An Antonym for Marie Kondo
Luggage bags are hard to organise when your girlfriend of three years just dumped you via a WhatsApp message, leaving you heartbroken and homeless. Plus, all you own in the entire world is supposed to fit inside this bloody bag! That, may I add, she fucking gifted you.
I need Marie Kondo for this shit. I’m definitely no Marie Kondo. In fact, if there were an antonym for Marie Kondo, I’d be it. You’d google ‘antonym for Marie Kondo’ and in black bold letters my name would appear: Rita Rodriguez Villagran—Unorganised Reina.
Rolls of fabric push out like a satisfied belly hanging from the mouth of unbuttoned jeans. I sit on my ocean blue suitcase and attempt to close everything in. Something must be wrong with the zipper. I can’t physically move it past the first bend. And there’s absolutely no way that I have more stuff now that I’m leaving back home to Australia, than when I packed my bags to leave back to where I came from, Uruguay.
Back then, my suitcase was filled with koala pencil huggers, tiny kangaroo backpacks, billions of warm cotton socks (because in Uruguay, good socks are expensive and winters are as cold as a penguin’s arse), infinite packets of Milky Way chocolates, one huge jar of Vegemite (just to see my relos’ faces cringe as the black paste hits their red tongues), and layers of clumsily folded hand-me-downs for all my familia to fight over. I wonder if the kiosk around the corner sells a WD-40 equivalent? The Uruguayan humidity must’ve rusted the zipper!
Mugre nestles itself into every nook of the streets of el Cerro. Rainwater carries tossed items: empty alfajor packets, squashed down soft drink cans and slurped-in yoghurt bottles, all the way to the the gutter. Creating a mountain of trash. Barricading the stormwater drain. Causing the street to overflow. Leaving a pool of floating garbage. My Havaianas squeak and spit muddied water as they flap at my now dirtied heels. The stench from the barrio’s waste travels so far that my nose imprints a picture of it in my mind before my eyes capture a glimpse of the filth that lays ahead. The wind’s flown tangled shopping bags and other lightweight trash into treetops, and there they dangle as if they’ve always belonged.
Wildlife has adapted to this new plastic jungle, myself included. For example, this morning as I walk towards the kiosk for my WD-40, I spot an empty milk bag, hanging on a jacaranda’s arm, its hungry mouth wide open and overfilled with rainfall. Raindrops drip from its stretched lips like a drooling dog. Its dribbling saliva quickly attracts a scourge of mosquitoes which become breakfast for a flock of birds. The birds flap their wings and squawk as they peck and claw at one another, trying to mark their territory over this sudden abundance of buzzing food. Some of the birds even dip their heads into the bag and just sip at the mosquito infested splatter like it’s some fancy cocktail. Gross!
But, I still love this place. I pick up a Bon o Bon wrapper from the ground and toss it into the public bin. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido, the people united will never be defeated. Hope makes me imagine others following my lead.
Flies buzz around fresh dog poo by the entry to the kiosk. I step over the shit as I go in. ‘Qué dice Gringa,’ Jacinta the shop owner greets me as she sees me walk in, her curly black hair tied into a messy bun. I’m impressed with your new fly trapper, I tease and point to the poop with my peeling thick lips, ‘Is that Elon Musk’s latest invention?’ I add. ‘Qué Elon Musk, ni qué Elon Musk. Esto es macumba, muchacha,’ she says. Her hazel eyes smile but her chubby cheeks blush as she rushes to pick it up with her dog-poop scooper and place it inside the communal dumpster outside. When she walks back in, sweat dripping down her crinkled forehead. I ask her ‘who’s the macumba for?’ And she replies, dead serious, with her Sofia Vergara accent, ‘You gringos.’
I laugh but her joke stings a little, even though I know deep down that she’s just messing with me. When will I ever be home? In Australia I’m always the Latina and here in Uruguay, well, I’m always the Gringa. Is there ever going to be a physical space I actually fit into?
Wurth, that’s what the WD-40 equivalent is called here, and man was it difficult to buy. Not because it’s ridiculously expensive, nor because it’s hard to find but because Jacinta couldn’t get over, more like wouldn’t get over, her sexual jokes about which lubricant my man preferred, or that she thought young cotorras didn’t need extra lubricating! I should’ve come out to her right there on the spot, that would’ve made her want to slide right out of that conversation Ha! I could’ve told her that my girlfriend prefers edible lubes! Hehehe or as one giggles here jejeje.
Mónica, my sister-in-law, is out the front of the house, her scrawny tanned arms throw a mouldy orange and sucked-dry popper, into a burning pile of rubbish as I walk into the front yard with my Wurth in hand.
‘The fire brigade’s gonna come soon,’ I say to her as I climb up the front steps and I’m not pulling her arm for the fuck of it, last week one of the nosey good-for-nothing-but-gossip neighbours called the pigs on us for doing the same thing! I hate the cops, I hate that neighbour.
My words don’t seem to touch her right, her black body hairs stand on end and instantly she begins to complain about, ‘¿Qué mierda querés que haga mujer?’ Her quick tongue lists all the things she doesn’t want to do. 1. Wait for the council to do their job efficiently? … 9. Simply live like a maggot and just lie in the decay that surrounds me? She says every numbered critique loud enough for the entire barrio to hear because she knows their tittle-tattle-starved ears are listening.
Then she pulls out her iPhone from her busty cleavage, begins to film the rubbish scattered around the barrio and puts on her TikTok page-creator voice. Clear and confident.
‘Tres años. It took just three years of this right-wing government to wash Frente Amplio’s 15 years down the drain,’ she says. ‘Tres años.’ Next, Mónica asks her followers to stand up and burn the filth to the ground, she pans the camera towards the trash-filled bonfire. ‘Señales de humo,’ she says. Let’s make smoke signals from it, she tilts the camera up, following its black fumes. ‘¡Qué nos vean!’ she howls. Let’s make the government see us, she turns the phone around and films a close-up selfie. Let’s make them remember the forgotten. We, the labouring hands of Uruguay are here, ‘¡Presente!’ she puts her left hand up into frame. ‘If the rich suburbs get clean streets, why shouldn’t we!’
She turns her left hand into a fist and chants three times, ‘El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.’ Punching the air with every word. Emotionally puffed out, she ends the video, places her mobile into her back pocket and continues to melt littered preloved goods. Her fury convinces me to leave my Wurth on the veranda’s balustrade, go back down the steps, pick up a carelessly discarded Coca-Cola bottle wedged into the broken pavement and chuck it into the fire pit. The plastic crinkles and foams into oblivion, I pinch my nose.
With her pinkie finger, Mónica tucks her peroxide-blonde hair behind her ear and mouths, ‘Gracias.’
My luggage teases me. Its steel teeth force themselves apart into a grin, as if to say, ‘You’re not going anywhere Gringa!’ It pokes its textile tongue at me. With a paper towel in my left hand, I squeeze my fist into the bag’s mouth to protect the clothes inside from getting stained by the Wurth I spray on each alloy tooth. Lubricant trickles down my left wrist. Surely now the zipper will close! I place the Wurth on the floor and kneel on my ocean blue bag, close my eyes and pray as I yank with all my heart. The slider and pull tab are so oily that they slip right from the grip of my fingertips and I fall backwards, landing hard on my back. ¡Ay Dios mío!
Tears slide down my cheeks with ease, I blow my nose into the grease-sopped paper towel still in my hand, my mucus black from all the smoke I’ve inhaled. Now my nostrils are smeared with Wurth. Its toxic scent instantly travels up my nasal cavity, hits the back of my throat and now lies upon my irritated tongue. I never tasted kerosene before but it tastes like it I’m sure! Yuck! I begin to cough and gag and cry uncontrollably. My odd sounds must have alarmed my sister-in-law because she sweeps my bedroom curtain open without clapping to alert me beforehand.
‘¿Qué te pasa mujer?’ she screams, not angry but curious. In between gasps and moans I tell her what I accidently did and she begins to laugh out loud—her laugh’s an orgasm that she can’t control. Her long body coils forwards and she holds onto her flat belly. Her pierced belly button jingles with each laugh. It’s not until I walk out the room, still in pain and into the bathroom that she stops laughing and follows behind me. Quickly, she wets a hand towel in the sink and begins to wash my face.
‘¿Mejor?’ she asks, and I tell her that I do feel better now, but my eyes continue to water like the overfilled milk bag that hung from the jacaranda. I see her notice my sadness.
‘¿Qué te pasa mujer?’ she asks again but this time gentle with concern. I explain about my stubborn suitcase and its stupid zipper! I don’t mention my now-ex.
‘¡Ay mujer, obvio que no cierra!’ she nudges my arm. I look at her, confused. How is it obvious that my luggage bag doesn’t close?
‘A ver,’ she clears her throat, ‘¿puedo?’ She asks me if she can organise my bag as she walks back to my bedroom. I follow behind.
The zipper slides open with ease. I watch her unpack. Her eyes inquire at every single item she unloads, the more things she takes out, the more question-marked looks fill up her smirking gaze. A Barbie-doll size statue of San Expedito, a small repique drum, a crocheted rainbow flag, a morral stuffed with my nephews’ artwork, three steel thermoses, three mate gourds, four packets of yerba, two packs of Spanish playing cards, five Eduardo Galeano books, two bottles of Vesubio’s grappamiel, a huge jar of Los Nietitos dulce de leche, a large Uruguayan flag, an even bigger Charrúa flag, a red poncho, and, finally, an inflated La Celeste team soccer ball.
‘¡Ah, ahí se fueron las chancletas de Brianna!’ she says as she removes a pair of scuffed baby-pink Havaianas from inside. They belong to, well used to belong to, her daughter, Brianna, my twelve-year-old niece. That is until last night, when she gave her Havaianas to me to remember her by, so I walk with her wherever I go. That’s exactly what Brianna said before bed, word for word. I explain this to Mónica and her inquisitive punctuation-marked stare dissolves into heart emojis.
‘Ella te ama mucho,’ Mónica says, as she holds back tears with quick exclamation-marked sniffs. I begin to really cry, like full on, like in the scene in the film The Color Purple when Celie is ripped apart from her sister Nettie. Pain that claws your feelings raw.
Mónica holds me tight and shushes me like a mother shushes a newborn when unsettled. We sway in each other’s arms. Side to side. Thump-thump, thump-thump, her heart beats in my ear. As she kisses the top of my forehead the front door opens and her three children, Brianna, Lucas, Federico, and my brother Pablo barge through. ‘¡Bo, te dejo sola un minuto con mi hermana y ya la haces llorar!’ Pablo tries to cheer up the room with a joke about his wife making his sister (aka me) cry the minute he leaves her alone with her. I laugh and charcoal-coloured snot runs down my upper lip. He gives me a tissue and sends his kids to get changed out of their school túnica. The trio stay put and Pablo narrows his brown eyes at them. One by one they kiss me hello on the cheek before they disappear into their bedroom, which is currently my bedroom. I watch their differing shades of brown curly hair pass through the door’s maroon curtain. Once they’re no longer in sight my brother looks at me and mouths,
‘¿Estás bien?’ I wipe my face with my shirt sleeves, and nod yes. Suddenly, I feel lighter!
Luggage bags are easy to organise when you’re a Mamá of three, live in a cosy two-bedroom flat and only own one rickety wardrobe! That’s what Mónica tells me as she folds, then rolls up my clothes, and neatly inserts them into the bottom opening of my small repique drum. Once the drum is methodically filled, she places it into my bag. First item in and still so much space left to fill!
Before she selects another thing to pack, she looks at me, her honey-coloured eyes dim with doubt.
‘¿Che, mujer, para qué querés cargar un Santo Blanco?’ she says as she grabs the statue of San Expedito and waves him in my face. Why do I want to carry a White Saint? I look at his blond hair and blue eyes, he’s a plastic-male-version of me but I’m nothing like him. I remind her that Tía Chula gifted me the statue to protect me on the plane journey. The room is silent but I can hear her mind tinkering.
‘¡Yo sé!’ Mónica says, her honey-coloured eyes now bright with ideas. She goes to a cardboard box that sits under the coffee table and searches until she finds what she was looking for. She pulls out a photograph of Tía Chula sunbathing in the Aboriginal art print bikini I gifted her the last time I came, five years ago. Her belly hangs proudly, showing off the stretch marks she earnt from housing five kids. She hands it to me, ‘¡Amo esta foto!’ I tell her. Before I can place it in my bag, she snatches it out of my hand, grabs a pen laying on top of the coffee table and begins to write. ‘¿Qué escribes?’ I ask her and she says, ‘La oración de San Expedito.’ San Expedito’s prayer is what she wrote, so my beautiful Brown auntie’s photo protects me instead of that colonial Christian santo. She shoves him into the cardboard box under the coffee table and codeswitches into broken English, ‘I hide Whiteman in my box, shush.’ We laugh, breathless with pleasure. May Tía Chula never find him!
One by one, Mónica replaces my belongings with more space-resourceful items, like my nephew Federico’s first soccer jersey instead of the inflated La Celeste team soccer ball. The jersey smells of Pibe’s perfume and the Uruguayan humidity and it’s perfect! Plus, the kids need a new ball. Finally, she holds the last items in her hands, three pairs of white Bonds cotton socks. Instead of placing them into my suitcase she orders me to give them to my nephews, so I can warm their feet wherever they go.
Pablo pulls the fluro green ratchet strap one last time. My luggage bag sits snug on top of his yellow taxi, its steel toothy-smile shines against the afternoon summer sun. Before I climb in, I hug my niece, nephews, and sister-in-law one last time, one long, tears-flowing last time. Our faces are swollen from all the crying. Mónica decides to reapply my makeup. Lucky she always carries some between her boobs! Sirens echo in the not too far distance. ‘Bo, acordate que hay sensores en los asientos.’ My brother reminds me of the sensors his boss recently installed, so he doesn’t give anyone a free ride. Like Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I hunch over as I stand into the car and hold onto the roof handles. My head dangles down, I look at Brianna’s pink Havaianas that are now mine, on my feet. Pablo slaps the doors closed and we’re off, speeding through the barrio. We pass by two firefighter trucks and a Channel 12 van unloading. ¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido! Tears nestle themselves into every nook of my pain-filled face. Their salt smears my blue-black mascara, my brown eyeliner, my grey eyeshadow, all the way down my trembling chin. I taste my emotions as they kiss my lips.
We pass by Jacinta’s kiosk; she’s hosing down the ash from her shop’s cracked footpath. Pablo beeps the horn as we drive past, she waves and screams, ‘No te olvides de volver a casa Gringa!’ Casa, home. I breathe in the air flying through the passenger window and instead of garbage, I smell wet earth and smoke from all the burning piles of rubbish the firefighters just put out. I force my tongue that’s heavy with grief to scream back, ‘¡Nos vemos!’ See you later, I repeat to myself and it feels better than saying goodbye.
Natalia Figueroa Barroso is a Uruguayan-Australian poet and storyteller who was raised between the unceded lands of Charrúa Nation and Dharug Country. Natalia’s a member of Sweatshop Literacy Movement and has degrees in Communication, Screenwriting and Media Production from the University of Technology, Sydney. Natalia has appeared in Sweatshop Women: Volume One, Racism: Stories on Fear, Hate & Bigotry, SBS Voices, Story Casters, Any Saturday, 2021. Running Westward, Kindling and Sage, Between Two Worlds, The Big Issue, Puentes Review, Meanjin and Overland. She’s currently a content coordinator for ABC’s children’s commissioning department and an editorial assistant for Aster(ix) Journal.
By Natalia Figueroa Barroso
Issue 2 | Spring 2022
Ultimate Triumph | Martha Batiz
Lúcia | Maíra Matelo