The sun at her back

(Version of the story Amb el sol a l'esquena, from the book Mateu)

"I will be away for a few days. It will be safer if you do not call me”, he’d said. And he’d added, after stroking her face with two fingers: “I will see you on Wednesday at seven."

   She hasn’t heard from him since. Has something terrible happened to him? Did he grow tired of her? Did she mishear what he said? Around all these questions, she has organised her wanderings about the city.

   During the first week she waited. The second one, she only sent two text messages to his mobile. Up to now she has only had the courage –cowardliness- not to call him.

   She has made herself not tell anyone, to not share it with any girlfriend. And she feels like fainting any time she listens to a tango or a bolero that had made her burst out laughing before. She cannot listen to the little love songs on the radio because they all speak of her.

   She makes an effort not to be melodramatic. The last text message she’d sent him read "Choose one word: Hello or goodbye." She then added another one: "Stand-by".

   What she would give to see his face when he read her messages! She could cope with lying, clandestinity, dependence, but a death certificate would be much better than this comma state sustained in memories. Ten times a day, when these words come to her mind –death certificate- her eyes got wet.

   What had started as an undeserved prize had become an abusive punishment. She cannot get used to the agony as she could not get used to the miracle before.

   She now knows the infinite disposition of the lover, and she is awaiting it with such intensity that she cannot do- cannot conceive of- anything but to wait.

   She spends the hours waiting. Without him she is alone, even if she has company: She has stopped going to college, she avoids her girlfriends. She is losing the little she had before meeting him. She lonesomely transits looking for the best coverage at all times.

   After having shared an hour with him, she would spend two hours remembering him, and two more anticipating the next time they would be together. After that, had he not, in the meantime, given any signs of life, she would start feeling anxious.

   She was not enough of an optimist to imagine they would end up together, but not enough of a pessimist either to foresee it could end so soon, so abruptly, without warning. She still didn’t understand that it had begun and had already ended.

   Before meeting him she felt there was something missing. Now she knows exactly what it is she misses. She knows the hands, the body, the phone number, the address and that of his clinic, the car, the wife and the kids.

   She carries the mobile in her hand for hours. After checking he has not sent any message, she is drenched in disdain and makes up her mind not to see him again. But this lasts some seconds. She would forgive him for everything if he called. Happiness would make remorse and the amending purpose unnecessary.

   He is fourteen years older, but one would have to be insensible not to fall in love with him. He has blinded her, which is a way of saying she doesn’t understand him: There is too much brightness to see properly.

   She is still not sure of whether she had a better life before. She ignores the possibility that she will be able to get used to living without him. What worries her most is that at any moment the mobile could ring and every piece would fall back where it belongs.

   Pushed aside as if she were a nuisance, evicted with no explanation, drawn to an announced eclipse, she feels she is watching one of those films that one only knows have finished when they see the parade of the credits.

   She wanders along the streets like a character in a soap opera that had missed one of the chapters. She goes through, again and again, every one of their meetings. Had she done something wrong? Had he been trapped in an abyss?

   The argument not to leave everything behind and move in with her was that he did not trust his wife to raise their children. But one day he let out a phrase that stuck in the folds of her memory: "I do not wish to change domesticity."

   In a few seconds, since the moment in which the mobile rings until she checks that, one more time, it is anyone but him, she covers the whole spectrum ranging from hope to desolation.

   "You have a profile that would make a blind man fall," he used to say. And she would melt, but not like ice but like a candle.

   As a kid she had a dog. It lived on the living room balcony. When she’d pass in front of him the dog would stare at her with humid eyes, and an elemental plea could be read in them. The dog’s life was all about waiting at the mercy of the elements for someone to take him out. Like her.

   They decided they had no rights towards one another, so they could impose no obligation. Now, though, she is suffering from the lover’s syndrome: The feeling she is only given the breadcrumbs on the table. But it is better to be a lover than nothing, than not knowing if one is anything.

   He has turned her world upside down and her too. And, all in all, she continues making the effort to send him messages that are supposed to be far from pathetic: "I won’t speak of me, but I have to tell you my mobile suffers from anxiety attacks."

   During the imaginary conversation she has with herself, a question with no answer arises: Are we responsible for our dreams? She meets him again in the details: The jacket in a shop window, the tanned skin of a man lighting a cigarette, an actor’s gesture in a TV rescreening, in a pair of shoes fleetingly disappearing round a corner.

   Living ends up being the running of trivial errands while waiting for his return, remembering the days that run through one’s fingers as if they were sand. She feels like a desert, in the dark, waiting for the rain.

   She turns her mobile on vibration mode, but she is frightened at every moment. Will she ever stop waiting for him?

   She is still convalescent from the mirage. The first day they showered together, she almost fainted. She felt like a goddess and she would now exchange her situation with any beggar. She has stopped going to the hairdresser’s because she cannot stand facing a mirror.

   Located exactly beneath the lungs, she has learnt to place the organ segregating the yearning, a yearning filling her body so that she hardly needs to eat anything.

   She was ready to assume an intermittent and clandestine relationship, to learn counter-espionage techniques, to fear a dramatic ending, but she was not prepared for this deflation. She could handle anything but uncertainty.

   The worst is thinking he does not know her, because if he did, he would know how much this silence is hurting her. But, does she understand him? If she knew him, she would know why he is silent. She is imagining horrible scenes all the time.

   She knew it was impossible to keep that relationship indefinitely, but she had not foreseen that the beginning would lead directly to the ending. Or is the right to a middle not recognised anywhere?

   He could make her happy with so little effort: It would be enough to key in a couple of intimate words of the vocabulary they had both crystallised in a few instants outside the world. In the meantime, she loses her sunglasses, breaks a cup, forgets about an appointment and burns her dinner.

   In the beginning she took it sportingly, like a game of patience: She throws the ball and it can take days to get it back. But, of course, she doesn’t get any sleep in these days, where is the sporting spirit?

   "The last time I felt so good with somebody," he had the cheek to tell her, "I married her."

   The day they’d met, when she was lying waiting for the dental check-up and he came in –tall, with an overcoat and his eyes lit above the mask- he looked at her like an island that sees an arriving wreck.

   She recalls the six meetings they’ve had looking for signs of distancing. She walks along the streets they shared, she recovers sentences he pronounced and looks for the hidden turns, the warnings, the consequences.

   In the beginning, everything was flowing with no barriers, as if they had excavated an unsuspected tunnel. He would call to greet her good morning or to tell her he missed her. He’s filled her, he’s emptied her. The rest is shadow.

   "I have offered you everything I had to offer, which isn’t much." Was it nice, now that she thinks of it, that he said so? And, above all: Was it farewell?

   After her dental check-up, she does not even remember how she got home. Maybe levitating.

   In the beginning, she would cheat the hours reading what poets had written for her, she would buy lipstick, she would put on colourful trainers she had been given a year earlier, she would go though the mental anthology of the best memories, she would tell the neighbours’ cat the whole truth, she would linger on looking at the clouds passing by and every now and then she managed to live as if nothing happened.

   A gesture from him: Reaching out with his hand and flattening the wrinkles on her forehead.

   When she is about to send him a text message she tells herself it will be the last, but it doesn’t take long before she thinks of a more convincing one, more tender. After that, every call she received is a smile disappearing.

   He has neatly cut through the wounds, like a laser beam, and now everything reminds her of him: The movies they had talked about, the food they had shared, the music they listened to, the mobile, the moon, the clothes he took off from her, every one of the places they saw together.

   She was exhausted travelling around extremes unknown to her. Is it petty to long for the former ashes? Are thanks not due the cousin that had recommended her the new dentist?

   Why? Why? Why? – she writes across a napkin where the ink gets blurred.

   It is not that she feels his presence but he accompanies her anywhere she goes. When she gets somewhere she wonders whether he would like it, when she talks to someone she imagines what he would say. And, despite it all, she doesn’t dare admit she doesn’t talk to herself on the street.

   She had told him she loved him three times. All three on the day of their first date.

   On the one hand, she needs to forget this anxiety, this inability to concentrate on anything that is a memory of him, the wanting of him. On the other, she cannot see herself going back to what she used to do: Watering flowers, baking cakes, shopping for clothes, reading papers, going dancing, having tea.

   She has nothing from him. Maybe she could feel good caressing any given object, small enough to carry in her pocket. She hopes that, when touching it, she could think of the object and, for an instant, she could forget him.

   Maybe the worst thing is not his ignoring her, but his doing so after knowing only her bright side, without the many defects she has made an effort to spare him.

   She does not remember that amidst the white nights, her eyes open in the darkness; she is determined to forget him.

   She has a fantasy four or five times a day. They travel by boat, they deviate from the route, wreckage, everyone dies but the two of them (there is no mercy in the fantasies). They look for them, think they have died, cry for them, forget them. They get to an island. The boat had infinite boxes of hats, bras, manuals for wrecks, graduated diving glasses, fast-growing seeds, lemonade... They live a brief and intense life on the island. Before any symptoms of effective tiredness they die, in a rapid manner, together until the end. If there was anything beyond, they go there together.

   "I have much more to lose," he told her one day. How does one calculate this?

   There is data missing. She recalls the last hours they spent together. They walked without saying anything: she analyses gestures, silences, looks. She walks with such concentration that sometimes she stumbles on the sidewalk or into a light. But if during her walks she lets herself be absorbed by a street scene and forgets about him, she then feels sorry.

   Even if the nice weather has arrived, she only feels secure inside the coat she was wearing the first time he kissed her.

   With him, her world disappeared. She thinks of him all day, every day. She used to close her eyes and see him. Now, she can see him with her eyes open. Why let it languish in this silence, so sordid and eloquent? "Let’s meet tomorrow, now," she has just written in a spur, "any day might be the last day."

   For a moment she envies his capability to do without her, to leave her like some item of merchandising that is no longer appealing, as when someone switches off the kitchen light not to see the table laid and the dishes to be washed. Then she thinks about it again, maybe he is on a trip, because he is sick, by an unfortunate mishap. There are moments in which she falls for the most tragic hypothesis. She then feels vile and undeserving of him.

   She feels like a wetback lost at the border at sunrise. What border though?

   She has no model, she follows no programme. She only aspires to sleep, not to feel weak, to stop thinking of him, to fall out of love, to reintegrate, to be back to being social. Then she feels infamous and selfish. It is not long before she feels invaded by a wave of generosity and sacrifice: May he find the happiness he deserves, even if it be without her.

   She misses him so much that she dreads that all this accummulated energy –such a pity- could turn into hostility. Disillusion takes her away.

   She extended her days on the floor, like an immitation jewellery seller. "They are all yours", she said. Then he would take out his diary and they arranged to meet at some little hotel.

   She resists calling him. Why? Maybe to prove to herself a control she doesn’t have. Maybe to spare him a family scene. Maybe to prolong the pain, or not to learn the truth. Maybe –she confesses herself- because she finds this suffering, this pain of searching for a handkerchief in her pockets on the streets is something romantic.

   And not only in boleros and tangos, she also thinks of him when she hears a pop song, an opera, a string quartet, a waltz.

   She is convinced that love excludes pride. When she feels distracted, deceived, hurt, repudiated by him, she despises herself for the lack of strength in her feelings.

   Wherever she goes, she goes with him and she talks to him often, she argues with him, jokes. She lets him convince her with his arguments, she argues in advance, counterattacks. She constructs imaginary conversations made by memories and intuitions while he behaves as an invisible friend that did not miss anyone as an infant.

   Disney Paris, ten years earlier. With her father, they made themselves comfortable in a carriage and put on their seatbelts. In a few seconds they were running a hundred kilometres per hour on railings that were taking unforeseen directions. What had impressed her most was they were in the dark. Without warning, they would turn, go down scarily, turn again, a slow going up that would end up in a free descent. All of a sudden, the wagon stopped, the lights went on and they came out. Like now.

   When she enters the street she is assaulted by the certainty he will never call again.

   She has thought so hard of her situation that she could talk about it with the fluency and precision of a Shakespearian character. If she had someone to tell.

   Suddenly she rages and the softest adjective coming to her mind is "capricious". Maybe it is better to use a scalpel than using up all the hypothesis of melancholy.

   The best moments of the day arrive when she imagines instant reconciliations, complete, glorious: All of a sudden he hugs her from behind or covers her eyes and whispers any sentence that makes her laugh. She guesses his name, turns around and watches that scene, as if she were the audience of a film, the camera turning slowly around them while they hug with close eyes. Reconciliation usually takes place in public spots: Enraptured by the prolonged contact, they can see no one but everyone is looking at them. It all turns into a public ceremony in which they stop being lovers and they finally turn into a happily visible couple.

   Like the snakes that swallow a whole lamb and digest it slowly, is how she feels: With the perspective of a long digestion.

   Yes, there is no doubt he has had an accident.

   Silence could be one way to say goodbye. Is this thinking a Stockholm syndrome?

   "When I got home, my wife performed an interrogation," he had said the day after the first. Was it not cruel to add he would have deceived by her had she not noticed anything?

   She almost smiles for a moment: She will have to look for another dentist.

   She finds it more difficult everyday to escape from self-pity: She is pleased to see herself as the character in a novel. Is she to thank him for this too?

   What if he doesn’t come back? The danger is not to forget him but to make him up.

   Then, before crossing the street, she sees him walking on the other sidewalk, a girl next to him, laughing in slow motion in a cloud of promises, as if they were the protagonist of an ad for insurance. She shivers. She feels the sun at her back and hugs herself so as not to fall.