The other afternoon, I did something I'd never done before: I went to the movies by myself. Instead of being depressed by the idea, I actually felt excited as I approached the ticket counter alone and purchased a single, solitary ticket. What better way to immerse myself in a story than by approaching it with no human distractions sharing my armrest? It also was gratifying to know that, at least in my own view, I was agreeable enough to spend two hours alone with.
My date with myself started off with a pleasant surprise. I had arrived a few minutes late to the theater, an arthouse cinema in Santiago's bohemian-chic Lastarria neighborhood. The theater is old school: numbered seats, no concessions, an attendant who escorts you to your seat. When I asked the attendant if I had time to run to the corner store to buy myself a bottle of water, he told me I didn't but that he would go buy one for me.
Sure enough, he came to find me in the theater 15 minutes later, bottle of water in hand. I guess a magazine article I read a few months back was completely accurate in labeling this theater and others like it islands of old-world charm in a sprawling twenty-first-century metropolis.
After the movie, I said goodbye to the attendant and stepped out into the chill of the now-dark street. I had about an hour to kill before I was scheduled to meet my Bulgarian friend nearby for pizza. As I wandered up and down the sidewalks peering into shop windows à la Little Match Girl, I started reflecting on the fact that the nomadic lifestyle I've been leading for the past few years, as rewarding as it is, can be lonely sometimes.
It wasn't because I'd just seen a movie sola. I'd enjoyed that a lot and plan to do it again soon. My sudden attack of melancholy had more to do with the fact that I assumed that every cloud-breathing bundle of down that approached and passed me on the sidewalk was on his or her way to spend time with people who really, truly knew him or her. Needless to say, it's a bit difficult to accumulate a list of people like that when you've had addresses in four cities (and three countries) in the past three years.
As I was pondering this, a journalist from an international news service walked past. I recognized her because we've covered a few of the same events, and--as someone who looks even more gringa than I do--she's hard to miss. Almost immediately afterward passed a young woman whom I recognized without being completely sure why.
I didn't have the chance to greet the journalist, who walked by without seeing me. Nor did I say hi to the strangely familiar woman, whose awkward I-think-I-might-know-you-from-somewhere look probably mirrored my own. However, seeing both of them cheered me up. Obviously, they weren't friends who knew me through and through; I didn't even know who one of them was! Regardless, I realized that I was now enough of a santiaguina to recognize people on the street. And that's something, right?
Moments later, I walked past one of Lastarria's many sidewalk cafes and spotted two friends from my summer volunteer trip to northern Chile sitting outside enjoying the company of an empty bottle of beer. They treated me to a cup of hot chocolate and some good conversation, which I savored until the time came to head to the Metro stop where I'd planned to meet my Bulgarian friend.
Sometimes I think of this city as something alive and conscious. Ridiculous as it may sound, I like to entertain the delusion that Santiago conspired to make me feel better that night. Even though you look mildly shell-shocked most of the time, it seemed to be saying, you're not that much of a stranger, in the end.
After smothering our appetites at Pizza Hut, my Bulgarian friend and I strolled through the streets of downtown Santiago, which were lined with vendors hawking pirated DVDs. Since one tends to get pseudo-philosophical after downing ungodly amounts of pizza and Coke, I asked my friend if he ever marveled at the fact that coincidences, given the precarious, complex chains of events that precede them, ever occur at all.
"You won't believe it," he said, "but I was thinking about the exact same thing while I was waiting for you in the Metro."