This is a quaint little town, sitting as it does on the edge of the continent. We call ourselves the southernmost city in the world. It's a great tourism slogan. People flock from all ends of the earth to get a stamp at the post office and buy t-shirts and stuffed penguins at one of the millions of souvenir shops that litter the streets. That is only during the summer though. For nine months of the year, this town is the only sign of life in a frozen, desolate wasteland, whose only redeeming factors are the harsh beauty of the landscape and the quiet warmth of its people.
|Ushuaia at sunset|
It is December now, and tourist season approaches. The cruise ships have not yet arrived, and the town remains relatively quiet and peaceful. There is a party tonight at the restaurant. One of the famous Argentine singers is coming from Buenos Aires to sing tangos. We love to dance tangos in this town. During the relentless winters, it's all we can do to keep our spirits up.
Everyone has finished eating dinner, and people slowly begin to file into the club. The whole town is out tonight, celebrating the end of winter. Women are wearing their nicest dresses and timeworn stiletto heels so high they make me wonder if I should run out to buy another first aid kit. The men are wearing pressed suits and looking scornfully at the ladies' footwear.
I smile and nod at the townsfolk from my place behind the bar, watching the room fill. I see a pair of apparent foreigners walk in tentatively and look around. They pick seats in an unobtrusive corner, presumably to see and not be seen.
One is blonde and exotic-looking. The other is small and dark-haired. I guess her age to be around 15. I wonder how the owner is letting such a young girl come to a party in a bar, but I dismiss my concerns. It is not my problem after all.
The owner is here too, with his oily sidekick Tomas. I've never liked Tomas. No doubt he is here to try to pick up a woman.
The musicians start to warm up and the young girl approaches me. "I'd like a beer, please," she says, "and whatever drink you can make that's fruity." I stare back at her. Surely, she can't expect me to serve her alcohol.
"Is this for your friend?" I ask carefully.
"One is. The fruity drink is for me," she says cheerfully.
"Are you old enough to drink?" The question pops out before I can help myself, and I cringe. She doesn't seem offended though. In fact, she looks amused at my discomfort.
"Of course I am," she replies.
"I'll make you a daiquiri," I say hurriedly, turning to get a glass. She returns to her seat, and a minute later, I hear giggles. No doubt she is telling her friend what an idiot the bartender is.
I finish the drink and decide I may as well take it to her. She interests me. As I approach the table, the girls look up in surprise. The young one blushes as her friend raises her eyebrows.
"Thank you," she says. She shoves a card at me. "In case you still don't believe me." It is an ID, a Chilean ID.
"You're Chilean?" I ask curiously. Her accent is not Argentine, I know, but I had not been able to place it before. She nods.
"For now at least." She smiles at me, a happy, unassuming smile, so different from the weary smiles of our town. I return to the bar and continue to watch her. As the famous singer Ariel takes the stage, she seems spellbound by his voice. I can tell she is someone who appreciates music.
Tomas approaches her to ask for a dance, but walks away a moment later, looking disgruntled. Few people have the guts to turn him down because of his connection to the boss. I like this girl.
A little while later, my shift is over, and I see Tomas get rejected by this girl yet again.
"I told you," she says patiently. "I have a sprained ankle. I can't possibly dance." I smother a grin. Walking to her, I tap her on the shoulder.
"My ankle is still sprained," she snaps, not looking up.
"That's too bad," I say. "I was hoping you would tango a few beats with me."
She blushes and acquiesces, as she murmurs, "I can't leave Argentina without one last tango."