June 23, 1978
Malena. Malena. Malena. She’s all I think about lately, but maybe I should stop. I don’t think we will become anything serious. Malena is a twenty year old woman (or so I estimate) from the university. Whenever papi and I go on a break from the site, I see her in the cafe. We cannot afford to take breaks there everyday, though, so I only see her once or twice a week. Still, I think a part of me dies every time I see her, with that radiant smile, focused gaze, and colorful outfits. She stands out from everyone else in the cafe; she doesn’t belong among us. I wondered for a while, in fact, why such a beautiful woman would come down from the university to el campo. What does she know about farming and construction, real dirty work? So one day two weeks ago, I asked her: “What is a young college woman doing down here in el campo?” And she replied, “I prefer being outside of the center of the city. Life is calmer here. I feel safe.” And with that she returned to reading very intensely, while I just stood there, contemplating what she’d said. But, then my father came and pulled me away by my shirt. “Cuidate mijo,” he said, “city girls bring trouble. Money isn’t the only reason I kept you out of university. Let’s get back to work.”
I hate it when papi speaks in riddles like that, but part of me understood what he was saying. I have heard stories of los desaparecidos, subversives and political students being going missing one day never to be seen again. I’ve noticed the growing number of police downtown when papi and I do a project downtown. But, everyday I come home to el campo. Here, people hacen el cruz por los desaparecidos and then go to work. We suffer too; we may even suffer more because our interests are never heard. We don’t voice them, because we have more urgent things to think about, like how we’ll afford living here as inflation and violence continue to rise, how we’ll pay bills, how we’ll eat. The revolution was supposed to solve these problems for us, but somewhere along the line, the government changed their priorities, and now fear and control are at the top.
I saw Malena again last week. I know I wasn’t supposed to talk to her, but I couldn’t help it. She’s so beautiful. And I am almost 23 now; I will be on my own soon and need to marry. I am not sure where this confidence came from, but I walked into the cafe, walked right up to her and said, “Hi, my name is Nahuel. Would you like to watch the World Cup finals with me next week?” She studied me intently, like those books she always has in front of her, but finally she responded, “okay,” took out a small stamp from her folder and wrote down her name and room number. “I’m Malena. Here is a stamp from my school. Come and find me next week so we can watch the game.” With a shaky hand, I took her stamp with a gentle head nod. I was surprised and a bit confused, but I tried to contain my excitement. Quickly, I walked out of the cafe, without even getting food. Papi shook his head solemnly when I came out, but I didn’t care. “Malena, Malena, Malena,” I recited as we walked back to the work site.
But I haven’t seen Malena since then. I went back to the cafe a couple of days later, looked at her table, but was met by emptiness. Today, I went again, and she wasn’t there again. Argentina has made it to the finals and will be playing in two days. Everyone is excited about an Argentine win, something pleasant to contrast such violent, desperate, and depressing times. But, I can’t help but think of papi’s words, “money isn’t the only reason I kept you out of university.” Where is Malena? What did she do? Is she a student political subversive? If I go to look for her, will she be there?