Monday 19 December 2016
Time: 3:00 pm
It’s almost lunch time and, normally after school, we go home immediately as we would have been up from very early and would be hungry by this time. But today, the five of us have stayed chatting at the school gate to talk about what we did at the weekend. The problem is that we can’t stop talking about what happened last week to many adults we know. They – Elsa’s parents, David’s mother and my mother – had all received the message. Samuel did not mention anything about his parents. He hasn’t ever talked about them. It’s strange that Erik’s hadn’t received a message, but the other parents of our classmates most certainly did. Apart from Samuel, the other students seem worried. I’m not, but I want to know what is going on.
As none of us believe in coincidences, we have been discussing the link between the text message and what we saw in the street over recent days with people losing their balance and falling over. I don’t want to believe in strange things, but nothing about this is normal. I’m sure there is some logical explanation.
Next to me, Erik is pointing at the tablet in his hand. I give him a nudge, prompting him to suggest:
“Why don’t we check on the Internet?”
He plonks himself down on the street, leaning back against the school wall and types in “Zaragozacollapses” on the search engine.
We are all surprised when we discover that the search engine has only found one website. We click on it and a photo appears showing an area in the city where the Cardus and Decumanus are clearly marked. As he passes the mouse across the screen, at the intersection of the two streets, there is a link to another webpage. He clicks on it and a new page opens up with a message:
“Zaragoza collapses, you know what you have to do.”
Under the text, there is the same symbol as on the note the guide at the museum gave me.
My mind is a whirl with ideas, but I can only say one thing:
“There’s nothing more to say here! Let’s do what they have suggested. Shall we meet up at 4 o’clock in the centre, opposite the Old Courts, next to the La Hispanidad fountain? I’m going home to drop off my books.”
“Well, see you soon,” David says goodbye as he heads home.
Erik smiles as he goes off in the opposite direction to his home. Samuel, as always, disappears without saying a word. I notice Elsa following me. This is unusual because she lives in the other direction.
How cold it is! An icy wind has picked up and I feel cold to my bones. As I put up the collar of my coat with my left hand, I hold my backpack with my books in the other. Then, I adjust the other side of my collar with my right hand. Elsa is also wearing her coat. As she is carrying her backpack on her shoulder, she has her hands free to put up the lapels of her coat. Walking on this side of the Huerva River is like walking through a wind tunnel. Having the fewest buildings, it gives the wind clear passage up to the Gran Vía Boulevard. Around us, also cloaked in overcoats and jackets buttoned up to the neck, people walk bent over against the force of the wind which is enough to throw you off-balance if you aren’t bending forward.
“You’re very quiet, Elsa.” I try to break the ice as I watch her.
She is walking close to the stone wall to avoid falling into the river. She is so tall that I have to look up to see her eyes. She is very elegant. Her dark skin, offset by the white woollen cap she’s been wearing since this morning and the beige coat reaching down to her knees, could very well get her onto the catwalk. She is a very good friend. We tell each other almost everything and what I like most about her is her concern for others. She is one of the few people I know who is more interested in seeing people other than herself having a good time.
“How was the chess championship on Saturday?”
I had almost forgotten. She is waiting to hear all the details.
“It was good because all the teams in the city were competing.”
Since my parents signed me up to play chess five years ago, I haven’t missed a single competition. It’s not that I am very good, but I enjoy it. As I look at the 32 pieces on the white and black squares, I move them about in my head in various combinations for the next game. This makes me feel out of this world. Match times are good to make you disconnect and reconnect at the same time to a world in space, where you can see from a distance the pieces moving, as you calculate and remove each other’s pieces. I absolutely love it.
Elsa turns to look at me from her height waiting for me to answer.
“We lost again,” I replied. “The games were fast with the timer. I don’t handle that very well. I like having as much time as possible to consider each move and having a clock at my side telling me that time is up makes me nervous.” I dodge to avoid a plastic bag that someone had dropped. It was coming straight at my face. “Next Friday is the final and it is untimed. So, I think we will win. In the accumulated scores in the competitions this year, we are in the lead.”
“That’s great.” Elsa smiles in response. “That’s optimism for you!”
We are already at the intersection with Gran Via Boulevard. It is less windy here because of the buildings providing protection.
“Did you go out on Saturday?” Elsa asks.
“The games finished at 7 p.m. and our whole team went out for dinner.”
“Did you go alone?” Elsa’s question takes me aback.
“No, Erik came to meet me.” I don’t understand what she’s getting at. “Why do you ask?”
Some mothers with small children crossing the street almost knock us over. The kids have escaped from them and are now running to the swings in the centre of the boulevard. There are no cars or trams passing, but what a fright they have given us.
Elsa does not answer. So, I stop. She has not realised and continues walking until she recognises that I am no longer walking alongside. She stops and turns back to look at me. I walk two steps towards her and, looking directly at her, I wait for her to answer.
“Sofia, I am very happy for you.” As Elsa starts, I know I’m not going to like what she’s going to say next. “But,” here it comes, “You must know that ever since you started going out with Erik, you have hardly called me.”
Ah, so that was it. What was her problem?
I didn’t want this to be happening. Deep down, I didn’t want to go out with any boy precisely for this reason. I didn’t want to stop being with my friends and, even less, having them tell me this. What’s more, she’s right. On Saturday, with the chess championship and then the dinner, I had forgotten to call her. Then, on Sunday I spent almost the whole day studying and, in the afternoon, Erik and I went out for a walk. It had never even occurred to me to call her. I feel super guilty.
“You are right.” I look at her as we continue standing together. “It will not happen again.”
“I didn’t say this to you for you to apologise. I only want us to continue to be friends and to go out together occasionally. I know that it’s not the same.”
We exchange smiles and continued walking.
“For sure,” I respond in the air, “and how’s it with David?”
“What?!” She responds, almost angrily.
“Sorry, sorry.” I have to calm her down because I seem to have offended her. “As I see you together in class, you chat a lot…”
For a moment, there is a break in the clouds and a ray of light shines directly down on us. It is like being in a film. It is deceptive, since it is just as cold as ever, less windy here, but cold all the same.
“I know he is a very good person, handsome and I like him.” Elsa responds, looking down on the ground, “but his heart is with someone else.”
Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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