Don’t Go, Margarida!
They were four: a little girl, two boys and a white mutt with a black muzzle. The girl couldn’t have been older than five. She was thin, leggy. Her hair, fine and straight, almost black, was cut in a shoulder-length bob. Blunt bangs covered her eyebrows, reaching almost to her lashes, making her blink repeatedly. The two boys could have been twins. They were fair-skinned with light eyes and blond, curly hair. Shorter than the girl, they weren’t a day over four. The three children were crammed into a metal barrel around one and a half meters in diameter, cut some fifty centimeters up from the ground and filled with water. The little girl was seated, water chest-high. She wore a loose-fitting, black one-piece bathing suit that left her legs completely exposed. Now and then, she would slide down and plunge under the water, pinching her nose with her fingers. The boys, standing, wore navy blue shorts and tank tops, looking like little boxers. One of them tried to lower himself in, but, finding nowhere to sit — the girl, her legs apart, occupied the entire floor of the barrel — stood back up again. The other boy stomped around in the water and laughed. He stomped so hard the water sloshed out, drenching the dog, who was bounding around the barrel, barking. The more the water splashed, and the more the dog barked, the more he laughed. Joining in the game, the girl also began to scoop water out of the barrel. Now the dog leapt up high, snapping at the water as it flew through the air. The boy who had been trying to sit down gave up on this enterprise and, standing, also began to scoop out water.
“Let’s see who can throw it the farthest,” challenged the little girl in Spanish.
She stood up with the others, filled her little cupped hands and launched the liquid forward. The boys immediately imitated her. Whenever the water reached the ship’s balustrade, even if only just, they would cackle with laughter, throwing their heads back, and stomping their feet, arms in the air, wiggling their hips from side to side, in an insane, impromptu dance. Dona Oliva, with her cane, tried to make her way through — the barrel was right in the middle of the path between the stern and the entrance to the cabins — but retreated in the face of the numerous puddles that had formed on deck, making it slippery. Opalka, in his lounge chair, watched everything from afar, eyes squinting in the intense glare of the sultry early afternoon. His mind wandered, trying to remember if he had ever seen someone’s pet — a dog, a cat, a bird — on any of the ships he had sailed on, but he couldn’t recall a single one. The children seemed not to have noticed Dona Oliva’s presence. They continued to hurl water onto the deck. Suddenly, the sound of something heavy falling to the floor — a person, a chair, a trunk? — caught the attention of the dog, who stopped barking and turned, silent, ears pricked, in the direction of the sound, a corner of the deck behind Opalka. Realizing the dog was moving away, the boy who, earlier on, had been trying to sit down began to shout from inside the barrel.
The more the water splashed, and the more the dog barked, the more he laughed.
“Margarida, don’t go! Please, stay with us!”
He leaned over the side of the barrel, as far as he could without actually getting out, and arms outstretched, as if it were possible to reach the dog, he begged, with tears in his eyes:
“Margariiiida, please stay!”
The others, watching the dog move further away, formed a chorus:
“Margariiiiiida, please come back, come back to us! We can’t live without you.”
Margarida didn’t even look back. She seemed not to hear them. She continued swiftly and decisively toward the source of the noise. Opalka watched Margarida slip round a corner and out of the children’s sight. Clinging to the edges of the barrel, they shouted even louder for Margarida to return. The other boy also reached out his arms. Weeping profusely, he implored:
“Don’t go, Margarida, please don’t go.”
The girl moved to and fro inside the barrel, as if looking for a way out, as she, also in tears, called Margarida back. The first boy, hands cupped around his mouth, hollered skywards, to the heavens, to some god:
“Margarida, don’t leave us, we love you.”
Opalka was getting ready to go fetch Margarida, who was near him, when, out of nowhere, Bopp appeared — for some reason carrying one of his heavy suitcases — and abruptly bent down, hurling the suitcase aside, and grabbing hold of Margarida, who, frightened by such an abrupt gesture, crouched and froze. Then Bopp picked her up and carried her to the children who, still inside the barrel, jumped and clapped, delighted, soaking the deck once and for all.