Eva y Nicolas
Nicolas looked around the lobby of the building he had spent the better part of a decade working in. Human resources had quietly and unceremoniously escorted him out to the security desk earlier that morning, after presenting him with a hefty severance pay check. Usually they would walk you out the door and to the curb, he recalled an ex colleague they did that to. She had cried buckets as he helped her quickly and quietly pack her things while the HR woman loomed over them. But today, HR couldn’t be bothered any of that. They called him down to their office, doled out the bad news, and asked him to sign papers. He was stunned, but accepted, no questions asked. Because of the laws in Mexico, he had to present the information to the secretary of employment.
He and Eva had ridden silently to the offices across town, in the back seat of the company car. She reached for his hand, and hiccupped from crying so hard. After they returned to the building, Nicolas was allowed to collect his things, photos of his family mostly- and then was escorted down stairs and out just past the elevator, bid a short, curt adieu, and left there. A chapter of eight years, over, just like that.
Eva, on the other hand, had a special set of rules and only God knows how she got to change everything around, but she did, she always did. Though her department also had laid her off that morning, she was upstairs, hugging ex-colleagues, saying goodbye like some sort of newly jobless debutant. Nicolas had caught Eva talking the HR woman into letting her go to the office supply store down the street to buy a USB memory. HR said yes.
Upon returning to the place she no longer worked at effective two hours ago, Eva then walked back up to her previous computer, unblocked it and was saving all of the personal photos, documents and even music that employees were specifically told NOT TO SAVE ON THE COMPUTER for reasons such as the one they were living at this very moment.
Nicolas and Eva were both laid off on the same day, and he had seen her, weeping like a Magdalene in the HR office. He had caught her eye, she looked at him, quit crying for a split second and then began again, almost wailing, wondering aloud where she would do, how she would pay her bills now that she had no work. He half wondered if she was legit about her worries or if she was just putting on a show. Just the same his heart ached for Eva when they were signing their termination documents, as she sighed the heaviest sigh he had ever heard. She was quite a bit younger than her, and this was probably her first time experiencing this. In the car ride back, through that bustling city in central Mexico, Eva stared out the window, without saying a word until a few blocks before they had arrived back to their former place of employment. When Eva finally spoke, it was to ask Nicolas a favor. Of course, Nicolas immediately agreed to the favor- to wait for her while she gathered her things and take her home so she wouldn’t have to ride the bus or take a taxi.
That had been almost forty minutes ago. He was growing irritated as he sat in the uncomfortable grey waiting room chairs like a chump, watching former colleagues walk in and out, awkwardly saying goodbyes in the foyer of a company where news travels, but bad news sets things on fire, it moves so fast. Of course they’d said they’d keep in touch, what with social media and the like, but he knew it was all lies. Nicolas, at least, had no intentions of keeping up with anyone in this building. No one, except maybe Eva. As if summoned by his thoughts, she finally came bounding down the stairs, with her ex-colleague at her side, helping her carry what seemed to be the bags for a week long vacation abroad. He watched as they tearfully hugged and said goodbye. Eva wiped her face and once by his side said under her breath “Let’s blow this joint, we both got severance checks and the afternoon off to get into trouble.” She took off walking and he watched stunned, as she seemed to go hard from one moment to the next.
Nicolas, though a foolish man, was never one to deny her a whim when she was in a mood like that. He reached for her bags, she handed him all of the things she was carrying and followed her to his car, which she somehow found though he hadn’t told her where it was. He hastily unlocked the trunk and she dumped the many bags she carried in and shut it like it was her car. She turned to him, smiled and started walking again, her eyes telling him to follow her. He did, saying nothing.
“Are you going to say anything to me?” he said to her, after walking a block with her in silence.
“Yeah, I’m fucking starving. It’s almost two o’clock and I didn’t have breakfast. I think after a morning like the one we had, we deserve a cerveza, or two perhaps at the very least. Quiero mucha cerveza, Nico!”
“Well, you are the one who said goodbye up there like you were going on a long distance voyage to Europe…”
“I only said goodbye to like…five or six…look, it was getting my photos and music off the computer, ok? It took forever. It took like an hour, I’m not sorry. I’m hungry.” Eva kneed Nicolas in the back of his knee. It bent under him, but he didn’t fall. He grinned reached for Eva’s hand and put his arm around her, which she promptly shrugged off.
“Do you want to go get some lunch? Do you have somewhere to be…?” Nicolas asked, embarrassed at the fact that she rejected his small attempt at touching her. She laughed, elbowed him in the ribs playfully, but firmly and said “Hmmm, I think all of my appointments today have been canceled for… Oh let’s say for the rest of the year. I suppose we can go eat.”
They settled on the small seafood restaurant a few blocks from where they were, Eva chose a table outside. The young greeter approached, and Eva took the moment to order them two beers. She smiled at Nicolas. “Can you believe this, Nico? Of all the people to be sitting with, on the day we both get laid off…” Her voice trailed off. “It’s crazy. I felt so alone when they gave me the news, and you’ve always been so kind to me. I don’t feel so bad with you by my side during this and I-“
The waiter arrived, interrupting Eva, bringing menus, and the beers. “By the way, is this on your tab, Nico? I mean, honestly you made more money than I ever did. I accidentally saw your check in the HR office. Cha-CHING!” Nicolas chuckled and quietly clinked the neck of his beer with hers. They took long swigs and stared at each other. He watched her intensely, as she pulled out compact and examined her eyes, swollen from crying. Still, her eye make up was intact. She placed the mirror on the table and looked at him.
A few minutes later, the waiter returned and politely asked if they were ready to order. This was a familiar haunt for the two colleagues, and they ordered without even opening the menus.
Nicolas had known Eva around four years. She was in her early twenties when she arrived at the company, green but clever. They always had long, easy conversations, and he loved getting her perspective on things. She was a wise, almost too wise for what she had lived, or rather what she had not lived. He had dreams of her long hair, of swimming in the waves of it, diving into it like a pool the color of a strong cup of coffee. The disorderly halo always seemed alive, particularly if there was any hint of breeze, as there was now on this bright summer day. The warm June afternoon had no clue of the misfortune the two ex-coworkers had just lived. The sun shined as brilliantly as if it were the first day it had ever shined. The gentle wind swept her curls into her face as she spoke to him, and he gingerly moved them away from her mouth, daring to brush her bottom lip with his thumb.
“Evita, let’s go. I have an apartment now. No one will bother us.”
“Go where? Why?” she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
“So we can be alone, have some privacy…” Nicolas said, suddenly wondering if he should have bothered asking at all.
“Nicolas! We’re alone here. What privacy do we need? No one cares what we are talking about. NO ONE.”
“You said you wanted to get into trouble…”
Eva sighed again, this time like a frustrated woman on a Mexican soap opera. “Nicolas. That… it was a figure of speech and I shouldn’t have said it. It was wrong to say that. We already almost got into trouble and it was a bullet we dodged. We can’t really be ALONE, alone. We almost made a mistake; you’re at a crossroads or something, who knows? You left your home and have an apartment? Great. Good luck to you, get your things straightened out and call me. I’m not going to play second violin-“
“Fiddle.” Nicolas corrected her.
“Whatever, Nicolas! Fiddle, violin, whatever! It doesn’t matter! Get your shit settled, or don’t, I don’t care! Buy a tiny red car, live out your second childhood, do what you need to do but don’t expect me to be your midlife crisis bed warmer! I refuse!”
Eva almost hissed these last sentences and Nicolas hardly recognized her.
She took a long drink of her beer, and formidably draining it without coming up for air once. She slammed the empty bottle down, looked for a waiter and motioned him to get two more beers though Nicolas had hardly touched his. The waiter quickly made his way to the table and promptly deposited two more beers on the table and left as quickly as he had arrived.
“Jesus! You’re all the same, you know that? ALL THE SAME! It’s like you’re a slave to your dick! Pinches machistas! You never think about the aftermath, or the consequences or the mess you leave people’s life in! This stupid animal instinct drives you mad! We can be friends; we don’t have to do something foolish that will ruin everything! And it’s not just you! This kid who likes to run, you know that one with the skinny girlfriend? The guy with the glasses from accounts payable, and the dumb guy in IT, and you, especially you!” she said, ticking them off on her fingers, her face becoming flush as her angry manifesto began.
“You beasts don’t even care about how you affect other people! I’m not your Goddamn plaything, Nicolas! I’m not a toy! I’m a woman, I have feelings! You can’t offer me anything and you expect me to give you a good time just because you have a pulse and dared to ask!”
Eva reached for her purse and pulled out a compact in a huff. She applied a new coat of lip gloss, smoothed out her black blouse and spritzed herself with perfume.
Nicolas listened to part of what she said- or he at least tried. He had suspected there were men in the company showering her with attention but he wasn’t sure how many until just now. He partly agreed with what he had heard, but then found himself tuning her out, watching her put on the lip gloss had caught and taken his attention far, far away from her words.
“Nicolas. NICOLAS. So typical! You’re not even listening to me! Nicolas! What the fuck? You and your cave man tendencies. What happened, you got distracted? Is this too complex for you, or does this remind you of home? What is it? Why are you doing this to me?”
“Eva, you said it yourself, I’m a cave man, I want what I want from you. Give me what I want. Your mouth, your perfume, I miss running my fingers through your hair, your laugh, I miss that. Don’t you miss me?”
Eva looked at him, straight at him, dead in the eye and didn’t blink. “Nicolas. I don’t have the right to miss you. I cannot allow myself the luxury of loving you, but only of losing you, I lose you everyday. You’re not mine, you never will be. My biggest satisfaction is knowing that the day you die, I’ll be at your funeral. I’ll dress in red.” She looked him in the eye, she was slightly drunk, but didn’t waver.
“I’m going to bury you.”
Nicolas looked at Eva, grabbed her face and kissed her. She let him. He tasted something sweet, mixed with the beer on her warm mouth and it reminded him of what the first day of summer vacation was like, reminded him of his first car. It tasted like freedom and he wanted her to taste it too.
After they kissed, Eva smiled like Nicolas had never seen her smile. He felt a pang of nervousness.
“Listen to me, Nicolas. Listen to the words that I am saying to you, today for the last time. I. am not. Your toy. I. Am not. Your plaything. Grow up, grow a pair and get over yourself. Take me home. Now.”
Eva got up and walked towards their waiter to cancel the orders. Nicolas opened his wallet and threw down a few bills to cover the beers. She walked fast to his car and waited for him to unlock it. They sat in silence as he took her home. He knew the way; he had taken her home many times before. He parked on the dusty road in front of her lemon yellow house. He turned the car off. Eva looked straight ahead.
“Thank you for the ride. Thank you for the beer.” Eva said the words and they fell flat and still, the moment they left her. She opened the door and got out. Though she was walking, moving, she looked dead to Nicolas. He also got out of the car, went to the trunk and unlocked it, unloading multiple bags of Eva’s belongings.
“Hey. This is hard for me, Nicolas. This is goodbye. I prayed for this. I prayed to never see you again, no matter what it took and this is what it is going to take. I feel things I shouldn’t towards you. I fight myself everyday, you know.”
This time, Eva kissed Nicolas, and she tasted things as well. She tasted a darkness she knew could consume her, a memory of going to the beach as a teenager, being pulled in by a rip current. There was no freedom for her, only fear, only loss.
She pulled back and looked at Nico, an expression of fear that shook him. He stepped towards his car, his hands fumbling for his keys, his heart in his throat.
“I’m sorry Eva. I’m sorry, but when I am dying, when you go to my funeral, I will take this, I’ll carry you, even if you cannot carry me. You gave this to me, and I am thankful.” His back was against the car, and he was suddenly sweating profusely.
“Nicolas. Leave. Get in your car, drive away and don’t look for me ever again. I am dead. I am dead for you.” Eva picked up her bags, walked into her house.
Nicolas got into his car and drove to his apartment.
He never saw Eva again.