Letters to myself – Part 1
A love story
I can see her through the car window, even though the glass is darkened; the long stride and the silver band at her wrist give her away; these are the signs that I look for. Then she is round the car, past the telephone booth, and I know that it has been another hard day at the “box”.
She works for a ‘CAT’ team, modelling catastrophes and disasters. This has to be qualified; she predicts the possible losses should the company have to pay out for a natural disaster. The company is an insurance house; she reminds me that they have the 3rd largest book in the country and the 5th worldwide; this exposure to loss is a measure of their worth.
Her face is sharp, gentler than her twin’s, the eyes softer. Now they are sad, drained. She does not have to say anything. She needs to be held, to be touched. At the office she is seen as a foreigner, they are closed to her and she needs to talk, to open herself.
‘Give me a smile,’ she says. ‘I need a smile.’
I smile. Its more of a grimace; the cold sores on my lips have spread to my nose and the pain, when the skin stretches, is needle-like. While waiting for her I have distracted myself by observing the people walking past. Most people are ugly; an innate ugliness that has its root in their biography. They do not drink blood like modern teenagers. They do not kill for the thrill, for the rush that engulfs them. They are neurotic, hung up and wrapped in fantasies. These thin faces, isolated blades of flesh, disgusted by their atavistic desires, blur past like rain. Haunted eyes, restless blood, the steady drip of hurrying feet had kept me from myself. The faces of the dead and dying.
Her face was thinner than her sister’s. The moles were in different places.
‘I have the paper you wanted. And there is a section on Spain.’
We walk through the ticket barriers. This is the woman who has tanned my love, has eaten into my core; this is the woman that I have spent chasing in my dreams; this is my life. I can sense the pain in her limbs, the press of the City and its stifling weight. She is not used to these climes, the bare closed faces and the cynicism.
We sit in the train travelling into and out of the city. I give her my hand, gently open hers to enable the heat to dissipate. She is leaning against the glass, the lines etched on it by a knife flowing into her dark hair, at once she is both part and separate from the metal hulk, the fire, latent now, within her eyes announcing her consciousness.
Shadows drift across the moon. It is not yet full, still a few more days until then. The clouds obscure the face, not fully, they are not thick, just a thin curtain. Then suddenly it is dark; the man lowers his head as he is guided into the back seat of the car, the rain silver in the flashlights. They show close-ups of the people he has murdered, the congealed mess of their heads where he has beaten them with a crowbar. The rush. He talks about the rush, the sudden anger as the woman tried to defend herself by scalding him with her coffee. It took him 30-36 seconds, he recalls, to end her life. There is no remorse. He is looking forward to his death sentence, he longs for death. The Moon cannot be killed; it bursts through the clouds, is slightly dulled by the journey, but it cannot be denied
She is next door, the books spread across the table as she works through the maths’ assignment for her Masters. Am I her pimp? Any man who lives off a woman, whether financially or emotionally is a pimp. And I am ever the uxorious husband, totally dependent on the emotions that she generates and transmits to me. I feed off her, an emotional vulture and I can see that she grows weaker, the lustre I saw in her face the first time I met her has dulled; she has more illnesses than before, is more easily tired and listless; the weeks go quickly and the weekends are spent recuperating. Is this a sign of things to come, the destruction of the spirit? I hope not. This story is about the spirit of a woman, her journey towards self-realisation and empowerment, this is the story of Hanna.
The story begins in Madrid.
Hanna came to me and said: “Elan thinks he knows me because he has penetrated me in all my holes.”
I had known her for 4 years; and by known I mean that I had talked to her a few times, had even, twice, gone with her and her friend, Elan, to the local Tapas bars in Leganes. I knew her more through her sister, essential glimpses of a life transmitted as the need arose. She was the younger sister, lived at home, had known Elan since the age of 15, and had never had a need to look beyond him, that is until now, when the full force of her own burgeoning womanhood was unable to lie acquiescent any longer. This was the woman who came to me that Spring day and told me; “He has not attempted to discover me at all. He is more interested in washing his car than asking me how I feel, what it is to be a woman.”
Terry, a friend of hers, had also said something along the same lines to me; “What is it to be a woman? To behave like men, to take on the worst aspects of men and to be seen on an equal par with them? I think not.”
We had just come in from a run in the park and were recovering our breath in the kitchen; Ignacio was grinding coffee beans and Leoni, her twin, was toasting bread, the sun falling through the high window melted mottled onto the dishes stacked in the sink; the kitchen was more than a room, it was the most comfortable place in the flat; the warm, pale blue floor tiles, the maple and cherry cupboards, the deep red-yellow of the walls and a plentiful supply of natural light all combined to create a gentle calming environment, in contrast to the controlled chaos that ruled everywhere else. The rest of the flat was in various stages of healing; the floors had been stripped of their covers and the wood exposed, the walls, freshly painted, were showing signs of yellowing, an atrophy that was aided and abetted by the dust swept in under the front door, through the windows and invariably from the large holes between the floor boards. We had been decorating for over a year and the kitchen was the only room close to completion; even there the recent leak from the flat above had yellowed the wall behind and the ceiling above the boiler.
Ignacio had phoned me at the office to tell me of the leak; “What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad?”
“Any news would do?” I replied cautiously. We always talked like strangers on the telephone, the distance lending itself to awkwardness. Ignacio was a ‘mediator’, the man to open his shoulder to all, to give of himself and knowing this it never ceased to be a surprise when I answered the telephone to hear this suddenly distant voice, like that of a school boy phoning his father.
‘There’s been a leak from upstairs. The bloody bathroom is flooded. You know where the shower is, that wall is completely soaked.’
Ignacio wore glassed to correct his long sight; “tiredness” he called it; “ the body has to give up sometime and this is just a sign of old age.” He was nearing fifty, though he had worn well and on a sunny day could have passed for a fit forty. His passions were eclectic, from motor cycles to Jimi Hendrix, from Indian food to speciality ales; he sought after all of them with great energy, almost as much energy as he spent in hiding from himself. Terry had asked him to visit us in London to take his mind of the personal and business turmoil he had encountered in Madrid. She knew him well, had been living with him when she was eighteen, in the first term of university, and working as a waitress in the centre.
“This guy is unbelievable,” she declared the evening she told me of the invitation. “ I have learned so much from him and he has given me so much, the least I can do is to take him from his troubles and let him find some peace.”
I had seen Ignacio in Madrid. We had visited the bar he ran, “Futures”, the first bar in Madrid that had successfully combined the music, video and traditional themes. Since those days the concept had been recreated in may other bars but still Ignacio’s personality continued to attract a decent living. They called him Rubio, well Terry did. I had never heard anyone else call him that. “The Blondie”, she would say, “ There are no blondes in Spain.” Turning to me: “Have you seen any blondes?”
I have to admit their numbers are low, the dominant colour being dark brown or even black.
“But not the blue black of your hair.” She is always precise.
My hair is blue black. I have inherited this from my mother.
“Ignacio stands out in Spain because he is blonde. But because he is white and speaks very good Spanish it does not matter. Women find him attractive. And they also find black hair very attractive.’
The last is to appease my vanity.
“And here he fits in well with the Anglo-Saxons.” This is more a question. And he does fit in well. His mother was Dutch and the squareness of the jaw and the lightness of the blue of his eyes gives this away, but to look at him no-one could say he was not English. He takes pride in his public education, having been schooled privately in Sussex and his vocabulary is extensive and is matched by the preciseness of his diction, that is when he is sober, though he has the startling ability to appear sober when completely topped.
Wearing his glasses he looked like Pinocchio’s dad; they were purchased from the local optometrist in the centre of Madrid, red frames designed like a bra, the lenses falling into the cups, and a string keeping them secure around his neck.
He had been here for over a 6 months. I had been in the North when he arrived. She phoned me and told me of his arrival. ‘He is here. The plane was on time but he nearly missed it in Madrid. He was in the centre and it snowed and he could not get back to his house to pick up his luggage. He has only the clothes he is in. No money. But being Ignacio he met someone he knew on the same flight and he gave him some money.’ That was not the first time I had heard about this unique gift he possessed. ‘He was lucky he had his tickets and the fare to the airport. He was standing at the check-in when he recognised this guy, Angel, and they started talking and Ignacio being Ignacio…’
The flat was bare. The bed had been the first item we had bought: that is untrue; it had been purchased, the frame had been purchased while we had rented the previous flat and we had brought that over in the middle of the night, the morning before we were due to fly to Spain. The ‘move’ had been completed at 3.00 am and we had gone back to the rented flat to sleep and carry the remaining in the morning. The boot of the car had also been employed to store what we did not have time to carry up.
I explain about the bed since we only had one. Ignacio would have to sleep on the floor, adequately provided with blankets until a futon could be bought. On the day of my return she had phoned to say that they would be meeting her sister in the centre and I should make my way there. The flat was empty. The first thing I looked for was to see if he had slept in the lounge. There was no sign of the bedding, the cardboard we had hoarded to spread beneath the sheets.
Silence does not have to be an enemy. It is one of the greatest gifts from God. But the silence in the flat sprang full throated onto me, it flashed the image of flesh, coiled and coupled into me eyes and the blood, always hot, fell from my brow and blinded me. I could not fathom that she had shared the bed, the bed that was ours, the sheets that were ours, the room that contained our joint smells, with him. Who was he? What was he to her? I was throwing her from the flat, telling both of them to pack their bags and leave. I could see them leaving together.
‘It is Karma. Do you know what Karma is?’
There is a fly on the table, crawling black, a spot spoiling the white. Where had he slept for the past 2 days. That it had only been 2 nights reassured me somewhat. Why? I cannot say. I was looking for the past, the signs of the times when they had shared themselves.
I did not have to answer. She would provide the meaning. ‘The English have a saying; “You sow what you reap”. This is the same. What you do today decides what happens to you tomorrow.’
‘Ignacio has given so much to others that wherever he is his Karma favours him. I was not surprised when he rang me from the airport and said he had no money to come from the airport. That he would be given, that came as no surprise.’
‘Does he know so many people? What are the chances that he will meet a past friend, and that the friend will lend him money?’
‘You have lived in this country too long,’ she said placing The Sign of the Times into the CD. ‘Madrid is not a large city.
She had begun to answer her question. She had begun to look into what it was to be a woman, and she knew even at the start of her quest that it was not to be the opposite of men.
Why she came to me I do not know.
The mother had to be killed in order for the man to recognise the world outside of himself. All women compensate for the lack of love within their lives by attaching themselves to their sons, substitutes for their husbands who are too busy ‘conquering’ to notice the frustration at home.
The first feeling was of loss, of a pain at having been denied something that did not belong to me, that I desired. This coloured grey the whole day. My head was heavy, the words that fell from me were cold and my voice was thin, the reed clogged. Why? I had not given birth to this man, he was not of me, yet I felt I had fleshed him, taken him from my rib. He is as distant to me as the building I see from the window of the flat. He is as separate from me as the white towers rising above the hill. The emotion is envy. It does colour me, it causes me pain. I want him to say thank you, to be grateful to me. I believe I have pulled him up with me. That is not true. I am not his father, nor his friend. He is fed by other streams.