While she waited for the coffee to percolate, she looked out the kitchen window and felt a strange sense of excitement.
This phenomenon had grown over the past year. A strange feeling. Before, she had always looked at demonstrators with hostility. She was, after all, the daughter of a civil guard, who happened to be married to another. Until poor Manolo got ill and retired, and soon afterward died. Since then Venancia had lived alone in a small, light-filled flat, in a modest but pleasant neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, where she kept an eye on everything from her lookout on the eighth floor.
The kitchen window looked out on to the street by the clinic. That’s where it began. When the white coats of protesting health personnel began to hang from windowsills and balconies she was not surprised; she knew that several of her neighbors worked there, and others in a hospital nearby. But when she saw a white sheet on the balcony of apartment 3E she almost fainted. Mila must have moved, she thought, and sold it to someone else. Mila is a policeman’s wife; she would never join a protest. Until one morning, she met Mila at the butcher’s and asked her about it, amazed.
So? said Mila, matter-of-factly. My husband is a civil guard, yes. That’s why they have cut his salary; they cut his Christmas bonus, and besides… What? Don’t civil guards ever get ill? And my kids, what about them? If they close the clinic, where am I going to take them? To hang out a sheet, is that a crime? Don’t I pay taxes, don’t I have a right to demand respect?
When she saw a white sheet on the balcony of apartment 3E she almost fainted
Venancia had no answers for so many questions; nor did she want to admit that her neighbor was in the right. She shook her head. The only answer she could think of was: Yes, but that’s no way to act, protesting doesn’t fix anything, you don’t do things that way.
But when she got home, she had still not found an alternative that convinced her. Making noise — no — she repeated; placards, megaphones, insolence toward the police, closing the street off every Wednesday… No, that’s not on… So what should they do? I don’t know — she answered her own question.
From the kitchen window she saw the municipal police charging the demonstrators Wednesday after Wednesday, and she prayed for the police to just let them be. Until one morning she noticed that she wasn’t praying for the police. She wasn’t sure of anything any more, but when the kids knocked over a trash container, she was suffering for them, in case they got arrested, or hurt, and for their mothers. It was all so strange…
Until it wasn’t strange any more. Because, for the time being, they had not closed the clinic. The threat to move everything to a bigger center (said the councilor)... newer, better equipped, but so far away from their homes that it was almost impossible to get there by public transport without changing buses, had not been carried out. The clinic was still open. With fewer personnel and without night emergency services, but open. The neighborhood had won, and though this week’s demo had not been called off (to demand the return of the curtailed services) nobody had so far cut off the street.
Today, yes. Mila had told her last week, happening to meet her downstairs. She had seen something about it on the TV, that they wanted to destroy the park to build expensive apartment blocks on it, and an underground parking lot for residents. This is why they wanted to widen the sidewalks — so you couldn’t park on the street, get it?
That morning, on closing the kitchen window, Venancia had noticed the demo and much more.
But, granny, said a kid who was handing out pamphlets as he saw her arrive — you’ve come out in your house slippers!
I know, she said, as she greeted Mila — but I thought that, if you have to run, better this than heels, right?