Thursday 22 December 2016.
Time: 2:00 pm
From the time I was small, my mother has been teaching us that in life we have to make decisions and it is very important to have all the information necessary to make the right decision, but as she would say: ‘If you have to choose between waiting for years to have complete information, then perhaps it is best to make the decision with the information you have now’. I’ve always tried to follow this advice. But, at the same time, I prefer to have all the facts first before acting. With this issue, I want us to do the same, and to make a decision calmly. We cannot make a hasty decision. We have to take it easy.
Nicola amazed us the other day, by talking about the persistence of the people who live in this city. I understand it as the ability to keep progressing even if you fail or if something does not turn out right. Deep down… it is what I like, not only to make a decision but, specifically, to see the outcome. To make a decision, it’s necessary to be prudent and to be certain before taking the first step. I like being practical… but with information.
It is precisely for this reason that I am beginning to feel uncomfortable. We have a lot of information to make a decision, but I am not sure if we have it all – what Nicola has told us, the maps, the history that Elsa was talking about and now what Sofia was able to find out about the stone from the Eastern Gate. It’s obviously madness. But people are losing their balance and falling over, and they don’t know why. We could spend hours, days or even years to get more information but, when do we stop and do something?
And now, here’s this guy shouting that he is going. Well, let him! Although the person who really has to go is me because I will be in trouble with my mother if I don’t get home at the time I said.
Elsa and I look at each other and don’t quite know what to do. At the same time, Sofia is looking at Erik, but her face is a true reflection of dislike at this moment. She is flushed. Her expression changes to her characteristic narrowed eyes and pursed lips. From here, I can see how the skin on her face is moving like a sea of waves.
It’s obvious that they are growing apart, although for me that’s no bad thing. Erik looks around him, everywhere except at Sofia. He puts his hands in his trouser pockets and shrugs his shoulders. Our eyes met. He is not happy. He looks as if he is going to explode… but I don’t feel sorry. Not one bit.
I look around to catch Samuel’s eye and, typical, he is not looking at any of this. What a strange guy he is. In the middle of an argument between his companions, he is writing something – I don’t know what – on the tablet he is carrying. The first day I saw him, I thought he was escaping into his device to play some rubbish game that freaks play. When I look at him a little while later, without him knowing, I see that he is writing with one of those applications with which you write on the screen with your finger and then it types it up for you. As I watch him, I say to myself that it really doesn’t matter what he’s doing. But the truth is, after what happened in the ice cream parlour, I am curious to know all that he does, especially at this moment, which is the first time we have had a similar commotion since.
“It’s incredible,” Elsa says, trying to calm the situation. “It is difficult to believe it, but it’s totally in line with the portal Nicola told us about. I don’t know who wrote it or why they did, but certainly the coincidence is impressive: a gate to travel back to Rome.” She makes inverted comma signs on the word. “To travel… back in time.” She repeats the inverted comma signs.
Erik steps back from the group. This is getting more interesting by the moment. I don’t know what has annoyed him more, Sofia taking his arm off her shoulder or the fact that she’s contradicting him. Well, these things happen. I avoid his gaze to prevent him from seeing what I feel inside. He is seriously angry. I have never seen him like this.
“I think that you are all bonkers!!!” He shouts angrily, looking at everyone else but Sofia. “This is all unreal and I am not prepared to go on with this farce. I’m going home. Do what you want.”
I can’t believe it! Sofia’s face is a picture. She is absolutely stunned by the force of his reaction. It is completely out of character. He was probably waiting for Elsa to finish or not to say anything and afterwards to tell Sofia alone, on her own, that he didn’t want to continue with this business. However, he chose to have a scene. It does not make sense. I cannot say anything. Elsa and I look at each other. What a mess. Each one of us staring at something or other, not knowing quite what to say.
Finally, Elsa breaks the silence.
“But you can’t go.” She falls silent for a moment, “Nicola said that the jump has to be on the 23rd, at dawn tomorrow.”
A gust of wind made us all turn away and we stopped looking at each other for a moment.
“We should drop all this nonsense,” Erik demands in louder voice.
We look at him. He turns around and walks away along Paseo Pamplona towards Carmen Gate. At no point, did he address Sofia. She can’t take her eyes off him, but I can’t say that I am not pleased by what has just happened.
There is silence as Erik walks away.
“Well go!” Sofia shouts after him without Erik hearing, since he is lost among the crowd crossing at the lights.
We all look at her, even Samuel who looks up from his tablet for a moment. It is the first time that I see him open his eyes wide and raise his eyebrows. What must he be thinking?
The two women passing, dressed in expensive fur coats, observe the scene and with disgust, turn away. The man who we had seen approaching us before, stops. He turns his gaze in the direction Erik has just gone and sets off also towards Carmen Gate. How strange!
I watch Elsa looking around to decide on what next to do. I don’t believe what I am seeing. However, I hope that she does not see the slight smile on my face when Erik walks away.
“Do you know who that man is?” Elsa’s question startles me.
She is gazing in the distance towards where Erik has gone. As she gets no response from anyone, she turns and adds:
“While we were standing here and talking, it appeared that he was listening to us, almost spying. When he moved away on the two occasions, I didn’t place any importance on it.” She falls silent for a moment. “Now that I see him following Erik, when he turned around towards us this last time, I recognised him…”
Just then, a group of boys rush past us, pushing us aside, trying their best to get to the stop in order not to miss the next tram. I have to hold on to Elsa for her not to fall over. We watch them running to get onto the coach.
We turn back towards her. She must have felt our eyes on her:
“He was the guard at the museum, the one who grabbed my hand when I was leaving.”
Hang on! This is getting serious!
I glance around and see that Samuel has turned back to his tablet, although this time I see a mischievous smile on his face. I can’t understand anything.
“What must he be thinking if he treats us like idiots?” Sofia ignores what Elsa has said and continues to look in the direction her boyfriend has gone.
I notice that Elsa is trying to say something, I imagine, to lighten the tension.
“And now, what do we do?”
Well, an intervention. No one seems surprised that they are following us. In the end, is the woman in the ice cream shop right, and this is dangerous?
Sofia is still angry. She turns around to face us and, unexpectedly, it serves to calm her down. She looks at me, at Elsa and then at Samuel. He looks up from his screen and returns her gaze. I see how her expression changes. Inside, she must be dying of shame for shouting in the middle of the street, as super-polite as she is normally. She was flushed.
After a brief silence, Sofia announces, looking down on the ground:
“For now, I’m going home.” She heads off back along the Gran Via Boulevard, and then towards Goya Avenue.
“I’m off too,” says Samuel, and he goes in the opposite direction along Paseo Independencia.
This guy is unpredictable. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand anything he does.
As I look at Elsa, I see that she is as disappointed as I am. We are almost the same height. But today, she is wearing heels and so I have to look up at her. I’ve known her for years, but it’s the first time I’ve been alone with her. I know that she has two brothers. I know where her parents are from, but I don’t know anything more about her. Actually, there are many more people in our class for whom I could say the same – to be in the same school or area for so many years and yet know nothing about them, other than the basic information. In our case, it’s nonsense because we’ve been together in the same class from the beginning of the school year. Now that I think of it, we get on very well, but we’ve never spoken about anything other than our studies.
Today, I have discovered something about her that I had not seen before. She tried to bring calm to the two episodes of conflict in which we tried not to take sides and to propose alternatives. I do remember one thing. There was a time in class last year when something similar had happened and she tried to make peace in a way that was so delicate, but effective all the same. She has a way about her that is modest, which comes in handy when these conflicts occur.
I must have been staring at her for a long time because she looks away from me.
“Sorry Elsa,” I start apologising, “for staring at you.” Then, I lie to her, “I was trying to remember what you were saying before and when you stopped, you were going to say something that was important for you.”
I can see that she has become relaxed once more and is smiling.
“You said that you were in a hurry. You had to go out with your mother,” she replies. I feel a little confused. “I’ll walk along with you. I have to go the same way anyway,” she continues and I feel more comfortable.
We head for the top of Paseo Sagasta without speaking as she knows that I live in Torrero.
It is difficult to walk and talk on a windy day like this in this city because you can hardly hear yourself speak. But when she speaks, she does it so clearly and with so much passion, it reduces problems in hearing. This girl continues to impress me, not only for what she knows, but also for the way she tells it.
Besides, she looks exceptionally pretty today.
As we walk together, she continues, “What I was going to say earlier is linked to something that I have noticed: that what the teacher explained in class and what Nicola mentioned have something in common. And it has something to do with balance.”
She stops speaking because, just at that moment, the woman walking past us stops in her tracks and appears as if she wanted to listen to us. I watch her face. I’ve seen her before, but I can’t remember where. She realises that I am looking at her, but does not move away. As there are so many people in the street, she looks like any other person.
I make a sign to Elsa for us to stop in front of the shop window of the shop on our right. She is surprised and frowns. I raise my eyebrows and I open my eyes wide to let her know that the woman is trying to listen. She smiles and nods, and motions me with her head to look to my right.
As I do as she suggests, I understand what she’s getting at. Looking at a woman’s lingerie shop to throw off a nosy woman is perhaps not the best choice. I also smile. As the woman walks away, Elsa takes my arm and we continue walking in this strong freezing wind. Anyone seeing us would think that we are boyfriend and girlfriend. But I can only think of Sofia.
“This is all amazing!” As if nothing had happened, Elsa continues chatting as we walk along the pavement. “Because, apart from my love for history, I am free. Although it may be nonsense, I have always felt that I have been searching for this balance. For a few consecutive days I’ve been hearing the same thing, and when I analyse the history of the city, I can only say that I agree with Nicola, that it is all falling apart.”
She stops again because at the lights, where we are going to cross, there are lots of people, and between us, we are creating an air of mystery which, it appears, we need to hide from everyone.
Once we are on the other side of the street, with the Ebro Hydrographic Confederation building on our right and with no one near us, Elsa continues talking. It’s fascinating when someone tells you something with so much passion.
“One of the most important themes in the history of the city which has aroused a lot of interest is the ability of different religions and cultures to live side by side in peace for so many years and after so many wars and invasions. It has always surprised me: this balance, let’s say, between Christians, Muslims and Jews.”
How interesting. Just a few days ago, we were talking about that at home. This is the opposite of Oh Jerusalem, a film we saw with my mother a couple of weeks ago. It is the opposite of balance. From ancient times, different regions have been in dispute. I recognise that I don’t understand it very well, but there is always something about that on the radio or on TV.
“When Nicola talked about balance the other day,” Elsa continues. “he linked it to the Romans. I was at home, reading about the era in which the city was founded in the book by John Hirst, the one I told you about the other day.”
She takes out the book from her backpack as she’s walking, and shows me the cover.
“As they have already told us, it was Emperor Augustus who did it. And I found out information I didn’t know.”
She stops just next to the bank on the street where we’re standing. She sits and motions me to sit down next to her.
“When Brutus assassinated Julius Caesar to prevent one man from governing the Republic, there was a civil war. In all this mess, a victorious man appeared. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar who adopted him as his son. In 27 B.C., he was proclaimed the first Roman Emperor.”
She is quiet for a moment. She looks at me with a mischievous smile hovering on her face.
“He was a very astute man. He maintained republican institutions.”
Her expression makes me laugh. It is a mixture of seriousness and a complicitous smile. Now she is going to tell me something which for her must be the clue to all this confusion.
“In fact, he did not want to be called Emperor, but simply First Citizen. Augustus viewed his work as being a kind of facilitator, or so he wanted others to think, that he alone would help the machinery to work smoothly.”
At any other time, this wouldn’t have interested me, but as they celebrated the 2000th anniversary of the death of the Emperor Augustus in the city two years ago, we had to study him in class. A few interesting things remained with me, but I have to acknowledge that I had not heard this part of the story before.
“What impressed me most about this man is…”
Suddenly, my mobile rang. I search for it in my coat pocket and take it out. Elsa stops speaking and waits. I look at the screen. It’s the telephone number of my house. Oh gosh. My mother’s going to give me a hard time! I show her the screen, and looking at her with raised shoulders, I indicate that I have to go home soon.
“Hi mum. I’m going home now.” I speak first as I answer the phone.
But then, my expression changes so much that Elsa looks worried. I only listen. I can’t believe what I am hearing. Feeling a mixture of impotence, agitation and dread, I end the call. Elsa stares at me. I look at her as I’ve never looked at anyone before. With my eyes fixed on hers, I explain:
“It’s my little brother. My mother has just fainted at home.”
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Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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