Illustration © Sonia Alins

1. At the crack of dawn, when I go out on my motorbike, a long tailback forms at the exit to my town, between the Citroën garage and the motorway’s incline, but it doesn’t affect me: I drive on the hard shoulder. At that time of the morning it’s so cold on the road, covered by the fog and dew that come off the river, that before leaving the car park I have to put two pairs of trousers on. Cargo pants on top, and another casual pair of slim-line trousers underneath.

I’m twenty-one years old. Part-time apprentice in a printing workshop on Provença street. To get back and forth I use my new Vespa. Sometimes, not every time, a thick blanket of medieval fog engulfs the route, and on those days I drive slower, squint my eyes, lean over the mileage indicator, almost scraping it with my chin, and concentrate on the road. I breathe in the mist that clings to my scarf that I wear up over my nose. Cotton and my hot breath, petrol with burned engine oil, wind drenched from the Llobregat river.

I drive so slowly that it gives me time to make out the sleepy faces of some drivers, caught between the reed beds and industrial estates. Staring in front of them, waiting for their turn, like lemmings. Sometimes I spot my father, stuck in a tailback with his black Seat Ronda, on his way to work. Winter days are pitch black. When I see him, two or three cars before getting to him, I slow down until I pull up next to him. I put the Vespa in neutral, hit his window with my knuckles, he turns around, without getting startled, sees me, greets me, I smile at him and say hello.

I put the bike in first gear and continue on my way. The road clears, of cars and of fog too, just after the ascent. The cold continues until I reach the Gran Via thoroughfare. By then the sun has begun to rise.

I don’t usually drive very fast. I’m not a brave guy, and the Vespa doesn’t go any faster.

My old Lambretta didn’t go that fast either. It was a public hazard. One of the side skid plates used to come off and be fired at full speed, almost twenty inches of hard metal that miraculously didn’t decapitate anyone. It was pretty hard to start the engine, you had to tilt the motorbike towards you, adjust the position of the fuel nozzle, push the choke lever, wiggle it as if it were your dance partner and you were in the middle of a tango contest, then put it back in place, on the stand, and kick the starter pedal four or five times, no movement, admit that it was not going to start that way, put the nozzle back in its original position, close the nozzle, turn the choke off, then give it full gas, step on the starter pedal again to flush out the petrol that, like green phlegm, had been lodged in the spark plug. Then it started. Or not. It depended on the day, really.

I crashed the Lambretta against a parked car, at about three in the morning, one spring night. The next morning I told everyone, at the Kolakao bar, where we would always go, that I had lost control of the scooter when taking a bend, but it was another one of my sophistries. Anyone who had seen me on my motorbike knew that I would take bends stiffer and more upright than El Cid when they tied his lifeless corpse astride his horse.

I was ashamed to confess that I was driving in a straight line from the beginning of the road. “Straight line” is a manner of speaking: I was actually zigzagging from side to side. Apparently, I was at that point of drunkenness where you are lucid enough to start the motorbike and get moving without collapsing instantly, but not quite so lucid as to realise that what you are doing is absurd, and to top it all off you see double.

To fix the double vision I put on my glasses. They were sunglasses.

2. The night I crashed the Lambretta I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I don’t know if it was because it wasn’t yet mandatory at the time or because I had reached that inebriated state of absolute disdain for the laws that govern our society.

I had just left a girl at home, in the neighbourhood of Ciudad Cooperativa, who I had smooched and fondled. We had arrived home from the festivities in Colonia Güell. The girl was beautiful, although her face was flat and round like a hand-held fan. That night she was wearing red high-waisted jeans, shoes with a Doc Martens sole and a children’s buckle, with no socks.

The girl had an awful name whose diminutive didn’t even sound nice. When I called her on her landline, her mother roared the girl’s full name, the one that appeared in the family register, from one end of the flat to the other. She answered with her grating voice. There was something undefined in her diction that disgusted me, if only a little. A c that was too fluid, an n close to the sound of the ñ; I don’t remember the offence, just me cringing.

For many years I’ve told this story saying that the night I crashed the Lambretta I had been cheating on my official girlfriend. Maybe I told it that way because the double entendre made me look like an international playboy. Perhaps I told it that way because believing in the existence of divine punishment (the motorcycle bashing) for my sins (adultery) was the logical conclusion of my Catholic education.

Today, at forty-eight years old, I still don’t know what that girl was. But I know there was no divine punishment. That I had spent so much time sticking my hand down her trousers, from behind, until I got to the bottom of her pubis bone, my hand covering the curve of her buttocks, my palm squashed between the fabric of her trousers and the flesh of her bum, trying to get to her genitals, had nothing to do with the subsequent incident.

I crashed, plain and simple, because I was riding a motorbike in third gear down a narrow street, wearing sunglasses, at three in the morning, with no helmet and drunk.

As if I wanted to crash, come on.

3. It all happened in a flash. One moment I was on the Lambretta, my hair dishevelled, the wind in the face, singing “Gate 49”:

When I’m away I think of you
(a-ha-a-ha) ...

And at the next a-ha I was already in the middle of La Plana street. Laughing to myself. The motorbike wasn’t between my legs, and I was sitting on the ground. I didn’t remember sitting up, although it was clear I had done so, because being shot off a vehicle and landing on your backside only happens in Harold Lloyd’s short films.

I could see the motorbike, over sixteen feet further back. Lying on its side, like a dead mule. Under the glow of a lamppost I could tell that the front fender had disappeared. The handlebar was bent at a strange angle, it looked like the motorbike was turning round to see who was shouting its name. It was also missing half of the bodywork at the front, and the headlight had gone out. I kept laughing, seeing the bike there in that weird pose. It looked like a Maja depicted by Goya, only with two wheels, coloured red, and with one eye.

The Maja with the eye. I roared with laughter. I was really hammered, more than I imagined, and suddenly everything seemed so amusing to me.

A car stopped. The front doors opened and two people got out. I squinted. I tried to put on my face of humble sobriety, in case it was the police. It wasn’t. I recognised them. They had been in my class in secondary school, a guy and a girl, half hippies half progressives, all chiffon scarves and good intentions. I had never looked at them with disapproval, but not with approval either, the truth be told. In my order of the world they didn’t even make an appearance, like insignificant towns on road maps.

But it turned out that they did exist after all. They were there, helping me stand up, while I kept laughing, trying to play down the situation, as if crashing into parked cars at about 25 miles an hour was a hobby of mine.

I remember thinking (the next day) that there was something biblical that two people who were, in the grand tragic opera of my life, like two extras holding trays at one end of the stage, were precisely the good Samaritans who came to my rescue in my hours of need.

There was a lesson there, which of course I forgot within a few hours, when I sobered up.

We have to bring you to hospital, Kiko, man, one of them piped up.

Why, if nothing hurts, I muttered. And it was true. I’m fucking great, I exclaimed. I didn’t call the hippie by his name because I had never bothered to remember it.

He pointed to my face, saying that maybe I had hit my head.

I got scared and calmed down at the same time. I told myself: let’s see, if I had taken such a bashing that people would look away on public transport, the guy wouldn’t be telling me this so calmly. He would have looked panicked and nauseous as he started searching for bits of my nose on the ground.

And yet, the truth is that I had hit my head; maybe the damage was not visible.

I touched my forehead, looked at my fingers, there was blood but not much, at least it wasn’t dripping; I assumed that was good. I agreed to go with them, almost as I were doing them a big favour, and I kept joking all the way to the outpatient clinic.

Once there, the doctors examined me for a while, they must have done an x-ray, I don’t remember. The hippies left. The doctor on duty put iodine on my forehead and on my nose. It stung. I wrinkled my nose, let out an issshh between my teeth. He didn’t give me stitches, because I didn’t need any, he said, when I asked him. I looked in the mirror and part of my face was scraped like a grated lemon. A cut separated the bridge of my nose in two. As for my mind, he said, if I was fit to be tied (something that was obvious), it wasn’t the fault of the accident.

Just kidding, he didn’t say that.

4. When the doctor finished treating me, I decided to phone home. I gave everyone the fright of their life. My father arrived at the outpatient clinic after half an hour. I had just starting sobbing, as if guessing in which act of the operetta the distressed father was going to make his entrance, and when he stood in the hospital hall I was still in tears.

By then I was sitting on the floor of the waiting room with my arms straight on my knees, my head down, quite an Emilio Estevez pose, I don’t know what story I was fucking making up in my head, editing one scene and another to fit in with the new narrative. One that was somewhat less pitiful and sad, which would sound better at the bar, the next day.

I was sorry, yes, but I was also quite enjoying feeling sorry. I had had something bitter and hard inside me for several years that hadn’t disappeared, like a pill you try to dissolve in water that’s too cold. If I think about it now, I realise that I was glad that at least something had happened to me. Whatever it was.

You know that you are in pretty poor spirits when an accident lights up your heart.

My father saw me, sitting there on the floor, in that (studied) half-pitiful half-manly pose, and was about to burst into tears too. I know because his chin and his collarbone were trembling. I noticed when he hugged me. He thumped my back several times. If I had had cracked ribs he would have ended up breaking them all. My father was strong. He still is.

The next morning, in the middle of Sunday lunch, my father confessed that in the outpatient clinic, seeing me, his lower lip had started to quiver. He said it like that, with a faint disdain in his voice, playing down what had happened, his confusion and panic, last night’s fright.

We didn’t talk about it again. That’s how it was at that time. Your firstborn goes on an unforgettable drinking binge, gets on his motorbike plastered, at twenty-one, and the incident is confined to the most hidden chest in the storage room of family history. Nobody talks about it, nobody asks any questions, nobody says it aloud, standing up between the first and second course, spilling a glass of wine in the process, what the hell is going on with the child, what can we do to help him, why is he moping around looking so glum, why does he want to ruin everything, why is he carrying something hard and bitter in his chest that there is no way of getting rid of, why does he spend his time wanting to beat people up, full of hate and fear, why does he talk like that, as if he didn’t love anyone in his family anymore. As if nothing mattered to him.

5. At nine o’clock at night I went back to Sant Boi. I took the motorway exit just after Carrefour and headed uphill to the flyover. When I got there, I saw the road, marked with a parapet of lampposts on each side. On the left was the roadside café where my family had celebrated my first communion lunch. A sandy car park and prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce; me in shorts and my hair parted to the side, a gold pendant around my neck.

To the right of the restaurant are neglected fields, mulberry leaves covered with dry powder, an abandoned farmhouse. In the background, the hill of Sant Ramon, with the chapel on top, only stands out as a piece of elevated land darker than the sky. It’s our lighthouse, that of the entire delta, and at night the lights are turned off. Shelve your dreams, buddy.

This is one of the few good times of the day, so I try to be aware of it. My hands, tucked into summer motorcycle gloves, with the fingers cut out, another absurd affectation with no reward or anyone to impress, they smell like engine grease, like cloth used to wrap tools in; I’ll smell it later, when I get off the bike, already in the car park.

I put the bike in fourth gear and head downhill with my red Vespa. Although I try to imagine that the road is an airport runway, and sometimes I can, I can’t convince myself that this is anything other than landing.

I get to the end of the descent after a few seconds, the sensation of acceleration, of purpose, has gone so fast through my lungs that I have hardly had time to feel it. I examine my interior and there’s nothing inside. The scooter returns to its normal, steady speed, I position myself to the right side of the road, like every other day. In a few minutes I’ll be in town again.

Recommended publications

  • Antes del huracán Anagrama, 2018
  • Chap chap Blackie Books, 2015

The newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with Barcelona Metròpolis' new developments