The bus trip

I used to take the number 28 bus in Plaça de Catalunya, outside the Catalònia bookshop. I was beginning to get interested in literature, and more than once that window had made me late for a date with my girl, who used to wait for me on the steps of Plaça Salvador Allende.

© Swasky

A few days ago I had to tidy up all the odds and ends I had accumulated at home over the last 20 or 30 years. Goodness knows how long it had been since I last got round to seriously sorting out stuff — by seriously I mean intending to get rid of old things, useless objects, junk — that could be salvaged in different filing boxes, which the inertia of life had led to populate the top of a wardrobe. Seven filing boxes, more specifically, full of papers.

I opened one at random. The dust brought on a fit of coughing: they were supplements of books collected without rhyme or reason, and which were immediately doomed to an irrevocable fate: the wastepaper bin. The same lot was dispensed to the two boxes on either side of it: one containing hundreds of articles culled from five or six newspapers over the last few years (mainly political articles, which were now as outdated as the paper they were printed on) and a third that contained typed work from my university days. This would all go straight to the blue refuse container. Not for one moment did it cross my mind that this bin was intended for paper and cardboard only, and not dust-caked jackets.

It was not until I was into the last filing box, when I no longer harboured any hope of finding anything of worth, of pardoning any piece of paper that might help me to write a semblance of an article about things that fall inexorably into oblivion, that I found a wad of letters dated 1986. They were all written by the same hand. They all bore the same return address: M.M.V. Santuaris, 55. Barcelona.

There was no postcode. María’s full name was not there: María Mora Vicente. Those three initials were sufficient reminder. I hadn’t heard from her for twenty-odd years. I hadn’t thought about María for a long time.

I used to take the number 28 bus, in Plaça de Catalunya, outside the Catalònia bookshop. It was about the time when I was beginning to get interested in literature, and more than once that window, full of novelties that made my mouth water, had made me late for a date with my girl, who used to wait for me on the deserted steps of Plaça Salvador Allende. The number 28 departed from Plaça de Catalunya and went up Passeig de Gràcia and Gran de Gràcia. I remember a tailor’s shop but the name escapes me. Now I see the shadows cast by the trees in the Jardinets. The poet Salvador Espriu had died not long before in one of the flats that looked out onto the square and avenue. The city had just been awarded the Olympic Games and was high on optimism. Our bus had stopped continually until it reached Plaça de Lesseps: traffic lights, double-parked cars, a tapering street. However the traffic was smoother after Lesseps. The passengers that lived in Gràcia got off there, and only people headed for the outskirts, where the city practically lost its name, were still on the bus. I remember the impression of leaving the stately and skilled workers’ area of Barcelona as I slowly delved into a much more working-class city.

I have been tempted to go back up to the El Carmel district on that bus, but I don’t know if it is still the same number. In fact, I have come expressly from my own city; I have travelled the 45 kilometres to Barcelona and parked in Plaça d’Urquinaona. Oftentimes, as the journey took 40 minutes, I used to read a book to keep myself busy and stave off the queasiness I felt at going to see María and embracing her. For example, I spent two or three of those journeys reading Ferdydurke, by Witold Gombrowicz. It was also with great delight that I perused the intimacies of The Beautiful Summer, by Cesare Pavese. The young man playing guitar in a corner, pretending not to hear the girls, that disdainful young man was yours truly. On the way up the Avinguda de l’Hospital Militar, I felt that the worst part was behind me. As of now there would be fewer interruptions. Having crossed Vallcarca bridge, I started to get butterflies, feel a longing. Would María be there waiting for me? There were some handsome turn-of-the-century houses, and, a little further on up the road, blocks of flats built in the late sixties, in a depressing iron and cement colour. The city had changed totally. The shops were of the poor-neighbourhood kind, with windows exhibiting outmoded fabrics and objects that had never been blessed by the hand of design. The bars had Spanish names, and even the posters were sponsored by breweries that were not among the best-known ones in the city centre. Finally, around the last corner, loomed the square, with its grey steps, brightened solely by María’s colours and presence. On seeing me she smiled and waved. Those streets did not feature in any guide, but I had felt at home there for years.

I didn’t buy a bus ticket to visit El Carmel again, twenty-odd years on. I preferred to go the opposite direction. I decided to walk to Carrer Marina and then on down to the sea. The Agbar Tower wasn’t there at the time. Tons of buildings have flown up in no time! I had also strolled through the port area with María on the occasional Sunday. Who knows where that El Carmel, that port, that María, are now? I can hardly recognise this Barcelona with its new facilities and amenities. I know that for some time, when we were no longer going out, she was very ill. I think it was just after the Olympic Games, though I’m not exactly sure. I vaguely remember. I recall thinking: everyone in Barcelona is brimming over with passion and happiness, except her, confined to bed.

Anyway, far too long ago. I got to thinking about her again a few years ago, when there was that big tunnel collapse in El Carmel. But I never called her. The most vulnerable always get the worst of everything. And I have walked out of the life of some people through the back door. I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll ever return to that neighbourhood. Being unable to feel even sadness would hurt.

Jordi Llavina


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *