My friends never had to go along when their mothers went to Barcelona, as if we weren’t already in Barcelona.
“Get ready, we’ve got some errands to run in the centre!” said Mum. Going to the centre was like, I dunno, like going on an excursion, because we’re from El Clot, which is like a city even though it’s not a city. And when Mum told us to “get ready”, it meant we could kiss our flat goodbye for the rest of the day, as we wouldn’t get back until well after nightfall. That was one of the things I liked the most about El Clot, and also one of the things I liked the least about El Clot: a whole summer’s day wasted in the city centre when everything I wanted to do was in our neighbourhood. The things I wanted to do in our neighbourhood were the kinds of things my friends could do because they never had to go along when their mothers went to Barcelona, as if we weren’t already in Barcelona. Things like going to flats where old ladies lived to ask if they needed help, because they almost always did and would give us a bit of money for it. That was like starting the day all over again, because we could buy things we needed, urgent things like cigarettes.
Nobody in the neighbourhood wanted to sell us fags. Everybody knew our parents and also knew full well that if our parents asked us about it we’d rat them out in a second. But we had a friend – well, less than a friend because we only ever spoke to him about fags – and this friend would take our brass, as he called it, and buy a whole packet, with interest, as he’d say.
That’s why I got so cross that day Mum upped and told us to “get ready”. It was summer. Our friend was on holiday and had told us he wouldn’t be back until late August, the 27th to be precise. And it was 27 August. We hadn’t smoked those hot months because people still weren’t selling us any cigarettes, not a one! Now I can understand not selling us a packet, but a measly fag, a one-off? No takers. That summer we hardly helped out any old ladies. And whenever we found one in the street who asked us to do something, we’d go and spend the money on ice cream. That wasn’t so bad, but what we really, urgently needed to do was smoke. If anything worked out at all, everyone but me would get to smoke. It was so unfair, because some of them nicked fags from home and no one in my house smoked. It’s unusual for a dad not to smoke, but mine didn’t.
I tried asking every way I could not to go with her, and Mum insisted every way she could that I would go, and I said I hated the neighbourhood. “I hate the neighbourhood!”; because it was always the same story, she was always going on about the centre as if El Clot wasn’t good enough, as if El Clot sucked. “El Clot sucks!” Mum’s slap stung so much that I lost the desire to smoke, eat ice cream and take advantage of those poor old ladies. I got dressed without a word. It was better that way, because Mum angry is a right nasty thing.
When I stepped outside she was there waiting, chatting with a neighbour. I then realised that my sister wasn’t with us – she’d stayed behind with friends. I began grumbling, until Mum turned and gave me a look like she was ready to let me have it right there in the street. Like I said before, she’s right nasty when she gets angry. So I kept my lip buttoned. They tell me I look better that way. After we’d been walking for twenty minutes, Mum stopped and leaned against a wall, like she’d been overcome by the heat. Then I said, without looking at her, trying to help her or paying her any mind, “That’s the way it goes when you live in El Clot but want to be like those from the city centre. That’s right, that’s what I think, that we shop there to be more like them, so they won’t notice we’re village folk, because that’s exactly what we look like.” And Mum said, “That’s the way it goes for fools like us.”