Thursday 22 December 2016.
Time: 1:05 pm
The sun continues shining and the wind has not dropped in intensity. In winter in the Ebro Valley, you always need to have a coat, although the sun’s rays make you think that it is warm. I can still remember my mother’s response when I called her five minutes ago to say that I was not going home to eat. “Child, you’ve not come home to eat for several consecutive days.” I didn’t know what to tell her. I simply told her that it was for work with my classmates and said goodbye. I don’t know if I am being a bad daughter, but this is beginning to engulf us and I want to be with my friends.
The entrance into the high school is next to the primary school, and depending on the time, we agree to meet up at the exit of the primary school while mums and dads wait for their children to take them home. Erik is leaning back against the wall with his leg bent at the knee to support his tablet.
While waiting for their children to come out, a small group of parents standing next to us talk among themselves with noticing that we are there.
One mother says to another, “I am very worried. On Sunday, my husband fainted at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and could not get up on his feet. Since he has recovered, he has not been able to get up. Even I have had a problem with my ear that has forced me to stop doing a number of things because I feel that I am going to fall.”
One of the fathers, pointing to the mobile in his hand, says:
“I believe that someone must do something. All the friends I have in the city have received the same message on their mobiles: ‘Zaragoza collapses’.”
The third woman who had been listening crosses her arms and comments:
“My father says that it’s a terrorist chemical attack causing some kind of illness that is affecting the tympanic membrane.”
The other women, not only are they not laughing, but they gesticulate and shrug their shoulders. The father, who had been speaking about his mobile, again interrupts:
“My wife and I went on the web page <> and we were connected to a hyperlink which said: ‘Zaragoza collapses and you know what to do’. We have no idea what it could be. Moreover, there is this strange sign with a crossed rectangle. No one knows what it means. I don’t know if all of this is just a joke… but what is true is that we are all losing our balance. And that is real.”
The first mother continues:
“I don’t have any idea of what it means, but someone must do something…”
The mothers and fathers continue talking…
“Hello!” Someone says behind me.
Finally, Samuel arrives.
“Hi! How are you?” Elsa and I greet him simultaneously.
He has not changed his clothes. He has on the same long coat and pockets full as always. But something about him looks different. He looks strange today. As David comes up, I look at him again. Elsa watches me as she raises her hand to her head and turns to watch Samuel. I frown because I don’t understand what she means. She does it again. He has combed his hair! It’s true, he has combed his hair. It’s the first time I’ve seen him like that. I smile at Elsa and give him the thumbs up with my right hand. She smiles back.
Samuel notices that we are all looking at him.
“Sorry I’m late.”
My goodness. What’s happening today? He is even apologising. I’ve never seen him do it before. Today must be a special day for him.
“Is it your birthday?” Elsa asks him.
We are obviously of the same mind.
But Samuel’s expression clearly indicates that it isn’t and that the question is all nonsense.
“How about doing something productive?” He says, looking down at his tablet.
I make a gesture for us to go and we leave so that we can talk without the adults listening.
We turn onto Goya Avenue heading for the centre and I almost bump into Elsa as we turn the corner. As I stand upright, supporting myself a little on her shoulder, I look straight ahead. Since they built the new urban train station under the avenue, this part of the city has taken on a futuristic look. The raised wooden roof with round shapes resembles the modern airports that they have built in recent years. I like it because, among so many old buildings, there is something new, which I am sure will not leave anyone indifferent.
The sunshine is not warm. The temperature has dropped and we cannot stop anymore. We continue walking without saying a word, and I use this opportunity to look at my friends.
Erik is exceptionally attractive today. He is wearing a close-fitting black jumper with a high collar, tight jeans and light brown boots. He is the only one who is not wearing a coat, so I imagine he is probably wearing three layers of clothes underneath. As we walk along the Gran Via Boulevard, he gives me his hand and I accept it. This time, it is I who decide to intertwine our fingers and it is not difficult because he allows me to do it so easily. We look at each other and I smile at him. I am enjoying it. When he took charge the other day at the Plaza de La Seo, he organised us to position the maps and drawings on the street. I felt so proud of him. He has not been in Spain for even a year and yet he already has a command of the language that he is able to make others follow him.
Walking abreast of each other and taking up the whole width of the street, we leave the cycle lane free and do not go across the gardens, but occupy almost the whole street. Despite the cold, there are also many people walking along the street, all hurrying along, fully protected with scarves and coats buttoned up to the neck. Avoiding us and without us getting in their way, they hurry along. If they only knew what is happening! Could it be any other way? Should we shout and tell them all about it? When there is a grave problem, shouldn’t we all be aware of it? Or, is it better for others not to know so that they can remain happy? I don’t know.
Regardless, today we know about it and we cannot be indifferent.
After not saying anything for a while, I feel that I should break the silence.
“We have to do something. I believe that it’s only us and Nicola who know what is happening and what we have to do. Besides, tomorrow is 23rd December.
“But I think that this man is bonkers,” Erik interrupts me, making me turn to look at him in the face as if to say ‘let’s see why you are contradicting me’. “What he said to us the other day, don’t tell me if it isn’t complete balderdash. I only see these things in cartoons on TV.”
I release his hand.
“Perhaps it isn’t such rubbish after all…” David begins and stops. I notice him looking at my hand.
On my right, I see Samuel give a small smile. David looks at Erik making a gesture you usually do when you are contradicting someone, without voicing the words aloud, but silently implying: ‘sorry I’ve contradicted you, but I had to say it’. Then, he shrugs his shoulders but Erik is looking away. We stop at the corner of Gran Via Boulevard and Plaza Paraíso before going across the street at the pedestrian crossing towards Paseo Independencia. Without speaking we come closer to each other in a kind of circle.
It is full of people. Everyone in this city must be here, walking across this intersection. Because of this time of year, everyone is hurrying from one place to another, carrying bags from different shops and department stores. The Christmas lights, as in previous years, add a special touch to the centre. I really like it. Those on the department stores on Paseo Sagasta have again amazed everyone with a spectacular design formed by thousands of coloured lights. It covers the whole facade of eight floors, featuring a reindeer with synchronised lighting which simulates the reindeer running.
Elsa looks from side to side, checking to see if there is anyone around to hear what she is about to say to us.
Then, she looks at each of us in turn:
“He said that we have to journey back in time to find the answer. He talked about jumping through a portal and about the music. That’s all we have. All these people falling over do not have this information.”
I turn around towards the direction from which we had come and on the last bench on the right opposite the Business Faculty, I can see two women who have lost their balance just as we were passing alongside. Fortunately, the third lady is okay and is attending to them.
It is not normal for five 16 year-olds to be talking about portals and travelling back in time. I feel stupid. If my little brother and sister had mentioned it at home, mum and I would be having a good laugh. If only it were so and it was they who were experiencing what we are going through now. I am sure that they would understand it better than I do. How can I believe in these kinds of things at my age? All the same, the problem is that the facts are the ones the old man talked about on the design of the city; and moreover, it’s about the Romans.
“I have to confess something,” Elsa cuts through my thoughts, “since the first day in class when they talked about the ‘sacred city’, I have been researching it.” We all look at her without saying anything. “You know that I have been fascinated by History, but I have never told you that I absolutely love the Greek and Roman periods… but there is a link that has continued throughout the ages: geometry.”
This girl is certainly a box of surprises!!! She’s got my full attention. And the boys too, because the way she is describing it shows her command of the subject. The wind continues to blow hard. It is freezing and I really don’t feel much like being in the street, and even less, in such an exposed spot. But none of us want to move. The daylight allows us to see the details of the grey close-fitting coat she is wearing. It looks very elegant on her.
“From what I read yesterday in a book by John Hirst, the true experts in geometry were the Greeks, apart from being the best philosophers of all time. When the Romans arrived, as experts in Engineering, it was more useful for them to fight and build an empire. But in everything else, they acknowledged that the Greeks were superior to them and they maintained what they had learnt from that culture…”
She is interrupted by the presence of a man who stops next to us. Elsa notices him and falls silent. While he stands there, she refrains from speaking. I don’t know why he has stopped. Finally, he moves away and I turn back to continue listening to Elsa.
“… A member of the Roman elite knew how to speak Greek and Latin, the language of the Romans. They even sent their children to university in Greece or they would hire a Greek tutor to teach their children at home. In other words, all that we are seeing with regard to geometry in the city is basically from the Greeks. And it is the best way to see how intelligent they were. However, it is Sofia who could tell us more about the geometry…”
She looks at me and I nod as I make hand signals for her to continue giving her part of the story. I am not going to admit that I have no idea what she is talking about when she said that I am an expert on geometry.
“They saw geometry as a guide to the fundamental nature of the universe. One of the explanations for nature itself is that it is maintained by the balance of the four elements: water, earth, fire and air. It was one of the theories that gained most popularity among the Romans.”
At that point, the man we had seen before came back. Erik notices him and motions to Elsa to stop. He overtakes us and crosses to the other side of the street. He seems to be waiting for someone because he does nothing else but look at his watch and cross from one side to another…
Elsa turns around to look at him and once she thinks that he is far enough, she continues:
“So, if the Romans wanted to build a sacred city, they needed to have exact geometrical forms and above all, to align them to the four elements of nature. At first, when they told us about it in class, it sounded like rubbish, but then I’ve been reading about it at home and I found out something that I did not expect.”
She stops and looks at all of us. I felt Erik put his arm around my shoulders, but I almost take no notice as I am so engrossed in the story. All that Elsa is talking about and, particularly, the fact that she had verified it after class the other day seems so incredible. She has held out her hand for me to talk about the geometry, but I still cannot tell them what I know. Since we started this adventure, almost all the clues emerged while I was looking through the papers that my father had left back on his desk, the ones that my mother does not want to remove. Last night, I began to link geometry to the story that Nicola told us and I think that I found something. I cannot say yet because I want to confirm it again first.
Then, David interrupts her:
“I’d like to have more information before making a decision. I’m sorry, but I have to go home in a while because I promised my mother that I would lend a hand with something. Whatever you decide, I will agree with whatever the majority decides, even if it is to proceed with what Nicole said. Like you, I feel that this is all a madness, but what is happening in the city is even greater madness.”
He turns and points at the women who have fainted on a bench on the street.
“I believe,” David continues, “that we are the only people who know what is really happening, and we have a responsibility to make a decision. It’s tomorrow and we’re just in time. If you feel that we should meet up later today and continue…”
He does not get to complete his sentence when Erik surprises us all by speaking very loudly. If I weren’t going out with him, I would have sworn that he is shouting at us.
“This is all rubbish! Let’s be serious here. This man is mad and we are believing him?”
I take his hand off my shoulder and without looking at him, I say:
“Perhaps, it’s not such rubbish!”
I have always been taught to be polite at all times, especially when there is conflict within a group. Here, I am making a great effort not to shout some obscenity at him. Calm down Sofia. Calm down.
Everyone else is looking at me, waiting for me to continue. I am not ready to say all that I had verified in recent days. I don’t want them to think that I am mad, but I need more time to verify the information. So I will tell them some of what I have learnt.
“Since my father disappeared,” I begin as I rummage around in my backpack, “my mother has been buying books on the history of Zaragoza. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but a few days ago, this book arrived at our home.” I take out the book and I read the cover Antiguas Puertas de Zaragoza [Ancient Gates in Zaragoza] by Raquel Cuartero and Chusé Bolea.
I let them leaf through the book for a few seconds and then show them various chapters. The main aim of these authors was to describe the various gates in the city and show the role they each played throughout history. I remember that when my mother showed it to me, I began to read it immediately and finished it in one afternoon.
“Look! In this chapter, they talk about Valencia Gate, or the Eastern Gate, built by the Romans. In the excavations at the beginning of the last century, they found an ashlar with an inscription. Have a look.”
As they approach the book, they can see a photo of what Valencia Gate looked like before it was destroyed, and you can clearly see the Church of la Magdalena behind the door itself. The photo would have been taken in the middle of the 20th century, and what I am showing them at this moment is the photo below. In this photo, you can see a piece of the Roman ashlar. It is a block of rectangular stone where one of the sides is divided vertically into two halves. The right half is not clear. Rather, there is a glimpse of something that was once engraved on it, but it is now destroyed. You can only just make out the relief of the marks which erased them. However, on the left side, there are five lines of written letters. Some of them are very clear, but in the third line, someone defaced it with marks to prevent it from being seen properly.
According to the authors, a possible interpretation of the letters and their translation into English:
Porta romana qui faciun(t) te la(res ce)dant
“Roman Gate, let those who built you return to their country,” I read aloud.
I look at their faces and everyone, except Erik, looks surprised.
“This ashlar,” I continue, “is the one I was observing at the museum when the guide came and handed me this paper.”
Samuel stands up and stares at me. Elsa and David look at me as if they had seen a ghost. Suddenly, Erik shouted angrily, with a strongly accented voice that he could not prevent:
“OK! Enough of this rubbish!”
You can support the project buying the book:
Other books recommended
Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
Register on the website www.disequilibriums.com/en/registred and you will receive a notification to allow you to read the chapters as they are published and updates of the project.