The morning was spendid, sunny, bright. They drank the scene with their eyes as they walked: the canals, the houseboats, the children going to school, the tall, blond men and women riding bikes, the streetcars, the Arabs selling trinkets and postcards to the Japanese tourists, the American college students laughing loudly and the English football fans trying to score tickets for the Ajax – Man U match from scalpers. Amsterdam, in a word.
They chose a little coffeehouse at the far end of Vondelpark that had a sort of fenced-in patio with some tables outside. They started drinking tea again, and Raúl rolled something to smoke. He lit up and half closed his eyes, looking at Lily. She was wearing shades, which was too bad. He liked looking at her eyes.
– Lil, tell me something in Spanish
– Algo en Español. “Something in Spanish”.
– Where did you learn it?
– Oh, with you, of course.
– No, I don’t think so. We’ve only spent a few days together here. Nobody learns a language that fast. And I don’t think you learnt a single word from me back at the Young Pioneers in Christiansands way back then.
– But R… the Bar Britanico, remember? Tango lessons? Your flat in BA?
– I remember and I don’t remember, Lily. It sounds very familiar, like you said before. It sounds like something that’s been with me for a while. But there’s no way. We parted ways in Christiansands, at the airport there, what, 12, 14 years ago? I’ll tell you where you’ve been since. I mean besides the UK, London and Edinburgh. You’ve been to Aussie for a while, working in Sydney, in Melbourne for the Grand Prix, working in Perth again, you’ve been in Manila and the Philippines, covered in rat shit and being shot at, you’ve been on tour of course with the Sensible Rock Band several times, you’ve been in America and on vacations in Asia, Thailand, Bali, the beaches and all that. But not in Buenos Aires. Not anywhere in South America, in fact. Hasn’t happened.
– OK, see. This is what I was talking about. Because if that’s the case, and I’m thinking hard here because there’s something wrong here, and I’m glad I didn’t smoke that shit because this is hard enough as it is, then I need to run to the airport right now. As in, Right Now. Because I have a very young boy at home, and for the life of me I can’t think of what I’ll tell Sean when I get to London, this is a fucking disaster. I’m the worst person, dammit. Dropping everything, my family and everything, and partying here with you. I need a taxi, now. You’re scum. I don’t know how you pulled this out, but you should be ashamed. You piece of shit… you…
– Are you going to throw something at me again, Lil?
– I have a mind to, motherfucker. Only I don’t have time, she said, getting up and grabbing her bag. Fuck you. I never want to hear from you again.
– Look at me. Take off your shades and look at me, Lily.
– What! Shut up, you bastard, I’m out…
– LILY, LOOK AT ME FOR A SECOND. I WANT TO HELP YOU. LOOK AT ME.
Something in his voice made her stop, doubting what to do next. She looked at him without removing her sunglasses. He was sitting there in the sun, joint in one hand sending lines of blue smoke into the morning air, looking back at her. That look, she knew it. She knew it from somewhere. Slowly she removed her shades, and their eyes met for a few secs.
– What, she said, without sitting down again.
– Carter is in no danger. You’re not failing your family or yourself or anyone. Trust me on this. Sit down. I’ll explain. Sit down. No games.
– What’s going on? What are you doing?
– I’m not doing anything. Let’s practice your Spanish a bit. I’ll read you something, you tell me what it says, OK? Chill out. Your family is in no danger, you’ve done nothing wrong.
– What are you talking about? Dude, we’ve been here, stoned, sleeping together, the last few days. I don’t even think I called to check on C. Fuck, fuck…
– Stop. Listen to this.
He pulled some papers out of his shirt pocket. Photocopies of book pages. He read, “En un alba sin pájaros el mago vio cernirse contra los muros el incendio concéntrico. Por un instante, pensó refugiarse en las aguas, pero luego comprendió que la muerte venía a coronar su vejez y a absolverlo de sus trabajos. Caminó contra los jirones de fuego. Éstos no mordieron su carne, éstos lo acariciaron y lo inundaron sin calor y sin combustión. Con alivio, con humillación, con terror, comprendió que él también era una apariencia, que otro estaba soñándolo.”
– That is the final paragraph of Jorge Luis Borges’ “The circular ruins”, the tale about this magician who devotes his life to dream an avatar, a son, to create a new being from nothing, by sheer willpower. And then, in a totally Borgean twist, he finds out he’s being dreamed by someone else himself. Do you want to go over this again? I’ll help with your Spanish. This is not easy, this is Borges. Let’s do it. Go on. Chill out. Just read, go.
– In a / what is that, alba? – another word for dawn, go on/ In a dawn without birds the magician saw /no way I know that one – get closer/ the concentric fire get closer to the walls. For an instant, he thought of seeking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death came to crown his old age and to /absolverlo? – to pardon him of, spare him of/ spare him of his labours. He walked against the… licks? rags? of fire. They didn’t bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. Relieved, humiliated, and with terror, he understood that he was an appearance too, that someone else was dreaming him”…
She looked at him for a long time.
She kind of lost touch of her surroundings.
She felt she was falling down, nausea, and vertigo. She closed her eyes. She opened them again, she was still sitting in a chair, and it was still sunny. The quality of the sun was different though, it was way more intense. She was surronded by houses or shacks painted bright red, and there was a lot of green too, grass and palms and bouganvilleas and stuff. She was reading a book: “Emotionlessly she kissed me in the vineyard and walked off down the row. We turned at a dozen paces, for love is a duel and looked at each other for the last time.” She lifted her gaze and saw some young people walking around, some fellows with a football, and a blond, tall girl that looked familiar, sitting next to her with another book. Then she heard some rythmic sounds, and grunts, and laughs, right behind her, and turned. 3 young men were kicking a hacky-sack around. They were sweaty in the hot sun, and wore no shirts. Two were blond, one dark. The dark one had some tattoos on his arms, and a half-baked goatee. He went to get the little ball, and noticed she was staring. He tossed it back to one of the other two and came next to her chair, crouched down next to her. He asked her something, with a heavy accent:
– What are you reading?
She felt she was awakening from a dream. She felt like when we awake and have been dreaming something that seems so real and vivid, and all of a sudden we start having trouble recalling what it was, and by mid-morning it’s gone, it’s disappeared completely and all we have left is maybe an impression, a state of mind, a mood.
– “On the road”
– Oh, what a classic. That’s life, being on the road, no destinations, no? Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, Old Bull Lee, Carlo Marx, who are you, or who will you be?
– I don’t know, man… who are you? Or who will you be?
– I don’t know yet, he said and gave her a look that vaguely brought back some very recent daydreaming that was, nonetheless, lost, and couldn’t be recalled, But I have a feeling I’m about to find out. These last few months have been ‘on the road’ for me too, trying to understand and dive deep within myself, and somehow I’m here now, and have met you just the other day, and I feel like I’ve reached a destination. I can’t explain very well. But I love being here with you.
– Brilliant. You’re a fun bloke. Sometimes, anyway. Tell your friends to go buy some of that dreadful vodka before the store closes, and we’ll have a party tonight.
– Yeah, we should pick some of those oranges and start making juice. That vodka’s too bad to drink alone.
– Right, right. I’ll put the Swiss guys to work on the oranges. You and your mates put your shirts on and get the vodka, yeah? Chop chop, go.
– Ciao, I’ll see you later…
– Ciao, go….
She watched him go away, and then closed her eyes. The sun was very warm. Little by little, she started dozing off, and the sounds all around her receded into nothingness.
When she woke up, Raúl was staring at her. It was cold. He was holding one of her hands. They didn’t say anything, just listened to the buses speeding downstairs, every time the red light changed to green in the corner. They had had fun with those buses, making bets as to what the next one would be: 4, 22, 29, 62, 140. Buenos Aires buses. Silly bets that involved kissing the winner, sweet stuff that older people would only indulge in behind closed doors.
– I’m happy you’re here, and it’s another day, Lily.
She felt her eyes welling up some. She answered in a barely audible voice,
– I’m happy too, R. I’ve had some strange dreams, and I don’t know what’s real and what’s not anymore. I don’t even know if I am real, or someone else’s imagination. Am I mad?
– You’re not. I’ve felt the same way many times.
Her voice was still very thin when she asked,
– Do you think… do you think you and I are less than real? Do you think Rulo and Lily are just someone’s dream?
– But L., la vida es sueño. Life is a dream. “Life is a dream from which only death awakens us”, wrote Calderón so long ago… la vida es sueño… we say it in Spanish all the time, from Madrid to Guadalajara to La Paz, everybody knows it… I’ve always known it… la vida es sueño…
– I don’t want death to awaken me.
– No one does. But let’s not be afraid of it. And if someone’s been dreaming us, I’m grateful to him or her, for the sweet fire I’ve felt every time I thought of you or was close to you or read you. And for being here with you now. If only the dreamer had given us more time together… but at least we got some. We got a little back then, and some more now. I’m grateful for every second.
He was going to say more, but the lights changed and the 22 and 29 started stepping on the gas, so he just embraced his love, who was crying in a dawn without birds.