“Cinco empanadas, por favor,” Woodruff said. He reached for the first meat pastry. “How many do you want?”
He turned around to see only unfamiliar faces, of friends yet to be made, filling the marketplace.
“Bob?” he turned his raised eyebrow away from the sea of swarthy consumers and back to the business at hand. The street vendor placed four additional empanadas in a brown paper sack and handed it over the pushcart.
“Gracias,” Woodruff said. He exchanged several bills for the greasy paper sack.
Woodruff weaved through the crowded alleyway, munching on his flaky meat pastry. He looked up and down the cobblestone street as he reached the intersection. Just before the bend, he spotted Bob strutting back and forth across the narrow roadway. The music from the horns and drums of a lively quartet echoed off the two-story buildings that lined the street.
After observing Bob saunter around for a moment, Woodruff popped the rest of the fried pastry in his mouth and made his way casually up the street.
“Hey Bob,” Woodruff said. “Whatcha doing?”
“Dancing,” Bob replied. His melancholy moves were out of step with the upbeat rhythm of the local musicians. Both Woodruff and the band eyed the hoofer wearily.
“Uh huh,” Woodruff said. “But why?”
“I’m working on a new dance.”
“I thought we came here to eat empanadas.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Okay, what’s wrong?”
“Nothings wrong,” Bob said, he shook his hips back and forth before taking long strides away from the band.
“I kinda think something might be wrong,” Woodruff said.
“Why do you say that?” Bob asked. He crisscrossed his arms wrapping himself in a hug and spun around into more long strides back across the street.
“Well, for one thing, I have a greasy bag of fried meat pastries and you haven’t even looked at them,” Woodruff said. “And for another, you are meandering around by yourself in the middle of the street.”
“I’m not meandering, I’m dancing,” Bob said. “And I told you, I’m not hungry.”
“As long as I’ve known you that’s never been true,” Woodruff replied.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he snapped his head, twirled, and slowly high-stepped back toward the band.
“You look like a flamingo,” Woodruff said.
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Bob said, spinning back to Woodruff and crossing his steps overtop each other. “Flamingos are beautiful and graceful.”
“This is painful to watch,” Woodruff replied.
“You know the saying, if it’s not painful it’s not dancing,” Bob said. He sunk his hips, squatting low to the ground, and slid sideways.
“That’s not a saying,” Woodruff said.
“It is now,” Bob replied.
“I asked where you wanted to go for lunch, you said Buenos Aires” Woodruff said. “So now we’re in Buenos Aires and you don’t want to eat?”
“What can I say,” Bob added two aggressive hip shakes. “Gloria Estefan was right, the rhythm has gone and got me.”
The drummer rolled his eyes and Woodruff shook his head. Onlooker wandered over from the marketplace and began to gather around the contorting and prancing foreigner.
“It doesn’t look like the rhythm’s got you, it looks like it’s trying to get away from you,” Woodruff said.
“If you’re worried about what it looks like, you haven’t surrendered to the music,” Bob said. Another head snap and he spun again and strode around the crowd.
“I think we’re all ready to surrender, to the music or whatever it is you’re doing,” Woodruff said, holding his hands in the air. “We surrender.”
“It’s all part of the process,” Bob said, with a twist and a lunge. “To make an omelet you’ve got to break a few eggs.”
“Is that what you call this?” Woodruff asked. “The omelet? The broken egg? Cause it’s a mess.”
“If you must know, I call it the solitango,” Bob said. He stood up straight and looked back at Woodruff. “It’s the seductive dance of the perpetually alone.”
The band stopped playing and turned to Woodruff as well.
“Perpetually alone?” Woodruff said. “What are you talking ab…oh. Of course.”
Bob hung his head. The crowd awkwardly looked away and slowly began to disperse. Woodruff walked over to the band.
“Por qué no se toman un descanso,” Woodruff said. He handed over the bag of empanadas, and the bandleader happily dispersed them to his bandmates.
Woodruff walked over and put an arm around Bob. “It’s Thursday.”
“And she didn’t write,” Woodruff said.
Bob shook his head.
“You can’t go into the dumper every time your pen pal doesn’t write you back,” Woodruff said.
“She’s not my pen pal, she’s my soulmate,” Bob said. “And she did write me back.”
“What did she say?” Woodruff asked.
“She’s getting married,” Bob said. He wiped at a tear forming on his cheek and sniffed.
“To Orlando?” Woodruff asked.
“Stupid stunningly perfect pirate elf,” Bob muttered.
“You knew this was a possibility,” Woodruff replied. “It’s like Beyonce said, if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”
“She’s knows I’m a wild stallion,” Bob said. “I can’t be housebroken.”
“I don’t think that’s what you meant,” Woodruff said. “At least I hope it’s not.”
“Wild hearts can’t be housebroken!” Bob cried.
“Okay, alright buddy,” Woodruff said. “You’re a wild heart. You pee wherever you like.”
“Thank you,” Bob said. He sniffed and wiped his nose.
The band members watched quietly from their stools, having finished their empanadas.
“So, the solitango, huh,” Woodruff said.
“Now it only takes uno to tango,” Bob said.
“You wanna show me how that goes again?” Woodruff asked.
Bob turned to the bandleader and nodded. The drummer centered himself and the trumpeters raised their instruments.
“It’s all about confidence and passion,” Bob said. “But like the kind of passion you have reading a good book all by yourself, and the kind of confidence it takes to go to the post office on your own for the first time.”
“Got it,” Woodruff said. “I’m ready.”
“Cinco, Seis, Siete, Ocho,” Bob said, and clapped his hand over his head. The band began to play in rhythmic harmony. “Hands in the air, Woodruff. Now sink your hips like they were just hit by an iceberg of loneliness. That’s right, you’re the Titanic, but you’re going down dancing. Now strut, left, two, three, right, two, three.”
“Like this?” Woodruff asked, crouching like a catcher with his hands in the air.
“Not bad, but you’ve got to feel it,” Bob said. “That feeling when you check into a hotel and ask for a single twin bed or tell the hostess you’d like a table for one. Feel it!”
“Like this?” Woodruff sank to his knees and hung his head to one side.
“That’s it!” Bob said. “Now imagine you’re dancing for a room full of cats!”
Woodruff jumped to his feet and twirled around, before high stepping his way across the street.
“You got it!” Bob shouted. “That’s the solitango!”
The band stopped playing and several onlookers began to clap from down by the marketplace.
Woodruff and Bob took a bow and gestured to the band. They all gave a little wave to the audience. The applause subsided and Bob sighed.
“You feel better?” Woodruff asked.
“I feel hungry,” Bob said.
“I knew it!” Woodruff yelled.
“Those empanadas looked delicious,” Bob replied.
Two young ladies sat by a doorway on the near side of the street.
“Buenos movimientos,” the girl with brown-eyes said.
“Me?” Bob asked.
She nodded and her friend giggled.
“Gracias,” Bob said. “Would you like to get some empanadas?”
“Si,” she replied.
“Bueno,” Bob said.
The two young ladies joined their new foreign friends, as they walked down the cobblestone street toward the smell of fried meat pastries. Behind them the band began to play, and everyone started dancing together, all by themselves.