Translation by Nahual Lhorente
It´s one thing to see it in a movie or read it in the newspaper or a book, but it’s another thing altogether when you wake up one morning to go to work and it’s not only your wife you can’t find, but neither her clothes nor make-up nor anything of hers, as if she never lived in the house and the only thing you can think of is to smile nervously telling yourself it’s all just a practical joke and everything will go back to normal any minute now. This was exactly what happened to me a while back when, after a very heavy night’s sleep, I awoke the following morning and my wife wasn’t there; at first I thought she had left the house due to some extreme urgency, however I immediately thought, perplexed, that she had a lover and had decided to run off with him giving me a sleeping pill beforehand, but what about her things? How could she have had the time to take them all, I mean every single thing, starting with the books and CDs she had bought herself, to her dresses, her shoes, her toothbrush and, of course, her underwear, including a pair of sexy panties I had given her for her last birthday.
In spite of the bewilderment, confusion and anger I felt, I left in a hurry for the office because I had an awful amount of work piled up which I could in no way put off any longer. On the way there, in a decrepit but fast cab, I attempted in vain to find an explanation. I knew very well there were a lot of cases of people who had disappeared without leaving the slightest trace and who had never been heard of since; in a few neighbouring countries this had occurred systematically and even, without going any farther, here in Lima, workers and students have mysteriously vanished and no news about them has ever been heard. But these disappearances —which never interested me— were in some way related to one another, and besides the missing people had previously received threats and undergone persecutions, but this wasn’t my wife’s case (I’ll hush her name to avoid possible complications to those who might have known her); she was the kind of woman who wouldn’t complicate her life with problems that didn’t concern her personally, just like me, and it’s because of this that her disappearance intrigued me although I didn’t altogether reject the possibility, like I’ve already said, that she had abandoned me.
I decided to keep what had happened a secret, so around the office I’d behave as naturally as possible, without showing the slightest sign of angst; nobody would ask me about my wife, moreover, when I chatted with my colleagues and we talked about parties or gatherings of the past, I always appeared alone, even though I remembered perfectly having gone with my wife. However, I chose to take this disappearance in the most favourable way without it meaning, by the way, that I forgot a person was missing. So, after a long while, I started to save each month a bit of my salary (my wife didn’t work, it was me who covered the household expenses) and, also, to enjoy an unexpected bachelorhood: I’d often drink more than is wise and return home drunk, I had some love affairs, would wander around La Colmena, without rhyme or reason, dodging a crowd of street vendors and, sometimes, at the San Martin Square or the Dos de Mayo, I’d stop to contemplate in awe a demonstration of workers who’d generally end up being chased and beaten by the police and, in the end, every one of us who happened to be there at that moment would run off drenched by the riot police car’s water cannons.
The weeks passed by and I didn’t do anything to try to find my wife; true, we didn’t love each other like before, but in a way I think my silence and passivity were accepting the fact of her disappearance, not only physical, but of her memory as well, and who knows if it was me, acting like this, that was making her disappear inevitably, more and more each day, like it surely happened with those who had disappeared before, but who nobody dared to talk about.
Lately, for work reasons, I had been spending many hours alone with the company’s sales manager and, even though I’m just a simple administration employee, I noticed she liked me and found me interesting and that I, in spite of she being around fifteen years older than me, also liked her and found her interesting. I’m not going to talk about our relationship here (suffice it to say that it was passionate), but I will say she was the only person I could trust after my wife’s disappearance, especially after one humid and grey afternoon when, while we traversed the endless Arequipa Avenue by foot, she told me the company’s attorney had disappeared a while back but, apparently, nobody had noticed or nobody wanted to talk about it. I then told her about my wife’s disappearance and suddenly we started to remember people we didn’t see around anymore, like the waiter at Cordano, that old and quiet bar half hidden behind the Government Palace, or the newspaper vendor at the street corner where our office is located, or that journalist on TV that was so amusing, and others too, as if all of them had been lost forever in Lima’s winter mist.
Perhaps it was cowardice, but neither she nor I wanted to risk disappearing from one moment to another, so when she proposed that we leave the country, I immediately accepted. She bought the airplane tickets and took out some money as well with which we could live a few months, while we looked for jobs. As a farewell we decided to have a drink at Cordano; as I left the office first, I went ahead and waited for her. When an hour passed by and she didn’t arrive, I worried about her delay, and when two hours passed I ran out to look for her, fearing the worst. At the company, everybody, including her secretary, told me they didn’t know her nor knew who she was; later I went to her house and found that two old people now lived there with whom it was impossible to speak. She hasn’t contacted me since that day, and for my part I don’t know how to locate her. I kept my airplane ticket but, truth be told, I don’t know what I should do nor who to turn to; I don’t know if I should board the next flight or stay here and wait to disappear at any moment, while the rest go on as if nothing had happened.
Translation of “Disappearances” Jorge Cuba-Luque. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2015 by Nahual Lhorente. All rights reserved.
Jorge Cuba Luque (Lima, 1960). Studied Law at the San Marcos University, where he graduated as a lawyer in 1988. In 2004, he obtained a doctorate on Latin American Studies at the Toulouse-Le Mirail University after submitting his thesis “La presse de Lima et la littérature urbaine au Pérou. 1948-1955.” He has published the short story books “Colmena 624” (1995) and “Ladrón de Libros” (2002); the brief memoirs “Yo me acuerdo” (2008), in Georges Perec’s fashion; and the novel “Tres cosas hay en la vida” (2010).