• Thirty Something - first chapter

    After a long, long absence I'm back! This time with more of my writing.

    By the way, have you already read my debut novel?

    Here's the link to Amazon:

    and here's the first chapter:

    My earliest memory is of a Christmas tree. I know now it was a Christmas tree, that is; but all I saw at the time was this thing full of colours and shapes, bathed in a yellowish light. I think I was sitting in a pushchair, strapped in. And although I can remember exactly what I wanted to say (‘Look, mummy, how lovely’), I couldn't speak yet. It was the same feeling as being in a dream and wanting to shout and not being able to. All I could manage, therefore, was a few unintelligible noises. That was the day I learned what it means to be misunderstood.

    All the rest ended up being more of the same. My drawings at nursery school of a homeless man sleeping in the garden that the teachers insisted was the Baby Jesus in his manger; or the times I'd carry Patrícia's satchel for three full blocks, not because I liked her but just to see her Mother, who was waiting for her at the entrance to the building and plumped my cheeks with her smooth hands with their red fingernails and vanilla scent.

    Poor Patrícia... In eighth grade, after five years of a kind of platonic love affair that had lasted through our childhood and puberty, she said, “all right, you can kiss me, but no tongues” and I rejected her. Obviously I didn’t tell her why I’d rejected her; I had to make up a story about having a sore throat and maybe she’d catch it and then I ran off home, to masturbate thinking about Mother. In the following weeks I played football every day after classes, and when winter started and there were no more games I began to go out with Rita, a girl who was far from pretty but had well developed breasts for a thirteen-year-old. Patrícia was heartbroken. Now I could no longer see Mother and was stuck with an ugly girlfriend who gave kisses with her stiff, rasping tongue that lasted five painful minutes. Worse still, when I wanted to end it for the good of my neck she let me move up to level two – feel her tits, in other words. This made me keep the romance going for another few months and learned what it was like to have a permanently numb neck. I should have understood there and then that 1) no matter how small they are lies only lead to trouble and 2) my future with women was hardly going to be brilliant.

    Now I’d destroyed my reputation with the girls at school, I had to take refuge in grunge music and literature to survive my adolescence. Naturally I went to parties, and pretended to enjoy myself as we smoked in matinées or played footsie under tables. I had friends, and I even considered myself to be fairly outgoing, but it was in my room that I felt best. I read, wrote, composed dumb melodies on my guitar and fantasized about Liv Tyler in the Aerosmith video, or Vanessa Paradis, or – in a filthier way – Pamela Anderson. While the other kids smoked hashish and drank shots of absinthe in their pursuit of ‘different experiences’, I preferred to question the version of reality they presented us with every day in the classroom. Political systems riddled by corruption, Catholicism’s subjugation of the intellect, the economic interests that lay behind wars. Unfortunately I didn’t have many people to discuss these questions with. Some teachers actually liked the issues I’d raise, but most just wanted to get things out of the way without bothering to question them. Which is what nearly everyone I know still does.

    The only important thing that happened in my adolescence was Bé. I met her on a night in August, during a meteor shower. I was in my family’s holiday villa with my grandparents and cousins, who were younger than me. I decided to go and sleep on the beach to get a good view of the meteor shower far from the lights of town. I grabbed my sleeping bag, took enough food for three days, a torch, my notebook and my Walkman. I was lying on my back listening to Polly when Bé appeared above me and said something I couldn’t make out. She could have been shouting for all I cared; at that moment the world had stopped for me and all I saw was her pink lips, moving slowly.

    “Shit, you gave me a fright,” I started, sitting up as quickly as I could.

    “Sorry, all I wanted was a light,” she answered, in a voice so hoarse and sexy I don’t think I’ve forgotten about her because of it.

    “Ah, I don’t have a light... I mean... wait, I brought matches with me to make a bonfire.”

    “A bonfire!”

    “Obviously. It’ll be cold in a little while.”

    “Then make the bonfire so I can light my joint.”

    And we stayed like that, lying on the sand watching the meteor shower, she smoking joints and me pretending not to be absolutely captivated by her sensuality.

    “Why do you smoke that stuff? Is to escape from a reality you can’t handle?” I asked, quite the man of the world.

    “Of course not!” she burst out laughing. “What is it with people that they think weed gives you hallucinations and sends you off to parallel worlds and people smoke because they can’t face reality? Weed relaxes me, that’s all... Your body feels light, like you’re walking on clouds, and your mind becomes aware of sensations it doesn’t normally notice; the sounds of nature, smells... I like to feel my brain going at a thousand miles an hour and then a minute later going blank. The next day I think about what I felt, and I paint. And no, I didn’t have a troubled childhood or a dysfunctional family. I’m not a depressive and I’m not afraid to face reality. I just like to get high. That OK with you?”

    “I suppose so... Smoke what you want for all I care,” I answered, indifferent. “I prefer life in the raw. I like being straight so I can feel everything, feel that it’s real; that life and the universe are real. Don’t you think sometimes we’re not living at all? Like we’re in a film, or somebody’s head? And how did we get here? I mean, to this stage of evolution. For instance how did Galileo, looking at the sky just like we are now, manage to discover that the Earth is round and had the nerve to tell everyone? Sure enough they thought he was mad. Don’t you think about these things?”

    “Yes! Yes I do,” she answered, eagerly. “And you know something I wonder about lots of times? How do we know we’re both seeing the same thing? Colours and stuff, I mean. Is my jumper really red, or is that just the name someone gave to a colour my brain sees as grey and yours as green? Who decided it’s red? And how did words appear?”

    For the next ten minutes the only thing that punctuated the silence was our smiles, as we thought about how good it was to meet someone to share in these near-absurd conversations without getting funny looks or people making a fool out of you. Then, just like that, she said, “are you a virgin?”

    “What kind of a question is that?”

    ”It’s a really simple question. I’m a virgin, what about you?”

    “Me too,” I confessed, hesitantly.

    “Oh, drat.”

    “What’s the problem? I’m only sixteen; it’s not that serious. And most of my friends are too, except they make up stories about friends of cousins that nobody else knows, just to appear experienced.”

    “It isn’t that,” she sighed. “It’s that I want to discover what this sex thing is about. And, as I’m not looking to meet Prince Charming and I don’t think virginity’s as important as they make it out to be, I want to try it as soon as I can and put an end to the mystery. But I want it to be with someone who knows what they’re doing, you see what I mean?”

    “Ah... Well, they say I’m a fast learner.”

    “Yeah, I bet. Forget it. Anyway, I like you. Like, I think we could be friends, have conversations on the phone, go for an ice cream on rainy days, watch French films in pretentious art-house cinemas. If there’s sex now, we’ll ruin our whole future together.”

    “Worse still; we might even fall in love!”

    “And that would be a tragedy. Promise me something,” she asked, clasping my wrists.


    “That you’ll never fall in love with me and we’ll always be each other’s best friends.”


    “I have to go, or my mum will notice I’m not in my room and she’ll think I’ve been abducted.”

    “Are you leaving already? Wait! What’s your name?”

    “Call me what you want,” she said, brushing the sand off her legs and doing up the straps on her sandals.

    “Go on tell me. I’m Filipe.”

    “See you tomorrow.”

    She took off into the darkness as if she was flying, her black hair undulating to the rhythm of her steps.

    And that was it. That was how I met Bé, the most fascinating girl on the face of the Earth. We spent the rest of the summer in evening conversations about philosophy, interrupted only by my attempts to persuade her to lose her virginity with me, which she wouldn’t, to my great disgust. She ended up in the arms of a surfer a lot older than she was, and the next day he avoided her just like she wanted, for she insisted sex was an animal act and the emotional bond it’s always supposed to create was just an invention of literature. I was consumed with jealousy, but I couldn’t show it. After all, we’d agreed never to fall in love with each other. I was also consumed with envy – at her knowing what it was and me not. She teased me and tried to fix me up with her female friends.

    At the end of the holidays, we found we lived too far apart to do all the things we’d planned. We decided letters would be our only form of communication. I still have them. She wrote from the soul and sent me fabulous drawings that illustrated her thoughts. When something really important happened, we allowed ourselves a phone call. Anything was important for me, and I could never last more than a month without hearing her voice. She pretended to be annoyed at me calling without a good reason, but we’d end up talking for a couple of hours. With every letter and every phone call, I realized I was getting nearer to breaking the only promise I’d made her. Our emotional bond was so strong it stopped me from getting involved with other people. None of the other girls had Bé’s voice, Bé’s hair, Bé’s rosy lips, Bé’s intelligence and sense of humour.

    The next summer I ruined everything, as usual. After our last dip of the day we lay down on the sand to watch the sunset. Her skin, deep gold in the late afternoon light, was covered in goose bumps. Droplets of water trickled merrily down every curve of her body. She closed her eyes to savour the meager warmth of the last rays of sunshine and it was then that I kissed her. Her body responded and we made out for half an hour. I was exploding with desire, my head spinning in a whirlwind of emotions. She was as calm and ethereal as ever. At the end she just said, “You’re in love with me.” And before I had time to retort she went on, “I think it’s better we don’t speak for a while to see if you get over this and give me my friend back.”

    “Bé, why can’t we go out with each other? We’re the best of friends, the chemistry’s there, we like being with one another, it’s simple!”

    “One day you’ll understand there’s nothing simple about love,” she answered, getting quickly to her feet. “What about when I take a fit of bad temper? And when you have an attack of jealousy? And when we want to go to bed with other people? Will we put up with it? And what about if one of us goes to live abroad? And we fall in love with someone else? What will there be between us then? Disappointment? Animosity? Will we miss each other? Do you know what it’s like to be let down by someone you love? You’ve no idea, have you? It’s the worst thing of all.”

    “So you’d rather avoid what could be the great love of our lives just because you’re afraid things end badly and nothing’s left?” I asked her, annoyed. “So it’s better to spend the rest of your life in failed relationships, always thinking about what might have been?”

    “What failed relationships?”

    “Well, like the one you have just now with Jorge. Or is that an emotion-free experience too? What are you trying to prove to yourself with these episodes?”

    “Nothing. Not to you or anybody,” she answered, shrugging. “I just love my freedom, doing what I want, with no moral or emotional obligations.”

    “But it’s those obligations that make us human, don’t you understand?” I shouted, gripping her arms. “People are made of feelings, and when there are feelings between two people, whether it’s love, or friendship, or compassion, we should live them to the full instead of running away from them.”

    “See, you just said the right thing: feelings of friendship. That’s what we have, Filipe. Don’t go throwing that away, please.”

    At that point she deployed the weapon that has always stripped me of my powers of argument, the pout.

    “We’re eighteen; we have our whole lives in front of us. If we started a relationship now, most likely we’d finish with each other in the next five years and never see each other again. People change so much at our age. We’d end up with neither love nor friendship, don’t you understand? Don’t you see everything we’ve shared since that night on the beach? Everything we’d be risking? Come on, don’t be so childish.”

    And she finished with an enormous smile, saying, “If you want, I’ll introduce you to some really nice friends of mine. Easy to get into bed, too!”

    “Yeah right... You’ve got some nerve...” I murmured, helpless before the evidence that once again I wouldn’t have the courage to fight for what I wanted most.

    The first letter she wrote me after those holidays took up where we’d left off before the episode of the kiss. At no point did she mention it, and she kept telling me about the law course she had to attend to keep in the good graces of her father, who wouldn’t accept a course in art history as higher education, and other humdrum stuff that didn’t interest me in the slightest. Even here she outwitted me. For her, our friendship was so precious she was determined to make me forget about her, so we could be ‘us’ again. I answered with an absolutely pathetic letter made up of a series of verses from song lyrics, things like you gave me nothing now it’s all I got and I wish I was special, you’re so fucking special and suchlike lovelorn stuff.

    She never wrote back. I never heard from her again.

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