We Don't Belong Here

A Romantic Comedy
by
Maiah Ocando & Gabriel Torrelles

Chapter 3: Superheroes

By Gabriel Torrelles on Friday March 30th, 2018



Maiah & Gabriel come back to Chicago after the meeting that changed their lives. However, an unsuspected danger waits for them and maybe they won’t be able to stop the catastrophe.

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Art by Maiah Ocando

Everything’s just the same.

Chicago’s freezing to death. I can’t walk without slipping, I can’t talk without getting tired, I can’t pull out my phone without my hands getting numb.

There are no palm trees. No one has a tanned skin or looks like a supermodel. There’ s snow and cold and wind outside.

We go back to the same tiny studio apartment that only has a bed and a sofa. The clothes we left lying on the floor when we took off are still here, all over the place, in front of the kitchen, at the bathroom door, everywhere.

There’s no food in the fridge.

I turn on the TV.

“They call us Chiberia,” says the news anchor, as if instead of talking about the weather he was telling a joke, and he laughs as he says this, that motherfucker.

It’s the end of the world.

It’s -16.6°F.

I’m hungry, I’m sleepy, I’m feeling sluggish, and I have to sit down and write an essay for college.

We owe the building two months’ rent, and we no longer have any bolivars left in Venezuela to continue providing for our mothers.

Everybody minds their own business there, anyway.

No one gives a shit about anything besides protesting. Protesting during the day, protesting during the night, protesting, protesting, and protesting.

“Everyone who heard me say I’d make a superstar out of that tiny girl, especially those who didn’t buy it, there you have it.”

Maiah is shooting a video that we have to release tomorrow, and she needs to edit about a thousand that she has already recorded. She doesn’t feel like it, but we have no choice. Our financial survival depends on these videos. That’ll get us through the next few months until we don’t have a penny left.

Between taking care of that and a paper on the history of theatre that she hasn’t even started to write, going back to school tomorrow, the temperature continuously dropping, and the pictures we get of people with pellet wounds on their faces, we know that tonight, just like the night before, neither of us will sleep.

The storm is right where we left it. Nothing has really changed.

The only thing that’ s changed is that Maiah can’t stop smiling.

It’s only been a day since she was told she’d be the next big star on ABC.

If we leave out the inconceivable phone calls we made to our moms, babbling a mix of certainties and promises, we haven’t told anyone yet.

We know our moms didn’t understand a word, but it doesn’t matter. They still cried their eyes out. Moms have the superpower to feel what you’re feeling even though whatever they’re celebrating may seem unfathomable and meaningless. For us, that’s more than enough.

It’s neither their fault nor ours. It’s just that it’s impossible to articulate. We don’t want to risk being carried away by what we think we know or would like it to be.

I don’t think we even have a good understanding of what we could tell yet.

We would like to tell the whole world, all right. Poking our heads out of the windows, on every corner, screaming so loudly so even our aunts and uncles who live in the middle of fucking nowhere to hear about it too.

No one in my country would give a shit about what happened to Maiah and me in Los Angeles, especially when they are still living there.

Venezuela is full of arrogance, which is laughable when you consider how inhospitable it is; people who live there couldn’t care less about anything that’s not right in front of their noses.

The fact that we took over Hollywood the way we did is irrelevant. It is an unintelligible circumstance that does not compare to the cult of stupidity surrounding the beauty pageant contestants who ceremoniously wag their breast implants year after year after year.

“El Ávila is the best mountain in the world,” they insist.

“There are no beaches like ours.”

“The best thing we have is our people.”

“Our country has the most beautiful women in the world.”

“Who cares about Hollywood, missy?! I don’t even know who the fuck you are.”

So no, we haven’t told anyone, not yet. Not until ABC puts it on a giant billboard and posts it everywhere and all the magazines and TV and radio shows over there that never called me back, start buzzing me asking for interviews.

Then I’ll be able to indulge in rejecting their goddamm requests one by one.

No, we’re not telling anyone until our success is overwhelming.

Don’t forget, this is all part of a personal vendetta.

Here I am, holding a knife between my teeth, doing what the voices in my head said was impossible.

Everyone who heard me say I’d make a superstar out of that tiny girl, especially those who didn’t buy it, there you have it.

I won, motherfuckers.

Take a good look at her, wrapped around a thousand scarves and woolen coats, trying not to laugh as I preach.

She says that if anyone happened to hear me, nothing would convince them that I haven’t completely lost my mind.

But she of all people knows I’m not blowing this out of proportion. Not this time.

She was there with me yesterday.

Nothing has changed and yet nothing is the same anymore.

There are not enough overdue bills, annoying classes, overwork, or once-in-a-lifetime blizzards which can ruin this for us.

Everything which happened there is still true.

And she is laughing, not at me, but with me.

She’ s laughing because she just got the same e-mail from Lisa H. that I got myself, saying”…we will start moving on a deal”, and also because it must be quite a spectacle to see me bare-naked, with tousled hair, walking back and forth on my flip flops in that tiny 18th floor apartment in which we live, dodging the piles of clean clothes scattered on the floor, repeating over and over again, like a madman, that we made it, that there’s no turning back, and that we will never ever go back.

II

We walk to college, even on stormy days. We could take the “L” to State St., but then we would have to walk to the train station anyway, and then try to get stuck inside a wagon wearing a billion pounds of clothes, not to mention our backpacks, with the wet floor and another 1,000 people who are wearing as much clothes as we are.

We’d rather walk. Snow is far less unbearable than people are.

From a distance, we are basically two dark specks dressed in black doing their daily run amidst a white city. This is our morning ritual. On the good days, skyscrapers are fascinating again, just like they were when we first saw them when we got to the United States. On shitty days, just like this one, we’d just be yelling to try and hear each other through the gusts of wind hitting our faces.

However, this morning is different, because even when this weather is gloomy, Maiah’s face is pure sunshine.

“Isn’t it awesome that now you can stop saying when I get to Hollywood, because you already made it?” I shiver at her.

“I still can’t believe it,” she replies. “It’s too big to be real. I think I’m still in shock,” she says.

Then she pauses and I know that underneath all the rags she is covering herself with to avoid the frostbite, she’s smiling.

I smile back at her, but the truth is I’m internally terrified.

After spending her whole life being careful not to have expectations, Maiah is finally enthusiastic about something.

For the first time the balance of this fragile universe she had never opened herself to, with its imaginary rainbow waterfalls, and unicorns pirouetting in the air, and an infinite assortment of calorie-free donuts, is in danger.

To be honest, indiscriminate happiness is terrifying.

Maiah’s realism has so far been the gravitational force that maintains the order of everything around us. Her pessimism is the shield that protects the integrity of our own galactic system, which is always on the verge of collapsing because of me.

Unfortunately for her, I am the entropy that pushes us to the edge of the abyss all the time.

Luckily, whenever it seems that everything is lost, she appears with the magnificence of her impressive common sense, and without further ado, she saves us from all those effervescent crises, that if not controlled in time, become catastrophes.

We’re usually a walking Michael Bay movie.

I’m the one who’s wrong and diverts the asteroid to Chicago.

She’s Bruce Willis in all the movies that have a thousand sequels.

But this new unpredictable and optimistic Maiah is itself a ticking time bomb.

It confuses me, I don’t understand it, it’s unbearable.

For the first time in her life, Maiah deeply believes in something, and now, with an open heart and suffocated cynicism, she has become vulnerable.

“I’m sorry I’m not the hero the world needs, and just the one who was available.”

This is what worries me.

If something were to happen and the contract that was promised to her never came to pass, if that meeting and its promises were never to come true, no one would be able to predict the consequences of that betrayal on our personal cosmos.

Neither can you predict the terrible swings of any other natural force.

I see Maiah skipping and dancing happily as we cross the bridge over the Chicago River in the middle of the blizzard. I hear her fuss about the possible permutations of her future fame and I hear her tell me that last night she went online to check apartment prices in Los Angeles and to compare neighborhoods; and I tremble, not because of the polar cold that is tearing me apart, but because of the fear that this winter will stay in her heart forever, like an emotional Chernobyl.

Somewhere in my head there’s an inner voice that reminds me that Hollywood may never happen, and I’m beyond terrified to imagine the dire consequences of something like that ever happening.

Call me paranoid if you must, but the tiny girl dances and jumps up and down in the snow, and I can see the ghastly future, like Sarah Connor saw the Judgment Day in Terminator.

In the future I see a chain reaction forming in her heart. Atoms colliding with each other, electrons, neutrons and dancing and unstable protons, which at any moment could get out of control and release an immense amount of energy, with the destructive potential to devastate everything around us.

In this vision, the buildings on Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive collapse on us with the expansive wave of the explosion, and a titanic mushroom-shaped flare covers the entire surface of the earth, vaporizing every existing life form, and causing earthquakes, fires, and tsunamis to wipe out every smile, sigh, and dream in their path.

When the flame goes out, the only thing left is a colossal night that spreads and devours all the colors and all the songs and all the things that are supposed to be worth remembering, especially on days when you feel like your life has no meaning.

And at the epicenter of that catastrophe, with her dry eyes and tiny clenched fists, Maiah Kaboom, that apocalyptic nickname with which she would be called from now on, looks at me completely dead inside, hating me for having convinced her that her destiny was to become a star, only to discover that it was not true.

No, sir.

Mankind faces a great risk, and so my sole responsibility from now on is preventing everything I just told you about from becoming a reality, at all costs.

The universe is counting on me.

You are counting on me to keep Maiah from blowing up in a thousand pieces.

The future depends on me.

I’m sorry I’m not the hero the world needs, and just the one who was available.

Here’s the deal.

“Why are you standing like that, with your hands around your waist like a fool?” Maiah asks me when we got to college.

But I can’t answer that. Now this is our secret. Yours and mine. If I am going to save the world, I cannot go around revealing the nature of my plan or my true identity.

It is the sacrifice that we have to make. I’m like Superman.

“Well, I’m going to class, you kook,” she says as she kisses my cheek. She shakes her head disapprovingly, looking at me weirded out as the elevator door is shut.

I, for one, look around. Young people smile and carry their books and backpacks and walk back and forth, in slow motion, like in a movie.

The security guard looks at me and nods his head. I answer by winking at him.

Epic music is playing. On Spotify.

Take it easy, buddy. Leave everything to me. No harm will come to you. No harm will come to anyone.

Not on my watch.

It’s going to be alright.

This time it’s personal.

III

“So what do the two statues have in common?”, asks the professor.

Maiah is standing there with a photocopy in her hand. She glances at the page silently for a moment and replies: “Are they both in one color?”.

People in the classroom laugh.

“No, no, no, no. They look the same color because this is a black and white photo since the publisher needed to save money,” the professor explains.

Maiah says: “I’m not talking about the photograph, I’m talking about the statues. They have only one color. They’re monochromatic….”

“Don’t worry,” he interrupts her. “I understand you. We all understand you. But they’re not the same color. Thanks anyway. Next time you’ll explain yourself better. You can sit down now. Let’s see, John? Do you understand the question?”

What the fuck?

Maiah sits quickly, humiliated and mumbling: “Of course I understand the question, you son of a bitch. What I don’t know is how to say it in English.

First update. My first few hours as a superhero are a failure. Two days ago we went back to school, and if my only job is to prevent Maiah from getting involved in a potentially atomic stressful situation, I’m clearly not succeeding.

It’s not like I can do much about it either, if I’m being honest. We get to college early every day, and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. we are always in separate classrooms.

That doesn’t stop me from knowing what’s going on with her at all times. For the sake of the story, let’s say again that it’s because of that old secret weapon, my telepathic powers. If not, you may begin to believe that the real reason Maiah is going crazy over classes is because she spends all day texting me instead of paying attention, and that wouldn’t be fair or accurate.

The one to blame for this whole thing collapsing is the usual suspect.

It’s her old archenemy, the perfidious English language.

“The guy just asked me again. I think he does it just to make it clear that I am unable to construct a simple sentence without getting mixed up. I hate him with all my heart,” Maiah yells at me from her head.

“Take it easy. You have to relax and everything will be fine,” I respond with Captain America’s epic composure.

“I hate you too,” Maiah shrieks in frustration.

“We have no idea how much money ABC’s new favorite star can make, but I assume it’s no less than, I don’t know, a million dollars?”

Second update. After studying English at an institute for a whole year, we transferred to a real college for a full semester that gives us time to find a way to change our student visa to one that would enable us to work.

We don’t have a choice. It’s our only way to remain in this country. All we can do is study to get a degree or find a job.

We started school on January 13, 2014. At that time our life was pretty much a roulette. Suddenly a month later we are told that Maiah will be ABC’s next star.

And they told us this even though I had a black seed stuck between my teeth throughout the whole meeting.

Now we’re back in Chicago. All we need to do is sign that contract before the end of the semester.

Upon signing the contract, we will be able to hire an attorney to begin the process of changing our immigration status. We would also have money to pay for it, because lawyers in the United States are not cheap at all, and as you would expect, everything we had was spent when we paid for college.

On the edge, as usual.

We have no idea how much money ABC’s new favorite star can make, but I assume it’s no less than, I don’t know, a million dollars?

It’s a fact that’s what the cast members of Friends were getting per episode.

A million dollars.

Yeah, it’s going to be okay.

As you may already know, Friends is the reference point we use to plan our lives as American TV stars, morally and economically.

Friends is also our encyclopedia and our dictionary of stupid gringo customs. The handbook of our adaptation to the strangest country in the world. Each chapter is filled with clues and behavioral patterns for newcomers from all over the world. From managing the right way to react to a barista who can’ t really make a decent cup of coffee to making incredibly sexist remarks and making it seem like they’re okay. Well, the latter no longer works as it used to, but at least it provides context for the most important thing: a lot of idioms and comebacks that shaped the volume of English knowledge that Maiah and I came here with.

One year into our stay in this country, after 9 months of studying an intensive course every morning, living in a foreign language and having friends in a foreign language, we still survive our daily routines with nothing but phrases we learned from watching Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Monica, Ross and Phoebe on basic cable.

And people say that transculturation is useless.

Well, anyway.

In other words, we haven’t learned anything since we’ve been here. However, no one would be able to tell, because we have a role to play in ensuring that we are ‘proficient’.

Not only can we handle an everyday conversation, but, at least in theory, we are able to enroll in a university.

And that is precisely what we are doing. Trying to learn.

We can’t get to Los Angeles talking like cavemen, specially if Maiah has to be the star of ABC’s biggest show.

There’s a million dollars at stake.

“Yeah, we were scared. They had just killed a beauty queen and her husband in a car in front of their baby daughter, but these things always happen, don’t they?”

After all, that’s what we came to America for.

We could have gone to Spain or Argentina. We could have gone to Colombia or Mexico.

We could have gone to Miami and had a prosperous career speaking in a neutral accent and playing a maid or a drug dealer, but that city is a country of its own.

We could have gone anywhere, but we didn’t.

We came to the United States, the land of the free, the home of the brave.

“To take over Hollywood,” I told everyone when I was coming.

That was the plan, at least in theory.

However, at this time, our plan is not going well.

“Goddamn it. This guy took a pop quiz and I knew what I wanted to write, but I wanted to write it flawlessly. The test was handwritten, too. Do you know how hard it is to write in a language that isn’t yours by hand? Well, I did it, and it was looking pretty good, but then it turns out we only had 20 minutes to solve the thing. I didn’t know I only had 20 minutes, so I spent the whole time answering one fucking question. Then the guy started randomly asking people to stand up and read their answers. And you know what he did? He asked me to answer the second one. I stood up and said: I don’t have it, I only answered one question. And the guy told me, “Just one?” And he shook his head and asked me to sit down again”.

I carefully analyze what Maiah is saying and I come to the conclusion that she is right and that the guy is a dick.

I would go to the 6th floor right now to smack him, but I am in the middle of my own predicament, trying to make my classmates understand that I am a genius and that they should listen to me because everything they are saying, even if they are saying it in perfect English, makes no sense.

I choose then to offer her the most useless superhero gesture, which is to be comforting.

“Don’t freak out,” I tell her. “Hold on a little longer. We’ll soon get the ABC contract.

“When is it coming?”, she asks.

Our telepathic connection is silent for a few nanoseconds while I browse for the best answer, but there is no such thing.

“I don’t know,” I say with a shrug.

And I’m telling the truth.

Third update. Also a few hours away from our meeting in Los Angeles, our academic life is not the only thing that is collapsing.

In February 2014, Venezuela is about to become nothing but a scribble.

We get fragments of the information. Some on Twitter and some on texts. Downtown Caracas is chaos. We’re getting photos of burning police cars, pellet wounds, dead people.

In the country’s capital, the protests began on February 12, the day after we returned, but Merida and San Cristobal had been raging for quite some time.

People who protest in the streets do so because of crime, high inflation and shortages. They protest because thousands of Venezuelans have been killed with impunity since the Bolivarian revolution came to power. They protest with good reason, for their own sake and for all of us who were forced to leave.

People are fucking pissed.

There are two sides. The Venezuelan opposition and student movements on the one hand, and people who support the president on the other. The government says the opposition leaders and demonstrators are “fascists”, and they do so over and over again, although repeating a lie a thousand times won’t make it become true.

It’s senseless.

All this, the demonstrations and riots that begin today, will result in 43 casualties, more than 486 people injured, 1854 people arrested and at least 33 people tortured.

I can’t believe it’s the same country we were in a few weeks ago. It also seems unbelievable that from now on, this is the country which will prevail.

We were there in December, after living in Chicago for almost a year. What we found was a different country from the one we had left, but one that was still close enough. I could still recognize the scents and the streets, and I could still feel that those who still lived there lived like people. We were in Caracas for a few days first. We renewed a contract with a client and were even able to plan the whole year to leave our moms all the money we were going to make month by month. We signed an agreement with a local television channel to broadcast our videos as a weekly section. We were interviewed by newspapers, radio stations and television channels. We had a meetup with almost a thousand fans.

Then we went to Punto Fijo. A few months earlier Maiah had rented a bigger house for her mother. It wasn’t really necessary, but she was making a statement. Maiah had gone to the United States in pursuit of a big dream and every scrap of that dream that came to us was going to be shared with her.

Almost every day, her dad would visit her and they would spend the afternoon singing songs along with her siblings, and for instants, even though there would be occasional blackouts, as there are in small towns, it was like a party.

And we told them we would do this at least once a year.

When we got on the plane back to the United States, it wasn’t like we knew it would be forever. It’s not like we suspected that when we got out of there, they’d shut the door on us from the inside.

Maiah y yo volando a Caracas antes de regresar a Chicago. Al aterrizar en Maiquetía leímos la noticia del asesinato de Mónica Spears.

Yeah, we were scared. They had just killed a beauty queen and her husband in a car in front of their baby daughter, but these things always happen, don’t they?

Like everyone else, it took us by surprise. Otherwise, I swear we would have stayed much longer, just to try to hug the people we love so much at least for another minute.

We would not have this dry certainty that years later Venezuela would become an illusion increasingly becoming blurry and unrecognizable.

It’s dead.

It’s crazy to know what was the exact moment in which your country died.

I think they tried to murder it many times before, but this was the last stroke. Moreover, I believe that from this point on one of the richest countries in the world would become a living dead forever, a geographical corpse which only walks by inertia.

More likely, it’s crawling and dragging everything with it.

Perhaps only quantum physics can explain how these two parallel nations exist. The one with poverty and death, and the one with people who go out for cocktails every night and who take their 4Runner on weekends to bring 50 whores to the beach. The one with the protests and the tortures, and the one with the client reminding you that you have to promote their Valentine’s Day deal, no matter what, because it’ s required under your contract.

There’s supposed to be a thousand things we should do.

But right now we’re watching another video in which a member of the National Guard kills another person and everything is being recorded.

“I can’t tweet a video on how to copy Selena Gomez’s look. People in Venezuela are getting killed,” Maiah tells the people we have to send the videos to.

“You have to find a way, because it’s in your contract,” they say.

@Sirena5423 You’re a bitch. Of course, you don’t live here. You don’t love Venezuela, you fucking whore.

No, please don’t, please don’t. I love my country. My family’s still there. This is just for work.

Maiah is desperate.

She refreshes her Twitter feed once again. Another notification pops.

@GodIsLove765 I hope you die.

“Fuck those fuckers”, I tell her.

IV

Gabriel: Tell me your full name.

Maiah: My name is Maiah Ocando and I’m auditioning for Maiah’s role in “We don’t belong here”.

Gabriel: Okay. What scene are you going to play for us, Maiah?

Maiah: I’m doing the monologue of Maiah telling Gabriel how she was forced to participate in a group activity of her English class and was humiliated again.

Gabriel: Oh! I love that scene. Alright, alright. Anytime then.

Maiah: This is what happened to me today. They had us analyze an article and I was assigned to a group with two classmates. I gave them a lot of ideas, but they ignored me. Seriously, it was like I didn’t exist. They were both ignoring me and talking to each other. My hands were shaking out of pure anger. Well, when the time was up, someone had to present their group’s analysis of the article in front of the whole class. Guess what.

The fucking professor obviously picked me. Once again, he made me stand up in front of the class only to humiliate me for not being able to speak English. Do you know what pissed me off the most? It’s not like I didn’t know what these little shits had written, because it’s not like I wasn’t prepared to answer or I didn’t understand the question this time around. No, no, no. This time, while these two assholes were talking about anything, I was reading the article. It was interesting, too. It was about science, with a bunch of technical jargon, but I understood the whole thing. What pissed me off the most is that I stood there, knowing everything I had to say, knowing how to make it sound interesting or smart or however the fuck I wanted to make it sound, but as soon as I open my mouth, poof! It’s gone. It’s not that I don’t know what to say. I fucking don’t know how to say it. I can’t articulate my ideas in that fucking language. I mean, I do know, in my head, before opening my mouth, I carefully choose the perfect words, but when I am forced to intervene, there I am, everyone is looking at me, and even though I know exactly what to say, I can’t say it. It’s a nightmare. Like people who dream about being naked in public. I am speechless, with the whole classroom silently staring at me, and they’re nothing but fresh high school graduates covering their mouths to mock me, a grownup with three bachelor degrees, getting a fourth major, and on top of it all, of that fucking silence, I have this hell of a life in which I have no time to do anything, I can’t even eat, and my stomach rumbles. It’s not even a rumble anymore, it’s not a gastrointestinal growl which might be concealed, it’s a long, deep roar, changing as if a beast inside my stomach was awakened and about to pounce on its prey and…

Hold on.

Dude, this shouldn’t be happening.

I mean, it’s stupid.

All these scenes are about Maiah complaining to Gabriel about something happening to her, and then Gabriel doesn’t even do anything, he just goes “don’t worry, babe, it will be alright.”

This is bullshit.

Gabriel: Well, the thing is Gabriel cares about everything that affects you, I mean, your character.

Maiah: Of course he cares! But he can’t pretend he’s actually doing anything about it.

Gabriel: I don’t think you’re understanding the motivation of the characters. Maiah has a contract with a TV network and they’re waiting for her in Hollywood to make her a star. She’s under pressure, because she can’t fail. Besides, everybody depends on her, even him. That’s why Gabriel is there to motivate her, to encourage her, to save her.

Maiah: Save her? Maiah doesn’t need to be saved. I don’t need to be saved! That’s incredibly self-centered of you. Do I not understand the motivation of the characters? Well, let’s stick to this point a little bit because, you know, it’s important. His motivation, your motivation, is not that I feel good about what I’m doing, it’s that YOU feel good and that if I’m famous YOU can be famous too. You don’t give a shit whether I really want to do this. You don’t give a shit whether I have to go without sleep for days just to edit some videos I don’t care about.

Gabriel: Those videos brought us here. We got a contract with ABC.

Maiah: ABC can kiss my ass.

Gabriel: (Internally screaming out of utter outrage) Don’t you dare speak ill of ABC…

Maiah: ABC is not the problem. And neither it is that we are up to our butts with work to do. I know I have to do that because we do need money to send back to Venezuela, and to live. It isn’t even about that English professor hating my guts. The problem is that you are driving me crazy because you think I’m fucking perfect, and I am not, goddamnit. And neither are you. And fine, no one is. But this doesn’t mean I’m a helpless little shit either. I know you don’t want anything to happen to me, and I love you for it, but if we are going to do this, if we are going to take over Hollywood for real, we have to do this my way. You can’t always protect me, Gabriel. You can’t and I don’t want you to. You’re not a superhero. I don’t need one. I need you to be there while I find a way for us to laugh at this when I finally start believing in myself.

Okay?

Gabriel: Okay.

Maiah: Now watch it, mister, because you just missed Clinton station and you’ll have to get off at Morgan station and walk home.

Cut to:

“The problem is that you are driving me crazy because you think I’m fucking perfect”.

I walk into the apartment and find Maiah sitting in a corner with her eyes fixed on her phone.

I sit next to her and gently take it out of her hands.

“You can’t keep reading everything that happens in Venezuela all the time. You’re going to drive yourself crazy,” I tell her.

“They’re killing them. They are killing them and nobody is doing anything,” she replies.

“You can’t do anything either. None of us can.”

“They’re murderers,” she says.

Then she hugs me.

“I don’t want to go to class anymore,” she tells me.

“We have to go, at least until the semester’s over,” I reply.

“I hate my English professor. Well, actually, my English professor hates me. And this Venezuela thing is driving me crazy,” she says.

“You have to keep a clear head for other things.”

“Is that so?”

“Of course. You have to get ready to become the main actress of my TV series.”

“Dork.”

“Didn’t I tell you? They told me they’d send the ABC contract over in just a few days,” I said.

I lied.

I want to believe she didn’t notice.

V

The next morning, Maiah didn’t sleep a wink because she stayed up all night watching news from Venezuela. That day I didn’t have any classes until the evening, so she was going to go to college on her own and in the cold, although at least a few days ago the sun came up again.

She’s still half asleep when she finds that none of the elevators are working. She will have to climb six flights of stairs, along with a herd of people who are late to class, too.

Her classroom is packed already, and that dick she has for a teacher has already written on the blackboard the topics to be discussed this day. Maiah comes in as quietly as possible, but everyone notices she’s there anyway. There are only two available seats left. The one she would have loved to get is close to the door, but it’s right behind a guy with seriously bad BO. A few days before, she had to sit close to him and felt her life slipping out of her mouth every time a whiff out of this guy’s armpits punched her nose, and she has a very good nose too. So she has to choose to get the other available sit, right in the front row, by the main desk, under the sadistic scrutiny of her evil college adversary.

The class goes by without major incidents. The teacher is particularly sulky and has them write a stupid essay about anything while he sits down to grade exams. The woman sitting next to her looks at her, frowning:

“Pssst,” she says.

When Maiah realizes that she is talking to her, she looks up from the desk and gives the girl a kind smile that hides a silent groan that suggests how uninterested she is in having this conversation and how much she would rather be allowed to finish her composition in peace.

“Do you smell that?” the girl asks.

“What?”

“That. It smells terrible,” she says, using her lips to covertly point to the smelly classmate in the back row.

Maiah giggles in complicity with her classmate and when she does, she takes a deep breath. She’ s right. It smells terrible. But it cannot come from such a distance. Besides, she’d already sat behind that boy. That stench was nasty, but it wasn’t this one. Today’s is even familiar.

Her eyes are wide open like two fried eggs.

Her classmate turns around to tell the same thing to the boy sitting on the other side. Seizing the distraction, Maiah swoops her face down to her armpit.

This is where the smell comes from. She took a shower, got dressed, walked from her home to the university with a couple hundred coats on, climbed six floors up the stairs in a building with full heating, and had forgotten to apply deodorant.

The classmate turns around again and takes another sniff.

“But it reeks as if the stench were coming… from up close,” she says in awe.
Maiah surreptitiously gets up and leaves the room. She doesn’t know what to do and she goes into the bathroom. She starts running the sink faucet and suddenly an alarm goes off.

“Attention, attention, attention. This is a fire drill. Stay calm. Stay calm. Get out of your classroom and walk out to the street in an orderly fashion,” they say on the speaker.

Maiah doesn’t know whether to go out or stay. She wants to get out of there but doesn’t want to bump into anyone. If this wasn’t a drill but a real fire, thinking about this idiotic thing would result in her being found dead. They would find her charred, but at least no one would notice her tribulation.

The alarm hasn’t stopped ringing, but she no longer hears steps around. Maiah takes some courage and finally steps out.

There is no one in the hall. Suddenly, she feels someone tapping her back and turns around in shock. It’s a cop, who scolds her for staying there instead of following the instructions.

“You are risking your life, miss,” he says.

“Sorry, sorry, merry christmas!”

The cop stares at her and shakes his head.

Maiah runs down the stairs of the empty building and, when she leaves, she sneaks out without any of her classmates, who are smoking by the door. She doesn’t want them to notice her.

She walks across the street, takes a right and gets into a Walgreens. Between nail polishes and hair bleaches, there they are, deodorants.

She does all of this without calling me. She’s proud of herself.

Maiah assures that, although she does not believe there is a God, out of everything that’s ever happened to her in her lifetime, this fire drill was the closest thing to a miracle.

I pretend to listen to her telling me what happened at home, with my famous smirk, while a 1977 David Bowie album is playing in my headphones.

Oh, we can beat them, forever and ever.

Honestly, she doesn’t need to tell me any of this.

It’s okay if she does not believe that there is a God, but she should believe there are superheroes.


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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