(a ballad for my friend)
We said we’d meet right where the buses parked.
Six o’clock sharp, they wouldn’t wait.
I came from home; you’d danced the night away
and, like a being from a different star,
showed up in taffeta and lace,
your hair a-sparkle and your lipstick smeared,
on bare feet with your shoes in hand,
their heels consumed by rock ’n’ roll and waltzes.
Your husband, slightly swaying, saw you off.
His dinner jacket open, tie undone,
he smiled inanely when he saw the crowd
and kicked the tyres to make sure
they’d last to see you safely to the coast
of Northern Spain – and back again.
You wanted to escape the trap
you’d fallen into when you wed.
“I am in lust,” you said.
And now you hoped – while knowing better –
that you and I, just as we used to do,
could reinvent the world.
We booked the trip by bus because we thought
our fellow travellers would all be young,
as impecunious as we.
We were so wrong.
They looked at us with something bordering hate.
This silenced us and made us shy.
Two days, one night.
Next morning we awoke to warmth and brilliant sun,
to sounds and smells and sights so new
that full of wonder we could only stare.
The gentle breeze brought stories from a different sea.
The one we knew was dark and unforgiving.
“Let’s go and see the town,” you said.
What did we know? We took the train –
on wooden benches.
We stared at peasant faces, black scarves, black berets.
There was cooked food in baskets, pollos, cabras...
We wore our best.
Just off the shoulders. Petticoats.
With heels so high we tottered.
Two beings from a planet far from here.
Were we not thrilled, my dear?
Remember Barcelona at the height of noon.
We walked for what seemed hours
through streets wiped clean by midday heat.
Our shoes staccatoed –
hastened heartbeats on those cobbled streets.
The sound bounced back from blackened walls,
then lazily unmade itself.
Even the birds were lying low.
There were no dogs, no cats, no life at all,
but you and I, two strangers lost on Mars.
We hadn’t sensed the man.
We hadn’t heard his steps.
“What are you doing in the streets at this time of the day?
My dear young ladies, follow me.
Las Ramblas are not far from here.
I know a place where we can sit
and hide from this infernal sun.”
Like sheep we staggered after him.
We fell into a darkened cave.
It was a bar – an empty, solitary place.
The floor, when we could see again,
was strewn with cigarette ends and paper,
with toothpicks, ash, and spat-out olive stones.
“Sit down!” he said, and pulled up chairs.
Their legs squeaked on the marbled floor.
“What will it be, two lemonades?”
Do you remember? What a day.
And what a night...
He was Hungarian. A dentist – so he said.
He travelled much, had things to sell.
He lived in Paris, France, not Hungary.
He smiled and said, “You stay in my hotel.”
You hankered after pearls, Majorica.
He said he knew where you could buy.
You wanted everything so badly
and were as bold as I was shy.
We drifted thoughtlessly into a world
we only barely understood. Remember?
We met his friends – or business partners?
A bit of both perhaps.
They had a car.
There was a bullfight, was there not?
You shouted loud “olé” into tense silence,
just when the crowd was yearning for the kill,
death in their eyes and death in every heart.
From Gaudí’s liquid architecture to the harbour
he wanted and he flattered you.
Just when he kissed you (while you held my hand)
two figures detached themselves from shadows,
stern faces, and the strangest hats: “No kiss!”
We were so shocked.
A chicken roasting in a wall –
an oven built outside, right on the street.
We gawked. The man took us inside.
We ate, we talked, we drank
a glass of wine or two or three...
Nobody knows us here.
We danced our way to the hotel,
Two silly butterflies, one predator.
An open inner yard with metal stairs
that climbed along brick walls
and caves that opened from the galleries.
How dark it was.
There were two rooms, two iron beds in each.
The man, whose name was Laszlo, we had learned,
just said, “Look here, that’s what I sell...”
and from a suitcase spilled a thousand pictures.
Pornography for Franco’s Spain.
You blushed – despite your act.
“This makes me rich,” he said and looked at you.
You said, “Don’t go yet...” meaning me.
I desperately tried to sleep.
I didn’t want to think of you next door – and him.
So many sounds bounced back and forth.
That open yard had no discretion,
night people giggled on the stairs,
a cat was moaning for its lover,
a human voice joined a guitar.
Quick dance steps tapped on wood somewhere.
I must have dozed off after all.
A sudden deafening crash
made me sit up. I froze,
and wondered where I was.
Oh yes... the door. It slowly opened.
The hinges squeaked. I held my breath.
The ‘thing’ that entered, lit by lesser darkness,
was you. You pressed a cushion to your chest.
And with the small voice of a child you said,
“The bed broke. Can I sleep with you?”
I silently made room.
We held each other tight all night.
In our wrinkled party dresses,
barefoot, and when the sun just rose,
we sneaked like thieves into the early morning.
Clutched our purses and our shoes.
We’d barely settled in the train,
when – oh our hearts stood still –
the face we thought we’d left behind
materialised like nightmare apparitions do.
He smiled, and offered us his hand.
“Here are two first-class tickets, sweethearts.
Be well, and think of me...
When we arrived at the hotel (full board and wine),
we heard the old ones hiss:
We sent our cards: “Wish you were here.”
We are the last of our sisterhood.
Come back from where you are, don’t leave me yet.
The room is dark, the day is heading for the night.
I had an unexpected call:
“A coma,” said the voice. “Please do come soon.
We found your name and number in her things.”
I’ll not be leaving for some time, my friend.
I’ll spin the yarn that holds your dreams
like pearls (Majorica) on years of string,
you’ll yet escape the Minotaur.