I come downstairs to see both tables set, the special occasion pink-orange and blue tablecloths, and now I understand the shopping list I saw on the table earlier.
“Who’s coming?” I ask Marisol, who is pulling empanadas out of the oven. She offers me a cheese one and I quickly accept. I am no fool– everything Felisa makes is delicious, especially for special occasions.
“Twenty friends from high school,” she says. Normally Marisol wears a tank top and a ponytail when she comes to clean the house, but today she wears a pretty blouse and dangling black earrings. She fusses with her hair between empanada batches. “They’ll be here from 6-8. I’m waiting to greet them.” I have never seen Marisol here on a Friday evening.
“How long will you stay?” I ask.
“Until she tells me I can go,” she replies.
Since the occasion clearly calls for beer, I go to the chino and buy a bottle of Stella and mini pizza crusts at the bakery along the way. I pour Marisol a glass; she and I have talked many times about our love for beer.
“You served me?” she asks, surprised. She shakes her head. “I can’t drink this early.”
I tilt my head toward the glass on the counter. “Bueno, I guess I’ll drink it, then…”
She grins and picks up the glass. “Well.” We hold the glasses up to toast.
“To the old ladies,” I say.
“To you, that everything goes well,” she responds. We clink glasses. This is probably the last time I will see Marisol– I am leaving the house for good.
We spend the next twenty minutes talking about the cats and the ridiculous amount of money that her boss and my landlord, Felisa, charges to the foreign students who live in the house next door. (20,000 pesos a month, or 4,000 a pop.) “She understands how to make money,” Marisol says. Marisol makes about 100 pesos a day cleaning three houses for Felisa’s family. I ask her how long she’s been working for Felisa and she tells me eight years; the pay’s not good but she would never be able to find such a flexible schedule with anyone else. We keep chatting as Marisol puts more empanadas in the oven and tells me about the other girls who have lived here, like the divine girl from Mexico she once went to Uruguay with, and how Felisa and she used to cook together in the mornings when Felisa was 20 kilos heavier.
I eventually go upstairs with a new glass of beer and hear the first visitor ring the bell a little while later. The earliest guests are perfectly within schedule per Argentine standards: it’s 6:40. Felisa has not arrived yet.
Over the next couple of hours I work on my laptop with the door open, listening to the women come in. Part of me pretends to be annoyed that such a large amount of people are over, but I’m secretly happy to hear the biddy voices coming from below. In the beginning, when there are fewer women, I can hear each woman’s personality– who is dominant in the group, who is genuinely friends with who. Their voices are assured, confident in a room without men.
I listen to the women fill the room with their voices, punctuating the conversation with calls to Marisol:
“Cerra la puerta!”
I go downstairs and see the wonderful long tables full of women, each chair occupied. I smile and greet them, call them lindas, and feel a little shy at all the attention. One woman asks me if I’m the roommate and for some reason I say no. I search for Felisa at the table and find her slouched in the corner, a smile on her face. Her eyes quickly pass over me and return to the table as if I am a moth that has entered the room.
I approach her and ask if she wants me to take a photo of the event. She looks at me as if I have asked for permission to shave my head with the lawnmower, a typical Felisa response. “No, no, no,” she says, shaking her head. I can feel the women watching her, so I ask her if she’s sure, thinking one of the women will pipe up and say yes. But Felisa says no and so I put the camera back into my pocket and pour another beer, my excuse for coming downstairs.
I text Pablo and he suggests going out to dinner– he is kind enough to rescue me from the evening. When he comes to the door, I walk down the stairs, smile at the women, and slip out the door, a moth escaping back into the night.