When you stare at anything too long, it becomes something else. Is no longer what it is, but instead an abstraction of what originally drew you to it in the first place. That being said, in the case of a woman passing, how much can a man be satisfied with ogling her before that satisfaction must be met in some other way? Must be realized in a manner more tactile and fulfilling. In a particular section dominated by Middle Eastern denizens in Antwerp (somewhere between the Sportpaleis and Chinatown), the sight of someone as aesthetically rare and unknowable as Camila, in from her native South America for the sole purpose of seeing the Rubenshuis to satiate her own need to further study the paintings that had captivated her for the past ten years since she began painting while in junior high, was frenzying indeed. Though she couldn’t have anticipated just how frenzying. For her, a body was just a body–the most natural thing in the world. That’s how Brazilians saw it, at least. Thus, she had perhaps made a faux pas in her wardrobe selection that evening: a cropped grey shirt with a single red rose at the chest, a crimsonish miniskirt and wedge sandals that made her look extra tall and therefore extra noticeable. She was, what many men would call, “asking for it.”
But Camila, despite all her worldliness and frequent travels, still upheld a certain innocence and mental abeyance to her surroundings at twenty-three. It would take her at least a full minute to suddenly feel several pairs of eyes on her when she walked down the street in any country. For let us not forget: she was Brazilian, ergo catnip to the race called male. It also took her many years to unearth that the reason she had no friends was precisely the thing that would automatically lead one to think that she would be very popular: she was beautiful. And, accurately, it has been said that only beautiful people can know true suffering because they are often correlatively intelligent to their beauty. Camila didn’t become cognizant of her suffering until that night in Antwerp. Alone on streets devoid of all human life save for the mongrel dogs called men. It makes a girl fully apprehend just how alone she is in such situations, the ease with which disappearance from the very face of the earth is totally possible. Her family back in Morro de São Paulo might find out at some point, but it would be a very long while, for she rarely communicated with them ever since she began her regular world tours, assuring only that she would check in “as often as possible.” As for friends, well, she didn’t have any. Just the occasional other rare soul traveling alone she might happen upon in hostels. As it often turned out, however, they were on their own for good reason–being totally insufferable as they were. Camila would only indulge them for so long before, at times, simply checking into a different hostel or leaving the city earlier than anticipated. Her bouts of concentrated working, which meant editing people’s manuscripts or essays, would afford her just enough to carry on her semi-merry way, wondering when and if she would ever find someone to share her traveling joys with. Or even just her ardor for Peter Paul Rubens. It was one painting in particular, one that was located in the Cathedral of Our Lady, that Camila was determined to see: “The Resurrection of Christ,” a triptych made all the more jarring for its relative smallness in comparison to other Rubens works. She hadn’t yet seen it as she was walking down that deserted cobblestone street, which smelled of rancid meat and decay.
Their calls to her suddenly came in waves. As though an alarm had been sounded and they were all notified of her presence to emerge from their storefronts to witness it. She had no idea what they were saying. It wouldn’t have mattered even if she did. It was the intonation that counted, dripping with venomous lust and entitlement to her body. She quickened her pace, tripping occasionally on the uneven infrastructure that was surely more suited to Rubens’ time. The utterances were now devolving into whooping cries of caustic passion. What would they do to her, if they got a hold of her? If she simply slowed down, stood still and gave up. Would they gang rape her? Sell her? Force her to do ghastly things for all the rest of her viable youth? She was tempted to find out just for the sake of a sociological experiment, but that human need within all of us that screams, “Survive! Survive! Survive!” kept propelling her forward, now into the initial phases of Chinatown, all strewn with boxes and debris as every Chinatown in every city is required to look like a bombed out Third World country. In fact, this is what one man mutters to himself as he gets out of his car and steps onto a pile of said boxes. “Terzo mondo,” he mumbles to his wife, who is snickering at Camila for her inability to pass by them, for she’s been obstructed on the side directly in front of her by the husband and to her right by the wife, removing their luggage from the trunk. People live here? Camila thought to herself for a split second before remembering to keep scuttling forward lest the knaves from behind her caught up. But the wife just kept staring at her, wouldn’t move. She was transfixed by something within Camila. And it was an expression that gave way quickly to overt hatred. The woman herself stocky, with leathery skin and stringy hair, seemed to despise that Camila was walking the streets in “this way,” her beauty magnified by the ensemble she had chosen. The penetrating eyes of the woman were starting to drive Camila mad, she just wanted to walk down the street the rest of the way to her cheap, shitty hotel without further ogling, least of all from one of her “own kind.”
Before she could get past the woman, however, her husband then started joining in, his own interest triggered after re-orienting himself to his bleak surroundings. The stares burned into her until finally, after what felt like ten minutes but was really only approximately forty-three seconds, she was expunged from the very air. Her sudden evaporation served as pure delight to the woman who had helped initiate it, and that night she fucked her husband for the first time in years with an abandon that he had never known. “The Resurrection of Christ,” never ogled even half as much as Camila was that night, perhaps remains in existence purely from a lack of attention.