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The Road Diaries by Kevin Carrel Footer

The man stood in the bathroom at El Beso, gathering up his belongings. He had just risen from the chair that is always left in bathrooms at milongas so that you can change in and out of your dance shoes in privacy. Now he was putting his dance shoes into a cloth bag and tucking that bag into a blue shoulder satchel of plastic cloth with white plastic piping that may have born an airline logo of a company that no longer existed. On the street he would be just another worker nearing retirement heading home; robust in his physique, gray hair slicked back, handsome but not pretty, his face too strong and bull-like. He looked like someone you could entrust a job to and who would get it done. No one would suspect that he had just come from an afternoon of systematically providing ecstasy to women on the dance floor. His strong arms were much sought after in that milieu.

Another man walked in, saw him changed into street shoes and objected. “Leaving so soon? Why? The milonga’s not over yet. And… it’s nice today.”

He was right. Whether it was the national holiday we all had off (but no one knew why) or the sudden onslaught of humid summer weather under damp skies, the women were stirred up. They wanted to dance and would not take no for an answer. They would corner you with their stares; some would proposition you directly. There was indeed something special about the milonga that afternoon: it was a feeding frenzy.

“No, no,” the man said, continuing to put his things away, “I have two buses and a train to take to get home. I am going to leave now.”

The other man nodded before the logic of this argument but seemed to take it personally that the man wouldn’t stay. He fired a last salvo as if to salvage at least his pride — but you could see he had no faith that it would work: “All the same, the milonga’s really nice today.”

I observed this scene from my seat the bathroom stall and felt sad for the man and his attempt to sway the other. I would have liked to have been able whisper to him to desist, that this was not the sort of man whose mind you could change. He had made his offering to the milonga already, he had done his part and he was heading home. End of story. He would be going home to his wife and dinner. Such men always had wives waiting for them.

He hoisted his satchel. Standing to his full height, he filled the bathroom, dwarfing the other who had unzipped his pants and was standing at the urinal.

“Good night and good milonga to you!” his voice resounded, as if delivering an edict or a blessing. I took it as a generalized blessing for all of us within earshot: the man at the urinal and me in the stall. Like a lion retreating into the jungle, he would take his two buses and a train back to his home. But before he left he would perform the ritual of transferring his magic to the two of us. It seemed a kind gesture, a formality that we all knew was empty: his magic was in the women seated around the dance floor. It was they who would hold his magic till he returned.

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