: Miss Fabiola :

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An excerpt by Julio Ramón Ribeyro, translated by John Penuel

I learned the alphabet at home with Mom, in a notebook with red and green squares, but the person who really taught me to read and write was Miss Fabiola, the first teacher I had when I started school. That's why I think of her so often and have decided to write something about her life, the sad, obscure, self-sacrificing life, like so many other lives we know nothing about, of a poor and ugly little woman.

When I say she was ugly I'm not exaggerating. Fabiola, she had nothing. She was tiny, almost a dwarf, but her face was huge, kind of horsy, her skin was pitted, and her mouth stuck out. That face crowned a shapeless body, large-breasted but without either butt or waist, all supported by two very thin and hairy legs. In addition to her appearance, she had an absolute lack of charm, sex appeal, we would call it now, and a whole collection of ridiculous or outdated manners and gestures. For example, she had the habit of making a little boneface-that is, she would push her cheek out with the tip of her tongue-every time she thought she said something funny, and she would stick out her pinkie finger as she lifted her cup of tea.

Besides being our teacher, she was a family friend; we lived one street down from each other in Miraflores. Since our school was in Lima, my parents asked her to go with us; it was a complicated trip then, first you had to take a bus, then a streetcar. Every morning she came by to pick us up and we left holding her hand. Thanks to this favor she did us, my parents appreciated her and invited her for tea once or twice a month.