The first thing that strikes me when I see the sign “Phone Booth” across the street is that it is pointing directly to a convenience store. I walk across the cobble street and I find myself driven into a crowd of noisy customers buying alfajores, gum and cigarettes. It’s early June, the 20th to be exact, and the wind is incredibly cold even inside the corner of Calle Florida and Cordoba where the store is located in downtown Buenos Aires.
I dive into the crowd driven by the colourful packages of chocolates, and candy mixed with condoms and matches that are neatly organized in uneven plastic shelves along the counter. Behind it, a man in his early fifties stares at me and then winks. I loosen my scarf.
I move as quickly as the crowd will let me. When I finally get past it I find myself in a spacious room. It’s brightly lit by a crude white glow, which bounces off the cream coloured tiles that cover the floor. Wood panel doors with green numbers on them surround me. It’s like being inside one of those books where you get to choose the fate of the story you’re reading by selecting an ending to each chapter. There is a distinctive stench of urine lurking in the room. I need to go inside any of the little cubicles very quickly. I choose number 7.
Behind the unusually light door is a very tiny, dimly lit cubicle with nothing in it but a worn out black leather chair and a mirror which covers completely the wall in front of me. Exactly in front of the chair, bolted halfway down the mirror, is a small, but sturdy, wooden shelf. A phone is resting on it.
I leave my purse on the chair and take my coat off. In the process the mirror misleads me in calculating the dimensions of the cubicle, so I bang the fake walls and contort until I finally get it off. I pick up the receiver and sit on the chair when I realize that either the chair is unusually low, or I'm ridiculously short, because either way I can’t reach the rest of the phone. I smile at myself on the mirror and sit on the shelve hoping it won’t break. Ah, a moment of tranquillity for the travelling birthday girl.
I dial home but there is no answer.
I sit on the chair and wait for a little while. Then I stand up, sit back on the shelf and dial again. I listen to the little beeping pulses dialling and as I hear the first tone, I look at myself in the mirror, examining my hair and face like if I was in my own bathroom. I notice my bra has somehow moved from its original position and is now pressing one of my boobs making it stick out in a very funny way. Victoria would be very disappointed if she could see what her Secret is doing to me. So I stand up, hold the phone to my ear with my shoulder and lift my sweater and push my boob back inside the bra, safely into place. I stay there with my sweater around my neck for a little while. A couple of unanswered tones go by. I look at my boobs, they have gotten so much bigger since I got here two months ago. I'm guessing it can either be attributed to all the chocolates and the greasy steak I've had for lunch every single day, or I'm pregnant and the father of my child is the Holy Ghost. I stand up straight, man I do look sexy, I strike a Marilyn Monroe pose, squished boobs and puckered lips. I'll have such a hard time loosing the extra pounds when this vacation is over. Several tones have gone by and nobody answers the phone so I finally hang it. I pull the sweater down, and sit back on the shelf, it squeaks.
I can hear someone talking, vaguely. I think it might be the person in cubicle number 8, which is just to the right, so I press my ear to the wood panel. I feel the cold on my face but there is no voice on the other side of the wall.
I dial home again but this time the line is busy. I remember I haven’t had lunch yet and I can sense the human stench from outside vigorously fighting to get inside the cubicle. Now I can hear two persons talking. There must be two persons inside cubicle 8 now. I'll try calling home latter.
I put on my coat and scarf and open the door. The stench and the bright light from outside, punch me on the face like a professional boxer. I turn around, a bit nauseous, and I bend a little to grab my purse from the chair. As I take it and look up, I see the mirror again, only this time I share the reflection with two guys who are looking at me behind it. They seem to be in some sort of cubicle themselves. One of them is wearing a baseball hat, and is standing there, staring, with his right hand inside his pants, while the other is just sitting down eating something wrapped in tin foil.
I’m paralyzed for a second. "Have they been there the whole time?" I think. "The whole time!"
The images of me pushing my curves into place and posing and, oh God what else did I do in there? Did I also pick my nose? I shiver back into action. I start walking towards the front of the store very quickly. How the hell did I not notice it was a two way mirror when I got inside that stupid booth! I can feel my cheeks uncontrollably warming up. I get to the counter and, in a hurry, take out my wallet. There aren't any costumers there anymore, so the cold wind and the sweet smell of chocolate are very strong.
“How much do I owe you?” I hastily say to the man behind the counter while I button my coat. "Because the call never went through, you know."
He points to a sign behind him that says:
"We will charge you 1.50 pesos for dialling internationally, even if the call doesn't go through"
"What's wrong with you people?" I say while almost throwing a five pesos bill on the counter.
The man looks at the bill and then stares back at me.
“Were you the one in seven?” he asks while scratching his head.
“Yes,” I say.
“Well then," he says grinning from ear to ear, "in that case... it’s nothing…Miss.”