(Previously published in Swedish in the magazine Sydförfattaren)
A New York Story
© Copyright 2004 by Dina Bern
Photo (c) 2004 by Richard Loller.
“Adonis!” yelled coquettish Petra Dorantes.
“Adonis!” she is wearing a black dress, the top of it adorned with multicolor imitations of precious stones. Petra is a golden-ager. She is also short, overweight and a bit pedantic.
“But Adonis! When will you understand that you must not do what you have done this morning? You’re so beautiful, Adonis, you have such beautiful blond hair, a shade so special that it doesn’t even exist in the jars and bottles of coloring shampoos of the most prestigious cosmetic companies of Paris, of London or New York. Oh! Don’t I know it well. I, who from the moment you came to live with me, have been trying to find your unique color in a bottle to dye my own mane. I adore you and I know well of your love for me. But you hurt me with your insistence in doing this mischief so often. Especially when you do it so early in the morning. Like today! I cannot leave what you have done inside the apartment, I must take it out. But of course the doorman mustn't notice. He doesn’t like you very much. He claims that you believe that he's a tree! If he learns about this he'll start gossiping. Anyway! I'll disguise your mischief, Adonis. I'll put it in a box and I’ll wrap it as I would a present. Then I’ll put it in one of those bags from my favorite stores. That's the only way I dare to take it out of the building. The doorman will think that I'm returning something. Which bag should I use to hide your mischief? Let's see...I think I have bags from Macy’s, from Bloomingdale’s and from Sack’s Fifth Avenue. Oh! One from Bloomingdale’s. Those bags are bigger and all of them have those beautiful decorations in gold and red. Noone will suspect that such a beautiful bag contains your nasty deed.”
Petra goes to her bedroom and Adonis follows her. She opens the closet and on her toes, stretches her arms to reach the pile of shopping bags on a shelf above her hanging dresses, blouses and skirts. The woman looks at the chosen one as she would a treasure. “Oh! What a beautiful bag. I’ll try to save it. I’ll try not to throw it away together with your mischief, Adonis.”
Petra Dorantes puts some make up on and combs her dyed platinum-blond short hair. Her feet, in red leather sandals, take fast short steps towards the main entrance. The sad stare of Adonis follows her. Petra thinks that he is ashamed.
“I won’t be long”, she says. He walks towards the door but she closes it before he reaches it. From inside, he hears the tingling of the keys that lock the door.
Young Melchor walks on Central Park East in Manhattan, near 70th Street, quite close to the building that houses Petra’s apartment. This is his favorite area. So many rich people live here and most of them are old. Experiencing an assault at their age traumatizes them so much that when the police interrogates them, they do not even remember the description of the thief, or thieves. Their weakness, their fear and their bad memories make them easy targets for criminals like Melchor.
These racist old people, thinks Melchor, allow me to approach them with any nonsense because I’m White. And since I was born in New York City I don’t even have a Cuban accent. If I were dark they wouldn’t pay attention to the silly questions I use to stop them. They're fools that look at the color of the skin and stick labels with intentions. I’m so lucky! They say to themselves ”this person is White, he or she wants to help me or ask me for a favor”, or ”this person is dark, or even worse, Black, he or she wants to rob me or kill me.”
Melchor is listening to his walkman. He laughs somewhat sarcastic. The radio program is about an incident that backs his theories. It is a live interview with Randy Nelson, Black Jamaican singer of world fame who, amused, narrates an absurd experience of racism:
“Imagine”, says the singer to the interviewer, “It was my first week of residence in such an elegant area of New York City and my first week of vacation in several years. One afternoon I decided to walk my dog, whom I named ”Lady” after one of Walt Disney's characters. We walked through Central Park. When we came back home we found the elevator on the first floor. Two other people came in to ride with us, an elderly lady and a young man, both White. Our presence didn’t seem to bother the young man, but the old woman looked at Lady and at me with very bad eyes. Wanting to disturb the least possible the other two who shared the restricted space with us, I ordered my dog, ”Lady, lay down!” To my surprise, the old woman throws herself on the floor and starts screaming, ”Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me! Take my purse, my rings, all...but please don’t hurt me!” I was so amazed, that I couldn’t find the right words to explain to the terrified woman that I had given the command to my dog, not to her. Fortunately, my music has given me great fame and the young man who shared the elevator with us had recognized me. He explained to the old woman who I was. He also explained that in an article in People Magazine, he had read that the name of my dog was indeed Lady. The old woman apologized and offered me some money to correct her mistake. I didn't accept her money offer, of course, but I accepted her apology. Can you believe this story?”
Melchor regrets the insult to his idol, Randy Nelson. According to him, noone in the world could match the talent of the Jamaican. Why does a man as great as this singer has to be humiliated by those rich old farts? he thinks. They really deserve my robbing them. My next crime will be to take vengeance for what that ridiculous old woman did to my Black music king.
Melchor is passing by the luxurious apartment building where Petra Dorantes lives and sees her coming out, big Bloomingdale's bag in hand.
An old woman like that one must have been the one that insulted my Black king, he says to himself. It could even have been her, damn her! Ha! But now she'll pay for it! Here is the avenger of Randy and of all of those who, like him, have been humiliated by these old racists!
To his chagrin, his plans are suddenly interrupted. The building’s doorman runs after Petra to ask her if she wants a taxi, if her driver is going to pick her up in her Mercedes, or if she wants him, her doorman, to get the Mercedes from the garage to drive herself. She clutches the bag against her breast when the uniformed young man asks the three questions and answers negatively to all of them. Then she turns around and walks fast, almost running, Bloomingdale's bag hanging again from one hand. The young bandit’s brain goes back to planning the best way to carry out his crime. The way the old lady held the bag during the exchange with the doorman assures him that his deed is going to be a profitable one.
“Good morning!” greets Melchor. The smile on his angel face shows pearl-white teeth. The green eyes smile too, discharging radiance.
At last have I discovered another being with the same hair color of my Adonis! thinks Petra with emotion. The beautiful face of the young man, the softness and sweetness of his voice, disarmed her. Not only does she answer the greeting, she compliments Melchor on his looks:
“Good morning, handsome! How wonderful it is to find a face as beautiful as yours so early in the morning. You have two suns for cheeks, boy!”
“Thank you, ma'am”
“Do you live around here, boy?”
“Yes. I live next block,” lied Melchor,
“Where? In the building where Dr. Lewinstein has his office?”
“Yes, exactly. I’m going back home. I've been jogging in the park. I jog every morning. It’s the best exercise.”
“It does you lots of good, boy. You look so healthy and handsome. I’m going in the same direction, except that a few blocks farther. I’m going to that site where they are constructing a new building.”
“Are you planning to buy an apartment there?” asks Melchor pretending curiosity and walking now beside Petra,
“Maybe. It's possible.” It is her turn to lie. She knows well that the reason she is on her way to the site is that in one of the many containers that hold the wastes produced by the construction work, she will be able to dispose of the mischief of her Adonis.
“May I help you?” inquires Melchor, taking the Bloomingdale’s bag from Petra’s hand before she has a chance to utter an answer. She looks at him appreciatively and says yes with a nod instead of a word. The few minutes of communication were enough for her to discover that the young man did not come from her high society circles.
Poor little one, she thinks. Maybe he works in the building where he lives. Maybe he cleans. Maybe he's a handyman. Maybe he operates the elevator. But he’s so handsome! With such a face and such a body, even if he’s not talented he can have the chance to become economically comfortable. Although I fear not in such a good way. What could this boy do to become rich? Hmmm, let’s see. Act in pornographic films. Become a gigolo. Good God! Why am I thinking these things? If the poor boy knew! Anyway, I hope he goes to school when he gets some money. A little education can provide a little sensibility. However, there are people with innate sensibility. This boy seems to be one of those cases in spite of his obvious poor upbringing. He’s sweet, and kind, and...
She turned to look at him. She was going to tell him that it was not necessary that he accompanied her all the way to the construction site, that she could take back the shopping bag as soon as they got to the door of the building where he supposedly lived. She didn’t have time. Melchor started to run as if the devil himself was at his tale. The surprised Petra stood there, planted on the sidewalk, the same as the trees that lined the street. Her lips, covered with dark-red lipstick, formed a big “O”. Suddenly she realized exactly what had happened. The beautiful, sweet and ”sensible” young man who so much had cheered her morning, had stolen from her. Nobody seemed to have noticed it. People kept on coming and going on the same sidewalk where she felt planted like the trees next to her, but noone approached her to say that they had seen what had happened. Petra closed her mouth. A smile stretched the dark-red lips. The smile soon turned into bursts of laughter, she laughed so much that she had to lean on the wall of the building in front of her. Among bursts of laughter she babbled: ”Well deserved, little bandit, you really deserve your bounty! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha...!"
Petra entered her building still laughing aloud.
“Are you O.K., Mrs. Dorantes?” asked the doorman, worried. She didn't answer. She noticed with relief that, except for her, the elevator was empty. She knew she looked like a mad woman laughing alone and did not want anyone else to see her.
Adonis recognized her steps even over the thick carpet of the hall. He walked towards the door to be before Petra when she opened.
“My Adonis, my beautiful! My beloved! Do you know that your mischief became the well-deserved reward of a shameless young bandit?" she asked, caressing his blond mane lovingly. "You should have seen how he ran thinking that the Bloomingdale’s bag contained silver chandeliers or gold clocks! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! If it is to give deserved punishment to crooks, my Adonis, you can defecate in the apartment whenever you want! Ha, ha, ha! You’re so beautiful my Adonis, sooooo very very beautiful! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“Urf! Arf! Arf! Waw, Waw, Waw!" responded
Adonis waving his blond tail, delighted to see his mistress so amused.
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