Sunday, April 27, 2008


Last year Carmen showed me the place where Paco was stabbed in the back in a deadly embrace with his wife Remedios, shortly after my last visit, some years before. The place is a strange and isolated one, a large mole away from the beach and the restaurants, although in plain view of them.
That day, long ago, there were only a few fishermen, Paco included, on the side of the mole facing the thin strand lined with tall buildings and palm trees, and a lonely passerby dwarfed by the huge platform moored at the other end.

“She had more than she could bear,” said Carmen, cleaning the counter with slow movements, a little here, a little there. I wondered if she ever had the intention of cleaning anything at all. Finally she leaned with her arms and her large breasts dressed in red against the counter and moved her lips almost imperceptibly. “There is so much violence,” she said. She went back to the cleaning, this time caressing the coffee machine. For a moment I was left alone with my glass of wine. I looked at the large room of the café, empty of costumers at that hour. Big tables for six or seven people each, with the corresponding chairs in wood and laminated plastic, stood close to the big windows. All those things where there even before Carmen was born.

On the other side of the street was the port and, behind its buildings, the mole. The light outside, usually very bright, was covered with a thin layer of yellow dust blown by a strong and warm wind. The mountains on the background enclosed the place against the sea. The sea was calm. Compared with the usual aspect of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean looked like a big, unnatural swimming pool. There was something in the air that tickled my nerves. I knew the feeling. Even when being careful enough to avoid the omnipresent houses of wine, tapas and seafood, it was difficult to feel sober.

“Do you remember,” said Carmen softly, “last time you were here, you used to make,” she breathed, “you know,” she breathed again, “that bad taste joke, saying a woman smashed in the ground when you were passing by?”
Yes, I could remember that, in the months before Remedios and Paco danced their relationship away, several tragic incidents took place, always involving domestic violence or divorced couples.
“I remember that a man tried to put fire to the apartment of his mother-in-law,” I said, “thinking that with a bit of luck he could burn both her and his wife, but he was so clumsy that the flames spread instead by the stairs.” I sort of laughed trying to spice the bad taste in the joke, “and there was another one,” I started counting by the fingers, “that was more practical and ran over his ex-wife with his car several times.”

I held up my counting and looked sideways to Carmen. She still did not appreciate the joke.
“But the preferred tactic of most of them was just to throw the wife by the window.”
She stood there, leaning with her arms and breasts against the counter.
“Paco was one of those?” I asked carefully, losing any hope of redemption.
“He used to beat her,” Carmen said, looking at me as if she was reading something in the buttons of my shirt, “but I don’t know what she was doing there, in the mole. She used his fishing knife, an old kitchen knife, but very sharp…”
She left the rest of the story that was building up on her head suspended, and went back to the coffee machine.

I looked through the window and imagined that, in the bottom of those waters divided in two shades of blue crossed by the silver band of the sun, there must lie the remains not only of innumerable ships sunken in fights between Christians, between Muslims, between Muslims and Christians, between Muslims and Normans, between Turks and Spanish, between Spanish and Algerians, pirates and Venetians, Turks and Venetians, Venetians and Genoese, among pirates, against pirates, between English, Spanish, French, Italians and Turks, but also all the ones lost in battles against the sea itself and the more recent but outdated sunken ordnance, and the remains of the tones of cocaine consumed in the south of Europe, mixed with a growing quantity of industrial waste. So many things! And still has fish.


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