On Sitting Ghosts and Fiction
I think about our favorite yayos at the church, sometimes. While I don’t miss sorting through a slew of garbled Catalan before my morning cortado–because I’m late again—faint from hunger and a little bit angry, I do miss the three of us standing quietly together when words failed us, casting longing looks down the street in the early morning light, waiting for you to appear.
When fall came again, and I stopped going to the bus stop–gratefully albeit–I used to worry about them, wondered if they ever thought about us or where we got off to. I used to think that maybe they felt abandoned by their morning guapas, but then I chastised myself for my narcissism and reminded myself that life in this city is, if nothing else, cyclical. People come, and people go. It has taken years to get used to this cycle of loss, and maybe, really, in the end I never have. It’s for that reason that those small routines, like our morning one, have become so important to me here. “Una bocata de formatge i un tallat.” My stool, on the left, but not the last one, in front of the big bowl of fruit, below the TV always showing the same Catalan news program. My seat, for 6 minutes, before the woman and her son come in to claim their stools on my right. My wait, for 8 minutes, if I’m lucky, before I cross the street, always looking left for you. Our short discussion about the weather and other quotidian things with our yayos, before the bus arrives and my battle with Marta begins anew. Long enough and the routine becomes a comfort I never knew I needed. My tallat appears unbidden, the cambio I thought I had is waved away. “Pay me tomorrow,” I’m told. Somewhere in the schemes of things, on a map I never expected to inhabit, I exist.
You know me too well, I suppose, because you know that I’ve given into fiction when I’ve had to and maybe even secretly enjoyed it. Without my classes and pre-teen girls shoving love stories–literally–in my face, telling me I have to read them because they’re so so good, I wouldn’t. I admit to tearing up when I saw the headline several months ago: “Five Arrested in Thailand for Showing Three Finger Salute.” It turned my stomach to see their tweet: “Dear #HungerGames. We’ve taken your sign as our own. Our struggle is non-fiction.”
The line between fiction and non-fiction is too often blurred and the relationship between them more real than we might suppose. The crossroads is often a place of deep discomfort, an Orwellian question mark that steals what little comforts reality has given us.
I smiled when you mentioned my Hermione bag, but only half-heartedly because no one here refers to it anymore as that. It reminded me of the Christmas only eight years ago, when I finally plowed through all seven books of Harry Potter, each one better than the last. I forced myself to take breaks between each one, to live the experience more slowly. Like every child, I was willing them to never end. When I got to last three books, I cocooned myself in the bathtub, staying immersed longer and longer, refusing to get out until I turned the final page. By the time I reached book seven, I had spent ages underwater. Those last one hundred pages, I sat stubbornly in a cold tub, tears streaming steadily down my face, for the fury of its ending, for the unfairness of it all. I emerged from the water, pruned and somehow different. I understood then what children meant when they said they grew up with Harry Potter. Not only because each summer brought them a new book and a year older, but because it changed them. I realized then that it was impossible to finish the series and emerge unscathed with child-like wonder intact. I felt a deep hurt for them, that they saw the hard edges of the world so clearly and so young. Nothing I thought I understood about the world remained entirely the same, the clarity shook and dimmed. I simmered, thinking about all the choices that the characters made, if the world had actually decided for them, if they could ever have been undone.
As I write this from my bed–the only place I can seem to get warm–the wind here is still blowing hard. It reached 25 miles an hour last night, making us all uneasy. It came down from Tibidabo, whipped across the open courtyard, and slammed into my bedroom doors. Its force sent reverberations through my room that felt like something supernatural. It reminded me of No Name Woman, of sitting ghosts, and fiction. I could hear a groaning from where it pushed against the building, battering it hard. Chairs scraped across balcony tiles, and the sirens became a constant presence. It paused briefly this morning, and we made it through most of our tennis lesson today until the Generalitat sent out a warning: All open-air activities cancelled for high winds. This is the second time it’s happened in a week. The last time, it slammed my shutters closed so hard I thought it broke the glass. I heard it pulled the ceramic tiles off the roofs of houses and knocked over weakened structures. My roommate said it killed a girl.
I remember what the wind was like on the Eastern Prom, the year I spent the winter there.
I think of you wrapped up in your jacket, warm and safe against the wind. I imagine you are snuggled into your sweet apartment, cozied by your books and potted plants,
and Dutch pancakes–the recipe, si us plau–and endless cups of tea. I remember when I came to visit you for an hour and made a study of your apartment, before you forced me into a selfie session like an adolescent girl.
I imagine living there on Morning Street again, your neighbor, your shoveling partner, your sous chef. If the snow was tamed enough, we would stomp out into the chilly night, to Otto maybe
for a pizza and a much-needed glass of wine and for once, I would wish for snowshoes or a pair of cross-country skis. I wish we had time again for a meeting on the corner. Perhaps a cortado, or a vinho verde, or better yet, something rich and chocolatey to get us through this weather. I wouldn’t even mind another bus ride, with you buried in your fiction, ignoring me. With me, secretly brushing the crumbs off my jacket as I nibble my contraband and staring at your braid. I would tell you secrets through the seat crack to keep you from your mission. This morning, it would have been nice to sit with you again.