We Don't Belong Here

A Romantic Comedy
by
Maiah Ocando & Gabriel Torrelles

Chapter 1: This is how she learned her mom was sick and could die

By Gabriel Torrelles on Thursday March 8th, 2018



A romantic comedy about two fishes out of the water.

Art by Maiah Ocando

When she was told about her mom, Maiah was in Lima, right in the middle of a photoshoot for a makeup brand. I was made aware of the news when she sent me screenshots of the conversation with her siblings. The messages read that the results of the medical evaluation revealed something was wrong and that a CT scan was necessary.

I called her as soon as I realized what was going on, but her phone rang a million times with no answer. She would later tell me she couldn’t pick up because, right after the news struck, she was called to the set.

So, with her jet lag covered in fresh makeup, on a trip she never even wanted to take on the first place and surrounded by producers, makeup artists, stylists, brand representatives and photographers, Maiah posed for the goddamn pictures.

The truth is no one knows what to do once they hear that kind of news. Maybe you’d be the kind of person who’d stop what you’re doing, get on a plane, and fly away; perhaps you’d talk to the taxi driver about it, or the receptionist at your hotel, anyone. But you’re not Maiah. If you’re stopped by a traffic cop for running a red light, you won’t wish him a Merry Christmas knowing it’s June. Your head is not as labyrinthine, and your mind is not as weird and complicated.

We have never told anyone about her mom, but Maiah wanted this to be the first thing I wrote. Other people will talk about their trips around the world and brag about the thousands of dollars they make every day. Other people will show all the clothing they’ve been sent from Paris, the luxurious lives they offer their pets, and the fascinating lives they live. We just want to see what happens if we put our hearts out there for everyone to see, with the helplessness of a suicidal smile.

Maiah wanted me to tell you guys all about it, up to the smallest details. Maybe that could help us, once and for all, get rid of the expectations of people who believe you tell your story to make others feel sorry for you or to be loved. I’ll be honest with you: in the end, we don’t give a shit whether people love us or not.

Of course, Maiah’s heart was broken when she heard about her mom. But if she had dropped to her knees to cry like a child, this story would be nothing different from those thousand stories told by regular people, like me and you, who suddenly realize on any given day that their lives have turned into a massive pile of crap.

Since this is not what she did, since our heroine never does what is expected of her, and since there’s nothing more insufferable than those who whine over and over again, I’ll tell the story of the day in which she was told her mom would die, but with a twist.

I’ll write it like fucking comedy.

II

“I can’t stand to smell like a French fry,” she texted. Anyone who uses fake tanning products knows that the quality of the products to attain that sun-kissed skin is directly proportional to the unbearable stench. Maiah poured a whole bottle of tanning lotion on her body, which turned her skin golden brown like a fried fish stick, to spend a week in Peru. Her skin would smell like junk food until the following Saturday in return.

Knowing that she would have to sit during eight and a half hours on a direct flight from Los Angeles to Lima and that everyone around her would be able to tell that the smell was coming from her, made Maiah seriously consider hiding in the bathroom for the rest of her life. Or at least until the airport staff gets sick of calling her, waiting for her to board the plane she is supposed to catch, and the thing finally flies away without her.

Since December 2007, when we broke up for like five minutes and spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve apart, Maiah and I have never been away from each other for over 48 hours. Now she is about to leave for a whole week to be featured on the catalog cover of one of Latin America’s most prominent makeup brands. She has one foot on the plane, I have one foot on the fridge, and we are suddenly aware of our tragedy: we have no idea how this cataclysm will affect our routine.

From an operational point of view, this day is a complete disaster. I’ve been in charge of overall logistics for years. I’m your guy for efficient planning: getting cheap plane tickets, paying the bills. She’s in charge of making sure that I’ll live through the daily challenges that come my way and make it to the next day, without getting hit by a car, getting burnt picking things out of the oven or running into the doors.

Some relationships evolve until two individuals become the same person. Ours did not turn into a person, but a horrible monster with tentacles which embodies the worst parts of two co-dependent weirdos into a unique sickening creature.

We are repulsive together. We are repulsive to anyone who is not us, that is. This is the only sustainable way in which we can conceive existing. Staying too far away from each other for too long: that would be the real nightmare. Just as a laptop with no wifi connection is nothing but a gray paperweight, we are nothing but useless bags of flesh once we realize we are on our own.

Maiah going to Lima for so long is like separating conjoined twins with a chainsaw. Maiah might find my dead body splattered on the living room floor when she returns. In a more optimistic scenario, she might see me standing by the door like a dog waiting for its master. I’d probably be wearing the same clothes I wore the day she left, catatonic and motionless, after spending the better part of those days searching for the remote and never realizing it was right in front of me, sitting on an open drawer.

That is not even our biggest problem right now. Our biggest problem is that we are not sure that Maiah will be able to leave at all. All the processes involved in taking an international flight without me are an astounding spiritual survival challenge, especially considering she is just a highly functional hillbilly.

“We are repulsive together. We are repulsive to anyone who is not us, that is. This is the only sustainable way in which we can conceive existing.”

Of course, there are some aggravating factors. There are $66.35 left in our joint account, the only one left after having lost all of the other ones. As usual, everyone owes us money, and they won’t pay until Friday. We just spent all of our savings getting her nephew, her sister, two of her brothers, and her mom out of Venezuela.

It was a controversial decision. No doctor has been able to come up with a coherent diagnosis for her mother’s bleeding, and we are still waiting for the results of some tests which should come our way pretty much whenever the laboratories in Punto Fijo feel like it.

We forced Maiah’s mom to leave everything she knows behind: one of her sons, her siblings, her other three grandchildren, and we pushed her to start from scratch, being over 60 years old, in Mexico City, because we imagined this was a place she might like.

Everyone will come up with their own alibi, and if we keep the questions at bay, we might get away with it. Our alibi is that we once heard her say she would like to meet Marco Antonio Solís. And we try to convince ourselves, to feel a bit better, that she might forget everything she misses so deeply and that the decision we made against her will might not be so cruel if there is a chance for her to meet her favorite Buki someday.

The alternative, leaving her on that crumbling wilderness, is out of the question. No one can take the chance of getting sick in that bottomless pit where you can’t even get an aspirine if you get a cold. And that’s just addressing the subject of her mother, which of course is merely the tip of an iceberg full of drama.

A whole soap opera is lost in that tiny town which considers itself a city, and Maiah is so far away she doesn’t even understand what the character’s motives are. She can only infer that they are all going nowhere and that the rest of the country is doing the same at full speed. Those who had the means already left, and those who haven’t left already don’t know if they will ever be able to do so. Everyone is sick and tired; this includes those of us who left, and those left behind. We don’t leave that place wanting to still be aware of everything that goes on down there, but we have to because we have left people we love behind.

Once we are able to get them out, we do.

However, it’s never enough. We could only get five of them out with all the money we made over the past year. Maiah still has around six people there, and I have one who’s worth a thousand. It’s not a matter of loving some people more than others; it’s about ideal situations, emergencies, and the fact that some people, such as her dad and my mom, are stubborn as fuck.

In any case, it’s impossible to get everyone out, and I think that’s evident. You start with your closest relatives, and then the scope gets gradually wider, until you realize you won’t be able to save them all, no matter how hard you try.

Someone will be left behind. Always. It might be one of your cousins, your lifelong friends; maybe you will be able to get your whole family out, but what about that guy who sold you those great empanadas in the corner? Fuck, you know you love that man. Saving those you love is like cutting the heads of a hydra. You won’t even be able to make it despite the fact that you make several thousand dollars a month, or getting your foot into the American dream: it’s impossible. You can’t fit them all in a suitcase, and no suitcase in the world is big enough to hold inside everything you love.

You might hear good news, you might be sitting in the sand to watch the sunset, you might be nominated for an award, you might upload a picture of yourself smiling, you might be alone, you might be with someone, you might be in the bathroom, you might be in bed, you might be at the airport about to travel, but it doesn’t matter. Knowing you won’t see some of the people you love ever again will kill you at any given time.

And to top it all off, every single time someone sits next to you, the first thing on their mind will be: where the fuck is that overwhelming French fry smell coming from?!

“You can’t fit them all in a suitcase, and no suitcase in the world is big enough to hold inside everything you love.”

III

There are few things as misleading as the location of the seats within a plane. If airlines were honest in providing such information, passengers would be able to take responsibility for our mistakes while choosing our seats. But every single member of the fucking airline is a sociopath.

Maiah checks her bags and notices that despite having requested to be seated by the emergency exit, she has been assigned aisle seat. She had been given the option to travel First Class while making her reservations, but getting on a different plane in the middle of the night, half-asleep and risking to miss her connection was far more terrifying than sitting in the Economy class, at least for her.

When she complained and requested to be seated on the right spot, the people in the counter listened to her patiently and promised to talk to the person who had been assigned her seat by mistake and see if they might switch. Maiah is pissed off anyway, but she feels satisfied. She was able to do that thing she usually avoids due to fearing the consequences. Maiah, on principle, has never before in her life dared to complain to anyone who might have any kind of power over her.

She walks away from the counter and buys a tiny pillow with a $20 bill she found in her pocket. She calls her mom in Mexico, and then she calls me to kill time. She goes back to the airline counter. They tell her that they have talked to the person who had her seat, and they have arranged to make the switch. She is happy, of course, and so am I when she tells me the news, for having made the system work amidst the bad luck. It is a brave thing to complain because you never know if you’ll get justice. It is also a stupid thing to take that risk.

“She stares at the seat number, then her boarding pass, and then looks to the sides. There’s a mistake. Something’s wrong.”

As she gets on the plane, Maiah texts me to let me know her battery is running low. As she walks into the First Class section she can’t help to wonder why couldn’t they just get her one of those vast comfy seats without having to get a connecting flight. “How cheap can they be not to pay First Class on a direct flight when they’re not even paying you to take pictures to sell their rouge?”, I say, but she doesn’t text back.

She walks past the threshold which divides First Class from Economy and looks for her seat.

She stares at the seat number, then her boarding pass, and then looks to the sides. There’s a mistake. Something’s wrong. Maiah is sure she has been caught in a never-aired episode of The Twilight Zone. This is not right.

The seat for which she made a fuss at the airline counter is an aberration of design. It constitutes a sort of claustrophobic mini-booth in which not even a tiny person like her, who is 5 feet tall, can fully stretch her legs.

With the people behind her pressuring her to either move or sit down, Maiah winds up crammed into that flying dungeon, and then realizes that, on top of everything else, she doesn’t even have a video screen to keep her sanity for the next eight and a half hours.

The only thing in front of her is a wall, and a weird wheel-shaped plastic bulge popping from the floor. That bulk takes at least 40% of the extra room she is supposed to have. She is surrounded by a purple light which she doesn’t know where to turn off, and every time she tries to beg the flight attendants to please tell her how or at least, out of compassion, smack her to death, they completely ignore her. They are happy to give her what she deserves. She will never dare to complain again. Now she’ll have to spend over 8 hours caught in that aeronautical micro-hell until the lack of space finally crushes every hope that is left in her.

The guy who agreed to switch seats with her walks by. He’s an 8 feet tall blonde in an expedition hat. He’s probably going to take mushrooms in Cusco. Had he had to stay there, he would have ended slitting his throat with one of the dinner plastic knives. But he was smart, and when he saw the opportunity, he did not hesitate to take the aisle seat a few rows back, where Maiah now watches him sit down and stretch his legs in satisfaction.

Meanwhile, with her right knee squeezed to the fuselage and the left side entirely overtaken by a fat bastard who doesn’t smell like French fries but feces, Maiah starts texting me to let me know that the first thing she’ll do when she comes back will be to murder me.

However, she is unable to complete the threat because the battery runs out, and when she asks the flight attendant where she might charge it, she makes eye contact with her and doesn’t talk back on purpose. She just stares at her implying “you’re going to have to sit there without any movies, legroom, or games for eight hours, you bitch.”

The plane is now moving, and Maiah seriously considers waiting until they are up in the air to bust open the emergency exit and kill them all in retaliation for the torture she is going through, but she holds it in. She would rather keep her anger festering over the next few days so that when she comes back, instead of wrapping her arms around me, she might rip my head off.

IV

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, I have my own problems because, according to my estimations, in a couple of weeks, three at most, we might be homeless.

A couple days ago, sitting at the airport in Mexico City, after spending all of our money moving half of our family from Venezuela, Maiah and I had a serious conversation about our future.

We had decided that we would no longer do what we were doing, which was basically something we had never wanted to do in the first place. She wouldn’t make any more videos about how to choose clothes according to anyone’s fucking body type, and I wouldn’t keep creating things for someone else to become a millionaire instead of me. We’d go back to our place in L.A., and we would just dump everything. Fuck it.

My desk is covered in shutdown notices for the utilities: electricity, gas, internet, and phone. There is no food in the fridge, just some mustard and vinegar. We have no idea where we will find the money we need to pay rent. But we made a commitment this year to finish doing what we came here to do, and when you make a pledge like that, you keep it. No matter what, unless someone dies.

This is why I’m on my laptop: because while Maiah is away, I’m supposed to do the scriptwriting for an incredible idea, whatever it is.

Nevertheless, I am here, supposed to be this incredibly talented guy whose every word pronounced at meetings becomes one hell of a TV show. I am supposed to be the guy who delights producers and agents and studio heads with my ideas, even when I explain them in that unintelligible exotic accent garnished with a heap of grammatical nonsense which is nothing less than embarrassing. But in the moment of truth, with the lights off and the screen of my laptop showing an empty Word document, I am nothing but shit. And I just stay there, staring at the screen, until the sun comes up.

Read “Chapter 2: The black thing between my teeth”

V

It’s hot in Lima. They pick Maiah up from the airport in a somewhat old van with room for fifteen people, but there’s no one else riding there but her. The driver is a minuscule man who can’t figure out how to open the door. When he does, the alarm goes off, and everyone around them turns to look at them. Once he closes the door, he can’t figure out how to open it again. He finally does so, barely, and once he hops on he is so short he perches on the seat, like a crooked drawer.

Maiah sits as far back as possible, and from her seat, it seems as if there was no one there to drive the van. There is someone to drive it, however, and to drive it terribly. He is cutting other cars off, almost running over motorcycles, and driving over every hole in the pavement.

Initially, shame eats her up, but then she realizes that since both people riding in the vehicle are too tiny to be seen, and everyone around them must be convinced that they are seeing a ghost bus speeding along, and this thought, amidst the disaster, makes her feel somewhat slightly better.

Despite the suicidal intentions of the tiny driver, Maiah gets to the hotel safely in one piece. After over twelve hours traveling, she does not want to answer any questions, let the brand representatives know she made it there safely, or tell them that the driver they sent to pick her up couldn’t even close the door. All she wants in life is for her room not to be a dump, and it’s not.

“Think about this. Your only talent is standing in front of a camera and live.”

The hotel is great. It is elegant and yet modern, and aims above all to offer an unforgettable dining experience. The best thing is that all meals and drinks are included, and it would be a shame to squander that when you have such a voracious appetite.

When I had to convince Maiah to take this trip, that was definitely a card I played in my favor. Peruvian cuisine is her favorite, and while everything else made her uncomfortable, from traveling without me to doing YouTuber stuff when we had already decided that none of it was for her anymore, all I had to do was let her order some ceviche in her room service, and let the flavor of the corn bits, the fish, and the lemon do their thing.

She takes a hot bath after lunch, and we talk for hours until we fall asleep drooling with our phones stuck to our cheeks.

Maiah is asleep, but as soon as I wake up, I know that the endorphins in the food won’t last forever. There is not enough lemony fish to hide the obvious.

All this trip, its ostentation, and its pompousness is an exhibition of how much this business we are involved in has gone out of hand. It’s a testament to the fact that everything around us is designed to make us feel that despite what we might think, we really are no one, that we’re not worth anything, and that if we don’t do these things, our lives are nothing but steamy piles of shit. Whats-her-name released her own fragrance, what-d’ye-call-her is featured in a movie, who-gives-a-shit is traveling around the globe selling shampoo, and it could be you. But it’s not.

No matter how hard you try to rationalize it. Flying three girls from all over the world to Lima to take pictures is excessive. They don’t deserve it. They’re not special. They haven’t saved anyone’s life. They’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing, and the fact that they’re there is outrageous.

It was already outrageous when they were flying out silly models and not girls making YouTube videos, and it will continue to be so in the future when the models posing are mutants, robots, or plants with breast implants. What is indeed bewildering is this silent agreement between everyone involved. We are all shameless.

Think about this. Your only talent is standing in front of a camera and live. If you breathe and your existence sparks the curiosity of thousands of people, you will never have to work again in your lifetime. You won’t have to finish school or know how to write for your book to be published. You don’t have to have good taste or be funny. You don’t have to be cute, not even coherent. If you want to become a model and work for a makeup brand, you don’t even have to know how to apply the thing. You just have to stand in front of a camera and live. That’s enough.

Maiah is with Valeria, a Peruvian girl who studies fashion in Europe, and Laura, a talented and very young professional make-up artist from Colombia who also lives in L.A. and has been flown there too, with her husband and all. Laura is apparently better than Maiah because she was able to take her husband while I was left here.

On top of that, something else is evident. Everyone there is so much younger than Maiah, and this age difference is even more stressful than the mere nonsense of having her there in the first place. She is simply from a different generation. She is oblivious to why they celebrate whenever they play a particular song. She doesn’t know how to explain that the musicians she enjoys are all dead. She doesn’t understand what they are saying nor does she get what they are thinking. Just the same, the three of them are there because someone in the marketing department thinks makeup will be sold if they are the ones shown in the picture.

Maybe it will be so. Maybe a girl in Honduras will see the picture and decide that she does want to put the same thing they are wearing on her own face. But let’s face it, there’s a 50% chance that displaying them on a catalog is useless. Maybe it actually makes no difference whatsoever whether the makeup is worn by Maiah, a Hollywood starlet, or a gorilla in a tutu.

I see the huge billboards, magazine ads, and the extremely retouched faces of girls plastering the store counters and notice that there is no one, anyone, who pays any attention to the picture of the YouTuber who someone decided should have her own lip-gloss line. The girls looking to buy something get there, grab the color they like, smudge the product on their lips, and if they like what they see in that little mirror on the corner, they’ll take it. This leads me to think they will buy it anyway, no matter who the fuck sells it to them.

But no one dares to yell that the emperor is naked. And we can’t judge anyone for not doing so, either. In the end, even if you might not enjoy this cheesiness, someone else might, and whether it’s you or anyone else, the party will be over eventually.

Someone should start a revolution and proclaim that everything that is going on is a big scam, I know, but it would be as useless as trying to knock airplanes down by throwing rocks at them. We have our own problems, and beyond that, we are either too lazy, or we are too tired, old and annoyed, to put up a fight in a useless battle, especially when you are bound to lose, no matter what happens.

We have to assume it’s inevitable, I think, just as inevitable as death is.

Someday someone will come to the realization that we are all guilty. Someday it won’t suffice to be super charming and enigmatic, and you’ll have to at least know how to do something. Like Valeria, for example, who at least has an overwhelming talent for matching garments with an exquisite taste; or Laura, who has a chilling mastery for striking artistic make-up looks which could win contests. But Maiah… fuck, Maiah doesn’t even know how to apply eyeshadow without getting it all over her face. She herself has no idea what she’s doing on this trip because her only talent is winding up feeling like a fish out of water, uncomfortable and confused, always because of me.

Right now, for example, Maiah, Valeria, Laura, her husband and the brand representatives take a tour around Lima, and the guide insists on telling them that, if everyone around is an adult, they should know that “there’s nothing wrong with snorting cocaine.”

Maiah thinks the worst of this situation, as usual. She is convinced that they got on the wrong bus and have been kidnapped by a folkloric absolutist psychopath. This could be the case because the man who’s supposed to be the tour guide is probably as high as a Russian gangster at a rave blasting Steve Aoki. He insults anyone who talks back to him and humiliates anyone who remains silent. The tour bus does not stop, and no one says anything, but everyone in the bus fears for their lives.

Maiah texts me, terrified, and tells me she is going to die. I am in Los Angeles attending a meeting which I could leave any moment because everyone else attending is just pretending to pay attention, so I get out to the hallway to call her, but she doesn’t pick up.

I get worried, of course. Then she texts me to explain that she did not pick up because if this so-called tour guide actually wants to kill them, it would not be a good idea for her to answer the phone right in front of him and have him listen to her giving me the details of the kidnapping in front of everyone. Maiah obviously does not want to be the first to die. Never. On the contrary, she is trying to remain under his radar, so maybe he will ignore her and butcher the brand representatives first: they really have it coming for putting her in this position anyway. Although if she were given a choice, Maiah would probably rather have me dismembered, just for not being there.

The group embarks on what is undoubtedly a crazy horror tour of Lima’s most delicious restaurants. They walk through the historic center of Lima, herded like cattle by the murderous guide. Every time they get to a restaurant, they’re forced to step in. Luckily, every restaurant serves genuinely delicious food. The problem is distress has ruined their appetites, and they are just pushing themselves to eat everything out of fear of being beheaded.

On top of devouring everything in a hurry, the tour guide instructs them to take and upload pictures. They do so obediently, just in case he plans to eat them.

Meanwhile, I, thousands of miles away, reread her messages and honestly believe she is overreacting. But there is no way to be sure. Although Maiah is naturally paranoid, she could also be telling the truth, and she could be doing so precisely that time I don’t believe her. I stare at my phone as I try to figure out which of my theories is the right one to go for, and then realize I’ve been standing there for about an hour. Everyone, still at the meeting, is looking at me through the glass wall as if they were asking me “what the fuck is keeping him from coming back?”.

“Well, if you really want to know, my wife has been kidnapped by a tour guide in Peru, but at least he is feeding her scrumptious ceviche.”

The day miraculously ends when the madman takes them all back to the hotel in one piece. IT is not clear if the cause was overeating or excessive fear, but they all have headaches.

And it’s only Monday.

“She doesn’t know anything about anything and the day starts to feel like it is best to pretend to be sick and lie in bed.”

VI

There is a three-hour time difference between Lima and Los Angeles. It means that when Maiah is waking up, I’m deep into my everyday work routine.

At 9:00 am, Maiah is still not sure whether the pictures will be taken indoors, outdoors or at what time they will pick her up. She doesn’t know if she should eat at the hotel or if there will be food on the set. She doesn’t know if they are going to do her makeup, as they told her the night before, or if she will have to do it herself, as they told her on the email she received that very morning, contradicting the other one. She doesn’t know anything about anything and the day starts to feel like it is best to pretend to be sick and lie in bed.

E-mails come back and forth, and the strict itinerary on which she had mentally organized her life with me the night before has changed entirely again for the sixth time. She has to hurry up to get ready because apparently someone made a mistake and the scheduling was moved an hour earlier for no reason whatsoever.

Once again Maiah is riding a car with a suicidal driver, which are apparently abundant in the corporative world. The only difference is that this one is not tiny, but he drives equally terribly. He is also talking on the phone and texting while driving, cutting other cars off, almost running over stray dogs, tiny old ladies, and everyone else. He is a multi-faceted kamikaze. Maiah would say something because she is getting dizzy and her heart stops every time he steps on the brakes, but she’s tired of fighting. She thinks she would be better off if the car crashed because then the fucking photo shoot would be canceled and no one could blame her.

The city is crisp and cloudy, but it’s all blurry to her because she can only think that she is about to barf.

However, there is good news.

In Mexico, Maiah’s brothers already have all their documents in order, which cost a lot of pesos. We text to celebrate, but the joy doesn’t last long because the clouds disappear, it gets hotter, there is no air conditioning, and none of this makes the suicidal driver hold back.

Maiah finally gets to the smoldering oven in which she will have to get ready, stunned by the car ride. Her phone’s battery is halfway gone, too. Perhaps this inhospitable place to which they have brought her was so far away she has drained most of her phone battery while talking to me without us noticing. Maiah and I text all day long, and no cellphone can stand such codependency. But, most likely, her cell is just shitty, just as our lives are shitty.

At 10:04am my phone gets a screenshot showing a WhatsApp conversation between Maiah and her brother:

Pedro Ocando: There’s something wrong with mom’s test results. Talk to Mairy, she’s the one who talked to the doctor.

Maiah Ocando: I’m trapped in a photoshoot.

Pedro Ocando: It’s an emergency.

Another screenshot at 10:06 am:

Mairy Ocando: Hey, sis, the doctor called about the tests already.

Maiah Ocando: What did he say?

Mairy Ocando: It’s malignant, from the cervix to the uterus. She will have to get a CT scan to figure out what should be done.

Another screenshot at 10:18 am:

Maiah Ocando: But tell me exactly what he said.

Mairy Ocando: That she has cancer on her cervix and uterus. The CT scan must be done to see how much it has spread and figure out if she should have chemotherapy and surgery, or if she can get the surgery done at once.

VII

It’s April 26, 2005. I’m at a party. Too many people are walking past me. The music is too loud, and everyone who walks past me yells something. I can’t hear what they say, but I howl back anyway. I light a cigarette just to stop feeling like I’m standing there doing nothing, and then, suddenly, I feel someone tapping my shoulder.

I turn around to find a tiny girl who tells me, through the noise, that the newspaper for which I write for is shit. She yells so I can hear her clearly. I know who she is. I know this because I spent the whole week making sure she’d get an invitation to this party. She is the singer who got in the elevator with me when she went to my office to be interviewed. She thinks I have no idea and that she has caught me off guard, but she’s wrong. I play along anyway. I stare at her, irritating as I am, acting like nothing is going on, and I’m about to laugh at how mad she is, but try not to show it, because I think she might beat the shit out of me with her tiny fists.

We spent the whole night talking. It was one of my events, so I am sure everyone was looking for me. They couldn’t find me, however. As soon as I had the chance, I grabbed her hand so we could go hide in a corner below the staircase, and we stayed there until everyone started leaving the club once the party was over.

We walk out into a crowded street. It’s 3:00AM, and neither one of us wants to go home. When I am about to call a cab, a friend of mine drives past in an old Volkswagen and asks if we want a ride somewhere. The tiny girl shrugs and opens the car door herself. The music in the car is as loud as it was at the party. We are dizzy. She is running on about a million vodkas, and I can’t even mention what I’m running on, or I’ll go to prison, but against all the odds we get to the bar. My friend sticks his tongue out as he drives away. There are not many people at the door.

“We don’t like anything. Nothing makes us happy. We hate everything we have. We’re horrible people.”

We bought two beers. This place is darker, the music is different, there are no models or bankers snorting cocaine. Everyone smells like weed and sweat, but we don’t care. We look into each other’s eyes quietly for a second, take a sip of beer, and continue with our erratic, complex, intense, and fractal conversation.

Each and every one of our words is morally incorrect, but we keep saying these things because when we do it the other one laughs. These are improvised observations, details that other people rarely notice. Everything that’s wrong with the world. Everything people pretend they don’t care about or don’t tell each other. We talk about the conspiracies surrounding us and the songs which overwhelm us. We’re paranoid and witty. We’re terrible humans. Regular people wouldn’t go on a date to say the things we’re saying. They’d get slapped or kicked out. We don’t like anything. Nothing makes us happy. We hate everything we have. We’re horrible people.

But it’s strange and fascinating. The tiny girl gets all my references. I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to oversimplify my examples so she’ll understand. We are like two kids saying bad words in a language they’ve just invented. We are playing something, we are not sure what. We only know we like it.

At some point one of us will have to go home, but not now. We are riding a different train of thought, assembling something out of her laugh and her stories, and the way in which she messes her hair when a sound or a passerby annoys her. And I need to let her take me wherever she wants to take me and stay there, like a vampire irritated by the rising sun.

They play another song we like. Some drunks are dancing around us, and the floor smells like preppy-punk barf. We are talking about something. I think she just said she hates my shirt. It’s a new turquoise shirt I bought especially for the party. I like it. I tell her I wanted to look decent, but she insists that I look like a salsa singer. I tell her she knows nothing about fashion or about anything whatsoever, and she spits beer on my shirt. She stares at me silently, as if she is expecting me to get mad at her, and she laughs, teasing me, to see if I’ll get infuriated and leave.

But I laugh with her, and then and there, without giving it much thought, I kiss her, and she kisses me back.

We walk to her place, which is nearby. The tiny girl lives in a house where she shares a room with a bitch who never showers. We don’t hold hands or say cutesy things to each other. We walk cracking jokes and speaking gibberish. The tiny girl won’t stop. She makes fun of my stained shirt, and I make fun of her terrible outfit. She makes fun of people who fall in love, and I make fun of people who have roommates. She makes fun of people who were born in the city, and I make fun of people who come from tiny towns. Most likely, we make fun of you too.

We kiss again at her doorstep. It’s almost 6:00AM, and the sun is about to rise. In Caracas, this is the time in which drunks and homeless people collide. Everything around us is dirty, all the dangers in the world are closing in on us, but I don’t care. Before I leave, as I watch her go upstairs to get in her room, I realize I could do this forever. See her clowning around to make me laugh.

I see her go upstairs and think about it. This may work for me in the future when I’m fired from my job, or with silly things, like those days in which neither one of us wants to get out of bed and face people. This may come in handy if she gets sick, or if I get a call from the bank to remind me of how much money I owe them, or if we get an eviction letter notifying us that we have three days to leave our apartment instead of paying rent we used the money to get pancakes at our favorite restaurant. This could come in handy if my dad dies and there is nothing anyone could tell me to make me happy, and then she’ll say something stupid, and I won’t be able to stop laughing. This might come in handy if one day she gets told her mom has cancer. I can’t help it from happening because the future is sudden and undeferrable, but I can at least make it sound different. Things will happen when they do. But if she wakes up later and does not regret this night, and if we meet again tomorrow, one day, if she were told that her mom has cancer, I’d be there, clowning around.

I see her go upstairs and I feel invincible.

She takes out her key, opens the door, waits for a moment and turns around to look at me.

She smiles, and that’s it. She bites her lip and leaves.

VIII

It does sound different. Cancer is a strange word. You never hear it as it’s being addressed to you. It has an awful, definite and distant sound. It’s something other people go through, always. The day it hits you, it drains you. You suddenly don’t feel like doing anything. No one truly hears “cancer” as a word until it pierces through you and you can’t help it. It’s an egocentric bitch as a word. As a disease, it’s even worse.

Maiah wants to ignore it, but she can’t. It’s as if one of the water pipes at your place suddenly busted open and you tried to cover the leak with your hands, so it doesn’t flood your home. You eventually realize your feet were under water all along. Maiah is dressed up, made up, ready to take the cover shot and fucked, because tragedies cannot be stopped. But if you look closely, between the medical bills and the sleepless nights, between the planes and the hospitals, you can always find comedy behind all tragedies.

Just like our favorite viral video, an old video under the name “afro ninja.”

The video is 19 seconds long. The main character is a boy with an afro holding a pair of nunchakus. The boy is there to perform a stunt. “Afro ninja” aims to do a backflip and fall on his feet. When “afro ninja” tries to do this, the feat goes wrong, and he falls on his face, taking a pretty horrible hit.

However, “afro ninja” does not give up. Despite being stunned due to the thunderous fall, our hero tries to get up waving his nunchakus, as if nothing happened; as if he had planned this all along. Nevertheless, the blow causes such a shock that no matter how much he tries to ignore his impending, inevitable failure, “afro ninja” loses whatever balance he has left and falls down, once and for all, taking down everything in his way.

“Afro ninja” is the drama of life. Watching him fall and smash his face against the floor isn’t funny. What’s hilarious is seeing him try to get up and move on, even if he fails miserably.

We know it from the moment we see him appear on the screen. His arrogance is so immense and disproportionate to his actual talent that we just want to see him try. “Afro ninja” wants to perform the pirouette no matter what, even after falling on his face, because when you have that kind of determination, giving up doesn’t even cross your mind.

Anyone else would have just stayed there, lying on the ground, but then we wouldn’t have a story to tell. If you ask me, I am tired of people who do everything right, because they don’t exist, they just lie to us. I’ll take “afro ninja” busting his face and going on any day.

We have lost the battle from the very beginning; this applies to our dreams, to fucking cancer, to life itself. However, real heroes refuse to quit. They are like “afro ninja”, and like Maiah, and like you and me, trying over and over again, and failing until we make it while laughing together at this infinite joke.

Maiah gets back to the hotel late at night. A few months later, when we see the pictures, it seems unbelievable that they were taken that day. She looks gorgeous. In my opinion, she’s the prettiest one out of the three. But I’m not impartial, I’m just honest.

She’s exhausted. The whole menu is at her disposal, but she’s not hungry. I spent all day talking to the doctors and getting money. We have no savings or health insurance. I talked to too many people, more than I would have liked, and still managed to be as discreet as possible. When we finally spoke on the phone, I had almost everything that was needed to begin the treatment.

We talked of banal things of the photoshoot, tiptoeing around the inevitable conversation. Once we get there, we don’t waste any time feeling sorry for ourselves. I tell her everything I did during that day, I promise her we’ll figure this out, and she believes me. In any case, I feel she can know from the other side of the phone that I’m waving my nunchakus.

Then we are quiet. We both know what the other one is thinking, but neither one of us says it out loud. After a short while she says:

“You know? I don’t even have a nice touristic picture in Lima. We went to a bunch of places yesterday, and no one could take my picture. No one will believe I was ever here.”

“We’ll have to Photoshop you on Machu Picchu or something, then they’ll have to,” I reply.

Maiah starts laughing at my stupid comment, a bit sheepishly at first, but then she starts laughing out loud. Then I start laughing too. There we are, at the phone, cracking up, and neither one of us says anything else. We don’t have to.


We Don’t Belong Here is a book, it’s a series, and it’s also neither of those two things. Everything I will tell in each episode really happened. Sometimes they will be stories of how we managed to fuck the world even when we believed all was lost, other times they will be things that we never wanted to share until now. I think that if many people read it and comment it and share it, we can make it become a real book, or maybe, if I cross my fingers hard enough and still dream of impossibles, a TV series. For now, we just want to be honest in times when everything on the Internet is a big fat lie. These are our failures, our ups and downs, and also some of our victories. This is our recount that we have had a lot of bad times. And that despite everything, here we are, never giving ourselves up, and in my case, writing the story of my favorite person and the love of my life.

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