BCN: The beginning (2007)

I arrived at midnight. But I had lost that feeling of genuine freedom; no exultation of exile, no joyous abandon. Instead…I felt a peculiar and distinct fear before me. A definitive sense of anxiety.  ‘Strange,’ I thought, ‘that such demons should follow me here…’

And in the distance was the concrete horizon I had waited for. Washed up and left on a foreign pavement covered in faces I didn’t recognise. An almost empty airport, amongst strangers who sat in cold shapes under the dark and purple sky; all feverously occupied with post-goodbyes and leftover vacations. They had all cleared the main terminal and filtered outside, where they could avoid the shiny surfaces and polished lightbulbs. Here they were, the remains of an evening’s journey, vaguely present and hopelessly impotent, nobody seeming particular bothered to be there. They all shifted their weight and waited. People waited for taxis, people waited for buses, they waited for lovers, for phone calls, for the cigarette machine, for their luggage. Everybody waited. Everybody except for one old man in black glasses who stood there, waiting for nothing, smoking his cigarette and examing the night sky. I stood in a line, pressed a button, received the ticket and got onto the bus into town.

Little occurred on the highway, except for billboards. High, dusty billboards advertising the next toothpaste and tomorrows new razor, A CUT ABOVE THE REST. Billboards for every city airport! ‘We need the flat plains covered by commercial zarebas, tools for the trade, products for the sightseers,’ the outskirts seemed to say.  You should see the airports at Santiago, I thought – complete collages of plastic boards and paper cut-outs, freeloaders for the bus campaign. And for all those moments of teal salutations and swollen horizons I remained outside of the window, with my face pressed against the glass, hoping that I wouldn’t slip down the seat and return to my horrendous thoughts of home. Different lands call for different dreams, or so the old saying goes. New chapters and burnt books along the old route. Forget London. Try to stray from the memories of that town, do not listen to Burial, listen to Ron Hacker instead; do not watch the old Bogart frames, try to verge back towards the colour. I kept telling myself such things, but the truth was I wasn’t entirely sure why I’d come to Spain. And when you look back, it is the uncertain adventures which you remember the most; yet since it was so early on it was only uncertainty I felt and the sense that my own cock-sure attitude and faith had finally given up on me.

None of these here people know the above; they sit instead on warm blue seats with backpacks tied to their knees and trolley bags attached to a yellow rail. I count three customers under the dim shining lights of this odd bus coasting into a black space where nobody knows you and nobody forms a shape. Figures without conditions, moulds, outlines. This night I am the man with no silhouette, without details, pages without numbers. I am the citizen’s hope, the citizen’s horror, the citizen’s citizen. Everyone’s everything. So far, nothing. There are no shadows following the clues left in my city, where frozen mornings have held us prisoners with the risings of winter.
October, the greatest of Seasons. Hopelessly clear and obvious. The start of welcomed death and torrential downpours…that wash off the arrogance, drain the illusions, plant the prospects.

But that is back in my city and I am forwarding into another person’s home. As strange as the concrete, as unknown as the pavements – I have no option but to move on, another ticket on the midnight ride into town.

One of the few passengers occasionally glances back at you with eyes of a peculiar indifference. I guess they are checking for solace, or assurance. Whatever it is that goes on on those midnight buses, into the centre of a city, I am none the wiser…for we are in this together but so inexplicably detached and distant. I guess it is only in holy places where unknown customers might start to make contact. But here, where little is holy, we just sit in our own seats and glorify ourselves in our own space. Soon we’ll dream of other bus rides we could take, or indeed – once took, and miss what passing moments wash along these glass windows here.

Another billboard. More toothpaste for sale. I might be missing out on something, some giant toothpaste extravaganza where I’m not invited. Meanwhile…the flat plains slowly start turning into pavements and traffic lights. The distance between buildings decrease and the billboards turn into kiosks that sell nothing, not even razors.

It is always harrowing to enter a city, for everything seems dead. Usually. People come and go and the giant carnival of love and excitement seems just around the corner which the bus never turns. For the great carnival comes with time, and only the most absurd and ridiculous cities deliver the excitement immediately. Like Vegas. I went to Vegas once, nineteen years old and with magnified eyes made from a certain liquid that watched everything and saw only the dead deserts in distances. (But that is a story reserved.)

To be a city is a strange thing, one must be built entirely on reputation. We all dream of what the cities of Brazil must say, we all vaguely know about the richness of New York. We are aware of the terrible uncertainty of Tokyo, the errors of Rome, the nights of Moscow. Paris and London…those are cities only for the right person with the right volume of patience. (I could go on, but the need has ceased.)

The bus stops, another unknown destination. I recall being told something about getting off at the third stop, yet the anxiety takes a taste. Should I ask? I see one of the three fellow passengers get up and question the conductor, only to return to their seat shaking their head to the rest of us, signalling: not yet. The bus takes off again, and the young man nearest me pulls out his oversized map and takes a useless stare into it. He strokes his chin and begins to fold it away but cannot quite get the creases in the right position and makes a vile mess of his signposted escape route. I tear myself away from his failed tactics and think back to other motions outside the bus. I know nothing of this city. I have limited presumptions about its people and speak a language that they aim to ignore. This could be a treacherous mistake. Doomed in this turgid bus where I try to picture a future but see only dull postcards. And I cannot go back. I came here for a reason; I am desperate to shake off the leeches of London. I hope I am able to forget those tortures past. And yet this seems to be an exact re-enactment of six years ago, when I left for America and made my way to Santiago. I had horrors then that I needed to forgive.

But there shall always be horrors, which take new faces. But then…there shall always be roads, which take everything.

The bus stops again. The chap with the map turns and looks at me sharply. I shrug and he stays on. The other two passengers have collected their cart-wheeled boxes from the yellow rails and made their way out into the forgotten territory. Cold air breezes in silently whilst the doors slide shut and the whole process of exit feels almost insulting. The chap with the map re-crumples his colossal navigations and I find myself falling in love with his slapstick comedy. A splendid caricature of movement.

Soon the bus stopped again and I gathered my bag and made for the muted departure, which once more perversely slid open and filtered the electric colours within. I turned and nodded a farewell to that last, remaining passenger but he was fumbling with his luggage and did not see me. I stepped off. And in the Placa Catalunya I made my entrance, blackened by the walls of old buildings, in a square of silence and solitude – with occasional creatures passing behind the shadows, making no reference to me, nor I to them.

Everything seemed so distant.

Barcelona. How little we are acquainted. What reputation marks us? What gifts shall we take? Show me your liver and spine.

A girl I hardly know, save for a shared beer over the River Thames, a cigarette shared at campus, and a conversation shared several years ago…stands there with her bike, staring at me.

Hello old acquaintance.

Hello new friend.

She has come to pick me up and take me to her quarters; she has come to pick me up under her wing. And we know nothing of history.

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