The trip has turned upside down and inside out after we go below the equator for more literary adventures! Russell Shor, our regular contributor and fearless leader of the Anti-Social Meetup group presents:
La Pequeña Guerra de Tinga
Tinga certainly had a bad aim with her lipstick. Every morning, before opening her San Telmo coffee shop, she would pose in front of her mirror, tube in hand, and scribble. Like a five year old at a coloring book, she could never stay within the outline of her lips so all she could present to her customers was a lopsided crimson smear of a mouth.
The police who roamed San Telmo called her Tinga. Miss Thing. Her gray and black streaked hair was always pulled tightly so tight that it seemed as if her scalp may peel back and she was so inordinately fond of an emerald green blouse with a silhouetted black lion ranging across her bosom that she rarely changed it. Tinga didn’t try to hide her widening figure with loose fitting skirts. The black ones she wore almost every day seemed molded around her hips, with the rear zippers straining to contain the body between them. One of the officers, a regular, liked to pinch her bottom and wink, “ever had a man, Tinga?”
She’d wink back. “Sometimes two.” He’d elbow his colleagues and laugh, “Where would you find a volunteeer?” The officers liked to drop into her coffee shop after their shift because she always took a few pesos off their bills and bring out plates full of alfajor biscuits to snack on, throwing her hands up calling “libre!” as she set them down.
She knew the police canvassed her neighborhood on serious business. They had to be serious. Argentina was being overrun by communistas and their allies, intellectuals, scientists, Jews. The police called them Montoneros, and San Telmo was their base, only four stops on the Buenos Aires metro from the seat of government where a group of Army patriots ruled after wresting control from the hated Peronistas.
She’d known a lot of those enemies of the state years before, when she was called by her given name, Angela, and they’d sit in her coffee shop for hours and badger her husband, Arturo Joffo, about the war in Vietnam or the Peronistas. The brave ones spoke of Allende in Chile or the looming danger coming from their own military leaders. Arturo humored them for the most part but asked them to keep the talk down if strangers were at the tables.
One of the regulars was a rumple-faced journalist named Timmerman, whom she had taken as a lover in revenge for her husband’s dalliances with the girls who came to work there. She knew Arturo loved her because he’d told her he married her, not for beauty, but because she made his entire soul laugh. Maybe she should have accepted his affairs for that but, she told herself, she was a woman dishonored and she’d reclaim it the best way she knew how.
One night, Timmerman lunged through the door, breathing as hard as he did over her, as she was setting the chairs up on the tables for closing.
“May I please speak with your husband?” She’d always liked how he spoke her language so precisely with an Eastern European accent. She eyed him for a moment wondering why he wanted Arturo, then nodded toward a curtained archway. “He’s in the back putting the receipts away.”
A few minutes later, they emerged together. Arturo’s face was drawn tighter than she’d ever seen. “I have to go.” He kissed her. “Please mind the shop until I return.”
“From Where…?” A bolt of fear made her knees almost buckle.
Timmerman put his palm over his mouth to silence her but she wouldn’t stay quiet. She shreiked, “Where are you two going?”
He waved her off. “You can’t know,” turned and hustled Arturo out the door. After then, the regulars stopped coming in. Sone, she learned, they vanished altogether.
“There are rumors,” Timmerman told her when he returned. “The government is snatching people off the streets. No one ever hears from them again.”
A few days later Timmerman himself was gone. A few days after that his face was all over the news, the headlines saying he was part of a wide conspiracy to support the Montoneros with kidnapping ransoms.
With no husband or lover to please, Tinga allowed her appearance to settle into its current state. And when the police called around asking what she knew about them, she would rub her arms like she was washing off, and say “good riddances to all of them.”
In the five years since, it was the police who called her Tinga and patted her ample culo who kept her in business. Almost every day they brought her photographs of people they were hunting, asking her to let them know if she sees them. “They won’t be arrested in your establishment,” they assured her. She believed them. “Leave the pictures with me,” she told them. They usually did, and she studied each one to make sure she’d recognize them.
One night, she asked them why they keep bringing the same photos. They vied to complain they’d only made only one arrest in almost a year, a student carrying pamphlets calling for a national strike. This student told them of a Montonero named “Cara torcida”—crooked face—who was helping the hunted ones escape.
This Cara Torcida was an elusive bird, they griped, saying that the grandes were demanding his capture. “How are we supposed to catch him when no one knows what he looks like?”
They even put Tinga on to the case, telling her to be on the lookout if any strange looking men came her way. She ran her hands along her hips, “If you don’t mind, I’ll have him first, then turn him over to you.”
“Well, Tinga,” one called out. “Don’t roll over and crush him. We will need him for questioning.”
That night, just before closing and the last customer an hour gone, a van bearing license plates from Uruguay and a large sign “Panaderia — Dulces y factoras” pulled up to the back door. She kissed the driver as she usually did on each delivery, leaving a bright red smudge on his lips, then moved the trays of sweets from the back and reloaded a different cargo for the trip back across the border.
The few remaining customers that remembered the shop when Arturo ran it always remarked that the sweets this van delivered were almost as good as the ones he’d made. She’d shrug. “Perhaps. I can’t remember.”
When the government began talking of war to reunite the Melvinas Islands with their country, the police on her beat seemed more worried about being drafted than catching Cara Torcida. They had a right to be, the whole country seemed like it was mobilizing for the effort and she was forced to close after almost off them them were inducted sent off to the great liberation campaign.
The police never did return. What was left of their patriotic army returned in the dead of night when no one could see their defeated faces. The streets of Buenos Aires erupted anyway and the military junta, before long found it self in the same prisons where they had sent so many thousands of their citizens.
Three months later, Tinga reopened her coffee shop. Her aim with her lipstick was now true and she’d been on a diet that made her feel ready to welcome the driver of the blue van. Together, they would mount the photographs of the hunted ones who were never caught before he went in the back to bake the dulces.
Leave it to me to have writer friends who write things that just make me hungry. Hah!
The deadline HAS PASSED!!! We are now in the process of posting the last few entrants and finalists will be announced sometime next week! Stay tuned and leave Russell a comment or two!!!