She buys the bread and faces the dilemma of returning to the house to see if the children are already dressed and to get some things done, or to go back for the milk. As she still hasn’t heard the water pump, she decides to get back in the line for milk. On the path she runs into two girls, dressed in their uniforms and singing. Surely they are rehearsing for the morning meeting at school, she thinks, because they are singing a political song, with that artificial voice that all children in school uniforms use when they’re singing political songs in public. Noting that in the almost thirty years that have passed between her school years and now, the topics have changed but not the tone, and she wonders why so many patterns are repeated. To think that soon her own children will join this interminable chain gives her the chills.
The line for milk hasn’t changed, except that the young woman with the pierced navel in orange lycra is no longer there. In her place, there’s a lady with big glasses who’s talking with the old woman carrying the flowered bag. The bald guy, who is definitely an errand runner, is buying milk for six ration cards and is slowing down the line. She observes, fascinated, the robotic movements of the clerk who writes in the ration book, making notes on some large sheets laid out on the counter, opening the package, letting the powder fall little by little onto a used X-ray film set on the balance plate, until the arm raises, folding the film to create a channel for the powder to slide down into the sack the bald guy holds open. The sack into the bag, the film on the balance plate, and starting again. The voices that rise to a murmur return to the line.
The old woman with the flowered bag complains that before the cyclone there was a scarcity of food, how are they going to manage now, she asks. The one with the big glasses answers emphatically that there must be solidarity among the provinces most affected, that we don’t have to give away everything but must share what we have. It feels like she’s hearing a message repeated on television, said with almost the exact same words and in a triumphalist tone. My God, how monotonous, she says to herself, this habit of repeating the same words. All around her people show worried faces, some shake their heads and others murmur quietly. The big glasses woman looks insistently from side to side but no one responds. She turns to her looking for support, repeating her words, but it’s her turn to buy and she goes up, hiding behind the ration book and the sack, without saying anything.
While she buys the powdered milk she can feel at her back the words of the big glasses woman, who has continued speaking in her direction. She walks away and the words continue to fall around her like pirate hooks, trying to attract her attention, we can’t be selfish, we must show solidarity with others. But for her this flood of words is a blast that drives her away more quickly. What this old woman embodies, my God, she says to herself while remembering the litanies her grandmother would pray whenever there was sickness in the house, or trails of clouds in the sky. There are so many people who need to protect themselves with ideas, she thought while playing with the bag in her hands until it formed a ball, almost the size of a baseball. Let’s see what we can come up with for breakfast tomorrow.