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AN URBAN FRONTBeatriz Padilla Above all, dignity. This, the core principle in Camila's life, was the object of her total focus, reciting it like a mantra as she headed -with a step that wanted to be firm- to request a favor from her influential "ex".
Things had not ended well with Rodrigo. The causes of the final quarrel seemed today absurd. But throughout their nine years together, the accumulation of swallowing "little things" had come to toxify the relationship so much that, from the initial admiration, passion and love that came to exist between them, there remained little other than flat silences. Their coexistence had become, beyond good sex, an exercise in tolerating each other.
Without an appointment, she headed for the elegant offices of the Advisors to the Presidency of the Republic. Camila had always liked that mansion in the Roma neighborhood, now so cleverly modernized.
She made a point of dressing-up nicely: high heels, a short dress -not Rodrigo's favorite-, the three-quarter-sleeved jacket that he had given her, simple jewelry, and enough makeup to look pretty, but not for him to think that she intended to seduce him. So, no perfume.
She was straightaway allowed into the building, having always gotten along well with the entrance security officers. Upon reaching the elegant waiting room outside Rodrigo's office, Camila realized that his former personal assistant had been replaced by someone unknown to her. All the better, she thought. That way I don't run the risk of being refused before seeing him.
It took an uncomfortable hour before Rodrigo received her. Every minute might have eroded Camila's pride, but she stood her ground, thinking of the greater good that would be accomplished should the favor be granted.
The office door opened and an entourage of four elegantly-dressed men emerged, broadly smiling, exuding power. From the door, Rodrigo greeted her with a slight nod, and closed the door without admitting her.
The next twenty minutes seemed endless. The uncertainty of whether or not she would be received, gnawed at Camila's spirit. She felt a slight urge to pee and, considering that the greatest respect she could show herself was to heed the call of her body, she excused herself announcing her prompt return. Once back, Rodrigo’s assistant indicated that she could just walk into his office. Rodrigo was standing with his back to the door, looking at the cars circling the Cibeles fountain. Upon hearing the door close, he turned around and with determined step approached Camila, holding out his hand and sporting an open but forced smile. The greeting formality impeccably staged, was followed by the protocolary "Have a seat, can I offer you a glass of water, a coffee?"
Camila froze, she didn't know what to do, what to say. She hadn't expected such an official treatment, a facet of her "ex" she had only seen on the day they met and never again. She didn't even know what kind of a welcome she had expected. The silence was broken by Rodrigo's cell phone. And while he took the call, again looking out the window, Camila walked to the other window, the one facing the narrow street and, once there, she felt two tears rolling down her face.
"Above all, dignity. Above all…", she said to herself, but the mascara was surely already tracing black beaches under her eyes, ruining all sobriety in her appearance. Sensing him standing next to her, she pulled a handkerchief out of her handbag and wiped away the mess she imagined on her cheeks.
"Rodrigo..." Mutinous seconds elapsed.
"Camila, I know what you’ve come for and the answer is no."
Without flinching, she looked straight at him, surprised to find a hint of tenderness in that manly face that she had so loved.
She didn't say a word. He continued. "That hydroelectric dam will have to be built and I will only be able to help you in the negotiations between government and community members."
"I see," she said, looking squarely at Rodrigo's soul. He lowered his face and took Camila's hands.
She couldn't help herself. He leaned closer and kissed her mouth. Several reciprocated kisses later, she came out of the man's embrace. From her handbag she took out a small mirror, cleaned-up the derailed mascara, painted her lips, and once again looked directly into his eyes.
“Rodrigo,” she said at last, "to ravage the myriad species of that magnificent wetland, the consortium will have to do so over my dead body and those of hundreds of community members."
They looked at each other in silence. Camila headed for the door and walked out, forehead tall.
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