Amélie Olaiz

translated from Spanish by Toshiya Kamei

Up and Down


Carlo and I go back a long way. Every afternoon we go to Don Antonio's café. We love walking along the sidewalk and watching the customers.

Located outdoors, the café is usually crowded with tourists, especially in the summer. It's in front of a plaza with very old buildings and a street closed to traffic. It's a historical district, so we can stroll there freely. Carlo and I are the same age and also the same height. He looks like a stocky Roman soldier. He has green eyes and a heavy beard. What's left of his hair is curly and brown. He doesn't mind his half-bald head, because he has a hairy chest. He says his chest hair compensates for the lack of hair on his head, and that ideas flow quicker without so much of it. He claims his chest hair protects his heart, keeping him from falling in love easily. He seems to smile, but his smile is fake. Unless you pay close attention, you don't notice it because he still has good teeth. I have seen him practice that smile before the mirror for years, as well as many of his gestures. He loves smoking—lights one cigarette after another—and thinks it gives him a worldly air. He holds his cigarette between his thumb and index finger and covers it with the palm of his hand. I don't know how he doesn't burn himself.

 Carlo wants us to pace along Don Antonio's café, in front of the small tables lined up before the plaza. People sit there to watch passersby. We go up and down, twenty meters this way and twenty meters back, again and again. I know it because I have counted the steps. Carlo walks with rhythm in a straight line. He puts one hand in his pants pocket, except for his thumb. He says that's how models sashay and that he looks more elegant when he does this.

We don't walk non-stop. We stop every five or ten steps, depending on Carlo's mood. When we stop, he puts one leg over the flowerpots marking the café's limits, glances toward some customers, and says a few things to me while watching the person in question. Sometimes he mutters, twisting his mouth. Then he cocks his head toward me, as though he were listening to what I say. He chews his cigarette and blows smoke over the diners' heads. He looks at me, responds to my comments, and flashes his fake smile. He always tells me the same thing; it doesn't matter whether the person in front of him is male or female, old or young. He sees similar things in everyone. That's why his comments don't change. I try to tell him something different each time, but he gives the same answer. I have come to think that he's going deaf. He appears to hear me, but he really doesn't. That's why we sometimes fight in front of people. We have never had a fist fight, but we quarrel loudly.

One afternoon he tripped, flew forward, and fell flat on his face. His hands hit the pavement. A waiter helped him to his feet, but Carlo felt humiliated and pushed him away, saying he was fine, that there was nothing wrong with him. He had to limp around for several days. I know him: he was hurt, but he refuses to admit those things. He hates feeling vulnerable.

Until now we haven't had any problems in the café. No one gets upset when Carlo mutters in their faces. I suppose he either amazes them or makes them laugh. I say this because some people laugh when they see him, others murmur, and some others stare at him with their mouths open. He knows people talk about us, which is obvious, but he doesn't care. He says it's normal, because we're a couple of bigwigs and that their reactions prove we don't go unappreciated.

As they leave the café, some tourists hand Carlo change, which we now live on. He says that thanks to us the café is always busy and that many people sit at the tables outside just to watch us.

After midnight it's time for us to go. We walk slowly down half-empty streets. At this hour Carlo is different: more easygoing and natural. He talks about how important I am in his life, how strong our friendship is, and how we're needed for Sorrento's tourism. I listen to him in silence. It doesn't worry me. I know I'm indispensable to him. That's enough for me, even though I'm visible only to him.

Amélie Olaiz was born in León and lives in Mexico City. She is the author of Piedras de Luna (2005), Aquí está tu cielo (2007), and La vida oculta en la caja de nogal (2013). Her work has been anthologized in Prohibido fumar (2008), Antología mínima del orgasmo(2009), and Three Messages and a Warning (2012), among others. In the US, Toshiya Kamei has published English translations of her fiction in The Bitter OlanderGargoyle MagazineMeat for TeaPhantom Drift, and Slab, among others.


Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations include Liliana Blum's The Curse of Eve and Other Stories (2008), Naoko Awa's The Fox's Window and Other Stories (2010), Espido Freire's Irlanda (2011), and Selfa Chew's Silent Herons (2012). 

                          Jeanne Bessette

                          Jeanne Bessette