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Sunday, 23 January 2011

3. The First Cubata

On this Tuesday, the 5th of December 1995

He parked his car scarcely five minutes walk away from where it had been all afternoon.  It took him ten minutes to find a place to park and another ten to buy a packet of Winstons and then with the change pay for a blue zone ticket.  This all frustrated him more than it should have - and so, quite despite himself, affected little by little his mood and how he felt more generally about what had seemed to take place at lunch.

A creeping sensation of oppression began to overwhelm him and so it was that in little more than half an hour his earlier optimism became something quite different and much darker.

He walked along V_____ Street with an increasing desire not to have to arrive anywhere, not to have to achieve anything, not to have to battle with any person or fact, not to have to answer anyone or take any decision - not to have make any effort whatsoever, indeed, except that of seeing, watching, observing, appreciating.  Looking, that is to say, to perceive and not be perceived.

The evening was getting colder now.  He continued walking until he arrived at the entrance to the building where he had his offices.  He greeted the porter, entered the lift and went up to the fourth floor.

His secretary was waiting for him.

"Hello Salvador," she said.  She was a woman with a weary aspect: grey clothing, apparently slim without really being so - almost as if she were a plant which someone had forgotten to water for a while and which had dried up inside without communicating in time to the rest of its being this sorry state of affairs.

"Hello Teresa."

"You've got rather a lot of calls."  She sounded less than pleased.

"Right.  Well, I've had a couple of meetings, bank stuff, you're going to be paid on Monday for sure, I did the transfers this afternoon with José Luis.  We've spent the whole afternoon in the branch, you see?"  He gripped more firmly his cigarette with his left hand and picked up - with a certain lack of competence - the call book with his right.

He looked quickly over the calls, stopping for a moment at the bottom of the second page.

"These guys from the newspaper - what the hell do they want now?" he exclaimed.

"Well, it's that invoice they're always ringing about ... the TV advertising contract ... that one, you know ..."

"Which one?"

"Don't you remember?  The one that weird girl phoned you about last week, the one who dresses all modern like, that salesgirl ...  You really don't remember?"  Teresa began to look in the diary she had next to her Canon typewriter.  "Yes.  Chus.  Surely you remember ..."

"Nope.  I'm afraid I really don't.  Don't remember anything."

"Well, they were pretty cross, I can tell you.  I mean, they were already threatening us, you know?  Really threatening us, I mean."

"Well, I'm telling you we're not going to do anything right now.  Tomorrow's a holiday, Teresa.  Everything'll be shut.  What else do you want me to say?"

"Yeah.  OK.  All right.  Just remember it's there.  You know best, of course.  You've got some others though.  Elisandro, papers and stuff.  The funding bodies, all the usual.  He said you'd know.  I don't know.  Well.  You'll know, I'm sure."

"All the usual, yes.  I do know about all the usual.  I do know that."  He put out his cigarette in the ashtray on the counter.

"Oh," she then added, "Paco's called, he says the papers for the tax return, everything and all, well, it's time to get it up and running.  He doesn't want what happened last year to happen again - if you remember what happened.  So if you can ... if you can go over later and talk to him ..."


"I don't know.  He told me he was going to be there until about ten.  I mean, what he said is he didn't want what happened last year to happen again.  But it's your shout, isn't it?  I mean, if you want to leave it till Monday, well, next week is what I'm saying ..."

Salvador left the call book on top of the Canon and lit another Winston.  He saw the diary that was next to it.

"Lovely diary."

"A gift."


"The translators."


"Well.  Actually, if truth be told, it's actually for you, but since you've already got one for next year ... you do have one, don't you?"

"So you thought you'd take advantage of the opportunity, eh?"

"Well, I mean you ..."

"Oh it doesn't matter, Teresa, it doesn't matter.  You can make use of it, right?"

"Well ..."

"Right."  For a moment, he looked at one of the books on the bookshelf next to the desk - and then at none of the books.  He took out another cigarette and lit it.  "OK, Teresa.  That all then?"

"If you can sign these cheques here ..."

"Give me the list and I'll see what I can do.  If you don't need me any more, I'm going to my office."  He opened the door to the passage.

"Hey, Salvador, I completely forgot," whispered Teresa, with a sudden movement as she closed the door and, finding herself too close to her boss, suddenly aware of his alcohol, his tobacco and his day's work, as well as the work he hadn't done; and then perhaps also something different, something impossible to define, something - perhaps - yet to define.

"What did you completely forget?" said Salvador.

"Julian's here."




"He's been here for almost an hour."

"Almost an hour?"

"I told him you were coming.  I mean, because of the cheques.  I mean, I didn't say anything specific, of course.  But he imagined, I'm sure."

"You told him I was coming but in fact he imagined it?  Right.  OK.  Brilliant.  And why the fuck did you tell him that?  I mean, exactly today.  I can see it now.  I've got this to deal with now till it's time for bedtime stories - and pretty damn late ones at that."

"I don't think so."

"You don't think so?"

"Honestly, no."

"And how come you suddenly know so much about Julian?"

"He's here with his wife.·

"Fuckity fuck.  What I really needed.  Cheers, Teresa.  Thanks a bunch.  You've certainly outdone yourself this evening.  But mightily.  Oh fuck."

And all of a sudden they could hear footsteps on the other side of the door.  And he knew he had no alternative but to stay and speak, and even sign - sign, that is, if yet another moment of no alternative should yet again present itself.


Four hours later, he stepped out onto the street and breathed the air with gratitude, and looked across the small square, and saw that the B_____ (a bar of allegedly German extraction) was still open.  It was a long and narrow bar, with a big and revealing window looking onto the square.  He could see a young woman sitting inside.  She had long straight hair, blonde highlights in fact.  She was sitting next to the window, the glass a little steamed up, the owner of the bar already clearing away as he looked up at the television on the wall and at his watch; she wasn't though, she looked elsewhere: she was looking at some personal place, some place her own, interior, private, just a Coca-Cola in front of her - and now he could see some pistachios or peanuts on a small white plate, almost translucent it was, she'd clearly been waiting for a while.

He reached the other side of the square and entered the bar with decision.

"Hello Salvador."

"Ana!  Anita!  But what are you doing here?  Waiting for me, I bet.  Really so?  Are you really still waiting for me?"

"I ask myself the same question, Salvador.  I ask myself the same question."

"Hey, Freddy.  Time for a cubata?"

"I figure we do, Salva.  I figure we do.  I've got my wife with the mother-in-law until Sunday.  Guess I really don't know have anything else to do."

"Thanks muchly, Freddy.  Thanks very muchly!"

He took out his Winstons and offered her one.  Whilst she took it by one end, she looked at him fixedly, pressing her lips together and shaking her head.

"You've certainly taken your time this evening."

"Yeah.  I know.  I know.  Oh fuck.  What do you want me to say?  All this holiday stuff, I get so damn anxious.  People behave like idiots.  Damn fool idiots.  I really can't deal with it.  One day, it's going to do me in."  He looked up at the ceiling for half a pregnant minute, then looked back down.  Then he continued his little speech, now with a certain tone of complicity.  "I've been so damn busy.  With that damn fool José Luis all afternoon.  His machines couldn't read my diskettes properly.  He had to call Barcelona to ask some idiot of an IT guy - what's more, using my mobile phone to do so!  The sons-of-a-bitch have billed me three times, you know?  Three times for these shitty invoices.  Thanks Freddy."

"Don't mention it, mate.  Don't mention it."

"What do you want?" Salvador asked Ana.

"I'll have another Coca-Cola, I think," she answered, "I think ..."

"Well, that's another Coca-Cola, Freddy - do you hear me?  With the usual.  You know what I mean."

"Okey dokey, Salva.  Let me clear all this away."  He came out from behind the counter and looked at Ana for a moment whilst he cleaned the table.  "I'll bring it right over."

"Thanks, Freddy," Ana answered, now much calmer.  "Although I'm not absolutely sure if it's a good idea.  She looked back at Salvador.  "Got to get up early tomorrow.  You remember?"

"Right.  Right.  Yep.  I remember.  Fuck.  Jesus."  He stretched out his cigarette lighter.  Then all of a sudden, they both realised he was unable to maintain his hand steady - it trembled as if he was in the grip of a terrible, perhaps supernatural, cold.  It was a short moment, like so many others which people are so often ignorant of on a daily and generally insignificant basis - and yet, for them both, it proved a revelatory understanding fully shared like perhaps no other in their short acquaintance.

And if, at the time, an observer had been able to ask either of them to evaluate its proper meaning, neither of them would have known how to express themselves with a relevant or useful accuracy.

"Three damn times.  Once, for the computer program which they say we need to get the invoices onto their systems, and even then they give it us in Catalan.  Twice, because in the end they had to type it in manually, since their fucking computers don't work with the fucking program his Catalan-speaking IT friends choose to distribute.  And three times, for the telephone call.  So you can just imagine the scene.  Me and him, 'clickety click' on the computer.  Typing in the data with two fingers.  Me doing half the job.  And him billing me for the honour."  He exhaled slowly.  "So you can see, can't you?  You can see why I'm so damn anxious.  And a holiday tomorrow ..." he raised his hand "... and this is where I've finally ended up.  And my people won't get a peseta until Monday or Tuesday and they're going to rip into me - really rip into me.  All when, really, it's got nothing to do with me.  All I do is pay, you know?  All I do is pay ..."

He took a sip of his cubata and exhaled once more.

"Oh dear," responded Ana finally.  "I didn't realise.  Looks like things are getting a little complicated for you."

"Well," he half-smiled, "I'll think of something.  What do you want me to say?  The more you work for these people, the more they want to fuck you."  He looked at her with an air of confidence, he gently tipped his head to one side, he moved towards her, and he started, once more, to gain her complicity, to win over the opposition ... in this case, a young woman, earlier that evening a man old beyond his years, looking for retirement, looking for release.  It didn't matter who or when or why he had to do it; all that mattered was that he still could, that he still might convince with his words and the whispering sound of his certainties, the wily hints dropped cleverly, the rumours, the gossip, and the silence also - also the silence, that moment so empty and useless for some which, nevertheless, in his hands, in the right hands, could prove so powerful and devastating.


Freddy closed up shop at around half past one in the morning.  Salvador offered to take Ana home.  It was a dark night and there were few people out on the street.  It was sensible to offer and it was sensible to accept.

She accepted.