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SOFIA'S LETTER

I

I hate bars. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t like people. I’m not a fit for a loud company. Those things can’t make me happy; but I’m not sure that anything can. Devil knows what forced me to leave my apartment and join my old pal at the bar. We sat there for two hours: I had a glass of water (because it’s free); my friend had something else.

It’s an old bar in an old part of town, surrounded by old brownstones. That’s why it attracts an unimaginable amount of pretentious young men with waxed beards, ugly tattoos, and arrogant brows (it’s not even their eyes – those are too empty to express an attitude). This place is also a local Mecca for the most disgusting type of aging man – the one that lives through his nostalgia and his past achievements.

I am the middle of that crowd – I’m old but I don’t care about my past, I’m arrogant but I don’t have a beard. My gut can barely fit between the counter and my seat, and my looks cannot possibly attract any women. We’re both in luck – I’m not interested in them anymore.

My pal went for a leak and I was left alone in a mist of smoke, surrounded by strangers.

The old dark wood of the interior barely reflects sodium light. I stare at the row of bottles in front of me while someone’s speech invades my ears. My quick glance – two guys, probably University students. They have stubbles, but their eyes don't look so empty. They recognize the singer on the radio – it’s Jacques Brel – that fact made me pay attention to the story one of them told to the other.

It was kind of a story that you hear once and forget right until the moment when you drink for two hours and suddenly recognize that you are out of topics to discuss. You seem alright, and that old one-time story now seems alright too. It can be finally told again and then laid to rest forever.

II

It’s a small town with the name that doesn’t matter. I’m not even sure if I remember which roads lead to that place, but it usually snows there during winters, summer is warm, and autumn is so colorful that it makes your mind daydream until spring arrives.

The only important thing about this town is that Sofia lived there – a fifteen-year-old girl. If everyone is special, then Sofia is special too – what I’m trying to say is that she was exactly like everybody else. And by that I mean she wasn’t special at all.

Sofia wasn’t very bright. She had no real friends and hobbies. Her facial features were absolutely average. She enjoyed one brand of chocolate more than others, and was a little bit overweight, just enough to become an object of fat jokes from some of her fellow schoolmates. The first one to the ‘funny scene’ was her brother, Ian: a year older, yet a student of the same class, a humorous boy with an itch for a prank.

Ian was truly special – he was an evil idiot and his pranks were evil and idiotic. Their mother was an easily irritable anemic woman. Their father was an angry drunk man. That’s why the kids lived with one parent (it’s their mother, don’t worry).

Sofia was an average student and tended to excel at nothing, until the soccermania reached their town. She bought herself a ball. That ball was kicked about two times and then placed on top of the drawer, under a poster of a very famous Argentinian soccer player, who smiled at her from the wall every time she looked at him. This man was the exact reason why she became so obsessed with the country of his origin.

There’s no Argentinology or any other subject of that kind in high school. Geography is probably the closest. And Sofia’s geographical grade started to rise. She wasn’t that involved with the rest of the world but her South American geo-knowledge was reaching an alarmingly impressive level.

Argentina is like this: there are mountains in the West; there's gorgeous Patagonia full of hills, rivers, and barbarically cold tundra to the South. The rest of the country is as flat as my brother’s jokes.

The school year just started. The rain outside forced everyone to sit at home and rummage through the Web. On sunny days, people do it at their own will.

Sofia returned from school and threw her backpack on the floor. The Argentinian soccer player smiled at her from the wall; the ball was quite expressionless. The crumpled blanket on her bed resembled a remote mountain peak. Sofia left the room in this exact state when she went to school, except for one small detail: an envelope on her desk was a new touch to the interior.

Her fingers grabbed it with speed and force – she had never received a proper paper letter in her life. Is it for her? It is.

“Dear Sofia,

I saw your picture on the Internet, and since then I have had a hard time sleeping or eating. I found your address, please don’t be scared, and I thought that I'd write you a letter. I think it’s romantic! My name is Fernando, I’m a High School student from Argentina, and I hope that one day we can meet in real life.

Please, send me a letter and tell me something about yourself, I think you’re really beautiful.

Fernando Martinez”

Sofia turned red. Her heart was about to explode. She felt an excessive amount of worry and excitement inside. She was unable to process her emotions or control her violently shaking hands. The rain outside looked so mysterious and romantic, as if it was hiding the approaching silhouette of Fernando. By this point in time, she went through the letter at least thirty times.

“Hey, what’s up with the envelope, Sofozaurus?” her brother’s head inserted itself into the girl’s room.

“Get out of my room, Ian!” she put the paper on the desk and tried to cover it with herself.

“Come on, I wanna now!”

“It’s not for you! It has nothing to do with you!” still lying with her upper body on the desk, she shouted into her hoodie so her words were barely distinguishable.

“Alright, douche,” she was left alone with the most precious thing in her life.

Sofia circled across the floor. If she had a chance to circle on the walls or ceiling, she would’ve done it. She already memorized Fernando’s address, saw the picture of his big apartment house on the internet and checked about two thousand pictures of the boys with the same name, trying to guess which one is hers.

“ ‘My dear Fernando,’ no, he’s not mine yet. ‘Dear Fernando, your letter is the best thing that ever happened to me,’ no, I sound desperate. Oh, shit, I stained the blanket!”

After about an hour or two of different attempts to compose her first letter to the first boy who was interested in her, Sofia held the result in her hands:

“Dear Fernando,

I don’t really know what to say! I’m surprised and flattered. And your letter, whilst short and to the point, lifted my mood so high! It’s raining outside and I’m a girl who loves to smile under the sun.

You won’t believe such a coincidence, but I’m really in love with Argentina! I don’t know that much about your beautiful country, I guess I’m just not that smart :) but I’m doing my best to learn more! I want to visit the mountains of Patagonia – we have them in our state... mountains, that is, but I really want to see the mysterious mountains of South America!

I love soccer, or, as the rest of the world calls it, football. Do you play football?

I’m a simple girl who spends too much time on her phone, but who doesn’t? =) I also like to munch a bunch but you’ve seen the pictures. I guess I need to hike more, but I don’t have any real friends for that. But if you come to our town, then we can go for a hike, we have beautiful woods here.

By the way, maybe you can send me a picture of yours?

P.S. Your English is amazing! The only Spanish word I know is “taco”. But I’ll learn more if you teach me!

Sofia”

Sometimes, one letter is enough to make you happy, sad, or both. It can ignite your spirit and make you do the things you never dared to do before. And Sofia dared to believe in herself. She held her head a bit higher, spoke a little louder, and smiled with confidence.

Two weeks later she received the second later: Fernando played football really well, loved hiking and was an avid mobile phone user, just like anybody else, and that’s why he enjoys writing the paper letters so much. They feel real and don’t feel digital. He also said that he’ll take a special picture for her and will surely send it with the next letter. But the most important thing, the one that tickled the girl’s imagination, was that Fernando dreamed about Sofia. And those dreams were quite warm and wet. He felt really embarrassed while he wrote about it, but the flame of passion was too strong to contain inside.

Sofia dreamed about him too: his appearance wasn’t that of a fifteen-year-old boy, but of a strange, androgynous creature. To her, he was a lustful angel of love.

“My Dear Fernando,

I dream about you too, even though I’ve never seen you. Night after night. I know that we are quite young, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of, I guess? Maybe, the feeling that bothers us both is something big and beautiful? Something that will grow with every moment of our lives and never end? But I don’t want to sound so fairytalishly stupid!

Right now, my feelings for you make me a better student. It’s a very slow move forward, but I’m getting there. You don’t want to dream about an idiot, don’t you? :D

Maybe you want to tell me a little bit more about your dreams and future plans? I also want to know something about your family! Mine is pretty dull – my mom works all day and doesn’t like to be bothered, my dad doesn’t live with us. He has health problems. And my brother is just an idiot. He likes pranks and they are so obvious and stupid that everybody sees them through by now. But let’s talk about something else... I bought myself a Spanish textbook! I’ve yet to open it, though. :D

I’ll be waiting for your picture and maybe I’ll send something special to you too. Something to make your dreams even more exciting!

Sofia”

It was past midnight, but the girl went outside, put the freshly stamped envelope in the mailbox, and raised the red flag on its side.

III

“Hey, Fia,” a trio of girls called out to Sofia on her way home.

“Yes?” she turned around.

“We’ve heard that you got yourself an Argentinian boyfriend.”

“No, I didn’t,” she thought that they were trying to mock her. But then, maybe, they were not, “We’re just pen pals, nothing serious.”

“I always wanted myself a Latino boy,” one of the girls faked some sort of sadness but Sofia failed to see its artificiality. “What’s his name?”

“Fernando!” the sound of this name made Sofia blush.

“Does he play soccer?”

“They call it football, you know. He does.”

“That’s so hot, oh my god! How hot is he?“

“He’s really hot!” she had no idea how hot he was in reality. But she said what she thought.

“Tell me, Fia, do they have cowboys in Argentina?”

“Cowboys? Yes!” Sofia shared her precious knowledge, “But they call them gauchos.”

“Wow! They must be out of cows, then, if Fernando had to look for one in the US,” the girls were quite happy with the setup and execution. Sofia ran away until the sound of laughter faded away.

There were no letters from Fernando for a week or two. It was all what the girl longed for: she already composed five letters in her head and thought of all the possible responses. Now, more than ever, she wanted to hear from Fernando – she needed some comfort to relieve her pain. It wasn’t the first time she needed that, but now she felt that there’s one person who cares about her, one that will protect her from the whole world.

In the same place where the girl was ridiculed yesterday, stood a senior student of her school, “Sofia, wait. I need to tell you something.”

“Yes… Clive?” this time she had no idea what to expect – maybe she should just run away.

He looked very serious, almost worried, “This is not gonna sound very nice. The letters you’re receiving are not from Argentina. They were written by your brother. He also takes your letters out of the mailbox. He bragged about it and tried to read them to me and my classmates. I told him that I will beat his ass if he tries to do it again. I’m really sorry.”

“But… thank you,” she looked straight through him. The shock was so abrupt that she was yet to comprehend the news.

“I know it’s a shitty thing to hear. Don’t worry. Ian is a moron, everybody knows that. You deserve better.”

“Thank you, Clive.”

She saw nothing but asphalt on her way home. When darkness covered the whole meridian, her brother came back. The house lights were turned off; he opened the door to his room and saw his sister sitting on his bed with a heavy book in her hands.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he flicked the switch.

“It’s all just your stupid prank, isn’t it?” her red eyes tried to pierce him,

“What?” Ian squeezed his face, displaying a complete lack of understanding.

“The letters from Fernando!”

“I don’t understand anything you’re saying, Fia. Get out.”

A Spanish textbook flew across the room and hit him in the nose.

“Damn it!” Ian grabbed his face, “Are you an idiot?! Are they written by my hand?!”

“You could’ve asked anybody to write them! Clive told me everything today!!!” the chair was next to depart.

“Okay! Okay… I asked him to say so! Put the chair down.”

“What?! Why?!”

“Put the chair down and I’ll tell you.” Ian was ready to protect his face from the incoming wood, but Sofia took pity on him. “Okay, I was envious and wanted to have some fun. So, I asked him to tell you that I made this whole thing up.”

“Clive would never do that!” Sofia had none of it, “He is a good guy! He speaks French!”

“Who the fuck are you going to believe: your brother, or a guy… who speaks French?!”

“The guy who speaks French!” she kicked the chair. “Give me a good reason to believe you!”

“Come on, Fia!” Ian paced across the room flopping with his hands, “The dude agreed to help me for twenty bucks. You know, I love pranking people, that’s it! You were too happy and I was annoyed. I envy your feelings with the guy.”

“You know nothing about my feelings! I never told you a thing about my letters!”

“You just… you look better, study better… lost some weight.”

“Really?” Sofia stopped shouting.

“I’m telling you!”

“Okay… I still don’t trust you.”

“You can confront Clive if you want.”

“I will!”

“Sure thing, try.”

She didn’t. Sofia became confused, worried, and completely lost in the sea of misinformation. Days and nights were spent in an attempt to come up with a test, a solution to an unsolvable problem. Unexpectedly, it presented itself on her doorstep the next week, when their mother went away for a night.

“Hey, Fia!!!” Ian screamed from the living room.

“What do you want?!” Sofia screamed back.

“I want you to come here!!!”

“Why?!”

“Can. You,” he appeared in her room, “just come when I tell you to do so?!”

Sofia clinched her teeth and slammed her textbook shut.

“Stand here,” he pointed at the spot in front of the entrance door.

“I don’t want to!”

“Okay, as you wish,” Ian went to the front door, while his sister stood in the dark corner of the room with her hands crossed. “Don’t try to blame me for anything again.” His hand turned the knob.

An unknown man stood on the porch.

“Come in, man,” Ian smiled at the guest.

The man came in, “Hola, Sofia. I’m Fernando.”

She stared at him. Her eyes glowed in the unlit space of the far corner, gazing at the person who claimed to be Fernando: tall, thin, with tanned skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. He looked a bit older than an average high-schooler, but not that old.

“Is it really you?” the girl whispered, too scared to raise her voice.

“It is me, Sofia,” he smiled at her, “I wanted to surprise you, so I bought a ticket and came here.”

“Don’t you need a Visa to come here?”

“Of course I do…” – Sofia thought that he had a cute smile – “that’s why I wrote you nothing for the last three weeks. I just couldn’t handle the stress.” He took one step forward, “You’re so much more beautiful in real life!”

“Wanna beer, man?” Ian moved his body to the kitchen.

“Um, no, thank you.”

Sofia slapped herself on the cheek, “I’m sorry, you must be tired. Where are you staying? Do you want something to drink?”

“No-no, I arrived yesterday… I’m staying at a hostel… it’s like… twenty miles from here,” Fernando spoke with a slight accent, and it sounded stereotypically Latino to her. “Can I have some water, please?”

“Sure!”

Ian played a mobile game, while Sofia tried to cook something. Fernando sat with a glass of water.

“I really don’t know how to cook that well, I’m sorry. I’ll make some pasta, is it alright, do you eat pasta?”

“No-no, please, I’m not hungry at all. Please!”

“You’ll be hungry when I finish, trust me! You took an Uber here?”

“Yeah, yeah. Uber.”

“Do you have Uber in Argentina? Oh my god, I have so many things to ask about Argentina!”

“Yes, sure, we have Uber there.”

The water in the pot was now on its way to the boiling point, and what a long way it was. Sofia took a giant blue box of pasta out of the cabinet and dropped it on the counter, “Fernando!!!”

“Yes?” he smiled at her again.

“Can you show me how to juggle a football? No one knows how to kick a ball properly in this town!”

“Hm… sure, do you have a ball?”

“I do!”

Fernando really knew how to juggle. Sofia’s mood was on the rise, and so she clapped and cheered with every kick. Fernando seemed very relaxed and that easiness of the ball control mesmerized the young girl. The old wooden floor squeaked and cracked in accordance with his movements. After this amazing spectacle, she returned to the kitchen to finish her cooking. And it wasn’t amazing or spectacular.

“Is it that bad, Fernando?” Sofia looked at her foreign guest with concern, as he was the only one who barely touched his food.

“Nah, it’s alright, Fia,” Ian belched and returned to his mobile endeavors.

“It’s good. I’m sorry, I’m not hungry, I…” Fernando looked worried, “I just don’t want to say it here, you know,” his eyes clearly pointed at her brother.

“Oh!” the girl took his hand, “We can talk in my room!”

She led him there and closed the door as soon as he stepped in. Her bed was unmade (business as usual), textbooks and notebooks were scattered across her old desk. Its drawers were covered with dirty stains from the stickers – she used to stick them there during her grade school days. The Argentinian footballer above the drawer smiled at them both.

“Familiar face?” Sofia pointed at the athlete.

“Sure, the living legend,” Fernando mocked a praying gesture. “He’s not that good with the national team, though.”

“So, you wanted to say something, right?” the girl sat down on her bed and invited her guest to do the same.

“Yes. You know… you remember my letters?”

“Of course, I do, Fernando!”

“I forgot to mention one thing,” he wasn’t looking at her.

“What is it?”

“Te amo, Sofia,” it seemed that he was unsure of these words. Luckily for Sofia, she had no idea what they meant – her Spanish book was only used as a weapon against her brother.

“Fernando… I don’t speak Spanish, I’m sorry,” she was smiling still.

“Okay, can I show you?” he moved closer.

“I… don’t… know?” Sofia blushed as Fernando’s hand touched her knee.

“I’ll be gentle, Sofia,” his breath warmed her earlobe.

“Fernando… wait…” she closed her eyes and turned her face away from him. She felt a hot rush in the lower part of her belly.

“I’ll try,” his hand grabbed her right breast.

“No!” Sofia jumped and closed her mouth with her hands, “Wait, Fernando, wait!”

She sat on the desk and pressed her legs against each other as close as it was possible, trying to fight off the growing excitement.

“Don’t you want to be with me, Sofia, to see our feelings grow together?” Fernando stood in front of her, smiling with his cute smile, searching for eye contact with the girl’s stare. She, on the other hand, tried to avoid it.

“You’re moving too fast, Fernando… I’m not even sure if you are Fernando…”

“But who else can I be, my dear, my Sofia?” His hand found its way between her legs and squeezed her inner thigh, “Doesn’t it feel good?”

“It does, oh my god…” Sofia smiled and blushed, but her eyes were full of shame and fright. The button on her jeans became unbuttoned; a cold, skinny palm touched her belly and moved down.

“Fernando… will you show me the mountains of Argentina?”

“I will,” his warm tongue wetted her neck with stains of saliva.

“All of them?”

“Every mountain you want.”

“And the high peaks of Buenos Aires?”

“Yes, them too, my love.”

Fernando fell on the floor. Sofia gasped in horror and ran to the door, trying to remove wet stains from her neck with the sleeve of her hoodie.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Ian was finishing his third can of beer but the girl pushed him away too.

She entered the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife from the drawer.

“Sofia, my love, what happened?” Fernando tried to approach her, but she showed him the knife.

“I don’t know who you are, but you’ve never been to Argentina.” She slowly moved to the stationary phone, “There are no mountains in Buenos Aires. None! Zero! Get out of this house or I’m calling the police!”

Ian threw the beer can against the wall, “Oh, come on… fucking man, I told you to read about Argentina!”

“I’m sorry, Sofia. I really am,” the boy took fifty dollars out of his pocket and gave them back to Ian, “I’m leaving… and… I really think that you are pretty.”

Sofia dropped down on the floor, still holding the knife in her hands.

“Well, you won’t call my pranks so obvious anymore, bitch!” Ian checked the five bills in his hands and followed the stranger who destroyed Sofia’s biggest dream.

IV

The sodium light was even dimmer and hazier than before. By the time my bar neighbors reached the end of the story, my old pal was already gone, and my nostrils only felt the smell of partially digested alcohol and cigarettes.

“He basically messed up, trying to brag about his ‘amazing’ prank, and then paid a random guy to fuck his sister? What a piece of shit.”

“Yeah. Well, he found a Spanish-speaking footballer, I'd give him that. He tried to read the letters to his class later, but no one laughed. Even those three chicks who helped him compose and write on behalf of ‘Fernando’.”

“Jesus, Clive, the guy is a total fuckface!” one of the students shook his head in a motion of utter disgust.

They say that if you sit at the bar counter, then you are ready for a chat with a stranger. It was my time to use that unwritten rule, “Hey, kid. That story about Sofia, when did it happen?”

“About two years ago, I guess. Do you know her?” Clive inquired with his beer bottle.

“No, I don’t. She still lives there?”

“I guess so. I saw her this summer.”

I tore a piece of paper from a notepad by the telephone, “Can you write me the address?”

“I can, but… sir, aren’t you too old to mess with the schoolgirls?”

“Man,” I shook my head; my eyes said the rest for me – I had no time for such nonsense.

A small house with the white wood siding. Its porch, without any furniture on it, is as white as the house itself. The colors of autumn are fading with the disappearing sun. The only light I see is coming from the TV. It jump-cuts and changes with the action on the screen, creating strange silhouettes on the walls. I step up on the porch and knock.

“Yeah?” a young man with a long and annoyed face answered the door.

“Ian?” I took off my white hat.

“Yeah. And you are?”

“I’m the Ambassador of Argentina.” I pointed at my blue tie, “Is Sofia at home?”

“Yeah.”

“Bring her here. Now, it’s urgent. And don’t tell her who I am, it’s a matter of national security.” I unbuttoned my white blazer and put my hands in the pockets of my white trousers.

“What the… okay, man.”

Sofia was much shorter than her brother. She was still a little bit overweight. There was nothing special about her appearance. Except for her sad eyes.

“Hello?”

“You can go now, thank you,” I nodded to her brother, “Nice to meet you, Sofia, you can call me V. If you’re not too afraid, I would rather talk outside, without any witnesses.”

“Sure,” she left the house and closed the door.

“I met Clive yesterday, he was a student in your school, as I understand.”

“Yeah… Clive is a good guy.”

“Speaks French,” I laughed.

“True!” she smiled.

“He told me the story about your brother’s stupid prank with Fernando.”

“Yep…” she tried to hug herself.

“You feel better now?”

“Well. I guess so. I’ve learned my lesson,” her arms expressed her feelings really well.

“Listen, I don’t know if you still want to go to Argentina, but—" I took out a white envelope out of my beige vest “—I wrote you a check. It’s not your brother’s prank and it’s a proper check with your name on it. There’s a letter inside with my address and my phone number. Call me if you have any trouble with the bank. You can cash it as soon as you hit eighteen. You can travel to Argentina or anywhere you want.” I gave her the envelope, but she didn’t take it.

“I… is it a prank?”

“No. I also told your brother that I’m the Argentinian ambassador, just to mess with his stupid ass. You don’t need to tell him anything. This is yours and yours only, no one else can use it but you. And you can check its validity if you call the bank.”

She took the paper with both hands, “Thank you, sir. I don’t know why you’re doing this.”

“Well, Sofia, sometimes you just need to do what you feel is right to do… I just felt like that, I don’t know,” I don’t really know why I’m doing this. “You are a good girl and I think that you are special. These things that happened to you, they’ve made you special. Stay on your legs and move forward,” I patted her on the back, though it looked much funnier than I intended.

“Thank you, Mister… V?”

“Yeah. Just V. You only write Sofia, and I made it even shorter, wink-wink.”

She finally laughed.

“Well, gotta get back to my car, I’m too old and too fat to stand for ten minutes, sorry.” I pushed myself from the white wall, “If you ever visit Argentina, send me a letter, okay? They sound rather sweet.”

“Sure!” her nod was almost a bow. “Have you been there?”

“I’ve been everywhere, Sofia.”

“How is it there?”

“It's... different.”

I looked around and moved into the approaching night.

Dear Mister V,

it's me, Sofia. You said that I should write you a letter if I ever visit Argentina. Well, I was there. In fact, I’m still here!!!

You wouldn’t believe me, but I met a cute boy. He is an American student who studies in Argentina. I think he likes me, and this time it’s not a prank. At least I hope so! :) I’m taking things really slow this time, but it seems to be working out fine.

Here’s my picture from Patagonia. It is so bright, and different (just like you said), and beautiful, but I guess you know that.

There are no words in this world to describe how grateful I am for this thing you’ve done for me. I still have no idea how to pay you back, but you should know that you have a real friend in Argentina. And her name is

Sofia”

Sometimes I sit alone at my house in front of the fireplace and read this letter again and again, looking at Sofia’s smiling face. And that’s the best payback I could wish for – it makes me happy.

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