Chapter 2: A strange conversation

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At the end of the class, the teacher asked if she could talk to me. I like her subject a lot and it was a shame to have missed the class. In her Spanish and Latin-American Literature class we read books that I would have never thought to read by myself. The speech is strange, it's like how Spanish was spoken a long time ago. It seems a bore at first but the stories are really enjoyable in the end. I don't think I'll ever forget The Story of the Curious Impertinent from Don Quixote. I never imagined a book written over four hundred years ago could be so relevant today when it comes to trust. In Florence, there once lived two wealthy knights. One of the knights, Anselmo, decided to put his wife Camilla to the test; he wanted to know how faithful she really was to him. So he asks his best friend, Lothario, to tempt his wife into an affair to establish whether she was faithful out of respect or just due to a for lack of opportunity. I remember having a really intense discussion about it with my brother and his friends when they came over for dinner one day. Rodrigo likes to keep his friends on their toes, it's one of the things I like most about him. Both of us had studied the story in Literature and we decided to read it out loud all together and discuss it over a few beers and some tapas. The discussion carried on until the morning light. We only wrapped things up when my mom arrived home from her night-shift at the hospital; she's a doctor. It went something like this:

"The protagonist did the right thing putting his wife to the test to see how far she could be tempted. That way he knew whether he could count on her love even in the worst of circumstances," shot Jorge.

"And why did he want to put her to the test?" asked Raquel.

"Don't you remember what he says? Let's read it: 'I desire that my wife Camilla do also pass through the pikes of those proofs and difficulties, and purify and refine herself in the fire of being requested, solicited, and pursued... I would have thyself, dear friend Lothario, to provide thee to be the instrument that shall labor this work of my liking...'" read Jorge.

"Son of a bitch!" interrupted Raquel.

"Wait, wait, there's more: 'And therefore if thou desirest that I may lead a life deserving that name, thou must forthwith provide thyself to enter into this amorous conflict, and that not languishing or slothfully, but with that courage and diligence which my desire expecteth, and the confidence I have in our amity assureth me...' What do you think of this Anselmo, then? I think he just likes to provoke, all he wants to know is if his beloved Camilla is really faithful to him or it's just because she hasn't had the chance not to be. Why not?"

"And his friend really agrees to do that?" asked Raquel.

"Well, to start with he gets all offended and rejects the proposal. Listen: 'Anselmo, to what peril thou dost thrust thyself by seeking to disturb the quietness and repose wherein thy wife lives, and for how vain and impertinent curiosity thou wouldest stir up the humors which are now quiet in thy chaste spouse's breast. Note how the things thou dost adventure to gain are of small moment but that which thou shalt lose so great, that I must leave it in his point, having no words sufficiently able to endear it.'"

"And?" Raquel asked again.

"Well, Anselmo is so determined that he says if Lothario doesn't accept, he'll ask somebody else to do it. So to avoid even bigger problems, Lothario says yes," explained my brother.

"Typical: I'll do it because if I don't, somebody else will. We can justify doing just about anything that way, things we would never have dreamed of doing. Wars have been started over this kind of nonsense." I don't remember which of the group made the comment, but I thought they had a real point.

"Let's not get off the subject," said my brother. "The question is whether you think what Anselmo does is acceptable or not."

"Anselmo's an asshole," Raquel concluded. "It's all about controlling the other person, thinking that your partner, husband or whatever is your property and you can play with them however you like. Imagine another situation: I want to see if my partner loves me for my money. I tell him we haven't got a dollar left in the bank and we have to move to a smaller house; then, a hostel; then a cave, then finally, under a bridge, and if he sticks by my side, it's because he loves me and that's when I'll tell him it's all a lie."

"Then who can't trust who?" I asked.

***

"Maybe the real infidelity starts when Anselmo stops trusting his wife," suggested my brother.

That was just one of many evenings. I was so grateful my brother let me stay chatting with them. What's more, he loved having me there.

Let's come back to my Spanish Literature teacher, Laura. I have one of the best conversations I've ever had with a teacher. Without saying so explicitly, she tells me that she agrees with me, that I was very brave to say what I said to Nico, and I'll always be grateful to her for it:

"Judith, you can't leave class without permission," she said to me to start with.

"I know, but it was urgent."

"So why didn't you ask me?"

I stay silent for a minute or more and finally I dare to tell her how angry I feel. I don't want to bring up the zit incident, it's too embarrassing.

"Somebody tried your patience with a nasty comment, is that right?"

"Yes, and I wasn't prepared for it. I was late to class because I had a little issue this morning."

"You remind me of Anselmo's wife, from The Curious Impertinent, remember her? We talked about her last week. One way or another, they also put her to the test and tried her patience."

A huge sense of relief washes over me. My teacher senses the matter is more complicated than it seems, that the unfairness of the situation and the feelings at stake can't be resolved with just a pat on the back, a reprimand or an "apologize to each other."

"Something like that. I think it was actually my intelligence they put to the test this time. They were supposedly saying something helpful or supportive to me, but behind the words was a tone of total humiliation. I'm not stupid, that's why I prefer people keep their mouths shut," I explain.

"And did they shut their mouths?" asked Laura with interest.

"No," I confirmed emphatically.

"Well, at the end of the class all of you seemed very quiet indeed, with your mouths well and truly shut," she said with a knowing look.

"You're right. The truth is, I didn't want it to come out with so much anger."

"That's the thing about testing people or provoking them, their reactions can be unpredictable. You showed intelligence and courage without a doubt. Next time, just ask for permission before you go to the bathroom. Alright, Judith?"

Both of us start laughing at this last request. I thought she was going to say something a bit more momentous.

"Got it. I promise not to go to the bathroom when I get angry. I'm sorry, Laura."

"How are you liking Béquer's Rhymes and Legends?"

"Some of them more, some of them less."

"We'll discuss them next time."

Masterful. I keep the conversation with Laura locked away in my heart like a piece of gold. Somehow, it helps me develop an attitude of facing up to challenges instead of shying away from them, of letting myself disagree and making it known. Starting to say what I think is something totally new for me. Before, I used swallow everything, bottle it all up inside, and it was my teacher's assurance that let me know I'm on the right track and helped me a lot, that I've made a good start: thanks to her, I dare to overcome more and more of my fears. The first steps are always the hardest.

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