrist. Then my dad tells her going to a psychiatrist is something rich old bags do and he’s trying to save money up for the down payment on a car and isn’t about to spend money to have his wife’s screws tightened just because she gets depressed and feels alone and abandoned.
Anita’s mother takes over the computer and logs onto the Internet through the phone connection and asks Anita, who’s standing there quietly waiting her turn to talk to Mariano:
“Freckles, where do you find more friends on the Internet?”
And Anita, without saying a word, shows her with her finger pointing on the monitor, guiding her like someone blind, step by step, leading her to a site full of lonely people talking to each other.
“Why would Mariano’s teacher laugh at him when he said he wanted to be a traveler,” Anita asks herself while waiting.
“My teacher said I’d be worthless as a traveler because I’m so absentminded and I’ll never be like Captain Nemo,” Mariano tells Anita, “an I don’t know who Captain Nemo is, but I want to be a traveler and travel like the astronauts.”
Anita tells him she’s going to be a cybernaut and why don’t they take a trip someday together through cyberspace, which would be good training for him for his real intergalactic travels.
“Órale!” Mariano says, great, repeating a word he’s heard Anita say.
“Great, then,” Anita answers back, so as not to always use the same word by itself.
They agree on a day when there won’t be a silent staring duel at Mariano’s house between his parents and on a day when there won’t be a loud shouting contest between Anita’s parents…
MARIANO AND ANITA
Connection time is required for a leisurely voyage through cyberspace. Time on the Internet is very expensive, according to Anita’s dad, who has dreams of buying a car.
Time on the Internet is just pennies, according to Mariano’s dad, who has two cars, a row boat and a mobile home because there’s a lagoon near where Mariano lives.
The only trips Anita has made are to her grandparents’ house in the town where her mom is from.
“People wear sombreros and you can hear the sounds of mariachi music. Do you know what a sombrero is?” Anita says to Mariano.
“Yes, I know what a sombrero is,” Mariano says, “because my dad likes to watch Speedy Gonzalez on television. But what does ‘mariachi’ mean?”
“What’s a ‘mobile home?” Anita asks.
“It’s like a large car or like a big van and on the inside everything’s like a house, except smaller, and it moves and you go on vacation with it and camp by the lagoon,” Mariano writes back to Anita.
“Mariachi is a type of all-round music from the town where my mom and grandparents are from,” Anita explains.
“An all-round music,” Mariano asks surprised.
“Yes,” Anita goes on. “You see, people hear mariachi and get sad, people hear mariachi and get happy, people hear mariachi and fall in love.”
“What a strange kind of music!” Mariano says, with his mouth full of potato chips.
“And it gets worse,” Anita tells Mariano. “When a child is born, the mariachi players come and play and when an old man dies, they come and play.
“So the mariachi players are always busy!” Mariano says with real surprise.
“Yes, I guess so,” Anita says,
“What a strange town your grandparents live in, always full of music!” Mariano says.
“It’s never quiet,” Anita goes on, “because if the mariachi music stops, people start to talk and talk and yak and yak and never shut up.”
“Ah,” says Mariano, “how different Méjico is,” and he says “Méjico” with a “j” rather than an “x” because he doesn’t want Anita to make fun of him for saying “Mecsico” and because he saw in a dictionary from Spain that’s how they spell it.
“What do you do on your vacations,” Anita asks Mariano.
“First of all, I have to wash the mobile home with my dad and then I have to go to the moll with my mom to get all the things we need to eat on our vacation, which is when I gain weight, and then we go to the lagoon to camp. I get the whole mobile home to myself during the trip while my parents are in the driver’s cabin arguing, but now I can’t hear them and when we get to the camp site and my father takes the row boat down and my mother sets the table, that’s when I have to share the mobile home with them.”
“Where does your brother go?” Anita asks.
“My brother goes off on vacation on his own, with his friends,” Mariano answers. My dad says “to mess around,” and my mom says he goes south, where it’s not as cold. How cold is it where you go on your vacation?”
“It’s not cold at all,” Anita answers. “And up there?”
“It’s real cold,” Mariano answers.
“It must be, because we don’t get any cold down here,” Anita says happily. “You people keep everything.”
“You’ll have to come to the United States some day, Anita, so you can see what it’s like,” Mariano tells her.
“Golly,” Anita says, “remember, there’re five of us: my sister who sleeps with me, my brother who sleeps alone, my dad and mom who sleep together. Also remember that we only travel to the town where my grandparents are,”
“We only go to the lagoon,” Mariano says.
“Then I can’t,” Anita says.
“Then I can’t,” Mariano says.
And they fall silent for a while looking at the computer screen as though waiting for someone to come up with an idea.
Anita has an idea.
“Hey, listen,” she says to him, “if your older brother can travel without your parents, then when you’re older you’ll be able to travel without your parents.
“Yes,” Mariano says, “I think so.”
“Well, then, hurry up and get older,” Anita tells him.
“Sure,” Mariano says, and he gobbles up a bag of potato chips and drinks down a soda because he’s been told that if you eat a lot you’ll grow rapidly.
Anita goes to bed waiting for Mariano to get big so she can meet him in person.
ANITA AND MARIANO
Mariano had a hard time sleeping the entire night, and not because he dreamed about Friday the 13th or because he was afraid of the dark.
“You are afraid of the dark,” Anita told him one day.
No. Mariano couldn’t sleep that night because he’d wake up overcome with something more important than fear. He’d forgotten to ask Anita where they’d meet when he’d grown up. And he’d forgotten to tell her something. He remembered two things the third time he woke up while dreaming about traveling to the Galaxy Ur as commandant of a reconnaissance expedition.
And because he couldn’t sleep well, at school the teacher, who did not like him, scolded him because he answered in Spanish, which is a language of barbarians. Mariano was dozing off in class.
“Did you do your homework, William?” the teacher asked him out loud from his desk.
“¡Sí, señor!” Mariano answered.
The students all laughed. Since the teacher didn’t understand that “sí, señor” in Spanish meant “yes, sir” in English, he forbade him to answer in that language of uncivilized and barbarian people and punished him by making him stay in at recess.
“Gosh,” Billy’s classmates said to him, “why don’t you study German or French like us?”
“Because,” Mariano answered, whose friends called him Billy because his name was William. “I don’t have a girl friend in either French or German. But I do have a girl friend in Spanish. Her name is Anita.”
“You’re right,” his friends said, confused because, although some study German and other French, no one has a German girl friend or a French girl friend.
“See?” Mariano says, “it’s better to study Spanish.”
Mariano’s classmates were jealous Billy had a Spanish girlfriend.
“She’s not Spanish!” Mariano told them.
“But isn’t she a girlfriend who speaks Spanish?” they asked Billy, who was also William and also Mariano.
“She’s a girlfriend in Mexico and they speak Spanish in Mexico,” Billy explained to them.
“Where’s Mexico, Billy?” Mariano’s friends asked him.
“South of the United States and you don’t have to go over any water,” Mariano answered.
“Ah,” William’s friends said, “Billy likes geography and we like baseball.”
That must be the reason.
Mariano, seeing they were impressed by how he had a girlfriend and wasn’t even in high school and feeling they understood him, began to tell them who his friend was and what she was like and if they had enough time he would even tell them about the Speedy González’s sombreros you could find in her country and about the mariachis who were musicians who never got tired of playing.
“To begin with,” Mariano told them, because “to begin with” is a phrase that means “first of all” in English and makes a good impression, “to begin with, Anita is not a barbarian but very gentile.”
“Oh!” they all said, “What does ‘genteel’ mean?”
“‘Genteel’ means ‘soft, sweet, friendly,” Mariano, who’s also called Billy, explained to his friends. “Don’t you have a dictionary?”
“No,” they answered.
“That’s why you don’t have a girlfriend in any language, not in German and not in French,” Mariano lectured them. “In order to have a girlfriend, you’ve got to talk to her, and to talk to her you’ve got to have words and where do you think the words are? Huh?
“In the dictionary,” his friends answered.
“So, you’ve got to have a dictionary to have a girl friend. What a bunch of dummies. Come on, tell me why none of you has a girlfriend!” Mariano told them, scolding them gently.
“That’s right,” the ones said who could open their mouths, “opin their mouths,” Mariano thought, laughing to himself as he remembered Anita’s orthography.
“So what are you going to do now?” Mariano asked them, helping them find the answer.
“We’re going to buy a dictionary, Billy, we promise we’re going to buy a dictionary,” his classmates who studied French and his classmates who studied German, told him.
“But just don’t buy the dictionary. Get a girlfriend who can send you the words you find in the dictionary,” Mariano told them so as not to leave the lesson truncated.
“Yes, Billy, we’ll get a girlfriend, we promise,” Mariano’s friends promised him. “And what does ‘truncated’ mean, Billy?”
“Look it up in the dictionary you’re going to buy,” Billy answered, talking now like a professor.
From that day forward, Mariano was no longer the clumsy one in the class the teacher didn’t like at all and the dumb kid who took Spanish. They all looked at him with respect and friendship, but not one of them told the teacher why he had changed into being the most popular kid in class. Mariano knew the secret to having a girlfriend.
When Mariano told Anita all this, she felt happy because she knew that, in addition to their friendship,, they were sharing a story she knew the other half of, the story of why Mariano was learning Spanish and the story of how they met. Mariano asked her to tell him this part.
Anita agreed to, but it would have to be tomorrow, because her brother had been “standing in line” a long time to use the computer. Because this was the only time he could chat with a supermodel online and he had a lot of questions to ask her!
“Bye, then,” Anita said to Mariano.
“Adiós,” Mariano said to Anita.
MARIANO AND ANITA
Anita now set to tell him the part of the story that she knows, about how and why Mariano began to learn Spanish and how they came to know each other.
Today, she’s got the computer all to herself. Her high-school sister with whom she shares a room really has a boyfriend this week. Her older brother went to an “antro” with some friends of his. And her parents, because it’s Saturday, decided to go see a “show” to relieve the boredom of so much fighting with each other and so they invented the pretext of “Ana, you’re a big girl now and a responsible child. We’re going to leave you alone so you can feel we trust you. Don’t open the door to anyone and go to bed early.”
And Anita knew she would, like every one else in the family, also enjoy her Saturday night, talking to Mariano until she fell asleep.
“‘Show’ is the right word,” Mariano told Anita,” because in English it’s the same word, but I don’t know what an “antro” is. Anita, what’s an ‘antro’?”
“It’s a dive, a place where only older people go,” Anita answers him back.
“Ah,” Mariano said.
“What is a ‘show’?” Anita asked him. She’d heard the word but didn’t understand it.
“The same thing,” Mariano told her: a place where only older people go.
“You’re copying my answers,” Anita told him.
“I swear I’m not,” Mariano told her. The point is is that “dive” and “show” must be the same thing, except that your word, antro is in Spanish and my word show is in English.”
“Maybe you’re right and my brother and my parents, without knowing it (because my parents don’t speak English) went to the same place and are going to run into each other there, surprised at having gone to the same place using different words,” Anita wonders out loud.
“Well, that’s their business,” Mariano says. “But now that we have time, tell me the part of the story you owe me.”
“I will,” says Anita, as she begins to. “You wanted to learn Spanish because of something you said to me, something you forgot you said, something your mother sang to you one day when you were sad, to put you to sleep, a song that her grandmother sang to her when she was a child. A song that went, “Duérmase mi niño, duérmase ya, porque viene el Diablo, y se lo comerá.” Since it was the only time your mother was ever tender and loving to you, you wanted to learn Spanish to know what the song said, which is Go to sleep, my child, go to sleep now, because the Devil will come and eat you.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mariano says, his cheeks red, but full of happiness.
“Later, when you knew a little Spanish and still mixed up “i” and “y” because nobody talked to you at home, you began to search for friends in Internet, looking for a girlfriend who spoke Spanish and I was the nicest one you found that day on Messenger and began to chat and in order to talk to me you began to study Spanish a lot.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Mariano says.
“And here we are,” Anita says to Mariano. “Anything else, Sir?”
“Yes,” Mariano says to Anita. “Please, take good care of yourself until I’m big enough to travel alone to go and see you.”
“Great!” Anita says. “You said the whole sentence just as I would say!”
“I don’t say ‘an see you,’ either, which would be bad enough,” Mariano answers.
“That’s for sure,” Anita says. “What did you want to ask me?”
“For you to take good care of yourself until I’m grown up and you’re grown up,” Mariano says full of emotion.
“Take care of myself against what?” Anita asks.
“That you don’t lose your freckles,” Mariano says. “Promise?”
“I promise,” Anita says and looks in the mirror at her big eyes and her pretty freckles.
Mariano slept that night without nightmares.
And Anita, for the first time in her life, dreamed of angels with chubby cheeks.
ANITA AND MARIANO
One day, when Mariano went to the computer, Anita was already telling him what she had to eat that day: un taco de guacamole, una tostada de cueritos, una torta ahogada, un plato de pozole, buñuelos y un jercilla.
Mariano opened wide his eyez, with a “z” like Anita does: he’d never seen in his conversations with Anita so many words he didn’t know all together. He didn’t have the faintest idea. Nor was he capable of guessing even remotely what they meant. “How strange their food is in Mexico,” he said to himself and sent a series of questions to Anita all at once:
“What does ‘guacamole’ mean?”
“What does ‘tostada’ mean?”
“What does ‘cueritos’ mean?”
“What does ‘torta ahogada’ mean?”
“What does ‘pozole’ mean?”
“What does ‘buñuelos´mean?”
“What does ‘jericalla’ mean?”
“Calm down,” Anita told him, “one at a time.”
“That’s easy, because I don’t understand a thing!” Mariano said to Anita.
“Look,” Anita told him, who was in a good mood. “‘Guacamole’ comes from ‘aguacate,’ avocado, ‘tostada,’ toast, comes from the tortilla, ‘cueritos,’ strips of meat, come from pork, ‘torta ahogada,’ drowned cake, from bread and water, ‘pozole’ comes from corn, ‘buñuelos’ come from sugar marmalade and ‘jericalle’ is milk. Is that all clear?”
“Nel, no way,” Mariano said, because he loved using the slang Anita was teaching him.
“We say, no manches, don’t sweat it,” Anita tells him to throw him off balance.
“No manches,” Mariano repeats, who’s become more docile with Anita.
“Do you understand now why you have to come to Mexico,” Anita asks him.
“No, I don’t understand. Why?” Mariano says, knowing that he’s about to fall into the trap of one of Anita’s jokes.
“Because that way (and Anita’s now the teacher), because that way you’ll lose your ‘alimentary ignorance’.”
Mariano guesses he’s supposed to laugh, but he prefers to do it in private and writes nothing on the computer. Meanwhile he gets an idea. Why does Anita eat so much? And he asks her.
“Why do you eat so much?”
“Because I want to grow up so I can travel.”
“Why?” Mariano asks her.
“To meet you,” Anita answers him.
“But we agreed I was the one who was going to go meet you, Anita!” Mariano says to her.
“That’s fine,” Anita says, “so start eating a lot but don’t get fat. Grow up but don’t lose those chubby cheeks.”
“Ta bueno pues, you’ve got it,” Mariano says, who definitely is interested in Mexican slang.
“Can I tell you something,” Anita says.
“Tell me,” Mariano says.
“There was a huge thunderstorm in my house,” Anita says, “and my parents yelled all sorts of ugly things at each other. My sister says she overheard they’re going to separate. Now my mom is not talking to my dad and is crying by herself. And my dad’s in a bad mood.
“No te doy el pésame, you don’t get any pity from me,” Mariano says. We had thunderbolts and flashes here, a scowling contest that brought sparks from my parents. And my mother, in a hoarse voice I’d never heard before, told my dad she wants a divorce.”
“Mariano,” Anita says tenderly to him, “if I get married, I’ll never get a divorce. What about you?”
“If I get married to you, I’ll never get a divorce,” Mariano answers back tenderly.
Anita’s darling eyez take on a glow. Mariano’s hair curls tighter. And since no one notices if Anita takes food with her to the computer, they both began to eat at the same time so they’ll grow more rapidly.
MARIANO AND ANITA
Time passed and Anita and Mariano inevitably grew up.
Anita lives with her mother, who bought her a new computer. She has a car she pays monthly installments on and has a good job organizing parties.
Mariano now lives on his own and plays on weekends in a jazz band. He’d like to be an aeronautical engineer.
Anita is now goes by Ana and, of course!, she is studying, working on a degree in “Information Sciences.”
Mariano is no longer Billy, but William. And he imagines that someday he’ll be called “Mr. Blake, Engineer.”
In the university, Ana’s complete name is Ana Sofía González Blanco.
And Mariano’s complete name is William D. Blake.
Anita, Ana, is in the Guadalajara airport. She plucked her eyebrows and curled her eyelashes. She put pale orange on her eyelids. She gives her freckles a light amber touchup. She’s standing, holding herself as though she were dancing.
They’ve just announced the arrival of a flight from Chicago. She reads the arrivals on the screen. Ana checks the number of the flight on a piece of paper that she knows by heart. That’s the one. “Arrived”!
He’s landed,” Ana says.
She stands on tiptoes so she can see over the heads of the others also waiting for someone’s arrival.
Ana doesn’t know if William was thinking that love at first sight exists and what it would be like. Nor if his heart is overflowing with her and if he has his guitar to serenade her like they do in Mexico.
But Ana does know how you say “love at first sight” in English. That’s the surprise Ana has for William: she now speaks English.
From Ana’s side you can see a blond, a young boy with glasses. From William’s side you can see a dark-skinned girl with enormous eyez and freckles, who puts her hand up high in the air when William raises his hand up high in the air.
It’s the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen. And this grandfather has lived a lot.
I’m about to miss my plane. I’ve got to go. But I manage to see, from a distance, how Ana goes over to William with her arms open and how William goes over to Ana: both of them betting on life at the same time.
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