I’d also like to point out: ¡Viva la prostitutes! Seriously, you wouldn’t believe how many there are lining the streets in this part of town, even right next to McDonalds. You’d think there would be, what, five at most? Maybe six? Noooooo, there were over a hundred and that was at 3pm. It’s like I’ve fallen arse-backwards into a bizarro world full of chocolate served in mugs with finger shaped doughnuts. Never mind a culturally recommended nap time or a social life when you don’t get ready to leave until midnight. Oh, and train timetables only tell you how long the wait is until the next one. The red light district seems to be the entire city. Even the directions are based on where the sun is in the sky and not which of the five streets you’re supposed to walk along. There’s a deluge of wine and sangria for lunch … actually, that I might be okay with, especially if I can get three bottles of wine for the price of a sandwich. Suffice to say: Madrid has just climbed to the top of the nuttiest places I’ve ever been to.
Rachel warned me about her apartment while I was still in Berlin. She reaffirmed her living conditions along the metro ride from Atocha to Callao. Was I adequately braced for what I saw? No, because holy shit is her place crowded. It’s like a long term hostel and wreaks of ‘scam’. There are ten bedrooms in the one apartment and it sleeps twelve people, though while I’m here it will sleep thirteen. It’s a good thing that I’m not staying for long, maybe just a week. Shorter if she wasn’t kidding about the lack of an air conditioner. I survived a night in Barcelona but that had the Mediterranean breeze. Here, we are surrounded by two hundred miles of desert.
Many thanks to Rachel for putting me up as well. I told her we can go out for dinner. My shout. Considering what I saw this afternoon we’ll probably have dinner at ten minutes to midnight, our food will be served on triangular plates by staff with cocktail umbrellas in their hair, while covers of Adele and Michael Jackson are sung in Spanish with ‘80s synthesisers as the only accompanying instrument.
Rachel warned me that I might end up looking for a hostel by tomorrow. It’s possible, but either I sleep in a room with seven other sweaty tourists or I sleep on the floor in a room with just her. And the thing with every hostel is that as soon as you have eight people in the one room then one of them, by law, must snore all through the night. Another must stumble in at three in the morning, completely shit-faced, and turn every light on so that they can see what they’re doing. Then they’ll spend half an hour drunkenly texting someone with their phone on full volume so that they know when they get a new message.
God damn that Russian dick was an asshole. The only thing that cheers me up about that whole ordeal was watching the Aussie walk off with the Russian’s shoes. Oh, if only I could’ve stayed long enough for the Russian to wake up, but no, I had a train to catch.
So aside from the ten bedrooms in this place, there is a small lounge that sits five people right next to the front door. There is one small store room that is locked and no one here has the key. There are two bathrooms without locks of any kind and Rachel says you have a fifty/fifty chance of walking in on something you don’t really want to see, since there’s a mix of guys and girls currently living here. There’s a small kitchen with two fridges which are packed to the rim with food and drinks. Rachel warns me that food often goes missing regardless of how clearly you put your name on it.
There’s a tall Italian girl who smokes up a storm. She’s quite lively but she has an attitude in the kitchen with what is Italian food and what is not. Apparently spaghetti bolognese is not actually Italian and you will be stabbed in the face if you ask for it in a real restaurant. This all started when I was in the kitchen talking to Rachel about maybe getting a pizza. A faux pas, I admit, since I can get a pizza anywhere and the whole point of travelling is to go for something a little more authentic. But since I know diddly of the cuisine here I figured I’d get the suggestions going regardless of how ludicrous they sounded.
The Italian girl shook her head at me. “Don’t bother with the pizza here. It’s not real.”
That earned her a curious look. I thought maybe there was a Spanish twist, like it’s extra spicy or topped with paella, but no. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“They do many good things here but pizza is not one of them.”
“Isn’t bad pizza still good pizza?”
She pulled her nose up at me. “You can’t be serious.”
“Salami, cheese, tomato sauce, what’s not to love? Fold it all over into a calzone if you’re so inclined. Or, even better, go to Chicago. Their pizzas are as thick as a lemon meringue pie.”
I knew exactly what I was saying and I still couldn’t help myself, because the best part was the look she gave me. It was like she caught me eating nuggets dipped in sweet and sour sauce while sitting on the toilet. For once all of her bracelets stopped jingling about.
“So, this is my friend,” said Rachel, pointing vaguely in my direction.
The Italian Girl still hadn’t shifted her horrified eyes away from me. “Why would you do that to food? It’s the unrecognised religion of the world.”
Now, that I understood. “Can’t other cultures be inspired by a foreign dish and make it their own?”
“Of course, but they should change the name of it first. Don’t call it pizza if it’s been changed so much that it no longer resembles pizza.”
“I guess. It’s like chips. Malt vinegar and sea salt all the way, none of this ketchup crap. And no matter where you are, chips always taste better when served in a newspaper.”
Her bracelets stopped jangling about again. “Did you grow up homeless?”
“And you wrap your food in newspaper?”
“Of course not! The guy I’m paying does that for me.”
She scoffed and mumbled something that I didn’t quite catch.
Rachel came to the rescue. “So Mark’s going to be here for about a week.”
“Then there’s no time to lose. Bay leaves.”
“Leaves. In the box right behind you.”
Lo and behold I was practically sitting on her tub of herbs and spices. I handed it over.
“Thank you. Do you drink?”
“Good. Grab a glass, pass me the wine. This is one of my favourites, in case you ever find yourself in a shop wondering what to get me as a farewell gift. FYI -”
Yeah, Rachel warned me that it’s really depressing listening to foreigners speak your language exceptionally well when you can barely string a sentence together in any other language, let alone theirs.
“FYI, there is no such thing as cooking wine. You only cook with the wine you would drink. And not the cheap stuff that comes at the end of the night, no. The nice bottle you begin with. You’re also from London?”
“Yep. West side, near Uxbridge.”
Then came a smile. Turns out, she spent a year on our fine shores at some school I haven’t heard of when she was sixteen. Thus, she has sampled our fine cuisine, which is all French, Indian and faux-Italian, so there wasn’t much I could add to the conversation.
“How did you two meet?” she asked.
Hmm. Does she think we’re dating? Probably not, she was just making chit chat. Still …
“School,” said Rachel.
“Well, let’s not sell the story short, there,” I said.
“But we did meet in school.”
“So there’s not much of a story.”
I cleared my throat. “We met in detention when we were fourteen. She forgot to bring her homework one day and I got caught drawing a stickman flipbook.”
“A what?” asked Italian Girl.
“On each page you draw a little figure, like a dinosaur chasing a stickman. You flip the pages and it shows the dinosaur catching up to the guy and biting his head off. I got caught doing that. Detention. The teacher left the room because someone was having an asthma attack outside. I asked Rachel if she wanted to go to the dance together on Friday.”
“That was the first time you met?” asked Italian Girl.
“Yep. I’d seen her around but never spoke to her.”
“He didn’t even know my name,” said Rachel.
“And you asked her out?” asked Italian Girl.
“I asked her to the dance.”
“Isn’t that the same?”
“Not quite. And she said no.”
“Because it wasn’t a couples’ dance, it was just some lame school disco thing,” said Rachel.
“Why her?” asked Italian Girl.
“My friend told me I had to go with a girl.”
“Which wasn’t true, Mark’s just the gullible kind,” said Rachel.
Italian Girl shook her head at me as though I made no sense at all. And in hindsight what fourteen year old actually does make sense? “You asked someone you’d never spoken to before?”
“I’ll be honest, I was in a bit of a panic at the time.”
“It was certainly spontaneous,” said Rachel. “Just a quick blurting out of, ‘Do you want to go to the dance? On Friday?’”
Italian Girl sighed, offered me some more wine, and that seemed to be the end of that conversation. So, we started talking about travelling.
I keep thinking that one day I’d like to do a six week tour of Italy, drive around in a convertible and learn how to cook like an Italian master. The best thing I seem to have done with the diary is kept the back full of recipes from other travellers. Everyone has one killer recipe. All you have to do is chat to them while they’re in the kitchen, shadow them over the frying pan, help out, and write everything down as they’re dictating. You would think that after all this time I would have acquired more than 10 recipes, but no. Sometimes the guy or girl you end up talking to is in the same boat and neither of us can cook for shit. And unfortunately I’ve found that just because I have the recipe doesn’t mean my version ends up being any good. Still not sure why.
Besides Italian Girl, there are three sixteen year old French kids here (two guys and the one girl they’re both trying to sleep with). They’re celebrating the end of their exams by drinking cheap beer and smoking pot. The girl is sleeping in the room next to ours (ours being the first room on the right as you come in through the front door). The two French guys are staying in the room next to her. I heard too many names in such a short amount of time to remember who anyone is, though I know that no one is named Pierre. That’s a shame, since it’s the only French name I know. Those three don’t speak much English.
There is a German guy here who speaks really fast. I asked where abouts he’s from and hoped he would say Berlin. Nope. Dresden. He saw my eyes go wide when he mentioned his home town and then he said exactly what I feared he would say: “You know only one thing about Dresden, don’t you?” Yep. Nothing like my people carpet bombing his people during the war to build a lasting friendship. But hey, my grandparents lived through the blitz so we both got to blame previous generations of war atrocities. Good times.
There are two girls here sharing the room in the corner. One is from Croatia and the other is from the west side of Ireland, near Sligo she said, at which point I had to say, “I almost went there while riding around the country on my bike.” Then I felt like an idiot. Saying you almost went somewhere and didn’t is kinda pointless. I almost went to the North Pole that one time, then I realised I was flat broke and could barely afford to go to Sweden. Plus, I made it sound like I thought her town was boring enough to avoid without knowing anything about it. So far I’ve offended Italian Girl, Dresden Guy, and Irish Girl. I really have to stop saying the first thing that comes to mind.
So the Irish girl and the Croatian girl don’t know each other, they just got stuck with a room together. Originally there was the Dutch guy in that room (he said he was sharing with another guy who snored), but when another room became empty he quickly moved.
The Dutch guy is pretty cool. You know what’s quite irritating? Everyone speaks English (except for the three French kids). I’m in the middle of Spain, full of internationals and everyone speaks English. I can barely count to ten in another language and they’re all geniuses. Rachel called them polyglots or something like that. I have no idea what a glot is but I wrote it down in my sudoku book to remind me.
So there’s Rachel, the three Frenchies, the Italian girl, the German Dresden guy, Miss Sligo and Miss Croatia (Miss Croatia really is quite good looking with great legs. She has the long flat face thing working for her), the Dutch guy who has to explain to the Frenchies that he doesn’t carry weed with him wherever he goes, and I’ve been told about the other three who haven’t come home yet. There’s the Russian girl, the Indian girl, and a Turkish guy. Everyone is supposedly nice and friendly. Most of them are here to study Spanish for a few weeks before going home. The rare few are here on a longer term basis. The only advantage I can see in staying here for months on end is that it is in the heart of the city right in the night club district. Aside from that it’s hot, crowded, and way too expensive (well, not for me, because I’m staying on Rachel’s floor for free).
Rachel left about twenty minutes ago to do her Spanish class and will be back later. She said I was lucky to get to Madrid when I did, and no kidding. Yesterday all of France seemed to go on strike as though it’s a national event. I was stuck in Nice for a few hours trying to figure out what the hell to do. They were happy enough for me to pay for a full fare ticket from Paris to Barcelona, but did they deliver? No. I got to Nice and listened to a French announcement, and for the first time in my life there was no one around who spoke English. There was a very nice French guy in a beret (I honestly didn’t expect to see anyone in a beret except British uni posers), and he managed to communicate a lot with just “Uh …” and gestures. He waved me out of my seat, which was quite easy when the entire carriage full of people got up and left. I thought I had to change trains and was desperately checking my ticket. Long story short, because my hand is cramping up: France is on strike, I filled out my sudoku book and bought another, found a Columbian guy who had hired a mini van and offered to take a bunch of people to Barcelona if we paid our share of the rental and petrol. Fair enough. I went along and sat with my sixteen kilo backpack on my lap for a couple of hours, pinned up against the window next to a fat and sweaty guy who complained endlessly about the heat. Yeah, it’s the Riviera in summer, of course it’s going to be hot. At least I had the decency to shower in the morning. I offered him some Tic Tacs.
“I’m okay, thanks,” he said.
The transport problems were a little better in Barcelona. It took a while to figure out how to buy a ticket for the train as I had to find out what sort of ticket I needed, where to go and all that. This morning I took the train out to Madrid as per normal and as soon as I was half an hour away from Barcelona I got a text message from Rachel asking if I was on one of the delayed or cancelled trains. It turned out that Barcelona was getting in on the strike action as well and the authorities are having a hell of a time dealing with all of the tourists.
Paris was nice but there was no Internet at the hostel. I had to go to a café and try to order something from the scrawl on the blackboard. The nineteen year old kid had never heard of a cappuccino. Or, more likely, he’s never heard me say it in a terrible French accent. So I sat there with some weak brown liquid thing as I endured the slowest Internet connection known to man. Some of the sites took so long to load they ended up timing out before loading even a single frame. I tried my phone and could call and text normally but I couldn’t get online, as if there was no signal. Rachel said I could check my emails on her computer but it’s password protected, so I’ll have to wait until she comes home. In the meantime I have Clint’s ancient tablet to carry around. He’s not getting it back until I’ve beaten his Freecell score.
Overall, yeah, leaving the laptop at home has been good for my sanity. It’s forced me to see the world from my own two feet, instead of from the bed of a hostel like I’ve seen plenty of others do. The tablet has been good for browsing and booking hostels, not for logging into a dozen sites where I can see Alana getting all cosy with Assface. At least when I log in at an Internet Café I’m surrounded by people in the daytime. It’s much easier to keep a clear head and realise that I’m having a kickass July. Maybe I can get a photo with my arms around some of the prostitutes, make Alana jealous.
No, that’s a fast way of getting robbed. And an easy way of looking pathetic.
So, Rachel plans on staying in Madrid for another six weeks. She says she wants to lose weight and has a target of twenty kilos. She figures the heat will help with that. I’ve been here for a couple of hours and I’m sure I’ve lost weight as well, so I believe her. But, honestly? I haven’t seen her in four months and she looks the same now as she did back then. She said the final straw came a couple of days before Madrid when she was in a restaurant and her bra broke. I didn’t even know that could happen. She said it was so embarrassing because she was almost falling out of her top and her dress was designed in a way that made taking her bra off, even in the bathroom, a little difficult. Yeah, that has me stumped.
I have enough euro with me for a couple of bottles of wine tonight. There will be stories. Oh my god, will there be stories. I’m still curious as to how Rachel even ended up in Spain. It wasn’t even a hint of an idea when I last saw her.
I suppose I have four hours to work on the condensed version of why Alana dumped me.
Or I could see if anyone’s in the kitchen.
The Italian Girl has a name: Cristina, from Milan. I grabbed a couple of phrases off my tablet and made her laugh, probably at my incompetent accent, but still a laugh is a laugh. I got her with, ‘Che palle’ - ‘what a pain in the ass.’ Then, ‘Non vedo l’ora’ - ‘I can’t wait.’ I figure I can use those two for the rest of my life. Thankfully I got her and not the Dutch guy since all of my Dutch flew out of my head a couple of weeks ago. Cristina offered me some wine as a thank you.
She’s studying chemistry and wants to complete her degree in the States. She’s worried about her level of English. She’ll be fine. An hour of talking to her and I made more grammar mistakes than she did. The funny thing about her is that she’s spent the entire day in her blue pyjama bottoms with a dark long sleeved t-shirts. It’s as hot as balls in here. I guess it’s just a comfort thing. Or maybe she just sweats through her nice clothes and wants to keep them as presentable as possible.
We talked a little about Madrid. Apparently there is a huge gay area in town which I’m supposed to explore. She said it’s a lot of fun and a hot spot for picking up straight girls. They go to the clubs here so they don’t have to worry about guys hitting on them, since the guys are focussing on each other. The girls lower their defences and start to appreciate a straight guy talking to her. Too bad I don’t have my own room. Over here I might be considered exotic. I guess some crazy señorita out there has a thing for Arctic-white monoglots. Cristina then said the perfect place to meet everyone is standing in line for the bathroom. The lines take forever and you have about five minutes of talk time before moving along. Even the male bathrooms take a while because dudes are getting blow jobs. What the fuck happened to the ‘avoid eye contact at all times’ policy?
During our conversation the French girl came in to grab a drink. She doesn’t speak much English and barely any Spanish, but she was very stoned and giggly so that helped to understand her. Cristina warned me that the French girl really is sixteen, so leave her to the two French guys who yesterday managed to burn their macaroni and cheese. Cristina said she and the Russian girl helped the kids out and cooked their dinner.
It’s weird thinking down to the French kids. I guess it’s like at work. I waltzed in with my heart slamming in my chest like it was the first day of school again, hoping that I would make a friend or two and not fuck anything up, only to find myself working with forty and fifty year olds who have smoked half their lives away and are rumoured to be ex-cons. How the fuck do you break the ice like that? So … anyone watch the Simpsons last night? No? Well then, I better go to the bathroom and read up on football as much as I can.
Cristina helped me make a killer pasta dish, though she balked at me using dried spaghetti when apparently making fresh pasta is easy. She said the most important thing was to add the cooked pasta to the sauce the moment you take it out of the boiling water. Strain it first, of course, but plonk it into the sauce immediately after. The pasta will still be trying to absorb moisture and if you wait too long it will clump together. That certainly explains some of my past mistakes in life. Really important: add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end to the sauce, stir, taste. If it’s too sweet add more vinegar, if it’s too sour add more sugar. I wish I had an Italian grandmother who could teach me these things. Mine were either into crochet or Eastenders.
Rachel will be back soon. Until then I’m waiting for the washing machine to finish its cycle. Then I need figure out where to hang my clothes. There is a line between one side of the building and the other which looks out onto a courtyard four floors below. I’ve never left my clothes to dry four floors up before. How did they even fix the line in the first place? Anyway, the German guy (Michael, easy enough to remember) must have drawn the short straw with the apartment because his bedroom window is the only one that can access the clothes line, so he has to accept a dozen people coming in and out of his room all day to get their clothes. Most of the time he lies back on his bed with the laptop nearby and with the door wide open. I feel a little sorry for the guy. There would be very little privacy when he wants it.
I’m pretty sure with every window in the building looking into the bathroom there’s not going to be much privacy in there either. I’ll ask Rachel how she deals with it or if she even cares.
She cares. She says you get used to it. Just as long as there are no cameras to record the moment then a startled half naked housemate is the worst of your problems.
It’s late now, though not late enough for some people. Half of the apartment are going out later but I’m wrecked. After sitting on my ass for almost two full days of travelling you’d think I would be fully rested, but no. Rachel and I went to this Japanese restaurant and we drank a little sake.
Ha! ‘A little.’
As we were walking to the next place it occurred to me … we just ordered fresh seafood even though we’re surrounded by two hundred miles of desert. Thankfully I stuck to the Chicken Katsu thing. When in a new country and in doubt, always go with chicken.
It must suck being a backpacking vegan. Although, there was that guy in Amsterdam. We chowed down in some greasy burger place. He said he was vegetarian while travelling, vegan at home, and yet there he was tucking into a meaty burger.
“I have this once a year in memory of my brother.”
I guess everyone needs rules to be flexible now and then or else you’ll just go insane.
Afterwards Rachel brought me to a churros hotspot. I never had them before. It was like eating a sugarless doughnut which you dip in liquid chocolate. It was quite nice. It’s a twenty-four hour place and is supposed to be packed in the early hours of the morning as people wait for the first train of the day after a night of clubbing.
Rachel and I chatted a lot, reminisced, it was all good. I gave her the brief story of Alana and I, how I had tried to surprise her with flowers at the front of the gym, waiting for her to come out and she never did, and I waited until the gym was locked up for the night. Rachel asked how I found out. Believe it or not, it came from her dad. He was hesitating the whole afternoon, which was probably made harder because Alana was always in a bubbly mood. If she had been a bitch it would have been easy to knock her down a peg or two, but no. Her dad leaned over and whispered, “The next time you hear her talk about what she’s looking forward to in the future, have a listen and compare it to yours.”
Yeah, that confused me for a while. Then it happened. “I can’t wait to have a house, renovate the kitchen and push it out into the garden, turn the loft into something useful, have breakfast in bed every Sunday, and wake up to someone who loves me.”
Honey, you already wake up to someone who loves you, so why is it still on your list of dreams for the future?
Annoyingly, this occurred during a lunch time restaurant date when Lauren and Matt announced that they were pregnant. On the walk back to the Tube Alana asked if I was okay. I went home single. The next day she started dating Assface.
There are statues in this place called Sol and one is a bear eating a strawberry tree (I didn’t think strawberries grew on trees …). Then we went to Plaza Mayor to see a big statue of a guy on a horse. That was the plan, but when we got there the whole area had been converted to house a free classical concert.
Rachel piqued up and said, “They’re playing the Planets.” It sounded like the Star Wars theme. “That’s what it’s based on.” Huh.
So we waited and listened. And waited. It was a long piece. The sound wasn’t great either because it was live, echoing off the surrounding buildings and hitting us all at the wrong time. Afterwards they played the Valkerie song from Apocalypse Now.
We got back to Rachel’s place at eleven thirty and I checked my emails. Still nothing exciting happening in the world. After a few days of limited access, it’s disappointing to see that no one has missed me yet. Rachel is checking her emails now. There’s giggling coming from the room next door. As far as I can tell the French girl is all alone in there.
Despite being dead on my feet I don’t feel like going to bed just yet. Maybe because it’s 34 degrees and there’s no air-con.
Weird, weird day. First of all, the funny things:
Between Gran Vía and Sol are lots of walkways weaving around giant department stores. By the looks of things it’s just one single company that operates all the stores across several buildings. One building sells clothes, the other building sells electronics. I’m still having to translate euros to pounds. Under the pathways are the metro lines with large air vents that blast air up as the train goes by. Rachel was wearing a full length casual dress and got blasted, à la Marilyn Monroe, and her dress really did shoot up over her face.
“At least I was wearing clean underwear,” she said, laughing it off.
That wasn’t the only time it happened. Two American girls were caught out while I was walking along a little while later. The locals seem to have figured out not to walk on the vents but there was always cheering and clapping when they saw someone fall for it. I bet it only happens to foreigners.
There were lots of guys selling stuff on the side of the road, like wallets, handbags, watches, and man can they move fast when they see the police coming around the corner.
Rachel and I went out for breakfast to a small sandwich shop. Along with our order we got a bottle of red wine. That was a surprise. Red wine for breakfast.
For lunch we went out to this other place with Cristina and Derek, the Dutch guy. It was the first time I saw Cristina not in her pyjamas. Black jeans and a dark grey tank top. Her bracelets kept jangling about, so naturally, with her being an Italian, they jangled quite a lot. She also wore thick eyeliner so it looked like a wing on the side of each eye. Derek got a few compliments for wearing a shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I rocked up in a t-shirt and shorts, much like Rachel. It was too hot to bother looking presentable. This turned out to be a mistake as almost immediately the phones came out and now there are pictures of me on the Internet looking like I have just rolled out of bed on minimal sleep.
We went to a place down this small alley that Derek knew of. It was a tiny restaurant on the back of someone’s house. I could see right through to the family’s kitchen and dining room. The owner was the only one working there and he operated as the waiter, chef, and service extraordinaire. The most customers he would ever have at one time would be sixteen people. He brought out some paella, which is your typical rice and seafood mix. He also did some toasted bread thing which Rachel told me about and I have since forgotten the name of. Since everything is made in bulk the guy doesn’t need to hire anyone else. And guess what we also ordered? Two bottles of red wine. They were so nice I took a picture of the label so I can find them when I get back to London.
We did have a couple of weird guys come up to us as we were eating, trying to sell packets of tissues and flowers. The flower guy looked indignant that two strapping men would dine with two feisty ladies and refuse to buy flowers, but none of us are dating. Cristina told us she was bi and didn’t realise that was even an option until after she slept with her best friend from school. Derek said he was married when he was nineteen and divorced at twenty one. He is grateful that he got marriage out of his system at an early age. God knows what I said with two lots of half bottles of wine in me but I know it must have been awesomely embarrassing if I got a cheer and a high five from Derek and a weird look from Rachel.
Cristina and Derek were wondering about our situation and thought Rachel and I were a couple. How else could we explain me sleeping on the floor? But no, I’m just cashing in on an old favour. Rachel stayed at my place a couple of times during various troubles. We told them about her old roommate who got them all evicted. The stupid cow was too afraid to tell anyone what had happened. She knew for three weeks that they were getting evicted before she confessed. She was too embarrassed because the eviction was her fault and she wanted to avoid a confrontation with her friends. Rachel is still bitter about it. She stayed on my sofa until she found a new place, so now she’s repaying a favour. I was trying to remember when that happened when Rachel piped up.
“You had just started dating Alana.”
Sooooooooo … fuck. Did she think I was cheating on her at the start of our relationship?
Cristina and Derek got the condensed version of the story. Met through a friend at uni, both had opposite schedules and near misses, and we only really hooked up over a week-long ditch of classes by flying off to Greece where her cousin had a spare room for a few days.
Cristina spent most of the time peering at me inquisitively. “Did you think you were meant to be?”
“No, I thought she was interesting.”
Rachel had to run off to class and almost left her phone at the restaurant. I walked back through Sol for a while with Cristina and Derek, hoping to catch a few more Marilyn Monroe impersonations. No luck. We returned to the apartment and found Rachel there. Her class had been cancelled. The school are hoping to find a replacement teacher for tomorrow as their current one had to fly back home for an emergency. So one of the students who lives a five minute walk from the school took everyone’s number and will send them a message tomorrow if the class is still cancelled. As a result, I went to another afternoon lunch, this time with Rachel’s class. They are all from different parts of the world. One of the girl’s is from Cambodia and she’s been living in Madrid for years. She was supposed to be doing a business course here that got cancelled at the last minute so she had to find something to fulfil her student visa requirements as quickly as possible, so she’s breezing through the course because she’s already pretty fluent. Everyone wants her help to study Spanish but instead she shows them the cool parts of town, which is how we found this bar that does awesome sangria and those toasty things again. I found out why we got a discount on the food: the Cambodian girl is dating the owner and she always brings him more customers. As we were walking back through the twisting roads I noticed a couple of menus. Apparently our discounted bill is the normal price of the other restaurants. Apparently just saying, “The owner likes you so this is discounted,” is enough to earn a bigger tip.
We saw the police in action again, this time actually chasing down some of the street vendors.
There are more prostitutes than I thought possible. There must have been a hundred of them on one of the main roads heading towards Sol. It was still early in the afternoon so I can’t wait to see what it’s like this evening. We’re all going out to a club later on. Rachel warned me that we’ll only just be arriving at 1am. If we arrive any later we’ll have to pay to get in. Even so, the clubs won’t start getting busy until 2am. I need a shirt so I can roll my sleeves up.
Michael, the German guy, said if I spend more than five minutes in the gay area I can get a free blow job, no questions asked (not by Michael, but from one of the locals). I got into trouble when I said, “He better be very charming and look ridiculously good in a dress.” Michael said, “That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Last night was bitchingly hot. I know Madrid is surrounded by a desert and we’re in the summer but last night was just fucking awful. I knew Rachel was awake from the heat, as were most of the housemates. It was four in the morning and everyone was dripping with sweat. Those with private rooms could sleep naked and with the window wide open. This morning Rachel came back from the shower and told me if it gets that hot again she’s going to strip and not care about it. I don’t think she will. I’ve known her for a long time and she doesn’t seem like the type. But sleep deprivation can do the wacky on the unsuspecting mind.
Okay, some of the weirdness from today. And yesterday. The Internet is very slow. Cristina said the government had recently introduced a filter to monitor various websites, including email. Wonderful. No doubt it’s to stop kiddie porn and those evil music downloaders. That explains why it has been slow, despite the government’s assurances that the speed decrease would be unnoticeable. Yesterday … there was very little Internet. Very little for today as well.
The news said the Internet company is working on the problem and the heat has affected something or other, and as such we can expect outages in various parts of the country. They explained in detail but I don’t speak Spanish. The news channels aren’t all that bothered that the entirety of our porn supply has suddenly dried up. No, they’re just blaming the heat. Exhibit A points to the blindingly obvious fact that Spain gets hot in the summer. Exhibit B points to every summer before this one when the heat did NOT melt some cable terminal thing.
If the Internet is back up to full speed by tomorrow then I can book the rest of my trip through Spain. None of the housemates here have been to the south so I can’t really ask their opinions on where to go. Still not sure where to go after that. Maybe Portugal, maybe Ibiza. Cristina recommended Sardinia and Corsica. Not sure if I’ll have the time or money. I figure I have about three more weeks in continental Europe before I hit up Ireland and Scotland, then train it back to London by the end of August. Depending on how broke I am I might have to skip Ireland altogether.
Do you know what isn’t ‘down’? The phone lines. Michael called home last night and said the Internet was acting a little weird there as well. Some sites were blocked. The ones in particular were Eastern European and Russian sites. So, the Internet has ‘melted’ here, is slow in Germany, and is ‘down’ in Russia and The Ukraine.
The Russian girl (I still can’t remember her name, but man alive is she gorgeous. She’s tall and slinky, speaks spectacular English, has a double degree, and is the kind of girl I would drop down on one knee for, she also seems to be stuck on super-dork mode and wears several of those coloured wristbands made from twine). Anyway, she said there was a problem in St. Petersberg and the airports were closed due to a ‘credible’ terrorist threat. She actually said ‘credible’.
I keep seeing this fluff ball of a cat walking through the courtyard downstairs. I swear that thing must be melting in this heat. I gave him a little cuddle earlier. Made me think of Basil.
Oh, not surprisingly, Clint’s being a dick. He keeps placing Basil in precarious situations around the flat, taking a picture and posting it online. He had a butcher’s knife with ketchup along the blade, slid that under Basil while he was asleep, and captioned it with, ‘They’ll never find Mark again. Not after his ‘accident.’’ Mum doesn’t quite get Clint’s sense of humour. She called me while I was in Paris asking if I was okay and if I had to go to hospital. I had no idea what she was talking about. You would think that a cat with a knife covered in ketchup in London was not going to cause an accident to someone who was backpacking in Paris. Maybe Mum is on full-blown panic mode now that I’m travelling through Europe alone like a social leper. When I first announced my trip she asked if it was because of Alana. I mean, Jesus, does everyone have to keep bringing her up?
Clint even made a little Mariachi sombrero for Basil. “Dos cervezas por favor.” The last time I went away he managed to set a new high score on Need For Speed, only it reads ‘MarksPenis.’ Had to reset the whole fucking game and start again.
Anyway, clubbing tonight! And hopefully not a lot of drinking. Rachel gave me a spare key and wished me luck in finding a guy to go home with, so har fucking har. If I come back any later than 4am I’m not to wake Rachel up under any circumstance.
I was talking to the Turkish guy a few minutes ago. I mentioned I was thinking of buying some weed off the Frenchies but he warned me against it. “They’re teenagers, they don’t know good shit from bad,” he said. He told me what they were smoking was definitely the bad shit. He said it was legal to own three marijuana plants in Spain so getting it isn’t all that difficult. That kinda takes the fun out of it. Unfortunately Rachel is against it. She’s doing me a favour by letting me crash here for a few days so I’ll behave unless a really good opportunity arises.
This morning the Spanish President addressed the nation and everyone in the apartment missed it. We were all hung over, stoned, asleep or just not watching the TV. It wasn’t until the evening news where we finally got the story. And … I was right! The St. Petersberg airports and no-Internet is connected!
There’s another bird flu outbreak, like SARS or swine flu. Rachel called her folks and they told her the full story. It was hard to figure out because it was a Russian acronym for the virus that was translated into Spanish by the news, which Rachel then tried to translate into English. There have been six fatalities in St. Petersberg. They closed the airport to stop it from spreading. Unfortunately, a couple of ‘isolated’ cases in the rest of Europe have popped up and are ‘being contained’. Either the Spanish news people are lazy or run by the government because no one reported this over the last few days. The President said the Internet problem was not caused by Spain and he had no knowledge of it. I don’t believe him. Not that I speak the language or was even watching, no. I got the news second hand from other people who thought the limited news from Russia was to stop the spread of panic due of the new flu, because that’s what we civilians like to do: panic.
But there you go: bird flu and no Internet. And you know what? The Spanish don’t seem to give a fuck. Restaurants are still open, bars and clubs are still doing business, and the ladies on the street are still calling me ‘Guapo’.
The club last night was pretty good. I got dancing with this girl from somewhere and she was shaking her ass into my crotch. I offered to buy her a drink and she said yes. I came back to the dance floor and couldn’t find her. Rachel was there for a bit, left at 2, but she saw my epic fail with little Miss Booty. She took one of the drinks for herself, saying that it must be pretty easy to get a drink out of me if all she has to do is press her butt up against me. I decided not to say anything about her sizeable rear, but it’s true, I’m a quick purchaser of drinks.
There was no class for Rachel today. She said she was going out for a bit, which was good because I was still trying to sleep through the heat. I couldn’t, so Michael and I were watching some French comedy with subtitles about an assassin chasing another assassin. There were lots of boobs, which is always good for the French to do. Then, get this: the French girl who lives just next to Rachel’s bedroom walked in through the front door wearing three things: sandals, a bikini g-string, and a towel around the back of her neck, hanging down over her chest. She went to her room for a moment and came out again with a book and some sunscreen lotion, then she headed back out the front door.
At this point Michael and I realised that none of the girls were home. There was only one place where they could have gone to: the roof. And holy shit balls did I feel like a tosser. All this time I was downstairs when I could have been up here. Let me just say, it wasn’t just the girls up there, it was everyone from almost every building, all spread out on the rooftops under giant umbrellas, relaxing in the shade and wearing nothing. The French girl had managed to lose her bikini g-string and had found a deck chair. Rachel, too, was thoroughly European. Some were wearing board shorts. Some should’ve. I stood on the rooftop looking all along Gran Vía. I’ve never seen so much bush.
Needless to say I was overdressed. I hurried downstairs and picked up the bottle of white wine sitting in the fridge and went back more appropriately attired, wishing the whole time that I hadn’t been drinking heavily the day before. Oh yeah, I also had my sunglasses. Everyone had sunglasses, which helps to hide your gaze. One of the neighbours was cooking up a giant wok of paella and everyone was welcomed to try it, the only prerequisite was that you had to introduce yourself and say where you were from.
After that some of us from the apartment started playing cards. Rachel won the first game on a fluke and only then did we discover there was a penalty if you lost, so Michael, Derek, Cristina, Sofia (the Russian girl) and I had to introduce ourselves to everyone on the rooftop (there must have been forty people up there). This was all thanks to Rachel coming up with the rules to the game. She’s a tricky one. I was expecting just to run a lap of the rooftop, only I soon discovered why that’s a bad idea: racing around the rooftop on a hot day with sweaty feet is likely to end up with someone falling four storeys on top of a poor prostitute.
As soon as a camera came out all the clothes went back on. If I ever do a Ph.D. in behavioural science then I have my thesis worked out, thanks to today. The number of selfies required for a girl to be happy with the result is determined by how attractive they believe they are on a scale of 10. Let’s say they are a 7. They are in a photo with three other 7s. It’s going to require 28 photos before they have a picture they’re happy with. Halve that number for the actual photos taken if the camera holder is a guy whose patience can be measured in minutes. Halve it again if his patience expires in seconds. I have about a hundred photos. I was looking as debonair as always.
Anyway. Rachel tells me it requires 2,000 hours of study and practice to reach a basic level of fluency in a language closely related to your own. 2,000 fucking hours?
“Yeah. Depressing as hell, isn’t it?” she said.
That made me think. If I did forty minutes of language learning a day in school, five days a week, I would get to about 120 hours a year. Maybe 150 if I did all the homework as well. And here I am, surrounded by people who are fluent in English when it’s their second or even third language. How?
It’s Thursday so that means it’s a giant housemate cooking day where everyone eats together. I didn’t know this but being the new guy I had to cook something. Ediz, the skinny Turkish guy, and Katy, the Croatian, also helped. I cooked chilli because it’s the one dish I never fuck up. Then again, having a dozen people in the apartment all eating food that will make you fart very quickly makes you learn that some foods are better not served in monstrous portions. Everyone left to go to their rooms for thirty seconds before coming back smelling of deodorant.
Ediz brought in the makings of kebabs which is actually kind of genius. All you need is flatbread and chopped up salad, as everyone else filled their kebabs with my chilli. I spent an hour making my feast and all he did was chop up some lettuce, cucumber, and tomatoes, then provide sauce and bread. Lazy arse.
Katy made some dumpling thing that was incredible when mixed with soy sauce.
Oh! The funniest thing today was Louise, the Sligo Irish girl. She missed out on the rooftop party and was out at her class today. She came back home as everyone was having dinner. Most of us still weren’t fully dressed. It’s weird how if everyone is naked or semi-naked a fully clothed person will feel out of place and rather stupid. So in walked Louise, right through the front door where eleven of us were sitting and standing around wearing as little as possible. Louise went bright red and ran off to her room with as much Catholic dignity as possible. Unfortunately Katy was there, scantily clad, and explained that being half naked was now customary. Louise said thanks but no thanks and spent the night studying.
Derek and a few others took me out to the gay quarter, called Chueca. I walked through the area the other night but that was the lite side. There were lots of people in drag, lots of big muscles and you know what? It was a lot of weird fun. I got a couple of offers but no thanks, I don’t ever imagine being that drunk. There was one guy on the street showing off his wang. Let’s just say there was a reason why he was showing it off and I might have high fived him if I hadn’t suspect where his hand had been.
We were all watching this thing on TV. It was a documentary in English with Spanish subtitles and it was actually quite interesting. It was about monkeys in captivity, in a large pen being studied by scientists. It sounds boring, and I admit I walked off after Rachel told me about it, but then I came back and saw the weirdest of things.
There were a dozen monkeys living together, male and female. There was a rope which opened a food chute that allowed food to come out whenever a monkey pulled on the rope. After a while the scientists switched things around. They selected a weak male monkey, not the alpha, and they decided that only he could open the chute with the rope. All of the monkeys tried the rope and none were successful, only the young weak male. The scientists wanted to see if he became the alpha through their interference. It was bizarre and fascinating at the same time. This little monkey was all of a sudden given this great power over his … people? Tribe? Pack? Who knows?
The others became jealous and started fighting him so he backed away and went hungry. The rest of the pack tried the rope and weren’t able to get any food. When desperation kicked in they started attacking the weak one again. Eventually, when he was desperate for food, the weak one tried the chute and was given food for the whole group. This became a pattern. He would give them food, they would fight, he would back off, everyone went hungry, they fought him again, and it turned him into something of a nervous wreck.
And then … then the females started to pay him some attention. Whenever the males fought him one on one the females came to his defence. They comforted him and the group turned against the aggressive alpha male. The weak one still couldn’t beat him in a fight, but he did have a friend. The females allowed the friend to come in and he became something of a bodyguard. He was given a lot of affection by the lady monkeys. Slowly the whole group dynamic shifted and the weak monkey became the centre of attention. He still wouldn’t have been the alpha male because he couldn’t win a fight, but it was interesting to see what happened when the scientists interfered.
That was the angle I took away from it. Rachel thought the whole thing was cruel. The scientists were cold and manipulative dicks. They just messed around with another specie to see what would happen to satisfy their own curiosity. I’m not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m a fucking carnivore and I like to joke that my burger tastes better when you know the animal died screaming. I get a laugh. It’s a revolted laugh, but it’s a laugh nonetheless. But these scientists were actually risking this poor monkey. If the alpha male got pissed off enough he was going to kill that little thing all because he was hungry.
At the end of the program they did say the chute went back to being opened by everyone and the balance was kinda restored. I bet that was a severe blow to the weak monkey’s ego.
Back when I was twelve our school had a disco. The week before, two girls, Becky and Jamie, started to ‘like me’. Long story short, my dickhead friend told Becky and Jamie to ‘like me’ so that I would choose between which one I liked (Becky), then she and Jamie could dump me at the dance.
Which they did.
In front of my friends.
They said it was all a joke. They laughed, they said my ‘friend’ had put them up to it, and he was there laughing like a jackass. Ten years later he eventually apologised. I had all of this attention. I thought I was doing something right by the ladies, then bam! It was gone, nothing more than a joke because I couldn’t fight back.
The lady monkeys went back to mostly ignoring the weak monkey because they could feed themselves and were overpowered by the alpha male. I felt bad for that little monkey. He was dumped with responsibility and then the powers-that-be drop-kicked him back into the gutter when he finally had something going with the women.
Here is where Rachel and I disagree. I said it would have been better to keep the experiment going on forever, or slowly introduce the whole community feeding themselves again over time, not in one go. Rachel wanted it over immediately. She doesn’t agree that it was fair, but she said the monkey will get over it.
My dad would say it was supposed to build character. I wonder if he ever did that to some weak kid at school, or if my mum ever pretended to like a guy just to mess with him.
I just asked Rachel that and she gave me one of those sympathetic looks as though I am so naïve. “Did your mum go to a co-ed school?” Rachel asked.
“Then yes, she did that to someone, even if she didn’t mean to.”
Great. My mum was an emotional whore. I should have known.
Rachel says she had a great time in school. She liked studying, she liked her friends, she was good at what she did. I think that’s a category one warning sign of having a disgruntled future; nothing will compare to her teenage years.
Sofia was awake early this morning, crying. There’s a time difference between here and Russia (plenty of time differences even within Russia, I guess). Her folks called her. The government there is in serious trouble. Yesterday one of the ministers said they were containing the bird flu but everyone should be careful and remain indoors. He said there had been six fatalities. Not quite true. There are now eighty four fatalities and six thousand showing symptoms.
Ho. ly. fuck.
They’ve closed off the city. No one is working. Everyone is staying home. The army is moving in with masks and suits and handing out food but it won’t be enough. All flights in and out of Russia have been cancelled and the borders are closing up as well. We’re waiting by the TV for the news but nothing has been mentioned about it yet. I even called home to see what was happening and no one has heard any of this. Mum asked why I didn’t tell her that I was in Ibiza. Maybe she should just stop looking at Clint’s updates online.
The President just made the announcement, advising people not to travel. He offered his sympathy and support to the Russian people. The Spanish are also bracing themselves and their hospitals. Michael told me the news stations would play this safely. The news are responsible for not spreading any panic. That has got to conflict with a lot of their rating-grabbing sensibilities.
We went out. It’s life as usual here and we were in Arguelles (which I’ve been saying wrong all day), when her Cambodian friend called to say that they’ve found a replacement teacher for the class. I wandered around for a couple of hours, keeping close to the buildings and staying in lots of shaded areas.
I ended up chatting to this guy from Seattle when I stopped for a Coke. I heard his accent coming a mile away.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Glasgow,” I lied.
So I did the whole thing in Scottish. I even told him my name was Dave and that I was studying sociology in Berlin. I’m in Madrid with my girlfriend who’s catching up with her sister.
It was his first time in Madrid and he asked if I knew how to get to Sol. Why yes. Yes I do. I brought him to the bear eating the strawberry tree when he got a text from his boyfriend saying that he was held up next to a statue of a bull. I knew where that one was as well! They were both nice. Stuart’s boyfriend is from Puerto Rico and they’ve never been to Europe before. I showed them a couple of good spots to eat, like here does good wine in an intimate setting and if you happen to be up late at night then over there is a good spot for churros.
I may have said that my girlfriend was from Milan and that her name was Cristina. And that she’s studying chemistry and wants to do her Ph.D. in the States. I did my impersonation of her rattling her bracelets around as she spoke. They asked how we met, considering that I’m a Scottish guy in Berlin and she’s an Italian with a Spanish brother-in-law.
We had a mutual friend online. We both commented on a bunch of his posts about women’s rights, gun control, and finally authentic Italian cuisine as done by British chefs. That one kicked it off and we got into some heated discussions about what is proper bolognaise and pizza, and what is not. She sent me a video of her making pasta the proper way. I liked her accent. So I sent her a video of me eating chips out of a newspaper. She thought it was repulsive but kinda funny. We became email buddies. One morning she wrote that she just had a shit day at uni and all of her friends were busy doing something else. So I bailed on class, flew to Italy, and four hours after getting her email I knocked on her door, saying that a real friend drops everything for someone in need. From then on we were inseparable.
The two guys started getting misty eyed. Unfortunately I was starting to like my fantasy world a little too much and knew it was time to bail. They wished me luck, I did the same, and I sauntered back to Callao. Somehow I managed to perk myself up and break my own heart all at the same time.
Louise has been trying to book a flight back home, which isn’t easy since the Internet is still sluggish. Her Spanish is reasonable but the travel agent didn’t care if she couldn’t keep up, so after forty minutes she swore like the Pope wasn’t listening and came into the kitchen almost in tears. She’s about to head out to the airport to try her luck there. Today was her final day of class. Monday is her graduation. She’s trying to fly out either tonight (they will mail her certificate) or she will fly out tomorrow (and still they will mail it), but either way she wants to go home. She has assured us it isn’t because the entire household was naked yesterday, she just never booked a return ticket from Madrid. She was hoping to travel to Valencia with a couple of friends but they bailed on her. She doesn’t want to go alone so she would rather go home sooner than later. Either way she has to be gone by Monday because someone else is supposed to arrive and take her bed, so there will be a new housemate! Katy is hoping it’s a girl.
I also have a problem with getting out of here and I may need to ask Rachel for some help. I want to go to the south of Spain and I’ve been getting some suggestions from Katy, Cristina, and the others. I’ve been told to go to Seville but only to an air conditioned hostel, because a cool day in the summer is like a sauna whereas a hot day is the equivalent of napalm. They also tell me the entire city really does close down during the siesta time and Sunday’s will be 100% closed. There’s also Granada and Gibraltar to see. Apparently Gibraltar is the only English colony where they drive on the right hand side of the road. I don’t know if that’s enough of a novelty to warrant going there, but who knows? The only problem will be finding a place to stay. Without the Internet cooperating that might be an issue. Seriously, how did people backpack before the Internet? Anyway, if I run into problems I wonder how much longer I can stay on Rachel’s floor until it really pisses her off? She’s warned me that if I snore at all I will spend the rest of my time on the sofa.
I am now the proud owner of a colourful Hawaiian shirt. Everyone is brimming with jealousy because they keep asking how I was even able to find this thing in Spain. The answer to that is fairly simple: walk round until you’re lost, see a comic book store with Witchblade on the front and prostitutes lurking around nearby, go inside, buy the coolest shirt you can find.
I never thought I’d see the Spanish version of ‘the end is nigh’, but I did see some graffiti on the side of walls saying exactly that. It was fresh, too. There were a pair of gypsy women standing nearby selling trinkets for the superstitious. I’m pretty sure they were thieves as all the locals rolled their eyes whenever a tourist was lured in.
Hahahahahaha! Two of the French kids are totally sunburned! One of the guys and the girl went up to the roof for more ‘sunbathing’, probably while stoned to hell. They fell asleep under the umbrella. For two hours. By the time they woke up there was no shade covering them. The guy is walking around with his hands out in front and walking on tiptoes. I’ve never seen someone in so much agony. He has wrapped a towel around his waist but the fabric is so itchy that it’s practically burning him. Cristina is helping him out with lotion on his shoulders and the hard to reach places. The French girl is just as bad. I would have volunteered my services, but no, that might land me in jail, so Katy is helping out and not having much fun there.
Back. Cristina and I just went to the store to get some more lotion for the burn victims. Cristina was blasting them the whole time, wondering if all kids are really this stupid. She asked me about the dumbest thing I ever did and it’s a tough decision. There was the time I was drunk and went to sleep in my parent’s bed because mine was too far away, threw up and didn’t clean up, but instead was able to get back to my bed and didn’t realise that my parents were coming home early and I hadn’t cleaned up. Then again, locking myself out of the house three times in a week could be considered pretty dumb. I asked Cristina what she did that was so stupid and she told me she smoked heroin once. Yeah.
The French kids are the colour of beetroot. Even the skin under their fingernails is burned. The girl is in the tub in the main bathroom crying with Katy doing her best to make sure the kid doesn’t pass out and drown. The girl has soaked a towel and has draped it across herself for privacy, but she’s lying in a tub of cold water while her skin is on fire. I don’t know where the boy is but he’s probably smoking up just to deal with the pain.
Louise is back from the airport. Lots of flights are cancelled and she wasn’t able to get on one. She’s booked a ticket and the earliest she can leave is Tuesday. Cristina says Louise can stay in her room for the extra night if necessary. She has a double bed in her room. Either that or Louise can sleep on the couch, unless I’m there snoring through the night.
It seems as though there is more to Rachel staying here than I first suspected. Two months ago she expressed no interest at all in learning Spanish. Last night we were up until 3am talking. It began in the kitchen at ten when Derek was there. Various people came and went. We heard some stories, told some ourselves, and at last everyone went to bed. Rachel and I just weren’t all that tired. Long story short:
Rachel became a compulsive eater thanks to the stress at work. She couldn’t find any other job and reached the point where no work was better than the misery of working for arseholes doing so much unpaid overtime that her life had become a blackhole the size of a Chelsea player’s ego. One day she realised her third anniversary at the company came and went. Enough was enough, so she quit. She used to work as an assistant sales manager at an advertising company. She’ll certainly have options when she goes back to England.
This then gets a little complicated.
To save money Rachel moved in with her mum.
Rachel’s mum was living with a boyfriend. They had been together for six years.
A week after Rachel quit her job, her mum proposed to her boyfriend.
He said no.
Apparently she did actually drop down on one knee and asked her boyfriend to marry her.
He moved out, leaving an unemployed Rachel to try and pick up her mum’s life. Woe is me, I’m too old to ever date again, I’ll die alone. That kind of thing.
Living with her mum became unbearable. Rachel hit the doughnuts and chocolate again like nobody’s business. She realised she was stuck in another blackhole situation and had to leave as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter where she went, it just had to be somewhere that wasn’t in London. She started in Barcelona and found a Spanish school in Madrid that would accept her.
I felt quite bad about all that. Her mum is nice and so was the guy she was seeing. I felt guilty asking if I could stay any longer. She did say it was nice having a friend here and if I wanted I could stay a few more days.
I saw the French kids this morning. The guy and the girl spent the night in the same room in agony, lying as still as possible, because the other guy didn’t want to listen to them complaining all night. One of them threw up last night and neither look particularly well. Cristina won’t be here for most of the day so if they need to find a doctor they better ask someone else.
It’s Saturday so there’s no class at all. There’s some kind of street party this evening, the kind where people wear those glo sticks and dance to music. I’ve seen street festivals before so I’m not expecting anything great, although Ediz was here last year and said it kicked ass. We’ll see.
Something serious is going on in the world. Krakow, Helsinki and Budapest have been quarantined and all flights over the Atlantic have been cancelled. It was just like when the Icelandic volcano blew its top and nothing flew for a week. This flu thing has gone global. Even the governments around the world are advising people to stay indoors.
Sofia arrived into Madrid a few days before I did. She’s here for a year, studying in the city-sized university just past Arguelles. She’s on the phone twice a day with her parents trying to get updates. They’re not saying much, only that certain areas of St. Petersberg can use the shops at certain times.
Despite that, we’re going out today! There’s more of that fiesta tonight (which is AWESOME - seriously, I can’t believe how well the Spanish throw a party), plus I’m paranoid about Sundays now when everything closes. It’s not supposed to affect central Madrid. Still, I have food and supplies to buy. Rachel has decided that she needs a new bikini (an odd topic of conversation between male and female friends, no?). Apparently the one she bought back in London was sold to her by a flat-chested bimbo who had never rumbled in the waves. As such, Rachel’s top kept falling off when she was in Barcelona (that happens a lot to her, does it? I must pay more attention to what she’s wearing). So, Rachel bought a new top in Barcelona and now hates it. So off to shopping we go!
Part 1 was written just half an hour ago. Apparently there won’t be much exploring today. Rachel didn’t get much sleep last night so she wants to take it easy today. That’s fine. She asked me to go down to the shops and pick up a couple of bottles of wine and some water. She didn’t eat much yesterday because of the heat, only fruit and liquid-based food. She feels the same today. There’s this herbal tea thing called matay or something. It’s from South America and has a weird metal straw. It’s supposed to put Rachel to sleep. She’s brewing some up now and offered me some. I’ll try it when I come back from the shops, which won’t take more than ten minutes.
The heat is a killer. 35 degrees during the day and it hasn’t dropped below 30 at night since I arrived. I tried the matay and felt drowsy, as did Rachel, but we didn’t fall asleep. So we had some more. And more. We had four brews of it and became more and more drowsy, and still the heat kept us awake. Rachel is next to me right now, sitting on her bed writing in her diary. We swapped diaries and read what the other had been writing, just for the hell of it. At one point she mumbled, “Huh.”
I looked up. She shot a quick look my way and went back to my diary without saying anything.
Naturally I read the things she was saying about me. The day before I arrived she wrote she trimmed herself, just in case. Yesterday she woke up early in the morning and had to use the bathroom. She grabbed the first thing she could reach which turned out to be my t-shirt on the back of the chair. She threw it on and has since apologised if she stretched it out at all. I really didn’t notice, but she was laughing the whole day because I was wearing something that had her boobs in it.
When she was done she put my diary down and said that I must have hit it off with Cristina. Well, yeah, she’s cool.
And that was the last we spoke of it. I flipped back a few pages to see what I had written … and I wrote about my Scottish accent while pretending that Cristina was my girlfriend.
We’re lounging around with a little night time roof-top experience. There’s a breeze coming over now that is bliss. We’re sitting back in hammocks with a gentle sway talking about shitty ex-boyfriends and shitty ex-girlfriends.
Rachel sat up about half an hour ago and blurted out, “Hang on, you have nothing bad to say about Alana? Nothing at all?”
“I’m trying to be a gentleman, here.”
“She has to have something about her that pissed you off while you were together.”
“I found it kinda troubling that she hadn’t been single since she was thirteen.”
“There you go. That’s a warning sign,” said Rachel. “And if you’re still thinking about getting back together with her then that’s one of yours.”
Trust me, I don’t want to get back together with her, but I have been daydreaming about seeing her again. We’ll be at Kim’s wedding, somewhere down the line. I’ll be going stag and I’ll bump into Alana. For the first time in her life she’s single. We’ll have that smile knowing that five or so years have gone by and there’s no longer any resentment. We’ll start chatting and, naturally, we’re sitting at the same table during the dinner. We’ll flirt, we’ll dance, then I’ll take her home, screw her brains out, and won’t call her again.
The downside to that is if she doesn’t try to contact me either.
Ediz’s highly offensive joke of the day: “What’s the difference between a terrorist training camp and a school? Who gets the credit for blowing it up.”
No TV, no radio, no Internet. There has been a complete media blackout. The only thing convincing me that a coup hasn’t taken place already is that life seems to still be pretty normal here. No tanks, no rebels, just a typical summer in Spain. There was a Spanish guy on the steps in front of the building saying “If I die, I die,” then he went to watch a movie. The metro isn’t working, the buses aren’t working, the trains aren’t working. People are still driving around but mostly everyone is holed up at home. Some are on the roof getting a tan, but the majority are keeping to themselves and drinking themselves stupid.
We’ve been playing cards all day. There’s this game called Pato which is supposed to mean ‘duck’. There’s also one called Carioca. The phrase ‘wiped the floor’ isn’t nearly enough to describe how I obliterated Rachel, Cristina, Ediz, Katy, and Derek. I’ve never played Pato or Carioca before in my life but by the third game I had to scale back my abilities just to give these people a chance, and even then I crushed their souls like a bug.
“Can anyone play poker?” asked Derek.
“A little,” I said.
“Do not play poker with Mark,” said Rachel, with a definite point of a finger in my direction.
“So, you’re good?”
Well, no. On a purely amateur level, then yes, I am pretty fucking great. You can thank my grandparents for sneakily teaching me whenever they had to watch over me. I’ve played online a couple of times and have probably earned £500 over the last five years, but that’s the height of it. That was actually one of the things that made Alana nervous. I’d be playing online while watching TV. I’m risking £5, honey, not my pension.
We ended up playing a couple of rounds with imaginary money (whee, what fun) as I tried to coach them into improving their skills. First rule: don’t look at your cards until it’s your turn. Second rule: remember what cards you have. There’s only two of them, it’s not that hard. Third rule: never look at how much money you have while you’re trying to make a decision.
Sounds easy, right? Nope! After four rounds everyone was still checking their cards the moment they were dealt, they couldn’t remember what they had, and they all checked the list of imaginary money. I won £8 million.
The French kids are doing better, though their skin is peeling. Cristina is telling them to drink lots of water. Katy is meeting up with some classmates later on and they might swing on over here. One of them is from London. Holly Crombe. I went to school with a Holly Crombe. I wonder if it’s the same girl. I asked if Katy’s Holly is blonde, but people can dye their hair. I asked if she was thin or not, and then I remembered that people can gain or lose weight. I’ll just have to wait and see.
One of the toilets started overflowing today. It was clogged with a grey tank top, of all things. Why? And how? No one knew who it belonged to. Derek said that toilet wasn’t working properly when he got here so maybe it’s been there for weeks. The landlady insists that we should be able to fix it but the plunger is in the locked room. Who the fuck locks a plunger away?
Derek found me in the kitchen. “So, uh … you kinda missed the cue back there when we were playing poker. There were three guys, three girls, a little bit of wine, and Texas Hold ‘Em was not the type of poker we should have been playing. And with a little wine maybe we could have got something going, you know, help you out a little.”
Really? Help me out? A little?
Oooooo, swing and a miss there, buddy. “Rachel’s not the one I have my eye on.”
That certainly confused him. “Who’s Catherine?”
“A girl I met in Barcelona. I’m trying to see if we can hook up in Málaga. But, if Rachel’s the one you’re after then good luck, because you’re not the first to mention it to me.”
That certainly made him backpedal. After a bit of confusion he walked away, which is good because Catherine’s backstory would’ve had something to do with her being Canadian and me looking into a working holiday visa to see her.
Dear all paranoid Internet conspiracy bullshit websites: explain to me what the fuck is going on in this world. Yesterday I went to bed and everything was fine. Sort of. This morning I woke up and the whole world has gone and clusterfucked itself. The conspiracy bullshit websites promised me this would NEVER happen: Zombies.
Fucking zombies. They said a zombie apocalypse won’t ever be possible. Why?
1) Because zombies move slowly and are easy targets for people with guns.
2) Lots of people have lots of guns and generally have no problem killing anyone even when they’re alive.
3) Everyone around the world has seen at least one zombie movie and they all know what to avoid and how to survive, i.e. shoot the fucking zombies before they become a problem.
The Internet is back, the phone lines are open, and the world has gone to shit. This better be an elaborate hoax because Sofia is as white as a ghost. “That’s my city,” she said, over and over, watching images of the downtown area that have been streamed from phones and street level security cameras.
We were all sitting in the lounge with the TV on and everyone had their laptops out checking the news from all over the world.
St. Petersberg: fucked.
Firstly, I have no idea how the hell anyone managed to fuck up Edinburgh. It’s on an island in a no-fly zone and somehow there are dozens of zombies running rampant. At this point I’m thinking there are only a few safe places left in the world, Malta being one of them and Antarctica being the other.
Michael was telling me it won’t really be that bad, there will always be pockets of survivors no matter how bad everything gets. He also reminded me that we are in a city surrounded by hundreds of kilometres of desert, so good luck to the zombies getting through. There’s just one slight problem there: the Edinburgh conundrum. First there were no zombies in St. Petersberg. Then there were zombies in St. Petersberg. Then the UK sealed itself off to stop the spread of clusterfuckedness. Then, days after St. Petersberg was flooded with zombies, zombies appeared in Scotland. How? If they can go from Russia to Scotland without conquering everything in between then they can go anywhere.
It also means the spread of infection takes a while, obviously long enough to become infected, board a flight, take off, land in another country, then fall victim to the lunacy of science fiction. I mean, what the shit is going on here?
There are hundreds of zombies causing havoc in each of those cities. There’s only a few hundred of them and yet everyone around the world is crippled with fear. It’s like if there was one fake sighting of a zombie in Mexico City then the entire population would cross the border into Texas just to get away from it. Why? Because we’ve all seen the movies, which, frankly, might soon be regarded as documentaries.
There was a video from Estonia of a zombie with a shotgun. That doesn’t bode well. He looked like a regular guy stumbling down the street like he was blind drunk. He was able to keep a central line while walking, though. So the only difference between him and an actual drunk person? His coordination was much better. He was dressed in a cheap blue tracksuit that was covered in blood. Maybe he had been out hunting zombies when one of them got him. People were shooting at him with pistols. The zombie shot back, slowly and stupidly. Then he ran out of shells and kept trying to shoot. Maybe it thinks it’s still human. I’ve never seen someone … actually, no, I have seen someone being shot before, online. Some guy took a shotgun blast to the face. His body fell limp. Worst thing I’ve ever seen.
Wait, no. The worst thing I’ve ever seen was the Japanese girl going up in flames in a restaurant.
I have enough bread and pasta to last four days before my situation becomes desperate. Rachel is the same.
Katy just went upstairs to the roof. Please don’t let her jump. Please. Even though she said she was just going to wait it out and let the authorities clean up the mess in cities that don’t affect her, please don’t let her jump.
Copyright © 2016 Jackson Lear
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