Thursday 22 December 2016
Time: 2:30 pm
“Is that you, dear?”
I hear my mother’s voice from the kitchen as I close the front door behind me. As always, I drop my keys in the first drawer of the hall table next to the entrance into the apartment.
“Yes, mum. It’s me. I’ve just arrived,” I respond.
“That’s early! I expected you later.” I hear her saying from a distance.
There is no other sound in the flat.
I look in the mirror at the entrance.
I watch my reflection in the mirror as I think about what has just happened in the last half an hour. After leaving my companions, I walked home quickly. I had never felt like this before. I had never walked so quickly or felt so angry. I didn’t look at anyone.
When I walk, I normally like observing other people’s faces. I also like looking up towards the sky. Sometime ago, a friend told me that people who live in this city tend to walk hunched over, looking down at the ground. I told him that it was really because of the strong wind in the city, as a joke, but I understood what he was getting at. I then began to focus on the way people were walking and realised that many people only look down at the ground and, therefore, very few look up to the tops of the trees or the buildings. Only tourists do that, I thought, when he said it. So, since then, I have tried not to miss the slightest detail, but instead to look and observe everything around me.
I even succeeded in discovering very interesting details in the buildings.
My most recent discovery was the weather vane that Nicola told us about.
I have often walked down Don Jaime Street, but it is only since meeting this man that I have looked up and seen the weather vane turn according to the wind. It is certainly mysterious after all that I have heard.
But today, I have broken my personal promise and did not look at anyone.
I came directly home.
I remained standing outside our front door for several minutes before opening it. I didn’t know what to say to my mother to explain why I’ve come home so early. In recent days, I had convinced her that I would getting back later for the rest of the week because of the History project I am doing with my mates. But I have come back without having an excuse prepared.
I felt the silence again.
Fortunately, she hasn’t come to ask me anything. It’s best because I won’t have to lie to her.
I look in the mirror, from my head down.
I’ve changed. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at myself so closely. I’m no longer a child. I’ve even changed in the way I behave. My parents have brought me up strictly. I’ve always had to follow rules and schedules. I believe that at home, no one has ever broken a rule. They’ve also taught us to behave ourselves, to be mindful of good manners, ways of behaving, words and speaking little. “If you don’t have anything to say, then it’s best to be quiet”, my father would always say. “And if you do, then do it nicely,” he would finish after a silence.
It’s an elegance which seemed almost excessive in being polite. I am aware that my friends make fun of how I say things, and I don’t like that. The truth is that I want to show them who I really am. I want to change, or perhaps I want others to change. Oh, I don’t know.
The problem is that everything around me is changing too fast and I don’t know if I’m prepared for it. I like making quick decisions and getting on with it, but now, with all that Nicola has said, I feel we don’t have sufficient information.
I lower my gaze. I feel cold, suddenly frozen.
Hey! What’s this?
What I’m seeing has struck me like a dagger in my chest. It’s something that had already become a custom at home, but I didn’t question the reason for it.
Under the mirror, my parents had put a small chest of drawers and on it some small ornaments. There has always been one there. It was a welcome greeting that they were given when they got married. It was painted on ceramic in a village nearby and stuck onto a small wooden plinth so that it could be placed upright and be seen when you enter. Two days before disappearing, my father brought home a ceramic representation of the yin yang on two ceramic plates, one white and the other black, in a semi-circular shape, concave at one end and convex at the other, so that when one penetrates the other, the two form a single circle.
Until today, I had not paid much attention to it since that first day. Now as I recall it, when he put it there, his only words were, “This will be our symbol of balance.” And for the last few days, I’ve heard nothing else but that word in the city.
I can’t stop looking at the ornament. Something is going through my mind, something very strange. I don’t feel well. I am getting dizzy. I lean against the chest and look again at the yin yang. I become steady once more and hurry to my father’s old office. I rush in. My mind is racing a mile a minute. I can’t feel my legs, but I am moving them as fast as I can. I switch on the light and turn to my right without looking. I almost stumble over his briefcase he left on the floor against the wall.
I go directly to his desk and stop. There it is.
Every time I come in here, I can’t stop looking at it. It’s as if I had created a nostalgic shrine of refuge to my dad in the photo I am holding in my hands. The problem is that the same thing always happens. I can’t prevent it.
I dry my tears with my left hand, but I can’t stop looking at it.
It’s a photo I like a lot, but since he is not here, it has become almost necessary to look at it. Here he looks happy, without wearing a suit and tie, as I like to see him, to go and give classes at the university. Here, he looks as if he’s just come out of an Indiana Jones film, dressed in the same beige colour, in trousers, shirt and bomber jacket. You could say that he is somewhat more modern than the character in the movie because the boots are more typical of those used for present day trekking in the mountains and he never wore a hat. Instead, he preferred to wear a red kerchief tied around his head in a way that left some material hanging down behind him to protect the back of his neck from the sun. What made him look most peculiar were the sunglasses he always wore. They were those round types with leather protective strips on the sides like those worn to go up the Himalayas. The trouble is that for me he was Indi. My dad was Indiana Jones for me.
I’ve to dry my tears again. Many memories flood into my mind.
How good it is to see someone doing something that makes him happy! He also liked teaching in the city, but in this photo he was radiant. He was happy. In this photo, he looks it, especially as he was arm-in-arm with my mum, giving a show of unity in the team they were. She looked particularly pretty in the photo.
To anyone looking at her, my mother is a person of average height, with skin bronzed by the sun and with an athletic look. She’s always told us that her work as an archaeologist required her to go on long treks to distant places, and sometimes when she was busier than normal with a find, she would hardly eat and would even have to sleep outdoors wherever she was.
Even last year, we three children would spend long periods of time listening to Dad and Mum relating their adventures. They were a perfect couple, albeit a little unusual. Dad was a typical university historian, already balding and always wearing his little round glasses. Because of his appearance, you would never imagine the places he managed to get to. Fortunately, I had this photo to see the other side of the coin. My mum, a field archaeologist, constantly had field trips (as she called it) that would take her one or two weeks away from home. They were only able to go together on very few occasions. The one in the photo was their last.
To date, it’s been a year since they had gone on a field trip, just around the time my father left us.
Oh! I almost dropped the photo. I’ve begun to be distracted.
There’s something that I had never noticed before in the lower left corner.
Of course, because I always put my thumb here I could not see it. It’s strange because, although I can’t see it clearly, it looks familiar. In the photo, Dad has his left arm on my mum’s shoulders. What I could never see was that he is holding something in his right hand which is hanging down at his side. He is holding it in his fist, but a part of it is sticking out at the top. It’s a very small statue and only its head can be seen. My goodness!
I want to be sure. Where does he have it?
I search through the papers on the desk. Everything is disorderly as when he was here. There are papers everywhere.
Here it is. I’ve got it!
I look at the photo as closely as I can and with my father’s magnifying glass I try to make out what he has in his hand. Yes, that is it. It’s a little figure with a head with two faces like the one we saw at the entrance of Nicola’s house. I can’t believe it!
I feel my heart pounding and my breathing quickening. All the information we’ve been gathering these days is all around me. Everything is here, but I can’t see the connections. How is all this possible? I don’t believe in coincidences.
I turn quickly and pick up my father’s briefcase that my mom has never wanted to move from here.
It is in dark brown leather and looks quite worn because he took it everywhere. Whenever I enter this room, I’ve always known it was there but, until this moment, I’ve never touched it. I am sure that mum will be annoyed, but I’m not worried. It’s all accelerating by the minute and I can’t stop.
Carefully, I place it on the desk on all the books and disorganised documents. Slowly, one by one, I take out the papers and photos he has in the only place to keep things. Inside, it is clean and well-ordered. Nothing like the top of his desk.
What I see leaves me stunned and I prefer to sit down.
I throw myself onto the chair and… ay! I’m falling. I’m falling. I cannot told on to anything.
What a blow! What a stupid chair! I lost my balance, hardly making any movement. I’ve fallen with the chair landing on top of me. Damn! I’ve shattered the silence in the apartment.
I move the chair away, but remain sitting on the floor. I stretch out my legs and hold on to the briefcase. What impressed me before is now resting on my legs.
There are two books, a sheet with a series of numbers and two photos. As I put them together, I check each item.
The books are the original texts in English. There is a book titled Sacred Geometry, by one Robert Lawlor, and another smaller book which seems to be about the same thing, titled Golden Section, and according to my translation of the cover, it refers to the ‘Greatest secret in Nature’. The author is one Scott Olsen. There is a loose white sheet of paper with a succession of numbers written on it, which I don’t understand.
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…
But what impressed me most are the photos. In one I can see the little figure with the head with two faces. It must be what Dad is holding in his hand in the photo on the desk.
And the other…
It can’t be!
It gave me a knot in my throat. It is the photo of the ashlar discovered at the Eastern Gate in the city of Zaragoza. Including this picture, I have seen it three times in less than a week.
My mind is really racing back to each occasion in recent days, recalling each moment when I saw these two images, but I can’t find a connection. I get up.
“Are you OK, Sofia?”
I see my mother standing in the doorway, anxious after running, which she must have done when she heard the noise I made.
I nodded to say yes, knowing that I’m not going to like what is coming, judging from her expression at seeing the disorder I have caused.
“What are you doing here?” Her voice has taken on an aggressive tone as she looks angrily at me.
I have very seldom seen her like this, but when she is, it’s best not to go near her.
At this moment, this average height lady lost all the sweetness she had during this last year. She is really angry, but I don’t understand because, since my father’s death, she’s never forbidden us from entering this room. The only other thing I’ve done was simply to open his briefcase.
“Darn it, Mum! I fell and all you can do is to have a go at me!”
This leads to an uneasy silence between us, a silence you could cut with a knife. I can hardly believe what I said to her. Not only is it the first time I’ve sworn at home, but it is also the first time that I have answered her back.
I am going to try to lighten the situation.
“I wanted to see the photo on the table again and…” As I answer her, I realise that it’s not going to be enough for her to calm down. “And I fell, Mum!” I end up shouting.
She violently snatches the books, photos and sheet of paper from my hands. She says nothing and returns them to the briefcase. As if she knew from memory where everything was, she returns them in exactly the same place where they were when I fell. I can’t take my eyes off her, because I don’t understand anything that’s happening.
I stand in front of her. We are now the same height, but her authority is not determined by height.
“Never in your life have you treated me worse that you have just done! If your father were here…” At that moment, she stops suddenly and looks behind me in the direction of his desk. “Now, get out, and I don’t want you to be in here today,” she says and without looking at me, she pushes me towards the door of the room.
As I leave, I look back trying to find answers by looking around, and there it was in the distance: the sign of the rectangle with crossed lines on a larger circle. But it was not on the table. I don’t know if my heart could stand so many emotions in one day. It’s the small poster hanging on the wall opposite the desk. It can’t be. I’ve never noticed it before. It was right under my nose the whole time.
My father was working less than a metre away from the sign that the guide had given me on a crumpled piece of paper at the museum, the same sign that I had seen on the new webpage, the same sign Nicola had everywhere in his house.
When we are both outside the room, I turn to my mother and ask her:
“What was Daddy working on before he died?”
For the rest of my life, I don’t think that I’ll ever forget the expression on my mother’s face. Her whole face, her bony cheekbones, her green eyes and beautiful smile showing those teeth, brilliantly cared for ever since childhood, undergo a transformation. At first, I thought that it was anger and fury, but looking at her closely, I realise that it was fear.
She does not look away either. I begin to feel very uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say. She must have realised that I am beginning to get frightened and she quickly makes an effort to control her emotions.
She turns away from me, closes the door and, without meeting my gaze, she moves away and says:
“As of today, you are forbidden from entering this room.”
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Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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