I first saw Karolina outside the Sumesa on the corner of Avenidas Oaxaca and Álvaro Obregón. She was smoking a stubby cigarette, a sled-like backpack hitched to her shoulders. I stopped short, felt my heart lurch. Could it be? Karolina was my brother’s ex-wife; they’d divorced five years ago, in Seattle, and I’d not seen her since. Right before their divorce, she had gone missing for fifteen days, an event still marked by dread and shame. The second time I saw her was by the bus stop on Avenida Michoacán. The third sighting was in Parque México, late at night. I had decided to walk back from a work dinner in Roma Sur to the hotel because I was having trouble sleeping and a long walk before bed—tracing the park’s serpentine paths, imagining the alertness being drained from my body one step at a time—seemed like a preemptive strike against insomnia. The dog run was empty except for a young man throwing a tennis ball for a German shepherd. The owner was wearing sunglasses, despite the hour. I was just past the run, in the thick green center of the park, when I came upon Karolina asleep on a bench, squeezing her giant backpack like a lover.
The city was four months past the earthquake. The moment I had heard news of the disaster, I called a friend in the conservation department of the National Museum of Anthropology. He and his family were safe, he said, though a building in their neighborhood had collapsed and thirty-two people had lost their lives. At home in Miami, as I watched the death toll tick up on my laptop, it had never occurred to me that Karolina had been in danger here, too.
The man in sunglasses leashed the German shepherd and left the run. He whistled. The dog carried the tennis ball in his mouth. I have always been a little uneasy around dogs. I wondered where the man and his dog had been when the earth started to thrash under their feet, whether they had been afraid. I knelt by the bench. I touched Karolina’s cheek. Her skin was sticky and cool. I grasped her shoulder. I willed her to open her eyes, but she seemed fast asleep.
“Karolina,” I said.