Murmurs

Often the things we will remember all our lives creep up on us like that, halfway between the murmur of intuition and the yearning of a wish.

There was a time when I wished for everything about the city of Barcelona. Everything meant its people, its nooks and crannies, its noise, its roads of wet paving stones and its flowered tiles. Everything also included the taxis like worker bees, the drunks on the squares and the dancing amber, red and green of the traffic lights on Diagonal. Everything was the whiff of bustle and deadlines, things that were really going on, new friends from the university, those lines by Bolaño that we wrote in the only space left on the toilet door of a bar, unable to remember the whole poem.

And two beers on a terrace

in Barcelona.

And seagulls.

Not bad.

But I was leaving. They were staying, like Molly's words on the wooden toilet door in the Raval, and I had to catch the train and go back, and so everything also meant staying, spending the night, everything was what I wanted, including the name of places not yet seen. Everything meant blending into the crowd, everything was the camouflage of being new and being alone and at the same time the rustle of everyone's intimacy that echoed within me, endowing the realm of my imagination with pearls for posterity.

Everything. I wanted everything about it. It was a resolute wish, but I had an ingenuous way of giving voice to it. Agnostic and still registered in Catalonia's Manchester, I wished to live in Barcelona although the nature of my desire, in its purest form, did not allow me to express it out loud, and so I yearned deeply within, because it is only within ourselves and when our position is precarious that we can ask for the really big things. And so back then I recited please, please, please, until I was left wondering whether that would be enough, with the conviction that I had made no mistake in my desire, or my future, which would ultimately be the same thing.

Like any big city, Barcelona builds its own narrative without reflection, letting itself be carried along by the momentum and weight made up of all those of us who live there in one way or another, all those who keep it moving without being aware, through the crucial moments and memories of our lives, all those of us who belong to it from the outset or who are newcomers and now could never leave, and who gradually expand the implicit fiction of the capital, with its ugly avenues, its pretty Rambla, the outskirts that make it intrepid and barefaced, and the uptown districts that give it that hypocritical but hugely magnetic elegance.

Later on it was also he, who lived there, who had been born there, who spoke with the local accent, who moved about with all the aplomb of one familiar with every little corner of their own home. He and his father's battered black Vespa that he took almost without asking. I didn't used to have a scooter licence myself and rode pillion for many years, reshaping the narrative of the city as he took me to the train station. The journey was a gift in itself: I gazed at all the lights in the windows of the apartment blocks in the Eixample. In every window, an evening scene and my wish to be inside. With every wish, a murmur, and with every murmur, a wish.

It was pouring with rain that evening when I uttered my inner wish. We parked the scooter on Passatge de Mercader, between Mallorca and Provença, and took shelter in a ground floor porch until the rain subsided and we could head off to catch the train. I had a bout of ill humour that came out of nothing like a rabid dog that all of a sudden appears around the corner and bares all its teeth. It was a recurrent ill humour, the same mood or bug that would crop up every Sunday evening, like an extension to my prison sentence, for being criminally guilty of not wanting to leave the big city, to climb aboard my train and go back to my parents' house, completely cutting myself off from the blissful moments of my brief youth.

And the rain that wouldn't stop, and the thunder that rolled close by, and me about to miss my train, and him rolling himself a cigarette. And his calm, which over the years became mine, although I did not yet know it. That evening he seemed to pass it on to me, like one might something physical: a jacket or some notes on mediaeval art. He passed his calm onto me while his cigarettes sparkled in the rain, and then I saw everything clearly. The big city, with its logically ordered and predictable town planning, and that alleyway which was like a rift in time, silent, with a huge orange tree laden with lumpy oranges, and a pavement of little houses with front gardens, dotted with antique shops and doctors' surgeries as well. It may have been the combination of that borrowed calm and the rabid dog of ill humour snapping at my trouser legs, but I know that I murmured please, please, please, with the urgency of an intimate conquest, and I swore to myself that soon I would no longer be catching the train, and would embark on my life from within this city.

For nearly two decades now I have slept, thought, suffered, loved, cried, revelled and read here; the trains I catch bring me back when the day ends; I have eaten, strolled, shivered, demonstrated, got angry, ignored and played no part in or distanced myself from this city. For nearly two decades there has been no wish within, because my wish was granted. We have both changed, and among other things the scales have gradually fallen from our eyes. We have fallen in and out of love with one another on more than one occasion. Those faults that to begin with made us laugh so hard no longer do so as much, but the two of us are still here, and I am still as hooked as ever on its blue strip of sea, its capital city bustle, the dusk reflected in the puddles, the screaming children heading out of school, the peace and quiet of the cinema queue, the metal shutters of the shops, the paradise of its book stores and the warmth of its bars.

I often murmur vague somethings to the city to recover that energy of when everything is new and there are great things there to be touched. I murmur sweet nothings because I still find it beautiful, I murmur that I love it, because it is true, and it is also true that some loves never die.

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