Chapter 7: Small Knots

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

Julian sat in the corner of a café on a sidestreet in Bogotá. It was a small place, which functioned as a corner store for the neighborhood as well as serving small cups of coffee (known as “tinto”) all day long. He really wanted a drink, but he knew that if he walked into a bar, it would be hours before he left, and he couldn’t afford that. He was teaching now,  enjoying the job and the money and everything else in his life, so why mess it up? He’d gotten a nice Christmas bonus at the institute, which allowed him to buy small but nice gifts as well as a few things for himself. He was still putting away part of his salary with which he wanted to finish school, and by his calculations, he thought he could go back at the second semester of 1968, which was in July, five months away.

But if everything was going so well, why did he feel so uneasy? That was what he kept asking himself as he sat in the café stirring his coffee. He realized that, if he got the chance, he’d be on the next plane out of Colombia in a second. Just go somewhere and re-make his life wherever he landed, just like that.  He envied that American girl, Grace, because she seemed to have done just that. She had an apartment and a job and so much independence she must wake up singing in the morning. Not only did her parents live in the US, they refused to leave it and visit her in Colombia. Or else they didn’t like her very much. Or they trusted her completely? (Something totally unheard of in Colombia.)

He admitted that he liked her, a lot. She was pretty and smart and funny and unpredictable. That last part was making other people they knew very uncomfortable, but he found it charming. He was unpredictable too, sometimes, but not the way she was. He liked being with her. He sensed that, underneath her surface, was a lot of strength he’d never encountered before. He really wanted to go out with her more, but when he realized that his parents were hoping for a more socially-advantageous relationship with Tere and her family, he rearranged how he saw Grace, and now he was beginning to dislike himself.

He liked Tere a lot, and he knew it. If he hadn’t met Grace, he and the Colombian girl would have announced their engagement by now. In fact, he knew that Tere was planning to do that at Christmas 1967, and had a fit when Julian decided not to go along with it. They barely spoke during the holidays, but their parents thought that was simply amusing.  But up to that point, he thought he could date both girls and see how things worked out.

He was a very young man.

Because they saw each other every day, it was easy to ask Grace if she wanted to go out. This consisted of having coffee together and, more often, going to parties and to the last remaining grill in Bogotá, the “Chez Dénis,” on Carrera 7 with Calle 28, diagonally across from the Tequendama and about fifty feet from the grounds of the National Museum. A “grill” was a combination supper club and night club, and in their heyday, the ones in Bogotá brought the best orchestras on the Latin American circuit, with a tendency to bring in Cuban or Mexican groups. The women dressed up, the men wore tuxes and there was dinner and dancing and drinks until maybe four o’clock in the morning. A lot of flirting, too. He and his brother Diego occasionally overheard their parents bickering after an evening at the Mirador, about who was flirting with whom and how much and what it meant. But in the morning, neither their mother nor their father showed any bitterness nor anger, so by the time the boys were 10 and 12, they’d learned to ignore these things. The bickering meant nothing. What disappointed Julian and his friends and relatives was that by 1965, there just weren’t any real clubs left. There was one downtown, the Mogador, which now catered more and more to businessmen and their secretaries or prostitutes during the week, as opposed to businessmen and politicians and their wives on Saturday night. The other one, classier, had a similar clientele, mostly because of its proximity to the Inter-Continental Tequendama. It was smaller than the Mogador, but had an excellent in-house orchestra with a good singer, nice banquettes, excellent food and drink and an adequate, highly-polished dance floor. It was a great place to go with a group on a Saturday night.

There were also parties and a couple of discotheques. He knew Grace went to the one on Carrera 13 with Calle 47, “El Gato Negro.” It didn’t look like much from the outside because its door was sandwiched between one of the best ruana shops in town on the left and a tiny “cigarrería” on the right, but inside it was large and dark and the music was the latest rock and pop from Europe and the US. It had a couple of rooms that were kept very dark, and once a couple found a spot on one of the couches, they could make out all night and not be disturbed, much less seen. He wasn’t jealous about this, mostly because he knew the young men who took her there, and one of them was really not interested in women that way. He kept trying, poor bastard, to appear as heterosexual as the others, but after he gave Julian a lecture on “the Dior tuck,” he knew that Ricardo (for Richard Wagner; his mother was a huge opera fan, from Cali) Franklin (American father) del Valle wasn’t much of a threat. On the other hand, he found that the “Dior tuck” was quite useful for keeping his shirts from twisting and wrinkling during the day. (The “Dior tuck” is a way to fold the back of the shirt as it’s tucked into the pants so that the front of the shirt preserves its flatness as long as possible.)

Remembering that casual lecture made him smile, and on that basis, the idea of Grace and Ricardo locked in a heated embrace in one of the Gato Negro back rooms almost made him laugh. It’ll never happen, of that he was convinced. He was a little more worried about Alvaro Sáenz, because he took her to The Gun Club and to movies and then invited her to spend Christmas in Cali, but not with him. He talked a friend into having Grace as a guest, because Alvaro wasn’t sure how his mother would react to the possibility of an engagement to an American girl of “uncertain pedigree.” Julian just could not believe the pretentiousness of the caleñas! Their sons were pretty more often than handsome, and their daughters were very pretty but spoiled and willful. And Julian just did not see Grace sitting around on terraces looking decorative. So let’s not worry about Alvaro Saenz, either.

He really liked the way Grace behaved at parties. She’d have a few drinks, maybe become more vivacious, less reserved with people she didn’t know, but she never got drunk. In fact, it seemed that, when she got to a certain level, she wanted to go home, and she did. No nasty scenes, no throwing up in the bathroom and no outrageous flirting with every guy she saw. She didn’t even make a scene one night at Billy TerHuyens’ new house in Chicó when Tere arrived and then spent the evening pinning Julian into a corner. Grace looked very hurt, but instead of getting into a fight with Tere, she quietly asked Billy to call her a taxi. He did, and she went home. She didn’t even call Julian the next day, but accepted an invitation from Billy to go out to Cajicá for lunch and to look at some property he wanted to buy. (Cajicá was then a village north of Bogotá, on the way to Zipaquirá, where lots of “bogotanos” like to keep weekend country houses. Now it’s a small town becoming crowded with gated condominiums. Billy is an architect who concentrates on urban buildings.) In fact, he discovered latere that Grace liked Billy, but wouldn’t accept any more dates because he was a very dangerous driver and a Mercedes-Benz is not accident proof.

What had surprised him was that his parents were now quietly pushing him to make his relationship serious with Tere. Or rather, his father thought it was a good idea, but after his mother had met Grace–and only once–her views on a marriage with the Colombian girl became more hesitant.

To his parents, Grace represented the possibility of moving back to the US. Julian would marry her and, after a couple of years, his younger brother or sister would go for a visit and. . . and just stay. And then the parents would have to come up, for the birth of grandchildren and just. . . well, Julian’s mother would have to stay to help Grace with the babies because American mothers were just too busy to do that and no one hired maids in the US anymore, so. . .

And oh yes, Julian’s education! Grace would pay for that because no woman wants to live with a man who isn’t educated. And anyway, it’s cheaper in the US and entrance exams are easier. Besides, Julian only wanted to finish his degree. Surely an American school would have no problems accepting credits from Los Andes, it’s such a prestigious school, you know. . .

Julian was aware of all these ideas and plans every waking moment of the day, and sometimes in his dreams. At first he’d felt uncomfortable, but as he got to know Grace–and saw some flashes of her temper–he knew he could not marry her under such false pretenses. And if she got mad, then she’d tell her parents, and her father would undoubtedly come after Julian with a gun or a lawyer or both. And probably her brother, too, who was only 14 months younger and therefore closer to her than her parents.  He wanted to keep Grace in his life, and if they got married, it would have to be with honesty. Lying to Tere went against his grain, too, but not as much as lying to Grace.

He glanced out through the front window of the café. The sun had come out after a dreary gray morning. He finished his “tinto,” wiped his mouth with the postage-stamp-sized paper napkin and got up. Lately the owner of the institute and his new academic director (who was, in Julian’s opinion, something of a jerk) had been talking about putting Julian in charge of the evening classes, as a subdirector. He’d get a monthly salary, instead of the hourly pay for a teacher, and it would be more than what he earned now. Then he really could go back and finish his degree and make a decision about his future. Yes indeed, the sun really was shining now.

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