It’s summer in Buenos Aires and you’re on fire, the second floor of the Retiro bus station is stifling, claustrophobic, even though the hallway is empty, and the seat to your right, the seat that cradled your bag, passports (x3), MacBook Pro (15”), 3,500 Argentine Pesos and 50 Canadian dollars, is empty, too, so empty it’s a void, and in the police station downstairs—why is there a police station inside the bus station?—officers gesture to plastic chairs without sympathy and tell you to wait, despite the fact your bus is leaving in less than an hour, and you’re trying not to cry because tears would affirm that Something Bad Has Happened—e.g., you failed to protect the bag that contained your credit card, debit cards (x2), and identification cards (x2), as well as your prescription glasses and medications (x3)—though waiting in the police station does give you time to recall, in your mind’s eye, the seated woman around the corner, plus the passerby who’d turned your head by lobbing a question in castellano—the second floor hadn’t been empty after all—so you’re shaking with anger and wasted nervous energy knowing you cannot yell hurry hurry hurry! as police drift through the room like they’re strolling the Bosques de Palermo, pass behind the counter to sip grey-green yerba mate from a shared, single glass, when one officer emerges from swinging doors behind two boys as your partner tap-tap-taps his foot on the linoleum, still in disbelief, days away from accepting that your three-month South American trip will be cut down to three weeks; but, for now, you’re watching the boys in dusty shorts, one whose arms are covered in bright red scabs, the other with dirty, bare feet, and the police present each of them with a Nike shoe box—magical belief encourages you to wonder if your Patagonia Down Sweater, necklaces (x2), and PacSafe purse are behind the counter, too, and if you should hurdle the counter to retrieve them before they are mistakenly handed to the boys—and one of the boys, the blasé one in flip-flops, opens his box and removes a ring (x1) and a lanyard (x1) and shoves them into his pocket, whilst the other boy’s box is empty, and that boy, the shoeless boy, has wild eyes that aren’t placated as he gratefully accepts a saran-wrapped sandwich from a cop and scarfs it down, and you heed your partner’s whisper, “Don’t make eye contact,” absent-mindedly because you’re too busy thinking about the bag that held your common sense, dignity, and your partner’s trust in you, the bag that’s undoubtedly getting further away the longer you sit here, and you’re still thinking of that bag when you accept defeat and leave Retiro by taxi and drive past Villa 31, the slums behind the bus station, the huddled, stacked shacks of brick and corrugated sheet metal without sewage or water, a villa miseria where stolen items spread across sidewalks, computers, cell phones, and wallets (x many), and surely your cosmetics/toiletries case, Kindle, and inflatable neck pillow—but not your writing notebooks (x2), which the thieves have probably already tossed—and it’s only that night when you’re in the Recoleta neighborhood near your new Airbnb, drinking wine with overpriced pasta, and a warm, subtropic breeze grazes your skin do you understand that your losses are offerings to the gods of travel, merely drops in a sea of involuntary offerings, owed because of all the lives affected sight unseen, polluted merely by your proximity, and the raw poverty you don’t need to think of when you leave, miseria uninsured, and you try to consider what you have, everything that on a good day you’d still forget to list, even when, weeks later, a tracking app locates your laptop and shows it’s in Villa 31; it’s still near the station.
Kristen Swan Morrison’s writing has appeared in journals such as the Bellevue Literary Review, Grain Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Wigleaf. She is at work on a novel and her MFA from the University of British Columbia. Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, she now lives in Toronto with her partner and a little dog named Beowulf.
Art by Bri Chapman