Each morning, before the sun breaks through the temperate clouds, there is a woman who mops the tiles. The red, brown, gray, black, well edged, sometimes crumbling tiles found exclusively everywhere in Bogotá, Colombia, are moped. Each morning the tiles are witness to a wrung wet spaghetti head, handled by the hands of this woman.
Tile is perhaps the most seen, most used, most beautiful, most colorful way of covering earth where I walk. Along Carrera 7. Along the fecal dark corners, and the lush hillside villas. Under the forgotten rugs. Certainly, the modern corporate tiles en negro. In these places, tiles are there. They are universal and they are cleaned by a woman with a mop.
She is often wearing blue, gray, light red, or white, maybe with a few contrasting vertical stripes, not often horizontal. The morning before, as well as the afternoon and evening, there are sprinkles in the sky. Unpredictable salpicaduras de la hora and all day the tiles endure. Small circlets of evaporated water and black dust that poofed from the side of a short bus, appear across the surface of the tile. The woman shows her best work with red tiles, as they gleam the brightest in the glowing gray mornings.
Her hands that do this daily mopping, are not calloused, neither are they soft. I shook her hand one morning. Like a memory that might have been a dream. And like a dream, she seems to be everywhere at once, yet not fully any particular place, something in between a shadow and the sun. Her hands are like her presence, neither soft nor harsh, neither fully seen nor entirely omitted.
I saw her hands one morning, gloves off, job done, the air slightly warming. She had been mopping the front of an emerald-green building in Chapinero Alto, a bit higher in the hills, with slate gray tile. La ciudad, it rests easy under her steady hand.
She mops orange tiles too. I’ve seen some, usually with big iron fences nearby. When the dawn comes, the orange tiles shine the most, even more than the red gleaming tiles.
I do not remember the face of the woman with the mop. I’ve taken note of her face every morning I walk in the mist. I remember her eyes, carbon copied into recollection. Something warm. Sometimes sweaty. They are hard eyes, looking at me for just a moment.
When the mist subsides, and it is day, the woman with the mop is gone.