Two men tumble in from nowhere and crash onto the pavement, the distance of a thrown match from my al fresco table. Waiter arrives, setting down hot chocolate ordered thirty minutes ago, hardly acknowledging brawl, as though it might be a cabaret performance. But my heart races like I’ve been ambushed in a paint-ball combat game. In Europe I’d heard Buenos Aires was a city with stories unfolding on every street corner. Surely not this; not on so balmy a Sunday evening in upmarket Recoleta?
Bigger of the two men is wearing a well cut suit, jacket half come off in the fracas. Other man - no more than a boy now I see him clearly - is gripped in a headlock. His dirtied and oversized T-shirt emphasizes spindle arms, skin chargrilled by the sun. He twitches silently, in the manner of freshly caught prey, but otherwise puts up no further resistance. For brief seconds his gaze meets mine. His eyes have a woebegone stare; all hope given up, they say. Neither of the two men speak. Scene from an old silent slapstick movie, freeze framed.
Hard edge of plastic seat digs into the backs of my thighs when I turn for reference to the other Cafe customers: A group of facially stretched porteñas – Chanel suited – cutting into enormous steaks; old man feeding cake to a ridiculously small dog. Other side, girl with red nail varnish smoking a cheroot returns nervously to pages of fashion magazine in her lap. My waiter returns with a china plate layered with squares of dark chocolate in gold foil wraps, and the bill. I pick it up. Examine it. Service not included.
by Bren Gosling