Calle Colón was dark and dead under the moon, except for the trees alongside it that whispered to him, and the air that made him shiver a bit. It could’ve also been excitement that made him shiver, except this was not the first time he was visiting the girl with the uncommon name.
He was walking in the middle of Calle Colon, not a good place to be if cars came. But there were no cars and in the middle of the road you could see anyone approaching you from the dark sidewalks before they had time to mug you. It was well past midnight, maybe one or two in the morning—the time of the day doesn’t matter much when you’re 19, nor when you’re happy, nor when you’re miserable. He was all three.
The building she lived in was close now—a short, fat pillbox built in the 60s. He stopped at the entrance, lurking in the shadow and hoping for the swish of a speeding car to camouflage the noise of his entrance. When none came, he held his breath and strode toward the building and into the entrance hall and rapped lightly on the door of apartment 2. He waited for what felt like a long time, certainly longer than usual. She normally opened right away. Frowning, he raised his hand to tap again, but the door opened then, just enough for him to slide in.
It was dark inside. She held his hand and guided him though the cramped living room, where a grandfather clock ticked away loudly in the silence of the night, and along a narrow corridor and into her dark bedroom. She leaned against the door and closed it quietly. Then she turned to him and kissed him lightly. She normally turned on the small lamp on the dresser at this point, but tonight she didn’t. She also normally cracked a joke about how they had managed not to awake her grandmother, who snored away in the next room and who didn’t seem to like him very much, but tonight the girl didn’t do that either.
He only realized why later. Now he tasted her lips and pulled her tank top down and cupped her bare breasts in his hands and slid her shorts up so he could grab her. Soon they were in bed in a naked frenzy that he tried to prolong as much as he could, and when it was over he lay on top of her, breathing in the scent of her rumpled hair and the salty sweat tricking down her neck, listening to his heart booming inside and thinking back to how proud he’d been, two months ago, to date a girl who was seven years his senior and who had a full-time job.
“Get out,” she said.
He chuckled. She pushed him aside and sat on the edge of the bed. She grabbed something from atop her night table and walked up to the French doors leading to the balcony, where the moon lit the curves of her body. She lit a cigarette and blew smoke out into the night. He watched her smoke for a few seconds, remembering his apprehension when he first kissed her and the pleasant surprise of finding out that a smoker’s mouth didn’t taste that bad after all.
“What’s going on?” he said.
She didn’t answer, not for a few seconds. His eyes had grown used to the dark and the moon helped him see her a bit better, but he still couldn’t make out the expression on her face.
“You’re leaving next week, aren’t you?” she said.
He sighed. “Is that what it is?” No reply came. “Yes, I leave next week. On Saturday.”
“Two years, is it not?”
“Yes. Two years.” He paused. “But I’ll be on leave often. Maybe every weekend, if I’m lucky, for at least a day.”
“Listen to me.” He stood up and paced toward her and embraced her. “Listen to me,” he repeated into her hear. “It’s doable. We knew it was happening. All guys have to go to the army. I don’t have a say.”
But still she didn’t say anything. He stared at her profile for moment, watching her refuse to watch him, and then he stretched out his hand and flicked the light switch. She spun her head at him. Her glare shocked him.
“Turn it off,” she snapped. “You’ll wake Grandma up.”
“What is this? We’ve always turned the light on. She can’t see the light from her room. You said as long we kept quiet, we’d be fine.”
She turned her head and continued to stare out into the night. He turned the light off, took a step closer. The cold tiles were beginning to bother his bare feet. He held her in his arms. She continued to look out the window.
“Baby, what’s going on?” He touched her hair. “It’s going to be fine.”
She dragged on her cigarette one more time, then tossed it out through the doors into the garden. He watched the butt land on the fragrant dirt, where it flickered red for a moment before it died. He inhaled deeply, waiting for words to come out of his mouth. They stood there in silence for either one minute or ten, and then she spoke. She continued to stare out into the distance as she spoke, past the garden and through the trees alongside Calle Colón all the way to the horizon with its crimson promise of a dawn, and her voice had turned so cold and distant that he barely recognized it.
“I’m seeing somebody else,” she said. “I’ve been seeing him for a while. He’s older than you are. Older than me. He works in the same building as I do. I don’t want to see you again.” She shrugged off his embrace.
He stared at her profile, finding new things in her features—a new hardness, a toughness, a determination that he never knew had been there. He remembered the old jokes everyone made about new recruits and how almost all their girlfriends dumped them if they were lucky, or cheated on them if they were not. Not me, he thought, but her face said it clearly, more than her words could. Her face said, I’m not going to put up with you away, you’re a kid, you were fun for a while but this is not meant to last, I want a man, a grown-up man with his own place.
Suddenly very aware of the cold in his feet, he turned away from her and ambled toward the pile of clothes that lay next to the bed. He sorted his clothes and, standing up again, dropped them on the mattress. He slid into his underwear and his old ripped jeans and his T-shirt and his socks and his sneakers. He smoothed his hair with a trembling hand and took a step toward the bedroom door, then another, resisting the urge to look back at her, and took another, but the urge only grew stronger—an invisible forced pulling his chin in the direction of the girl with the uncommon name, his first girlfriend. He let go and his heard turned and his eyes rested on her for the last time, and there she was, still naked, still voluptuous, still beautiful, gazing out the window.