Alternative ending #1

It was 7 p.m., and the restaurant was empty. I was taking her to my favorite place in the city, informal but charming, with plastic tables and chairs outside, and sometimes live music. It has the best pizza.

I was nervous. I hadn’t been on a date in forever, and María, a student in electrical engineering, had a ponytail and red lipstick. What if I ran out of things to talk about? What do you talk about on a date when your country is collapsing? Outside that restaurant, outside that bubble I wanted to get into that night, people were dying in the streets fighting President Nicolás Maduro’s bloody authoritarianism.

I live in Ciudad Guayana, an industrial city in northeastern Venezuela. The opposition isn’t very strong here, and the turnout for local protests hasn’t been great. Most of the action that’s been making headlines happens in Caracas, the capital. But I’ve talked to people who carried the body of a protester killed by the police in a town nearby, and to a man who was tortured by the authorities.

I’ve had a tough time myself. Even young professionals like me have been going hungry, and my older brother almost died from an allergic reaction because we couldn’t find an injection to give him. So I’ve joined the marches to the courthouses, to demand respect for the Constitution, ask for the release of protesters who have been arrested and honor those who have died.

That Tuesday last week I needed a break, I needed that date. The following Sunday the government was going to hold a bogus referendum to create a constituent assembly, giving it unlimited power to change the Constitution. Things were only going to get worse.

“You’re the first ones to arrive. You’re almost opening the restaurant,” the owner said with a smile. “What would you like?”

He was sitting at one of the tables by himself, drinking a beer and checking his phone. His head was shaved. He wore a black T-shirt with the logo of the restaurant, the name “Portofino” in white letters with a long curly “P” that made the silhouette of a guitar. It had just stopped raining; the tables and the brick floor were wet. The street lamps there have never worked well, and the dim lighting, which might have been pleasant under other circumstances, brought out the drabness of the place. Reggae music played in the background.

“Would you like some beers? I’ve got Polar.”

“What else do you have?”

“That’s all I’ve got. The delivery truck didn’t come today.”

Source: The New York Times