RED WINE AT McDONALD’S
Translation by Ruth Clarke and Jethro Soutar
They’d arranged to meet outside Brixton station. She’d been the only one to reply to his advert. It was a short note, posted a week ago on a well-known classifieds webpage. From the cubicle of an innocuous internet café, Felipe had typed four words: English nationality for cash.
He was shivering like an Eskimo with no coat, one hand stuffed in a pocket, the other holding on to a coffee. Autumn was setting in. A few dry leaves flew about him, others collided with buses crammed with passengers. It was rush hour and the sound of engines had taken over the street.
His mobile vibrated in his jacket pocket. It was a text from her. I’m on my way, be there in five.
Felipe got on the lookout. Every time a girl came along, he stared into her eyes, trying to guess if she were Kloe. He saw a young girl approaching, blonde and pretty. He desperately hoped it was her, but no, she walked straight past him, heels clacking against the ground, and kissed a boy dressed in leather trousers and cowboy boots waiting on the other side of the station exit.
Kloe knew what Felipe looked like. He’d described his appearance in an email, while she’d only said she was a young woman.
A few minutes later she appeared. Felipe was surprised when he saw her: she was quite a lot younger than he’d imagined. She was wearing comfortable baggy trousers, the sort you might wear to the gym, and was accompanied by a playful creature.
“He’s called Shadow,” she said.
Kloe suggested they get something to eat at McDonald’s. There was one on the corner nearby and they set off towards it, heading south, as if they were going to Streatham Hill. They walked in silence. She held the dog on a silver chain and Felipe would sometimes deliberately fall behind, eager to catch a glimpse of her bum swaying from side to side as she walked.
When they got to the door, Kloe clenched her fist in a signal to the dog. Shadow sat down on the pavement, keeping quite still. Felipe thought how well trained the animal was. They went inside and both ordered a burger and chips, Kloe with a strawberry milkshake, Felipe a Coca-Cola, no ice. As they made their way towards the only empty table, Kloe caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and stopped for a moment to look at herself. She gently placed her right hand under her hair to straighten it. Felipe noticed the huge hoops she had dangling from her ears.
“Everything’s stressing me out at the moment,” Kloe said. “I’m scared of losing my dole. I fell out with my mum a while back and moved out. I’m gonna use the money to train to become a hairdresser, I get nervous just thinking about it – and I ain’t even signed up yet! The hairdressing school’s only a few streets from here.” Kloe gestured in the school’s direction with her hand.
There was an innocence in her face; it was a girl’s face, not a woman’s. She wore layers and layers of make-up, as if trying to hide her real face, her identity. The orangey powder didn’t cover all her neck and it reminded Felipe of the first time he’d seen his sister with make-up on; this made him want to laugh, but he resisted. Instead he asked her if she liked football; he’d noticed a Kappa logo printed on her sweater.
“No,” she said, casually.
“I see,” Felipe said, without knowing quite what to say.
“My mum rang earlier,” Kloe said in that voice women use to gossip. “Asked me if I’d left my computer on. We live in the same block of council flats. What makes me laugh is she never practices what she preaches. She goes on and on about how we should do this, that and the other to save on electricity, when she’s the one who gets her internet cut off coz she can’t pay the bill. I’m the organised one, the one who scrimps and saves, while she’s busy spending money she ain’t got on eBay.”
Felipe looked at her with great curiosity, the way a child watches cartoons on television for the first time. She looked prettier than she did a few minutes ago. He started to see her less as a teenager, more as a woman.
Kloe made a horrible noise with her straw. She blushed and apologised. After a few seconds of silence they both started to laugh at what had happened. Felipe suddenly felt like he and Kloe were old friends, despite the fact that it was only half an hour since they’d met in person for the first time.
“Maybe it really is all relative,” he thought.
“I go on Facebook like nine times a day, and I spend a maximum of three hours on there, answering comments and messages,” Kloe went on. “I use Twitter on my phone, I hardly ever put messages on Twitter from the web page. The only thing I need the internet for is to sell stuff I don’t use no more on eBay, or to look for work. I need constant internet access if I’m gonna find a job, a decent one, something I’ll like or enjoy doing. I’m not talking about my ideal job, just something to pay the bills and give me a bit of spends, keep me going until I find something I really want to do, you know what I mean?” She paused while she straightened her hair. “Are you on Facebook?” she eventually asked.
“No, no,” said Felipe. “I was once but I ended up shutting it down, it seemed to be taking up a lot of my time, I realised I’m not suited to such things…”
“So… How do you keep in touch with friends and family then?”
“I use Skype, it’s cheap and I can speak to my parents for hours,” Felipe said. She carried on staring into his eyes, as if somehow satisfied with his answer.
Felipe realised luck was on his side. Kloe was heaven-sent: he’d been illegal for three weeks; they’d refused to renew his visa. Marrying Kloe was his last chance, his last throw of the dice.
“The biggest throw of my life,” he thought for a moment.
“Man, don’t feel bad about it,” Kloe said as if reading his thoughts, as she sucked up what was left of her milkshake. “Getting married for papers ain’t no crime, I do things that aren’t legal too you know. I do house cleaning for two women and get paid cash in hand. If I declared it, I’d get my benefits cut. The government’s loaded, it don’t need no more cash, it’s us lot what ends up paying more tax than the rich.”
Felipe nodded in agreement. He reached into his jacket and took out a little bottle, no bigger than his thumb, containing red wine. He mixed it in with his Coca-Cola and took a sip.
“If you were my husband, like for real, I’d teach you how to save money,” she said. “I’ve started ordering food online because it works out cheaper, and you don’t waste time putting things you don’t need in your trolley. My mum don’t have a clue how to save money, she goes to the supermarket and buys everything she sees. My mum’s business shouldn’t be my problem, but my little brother still lives with her and I do care about him. My mum’s never had a job in her life, apart from one that lasted three months, a favour from a friend who’s got his own business. She won’t be able to claim benefits for my brother no more when he turns eighteen, in four months’ time.”
Felipe imagined for a moment he was on a blind date. He’d once thought about signing up to match.com. He could still remember the advert on the tube. A couple were just about to kiss and beneath them in big letters it said find love with match.com. He didn’t do it in the end, as much out of laziness as shyness.
She rubbed her last chip in a puddle of ketchup and popped it in her mouth. “I’ve been freaking out all morning, faffing arounds, doing nothing,” Kloe said as she licked the tips of her fingers. “I want to practice cutting hair on someone so I’m ready when my course starts. Wouldn’t you fancy giving it a go, Felipe?”
“Scissors make me nervous,” he said, “and anyway, I’ve always had my hair long.” Felipe listened to her carefully. He had with him part of the money they’d agreed to via emails a few days ago. He’d give her the other part once they were married.
He took out the envelope and handed it to her. Kloe neither opened it nor bother to count the money. She just slipped it straight in her pocket.
“Thanks,” she said, fiddling with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter she’d put on the table. “I’ve smoked all my life. Always have done, always will,” she said out of nowhere, as if she were some kind of veteran smoker at her young age.
After an hour they said goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. As he watched her leave McDonald’s, Felipe wondered whether Kloe was perhaps an angel, and Shadow her little helper. “Shadow,” Felipe muttered to himself. It wasn’t even black. Quite the opposite in fact: the dog was white.
He went upstairs to the bathroom, unzipped his fly and started to pee. Written on the wall, underneath “Hot Chat,” was a telephone number similar to Kloe’s. Only the last digit was different, a six instead of a two.
He washed his hands and went downstairs, thinking about changing the six for a two as he made for the exit. Outside, the rain had cleared the streets and Shadow was nowhere to be seen. A group of policemen stood waiting for him with folded arms. Despite the early-evening darkness, Felipe could still make out the warm, childlike smile that played across her face.
Translation of “Red Wine at McDonald’s” Copyright Gunter Silva Passuni. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2019 by Ruth Clarke and Jethro Soutar. All rights reserved.
April 07, 2019
Gunter Silva (1977) studied law and political science at the Universidad Católica de Santa María in Peru and holds a BA in the Arts and Humanities. He is currently completing a MA in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. He has published one book of short stories, Crónicas de Londres (Atalaya ed. Lima, 2012) And the novel Pasos Pesados (Fondo Editorial UCV. Lima, 2016). Many of his short stories were included in Anthologies and translated into English and French. He also contributed to a range of publications such as Sub Urbano magazine, Words without borders among others. He lives in London. Twitter