Fish_Soup_feature“In girls, just like in other fauna, moisture attracts all sorts of nasties.” Olga Luz was pacing from one end of the classroom to the other, her gaze fixed on an invisible point somewhere above our heads. She walked in a straight line, always the same path. As if she was afraid of getting lost, or was already lost.

“Are we talking about any kind of moisture?” She had an odd habit of answering her own questions. “Yes. And sweat too?” She shook her head. Her hands were folded over her stomach. “Sweat too, but the other kind of moisture in particular.”

Dalia and I were writing notes to each other in our exercise books, but Olga Luz hadn’t noticed. We weren’t talking, because Olga Luz was very sensitive to whispering. She had a trained ear: she must have spent hours listening at closed doors.

“Friction doesn’t help, quite the opposite in fact. For example, if you’re dancing with a boy and you get moist down there, and the boy also gets moist down there, it’s very likely that some creepy-crawly will sneak out of his moisture and cling to your skirt. From there it’ll get into to your moist underwear and then inside you, like a fish that, after suffering in an inhospitable environment, returns to the sea. To its habitat. And although put like that it might seem like a fish in the sea is the most natural and inoffensive thing in the world, sometimes it isn’t. There are some fish that make the sea rotten.”

I had a fish once. It was called Julia. Or Julio.

It is hard to tell the sex of a fish before they are a year old. Mine didn’t make it to three months. Cleaning out a fish tank is a laborious job.

I drew Julia in Dalia’s exercise book. Dalia drew a circle around it. She added stick arms and legs to the circle, and a microcephalic head.

My mum hated Dalia, because every time I went out with her, somebody would call her to say that they’d seen me in an outlandish pickup truck, with my hair all wild, clutching a bottle and singing ungodly things.”

Olga Luz’s skirt came to halfway down her calves. Her ankles looked too puny to support the weight of her body. She wasn’t fat, but she was big-boned, with sturdy, cylindrical hips. When she stood there in front of us, she reminded me of an old cabinet with warped legs that my grandma used to have in her living room.

“Ancient Egyptian sages discovered a method for preventing moisture in the areas we were talking about.”

And you will make of your vulva a desert, I wrote to Dalia in the exercise book, and Dalia covered her mouth to stifle a laugh, but it was too late.

“What’s so funny, Dalia?” Olga Luz glared at her with her tormented look. The whites of her eyes were little more than thin rings around the dark, over-dilated irises.

Dalia cleared her throat and said that she thought the fish metaphor was very distasteful, because it was like accepting the sexist myth about women smelling bad.

Nobody laughed.

Or worse, Dalia continued, it was like propagating the myth, like saying that we smelled that way because inside us we had an army of prodigal fish returning to the sea to their – she made inverted commas in the air with her fingers – ‘habitat’. And that was the same as saying we smelled like that because we were sluts.

It was the first Tuesday in March.

This incident got Dalia placed on disciplinary probation, and the rest of us got a warning.

Luckily it was also the last year of school, in other words the only possible punishment was for them to withhold the diploma for a while: without a diploma, we could not go to university. But Dalia didn’t want to go to university. Dalia wanted to hit the road with nothing but a rucksack and travel all the way down to Patagonia and then come back up and go all the way to Mexicali, Baja California. How many times? Until she carved a furrow in the ground. She’d been going on about this idea for about a year. During the last holidays she had grown dreads and her hair smelled of rotten egg. She’d also given up shaving her legs, and went around in short skirts, showing her pale calves bristling with curly black hairs. One night, her dad chopped off her dreadlocks with scissors while she was sleeping, and the next morning she had to dash to a hairdresser, where they gave her a bowl-cut. Following that, she bought some fake thick-framed glasses. That year she would end up going for the John Lennon look. From behind those glasses she was now staring defiantly at Olga Luz, who simply jotted something down in her notebook for later, then turned on her heel and left the room.

In the next class, the rules were intensified. Olga Luz prohibited any form of intervention apart from nodding in silence; we were not even allowed to get out our notebooks and/or pencils. Why did we need them? Important lessons were retained in the mind, and the most important were retained in the flesh. Punishable acts included whispering, sneezing or yawning. If any of those occurred, Olga Luz would put a mark by your name on a list. Three marks equalled disciplinary probation. Others – me included – did care about the diploma. Others – me included – thought that backpacks and dreads and Latin American travels were an invention of poor people who liked to think they were bohemians. Dalia was not poor, but she smoked weed and that was enough to make her feel bohemian. Of course, she also loved her automatic pickup truck, with its booming sound system. We would drive around the city in the pickup, burning rubber, and caterwauling: And the sky was all violet!

My mum hated Dalia, among other reasons because every time I went out with her, somebody would call her to say that they’d seen me in an outlandish pickup truck, with my hair all wild, clutching a bottle and singing ungodly things.

The teachers weren’t that fond of her either; the thing about the disciplinary probation was no surprise to anyone. Olga Luz had already described Dalia once as the epitome of the ‘bad apple’. She was right: Dalia’s powers of persuasion could only have been bestowed on her by the devil himself. And it’s not like she even had to make much effort; it came naturally to her. Like when we met up in the kitchen courtyard after lunch – a secluded spot where the teachers rarely went, making it the ideal smoking hideaway – and she would start regaling us with her dreams. Because dreaming was a sin, but a minor one. It was not the same as having bad thoughts when you were awake. That’s why our dreams were the ideal location for sucking out the venom implanted in our heads by our school teachers. I dreamed too, but I could rarely remember what about. I only remembered the sensation that lingered in my body: a mixture of happiness and repulsion that was a real pain in the ass to deal with. Dalia said that she could remember all her dreams perfectly and could reproduce them in detail. So, we would all lie back on the rough concrete, with the kitchen extractor fan whirring away noisily in the background.

Once she dreamed that Mr Tomasito – the guy who cleaned the school’s roof and the gutters where the leaves and lizards gathered – raped Lucía, a classmate who had joined in ninth grade and had never really managed to fit in. In the dream, Mr Tomasito was standing on the roof in nothing but a pair of Speedos, wearing a gold cape that fluttered behind him. All of us – students and teachers – were looking at him from below as he stood stock still, hands on his hips, staring down at his boner, which grew and grew until it burst out of his swimming trunks. But it did not stop there: Mr Tomasito’s dick slithered down like a snake and chased after us. Terrified, we hurtled through the gardens and climbed the trees, shrieking. At some point Lucía tumbled face first out of one of the trees, but she didn’t hurt herself because, thanks to her massive tits, she bounced back up. In that moment, Mr Tomasito’s dick pounced on her, coiled itself around her waist, darted in between her legs and wham! It skewered her. That seemed to be the end of it, but it wasn’t. Mr Tomasito’s giant dick snake then forced its way up through Lucía’s innards – her belly, guts, stomach, gullet, throat – and burst out of her mouth, wrapped itself around her tits (to do so, it had to make an extremely pronounced curve) and bam! It shot its load. Its semen was not milky white, but dark, black and oily, like he was.

Total silence.

I think even the noise of the extractor fan stopped at that moment. But as always, someone shattered the peace by stating the obvious.

“Bullshit. You didn’t dream that.”

And Dalia laughed, proud of her invention which was totally crazy and filthy, although much more feasible than anything dreamt up by Olga Luz.


So that was Dalia: a bad apple.

She was also my best friend, and the only reason she hadn’t been kicked out was because she did well at school; and because her mother was dead, and because her dad was a big deal in the city, a member of the Conservative party. This man always wore a long-sleeved shirt buttoned right up the neck. Dalia told me it was because he had a burn scar. “Doesn’t he get really hot?” I asked her. She said he didn’t, because before he got dressed he would cover himself in Mexsana medicated talc. I would think of the sticky clumps of it all over the guy’s chest, and even saying hi to him from a distance made me feel sick.

On the first day of Teen Aid, three years ago now, some provincial Barbie pumped full of silicone and dressed in pink came to tell us how healthy and cool abstinence was. She said it in a tone of voice bordering on soft porn.”

Anyway, the point is that because of Dalia we spent a good part of our final year listening to Olga Luz prattling on about the virtues of the hymen and the unspeakable dangers of semen. Olga Luz hated semen so much that she would never call it semen. The few times she had to refer, for example, to an ejaculation, she would call it “the substance that spills out of men’s members.” And she wrinkled up her nose, as if she could smell her own bad breath.

Her class was part of an experimental project that was being piloted with my school year: instead of the sex education classes that had been mandatory in schools since 1993, they made us take an abstinence course, imported from Medellín and before that, Washington. The course was called Teen Aid. On the first day of Teen Aid, three years ago now, some provincial Barbie pumped full of silicone and dressed in pink came to tell us how healthy and cool abstinence was. She said it in a tone of voice bordering on soft porn. Then we watched some videos of the parents who founded Teen Aid – a red-haired, plump, freckly couple – booming an enthusiastic slogan on-screen: Abstinence is saying yes to the rest of your life! All the teaching material for the course – reams of glossy, coloured paper – was in English, because at my school even the signs in the chapel were in English: Sshh, God is watching.

The exercises we did as part of Teen Aid were like those quizzes you get in Cosmopolitan magazine, simulating very specific dangerous situations, in great detail. Some had illustrations representing the sexual act – a dotted line leading to the edge of a volcano, emanating noxious gases – a circumstance preceded by moments of increasingly intense wetness. Like the dew creeping over a window on a winter’s morning, moisture spread throughout girls’ bodies until they were just a pair of trembling legs bogged down in a swamp, which before that was a pool, and before that a waterfall, and before that a small stream, and before that barely a slow drip that was born and died between their legs.


This allusion to teenage horniness, besides being twisted, was just gross.

The answers to the tests were multiple choice style, and your choices would place you somewhere in the psychedelic maze that accompanied the exercise: a whirlpool of colour that would lead you to happiness or unhappiness, depending on what path you chose. You could end up at unhappiness through sheer carelessness. Any silly little decision could end up being catastrophic: like accepting a beer from a sweet, smiling guy – a blond, blue-eyed Jason Priestley type – who, it turned out, was actually a pervert, who pulled you into a dark corner and whispered in your ear and made your knickers moist. And from moist knickers, we all knew, only bastard babies came. Like moss spores. Happiness, on the other hand, was reached by a one-way path: straight, luminous, and as dry as an old bread roll. Being happy was easy.

From Sexual Education in Fish Soup (Charco Press, £9.99)


Margarita_Garcia_Robayo_420Margarita García Robayo, born in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1980, is the author of three novels, a book of autobiographical essays and several collections of short stories, including Cosas peores (Worse Things), which won the Casa de las Américas prize in 2014. Her books have been published throughout the Spanish-speaking world, and have been translated into French, Portuguese, Italian, Hebrew, and Chinese. She lives in Buenos Aires. Fish Soup, translated by Charlotte Coombe, is published in paperback by Charco Press.
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Author portrait © Mariana Roveda

Contexts: The masterful Margarita by Charlotte Coombe