Fernando Sorrentino is an Argentine writer (born November 8, 1942) who has written a collection of short stories, essays, and books. Well-known for his humorous but meaningful stories, Fernando Sorrentino continues to write literary pieces translated into different languages around the world.
Translated by Michele McKay Aynesworth
The eighth of November was my birthday. I figured the best way to celebrate was to strike up a conversation with someone I didn’t know. That would have been about ten A.M.
At the corner of Florida and Córdoba, I stopped a well-dressed sixty-year-old with a briefcase in his right hand and that certain uppitiness of lawyers and notaries.
“Excuse me, sir,” I said, “could you please tell me how to get to the Plaza de Mayo?”
The man stopped, gave me the once-over, and asked a pointless question: “Do you want to go to the Plaza de Mayo, or to the Avenida de Mayo?
“Actually, I’d like to go to the Plaza de Mayo, but if that’s not possible, I’m fine with just about any place else.”
“O.K., then,” he said, eager to speak and without having paid any attention to me at all, “head that way” — he pointed south — “cross Viamonte, Tucumán, Lavalle…”
I realized he was having fun ticking off the eight streets I’d have to cross, so I decided to interrupt: “Are you sure about what you’re saying?”
“Forgive me for doubting your word,” I explained, “but just a few minutes ago a man with an intelligent face told me that the Plaza de Mayo was the other way” — and I pointed toward the Plaza San Mart’n.
The fellow could only reply, “Must be someone who’s not familiar with the city.”
“Nevertheless, like I said, he had an intelligent face. And naturally, I prefer to believe him, not you.”
Giving me a stern look, he asked, “All right, tell me, why do you prefer to believe him instead of me?”
“It’s not that I prefer to believe him instead of you. But, like I said, he had an intelligent face.”
“You don’t say! And I suppose I look like an idiot?”
“No, no!” I was shocked. “Who ever said such a thing?”
“Since you said that the other fellow had an intelligent face…”
“Well, truthfully, this man had a very intelligent look about him.”
My sparring partner was growing impatient. “Very well, then, sir,” he said, “I’m rather pressed for time, so I’ll say good-bye and be on my way.”
“That’s fine, but how do I get to the Plaza San Mart’n?”
His face betrayed a spasm of irritation. “But didn’t you say you wanted to go to the Plaza de Mayo?”
“No, not the Plaza de Mayo. I want to go to the Plaza San Mart’n. I never said anything about the Plaza de Mayo.”
“In that case,” and now he was pointing north, “take Calle Florida past Paraguay…”
“You’re driving me crazy!” I protested. “Didn’t you say before that I should head in the opposite direction?”
“Because you said you wanted to go to the Plaza de Mayo!”
“I never said anything about the Plaza de Mayo! How do I have to say it? Either you don’t know the language, or you’re still half-asleep.”
The fellow turned red. I saw his right hand grip the handle of his briefcase. He said something that’s better not repeated and marched off with rapid, aggressive steps. I got the feeling he was a bit upset.