When Alejandro saw her for the first time his hands were covered in engine grease.
Wow, what a beauty.
He took his faded white shirt to his nose, wiping the crusty mucous that had been there all day. Piet and Jandre were with him in his uncle’s Jetta. They had just pulled up to the Shell petrol station, the only one in town, desperately wanting an ice cream from Steers. It had been a tiresome day at the garage with ten cars needing work on their dying engines.
“You guys go inside and get me a cone with a chocolate flake,” said Alejandro.
“Ai man we don’t have enough for that,” said Piet.
“Yes we do, don’t be dumb. Here.” Alejandro took out a handful of coins from his pocket. “Get me the cone with the flake and you two can have normal ones.”
Piet and Jandre looked at each other and then down to the coins placed in their hands. Jandre gave a characteristic snarl. “Let’s go Piet,” he said, slamming the car door behind them.
“Hey you naaier, that’s my uncle’s door you slamming,” said Alejandro, banging his hand on the dashboard.
When Alejandro looked back to find where the girl had gone he saw her disappearing into the ladies’ toilets. He checked himself in the rearview mirror. His skin was dry, caked with dust and grease and his breath smelled of the fish cakes he had had earlier on in the day. He put his finger on the scar that ran from the top of his left cheek to the bottom. He remembered the night he got it fighting with a dumb doos at the local shebeen. He didn’t really regret the scar. It made him look tough and he liked that. But now he felt a stinging regret rise into his throat.
Would she even want me with this thing on my face?
Despite all of this, he felt compelled to get her attention. Never mind the guy in the black Jeep, undoubtedly her boyfriend. Alejandro took a good look at the guy. Tattoos all over his arms with big silver sunglasses on his face and bulging biceps to match the bulging vein in his neck.
“Here you go.” Jandre got into the car, giving him the ice cream.
“Where the hell is my flake?”
“They’re out of flakes.”
“Aaahh fuck…useless. Okay I’m coming now.”
“Where you going now?” Piet asked, his mouth filled with vanilla soft serve.
“Don’t you worry.”
Alejandro took one more look in the mirror and decided there was no going back from this moment. He got out the car, ice cream in hand, and headed toward the ladies’ toilets. He made sure to be as inconspicuous as possible, not wanting to alert the guy in the Jeep of his presence. He waited by the entrance of the toilets, leaning his left foot against the wall. Jandre and Piet watched him in confusion, eating their soft serves in a stupor of delight.
She walked out the toilets with both hands on her cellphone, her fingers tapping away at the touchscreen at a rapid speed.
“Hello,” Alejandro said. It seemed like she didn’t hear him as she walked past, her face transfixed on her cellphone. “Hello,” he said again. This time she turned around abruptly, whipping her black hair round to face him.
“Hi,” she said, watching him with curious eyes.
“I know this might seem weird. But I think you’re gorgeous. I just wanted to give you this.”
“Oh…” She peered down at the ice cream in Alejandro’s hand. It had started to melt and some of the soft serve was dripping through his fingers onto the pavement. She looked back to where the black Jeep stood, raised her shoulders to meet her ears and said, “How sweet of you.” She walked up to him and took the ice cream from his greasy hands. He watched her open her mouth, revealing the pink insides of it and the white gleam from her perfect teeth. Her mouth enveloped the top of the ice cream making the soft serve melt on the edges of her warm lips.
“Mmmmmm. This is lovely. Thank you.”
Alejandro had lost his sense of speech. He was in awe of her. Her effortless movement, her spontaneous softness, her natural allure.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
“Oh yes. Sorry. I day dream a lot.” He smiled, revealing the two rotten teeth at the back of his mouth. He soon realised how wide he was smiling and how ugly he must have looked to her with his rotten teeth, grease and dust. He put his hand in his pockets and kicked a stone near his foot.
“What the hell is going on here?” The guy from the Jeep walked up and snatched the ice cream from his girlfriend.
“This sweet guy was just offering me an ice cream, babe. Not a big deal,” she said, placing her manicured hand on his chest.
“An ice cream, huh?” The guy watched Alejandro through his big, silver sunglasses. Alejandro couldn’t look up at him. His skin recoiled and an unusual weight had filled his stomach. He scratched his head, searching for the words to free him from this situation.
“You alright, man?” asked Piet coming up to him with Jandre following behind. There they stood, three against two, all in uncertainty over an ice cream.
“I’m okay,” Alejandro managed to say. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Yeah you better,” the guy in the sunglasses said, tossing the ice cream into the gutter.
“What did you say, poes?” Piet piped up, stepping in front of Alejandro.
“Stop.” Alejandro put his hand on Piet’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The three of them walked away from the couple. Jandre and Piet did not break eye contact with the couple as they walked back, but Alejandro could not bear to look at the girl.
They got into the car a few moments later with an eerie silence coming over the three friends.
“What was that all about?” asked Jandre.
“Big city people don’t have fucken manners,” Piet said.
“Yeah, that must be it,” said Alejandro, looking at his scar in the rearview mirror and wishing he was something other than what he was.
There was a knock on the passenger window next to him. He turned to face the girl. She made a hand gesture signalling for him to roll down his window and he did so without a second thought.
“Don’t mind my boyfriend. He’s a real douchebag sometimes.” She smiled at the three of them. “You’re a very sweet guy. What’s your name?”
“I’m Tasha.” Her accent sounded rich with first class plane trips and hotel stays in Camps Bay. It was a melody Alejandro wasn’t accustomed to. A melody as torturous as it was beautiful. She touched his cheek, the one without the scar, and winked at him. He wondered why on Earth such a woman would be so polite to a guy like him. “I have to go now.”
“Okay. Be safe,” was all he could manage to say before she dashed away around the corner of the Shell petrol station. The three guys watched the black Jeep drive off into the distance, disappearing into the dust and the sweltering heat rising from the tar road.
“You one lucky fucker,” Piet said, jabbing his friend in the arm.
Alejandro said nothing as they drove back to the mechanic shop. Words would have tarnished the moment.
Later that evening he went to see his girl, Regina. She was a plumpish young woman with coarse black hair, a wide nose and thick thighs.
“You have a good day today, baby?” she asked him coming out onto the stoep with two bottles of beer for them. Her house looked out onto the arid, flat landscape on the outskirts of Blikkiesdorp. There was something about the wide expanse of the landscape that signalled possibility to him. He looked at the dusty horizon, wondering if he would ever make it to such big cities like Cape Town or Johannesburg.
“The day was like any other day.” He took the beer from Regina, popped the cap open with his teeth and chugged half of it down.
“Lot of work today?” she asked, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. She always smelled of sunlight soap and he always smelled of engine grease, but somehow their smells worked together.
“Come sit here.” Alejandro took Regina and placed her between his legs. “Close your eyes,” he whispered to her. She was wearing a blue skirt, the uniform the supermarket wanted all employees to wear.
“Okay my eyes are closed. Now what?”
“Ssssshhh.” He took another swig of beer, then slowly ran his fingers down her body. From her breasts, to her stomach, then under her skirt. He pushed her panties to the side and allowed her body to envelop his index finger.
She let out a soft gasp and bit her lip. Her body was writhing all over and her thick thighs rubbed up against his arm in a frantic manner. He could feel himself extend into her dark soft body. He appreciated the warmth of her. Alejandro kept his eyes on the horizon while Regina was lost in a maze of pleasure. He thought of Tasha. Her smile, her eyes, her lips, the way she licked the ice cream. He knew he could never have such a girl.
Maybe it’s not so much about having her as it is about seeing her… really seeing her.
When Regina climaxed she fell, heavy and delirious, onto his chest.
“Baby…” she let out, curling into his chest and kissing the hairs on his arm.
The sun had just dropped below the horizon and the twilight blue had risen to greet the emerging stars above. Alejandro couldn’t quite explain it but in that moment he needed nothing more than what he had. For what he had was everything and nothing.
Jarred Thompson is an English graduate from Alabama State University. His work can be found in The Rainy Day Literary Journal, Kalahari Review as well as The Anthology of Best NEW AFRICAN Poets of 2016. He is currently completing his Honours in English at the University of Johannesburg.