There’s something so peculiar about eye contact with strangers. I’m the type of person who smiles at everyone I pass on the street. I learned very quickly that I can’t do that here in Quito. Perhaps it’s because I’m so blatantly a foreigner, or perhaps it’s just not the culture. But smiling at a stranger turns into an invitation for men to whistle at you, for women to put down their heads and quickly scurry by, or for a child to tug on his mother’s hand, “mira, el gringo,” only for her to semi-harshly tell him not to stare.
Here we make eye contact with stony faces. Unless we’re about to greet someone, we sport poker faces as we pass by. But there’s something about eyes. Every time I make eye contact with a stranger, I have trouble letting go. The elderly couple sitting hand-in-hand on a bench in the park; the little boy with the too-big military jacket across from me on the metro; the indigenous girl selling Chiclets and chocolate on the corner of Dios de Agosto and Isaac Albeniz, two toddlers sitting on her skirt and tugging on her braided hair; the light haired boy across the room at the discotecha; the man I see in the suit waiting outside the bus stop while I’m pressed against the window of the Santa Clara line, my backpack in front, one hand over the zipper, the other covering the pocket with my keys, cell phone, and two dollars.
There’s something so strange about eyes. Every time the contact breaks, I wonder if a little piece of me is stolen away, or if I’m putting myself back together, unearthing a shard that’s been missing the last eighteen years.