No News from Jaime

By: Juan Fernando Merino
 Illustrated by: Henry González 
Selection and Compilation: Carolina Fonseca

And the rest is history,” concluded Jonathan Garfield, rising from his chair and placing his glass of wine firmly on the gleaming mahogany table at the Brooklyn Bridge Café… apparently a bit too emphatically, as the glass shattered, startling those around him.

None of the four people present knew what to do or say, despite the trickle of blood that appeared on Garfield’s left hand –the one that, through some trickery, he always used to shake hands. Seated at the prospective bride and groom’s table, a mere fifty feet away and with the rest of the guests distracted, only Amanda and I noticed and we exchanged a quick look of dismay. The pretentious headwaiter at the pretentious restaurant also noticed. He at once reached into his waistcoat pocket, pulled out a handkerchief, and moved toward the affected table. He must have sensed something in the air, the resonance of the words or who knows what, and he stopped short, leaned over the metal railing that overlooked the river, and stared off at a point in Manhattan as he shook his empty handkerchief over the waters of the East River below, offering non-existent crumbs to a non-existent flock of seagulls.

“Damn the sea that brought him!” snapped Garfield, and then sat down again, taciturn, dejected, refusing to look in the direction of his injured hand or follow the path of the bloody drops falling from it.

The scene was little more than confirmation that things were going very badly and could get much worse. The evening was going to the dogs. Jaime “Wildman” da Costa and María Fernanda Aguinaga’s engagement party was already spoiled: even the least intuitive or superstitious of those in attendance would have put an end to it or deleted it from the calendar had this been possible.

But there was nothing anyone could do. María Fernanda’s stubborn silence said it all, though the cobweb of insipid conversation, designed to cover the bride’s silence at the table of honor, may have been even more indicative and ominous. There was also the unpleasant exit of Omar Rashid, the groom’s best man. There was nothing left to do but pray for the least painful outcome possible.

It was all Eva’s fault. That is, if anyone can be blamed for this… If one felt the need to look for a guilty party in the entire chain of events that began when Jaime “Wildman” da Costa, famed experimental composer and unlikely boyfriend, returned from his most recent stay in Capativa, in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

Perhaps this is a good place to stop and explain what was taking place that evening at the Brooklyn Bridge Café, who was celebrating, what the bad omens were, what triggered the disaster, and what exactly was Eva’s fault.

Eva’s mistake –according to the most impatient in attendance– was to have ordered a bottle of aged tequila when there was no longer any need for hard liquor…when certain guests should have abstained from consuming even one more drop of soft liquor.

Eva is my friend Evita Martínez Aranda, a Cuban systems engineer who has lived in New Jersey for twelve years and who, seven years ago, married Marcos Peláez, a young economist, the son and grandson of Asturians living in Queens, although he has forgotten every last word of the Spanish he learned in childhood. Marcos was seated next to Jonathan of the bloody hand.

Jonathan Garfield, a tall, thin, and very handsome Bostonian –as he was described by Eva, who introduced him to us three summers ago after he prematurely divorced at the age of 29– is a relatively successful architect currently working for a firm of Saudi builders.

We had gathered on that Saturday in early autumn to celebrate the fact that, after eight years of love (and quarrels) and six and a half years of cohabitation (except for long periods each year, sometimes up to five months, spent by Jaime in the Amazon jungle) our friends Jaime da Costa and María Fernanda Aguinaga, Fercha, had finally decided to enter into holy matrimony. Also present was Fercha’s mother, who had arrived directly from Cali the previous week to witness the religious ceremony, set to be held in Manhattan’s Santa Brigida Church the next day.

Until things were complicated by the arrival of Liljana the Macedonian.

I heard the bride’s version of the story from her friend and colleague, Martha Elena Suárez, who is also a painter, also a Colombian, and also a resident of New York for the past ten years or so. It was a long, tangled, though never boring tale, but it left the key question unanswered: Why had the free-spirited and libertarian artist Fercha Aguinaga, a declared enemy of convention, appearances, and traditions, insisted on a white wedding?

And there is no one like “Wildman” da Costa. I say this not only because of his prolonged and risky incursions into the remotest Brazilian jungle and Argentine tundra, or his excessive, unclassifiable compositions, with scores that include everything from palm leaves shaken in the wind to the clash of crocodile jaws or the dripping of the first raindrops into empty buckets, just to give a few examples. Words fail to describe his unique way of walking, laughing, eating, smoking, and even carrying on a conversation. I sometimes had the feeling that Jaime was never quite with us, not in New York, or on this side of the ocean. Or this side of sanity.

And so it was painful to watch him as I did then: decked out in a rather baggy suit and a tie that choked his neck as he attempted to make conversation with the bride’s friends, who he more than likely couldn’t stand, and respond politely to Maria Fernanda’s mother’s questions, drinking in moderation the wine and champagne placed before him by waiters in bow ties and guests in ties.

Everything happened as quickly and decisively as our dreams tend to shatter or our worst misfortunes arrive: a water taxi pulled up at the dock next to the restaurant –one of those thunderous contraptions that race across the river between Manhattan and Brooklyn– and three people got out. Ten seconds later the taxi was gone.

One of the passengers headed towards the Brooklyn Heights lookout point. The other two were stragglers only now arriving at our celebration: Liljana Valpocankovska (who for obvious reasons everyone called Liljana the Macedonian) and Emmanuel Batiste, her current boyfriend.

They quickly climbed the steps, approached the bride and groom’s table, and stood behind Maria Fernanda. Liljana rummaged through her voluminous bag for their gift.

“Do you remember that time we had no news of Jaime for a whole six months?” loudly reminisced Leandro, a Panamanian jazz trombonist and long-time friend of the groom.

Yes, of course, that was 2002, during that terrible period in the La Guajira desert,” added his neighbor.

But Liljana the Macedonian, who had not even said hello yet, couldn’t help butting in:

“Wasn’t it in Curitiba? I think I even remember getting a postcard that time.”

“Neither Curitiba nor La Guajira,” Jonathan Garfield chimed in from our table, slurring his words under the effect of the aged tequila. “That was when Jaime was living in California.”

“Jaime never lived in California…” began Maria Fernanda, but suddenly her eyes met Jaime’s. One second. It was only a second, but something crucial shattered between the two of them.

Omar, the groom’s best man, jumped to his feet, whispered something in Jonathan’s ear and left.

That was when Jonathan Garfield grabbed a wine glass –not even his own, it was Eva’s– and slammed it down on the table.

The party was over.

For some inexplicable reason, Liljana and Emmanuel, the latecomers, insisted on taking pictures. Only Martha and Ariadna attempted to smile. After the photos were taken, Fercha and Jaime collected their gifts in silence and quietly walked off towards the pier. They left on the next water taxi without asking where it was headed.