For all we knew, in Santiago, the world was ending on March 11. The mysterious date kept on showing up over and over again.
Exhibitions in museums? All ending on March 11.
Extended hours in supermarkets? Forget about it after March 11.
We checked—it wasn’t a national holiday, so what was so special about March 11?
“Feels like one of these Dia de Iemanjá Brazilian moments where everybody knows what’s happening on March 11, except us,” I joked.
And it was unlikely that the new president taking office, the only significant event actually scheduled on March 11, had anything to do with supermarket opening hours.
It was puzzling.
On March 12, at first glance, Santiago was still the same. The world hadn’t ended, just another false alert, never mind.
A few hours later, I wasn’t so sure about my initial morning assessment. There was a subtle change in the air. Busy streets were no longer that crowded. There were fewer people hanging out after the usual late-night rush to supermarkets and mini-markets for fresh marraquetas—buskers on Plaza de Armas were mostly performing for themselves. It was suddenly much cooler at night and I noticed long-forgotten accessories, like scarves and jackets.
“Maybe March 11 is Chile’s unofficial ‘Labour Day weekend’”, Feng rationalized. “The last days of summer, and then back to business.”
No matter how hard I try, I can never associate March with autumn and July/August with winter. But the southern hemisphere doesn’t care about how I feel about seasons and Santiago was getting ready for much cooler months.
Case in point, Feng caught a cold.
“You always get sick!” I accused.
“You always get sad!” he replied.
I am when a trip ends.
On our last day in Santiago, I didn’t want to do anything special. My usual activities—spending ten hours outside, enjoying the sun and exploring the city, taking pictures, then working and writing—were all I needed.
We took the funicular to Cerro San Cristóbal. Gone were the long lineups we saw in December, there were just a handful of foreign tourists. Some had just arrived and were talking about their plans for the months to come.
I bit my lip, focused on not crying.
We reached the top, enjoyed the view and walked all the way down. Then the guys went back to the apartment while I wandered around the city, half-blinded by the sun, holding back tears, looking at souvenirs I didn’t want to buy, saying goodbye to neighbourhoods I wouldn’t have a chance to explore further.
At 6 p.m.,m a block from la Moneda, as I was inspecting hair clippers displayed on the sidewalk, a sign caught my eyes. “Tired? Depressed? Come for a massage!”
Yes, yes, sure, why not.
I was directed to “Local 9” inside the Santa Isabel supermarket. I went down the stairs and landed in an underground shopping mall. “Local 9” was a tiny unit with a table, two chairs, and a green curtain dividing the waiting room and presumably the treatment room.
I stepped in.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” repeated a friendly made-in-China gizmo on the table.
A woman came out from behind the curtain and shut it off.
“Do you… do massages?”
“Sure. Can you wait for about ten minutes?”
I took a seat and she disappeared behind the curtains again.
A man arrived, carrying a bag full of warm hallula bread, probably bought at the supermarket next door. Another customer?
“Do you want a coffee?”
“No, thank you,” I replied. “I think I maxed out my caffeine dose for the day.”
He was offering the options of hot or cold water when a woman barged in, hugged the man, sat down at the table and sighed loudly.
If I looked sad, she looked stressed out.
“Here, here,” he said in a soothing tone. “Coffee?”
“Do you want butter or manjar with your bread?”
“Butt—… Manjar. Wait. Both.”
He retrieved the spreads from a small fridge and sat down in front of her, by my side.
She made herself a cup of instant coffee and tore off a piece of bread.
“You know what?” I said. “I think I’ll have a Nescafé too, after all.”
I don’t particularly enjoy waiting but I found the tiny room and these two strangers strangely comforting. Plus, the woman seemed like she was having a worse day than me.
“Two teaspoons of coffee for you,” the man advised as if writing me a prescription.
I took his suggestion. He seemed knowledgeable about depressed women.
Five minutes later, I was led behind the curtain to another tiny room with a massage table.
“Just take off your shoes and your shirt.”
I was fully expecting the kind of half-assed back rub you get for $15 in a small, probably unlicensed (whatever this meant in Chile) salon hidden in an underground shopping mall.
But then, she touched my neck and… OH MY GOD! IT WAS LIKE ONE OF THESE AMAZING CHINESE MASSAGES!
It was rough but relaxing and she was getting rid of knots I didn’t know I had. It was as if she knew my body better than I.
“Body, soul… it’s all linked. Take care of your body, love. Take care of your soul. Be kind to yourself,” she whispered in my ear at the end.
Okay, this could have sounded creepy but it made sense to me and I knew she was right. I’m not always exactly kind to myself.
I got dressed, stepped back into the “waiting room” and hugged her.
And I never hug people spontaneously.
“She’s absolutely amazing,” I told the guy who was still drinking coffee and eating bread at the table.
He winked at me. “I know. She’s my wife. Been married for forty years.”
I took the stairs up and stood on the last step for a few seconds, adjusting from the dark mall to the bright sunlight.
I was still sad, but I was feeling better.
And now I’m trying to be positive.
I typed the end of this article on the Toronto-Ottawa flight after crying intermittently for the previous 12 hours.
I didn’t want to go back to Canada. But I keep on reminding myself the world didn’t end on March 11 in Santiago—the date just marked a new beginning, a new season.
It’s not the end of the world for me either. I just need a new beginning too.