Make love, not war (Part 4)

They say every cloud has a silver lining. They also say that vultures circle around the dead and the dying, waiting for their moment to swoop. Shortly after Corazon dumped me in his remarkably heartless way, I had someone offer to take his place, or at least to keep his side of the bed warm. It happened one unstable Saturday night, when I’d dabbed hemmarhoid cream under my eyes to reduce the swelling and had gone out to cheer myself up.

The Pirate’s stall, on the corner of the street just below the Tio Pepe sign, was swarming with customers. They buzzed and fussed while he wove his skillful magic and helped them part with their precious money and telephone numbers. Another expert. I lurked in a doorway nearby so as not to cramp his style, and smoked a cigarette. The Huertas Pirate deserved to pull women: he put his heart and soul into it. He was the most daring man I have ever watched in action and it amazed me that he never came home with a black eye. I have witnessed him home in like an exorcet missile on girls accompanied by their boyfriends, smoothly and methodically separating them, prizing her away as if liberating an oyster from its shell. Every conquest he made, in my eyes, was the fruit of his labour, and justly earned.

‘The reason Spanish men hate Argentinian men’, he once told me, ‘is that they know we can have them any day. They’re small fry. Watch an Argentinian chatting up a woman and compare that to a Spaniard’s methods…’ (As opposed to a Frenchman’s efforts, according to my brother, who describes them thus- a French man, instead of chatting a woman up directly in a pub, or at a party, for example, will go outside, smash his fist repeatedly into the wall, then, nursing his mashed-up hand will go inside and show it to her, as a token of how much he loves her.)

The Pirate summed up the differences in the following way:

‘An Argentinian throws himself into the fray bravely, sword unsheathed, to battle to the death. And he’s not afraid of losing, he has supreme confidence in his abilities. He will use flattery, humour, physical contact, any legitimate means to seduce a woman. A Spaniard, as you’ve experienced for yourself, will see a girl they fancy in a club. They don’t go over to talk to her, they hang around the other side of the dance floor and stare at her silently all night. Then, when they are drunk enough they sidle over and blurt out something gross like,

‘Hey, nena, te gusta el chorizo Español?’ (Hey babe, d’you like Spanish sausage, then?) Am I right? We beat them hands down. We’ve got it and they haven’t. We might be a bunch of lying, unreliable bastards but women love us.’

I had to agree. If you don’t believe me, test my theory for yourself- that Spanish men hate Argentinos and Spanish women love them. Ask a Spaniard what she thinks of Argentinos and she will use adjectives like ‘funny, flirtatious, cheeky, seductive, affectionate, romantic…’ Ask a Spaniard what he thinks of Argentinos and he will spit feathers: ‘lying, thieveing, smarmy, wily, untrustworthy….’ There was a wave of Argentinians to Spain in the nineties and what was the first thing they did after getting off the plane before the dust had even settled? They stole all the women from under the men’s noses. No contest. They might as well have been a hoard of marauding Vikings slinging the womenfolk over their shoulders and razing the buildings to the ground. They came, they flirted, they conquered. Certainly in Madrid you will find few Madrileños over thirty who don’t have an amiga who is or was either going out with or married to an Argentino or at least has one ex lover from across the Charco. I have three amigas in this category and fall into it myself.

In a quiet moment the Pirate beckoned me over.

‘Hey, there’s someone here who wants to see you. Who can’t wait to see you.’

‘Really?’ My heart did a little lurch. Had Corazon…?

‘Round the corner, he’s sat in the doorway next to the Asturian bar skinning up. He’s been asking if you were coming out tonight. Go on, have some fun and we’ll all meet up later when I’ve finished. Go on, knock yourself out…’ He winked at me and smirked as he turned away to conquer another customer.

It was Gali sitting cross-legged on the stone doorstep. He licked the cigarette paper with the tip of his tongue, rolled, pinched the end then saw me and leapt to his feet, smiling broadly.

‘Hola, Guapa!’ (Hello Gorgeous!)

He came over to greet me, a little awkardly, a little shyly. He hugged me and kissed me on both cheeks, his lips burning as they pressed against my face. He had already had a couple of drinks.

‘I’m sorry.’ he mumbled, pulling away. He left the suggestion of after shave in the air, a grown up frangrance that smelled good, but was a bit too old for a young man. For some reason this scent was appealling on him and made me want to stay close enough to catch another breath of it.

‘About Corazon. Sorry about… you know, you and Corazon.’

‘Me too.’ I wondered how obvious it was that I’d spent most of the evening crying.

Gali shifted from one trainer-clad foot to the other and ran a hand over the front of his expensive sportwear. A true ‘joven’ (kid), he was always smartly-dressed in his own way in branded sportswear. It was always new and immaculately ironed, I suspected by his mother. Not my favourite look but if you had an athlete’s body inside the sportswear you could just about get away with it. Which he did. He took my hand.

‘Look,’ he said gently, ‘I’ve just rolled one up. Let’s go to Plaza Santa Ana and smoke it, hey? Make you feel a bit better.’

So I went with him to Plaza Santa Ana and we lurked around the entrance to the underground carpark and public toilets, furtively sharing the joint. He made me smoke most of it, waving it away and instructing me to ‘Fuma, fumalo…’ (Smoke, you smoke it.) then watching me slyly as if to see how stoned I was becoming. Soon I began to relax and after half the joint I fell through the rabbit hole into ripples of exaggerated awareness. The plaza pulsed around us. It was early Saturday night, mid Autumn, the terrazas packed with people. An accordionist wandered from table to table worrying the punters like a dog after sheep. Scores of young people criss-crossed the square laughing and shouting to each other. Agitated, over-friendly flyeros (flyer-distributers) jabbed at them, flyers in hand, attacking and retreating like swarms of hungry mosquitoes. Mopeds puttered past and traffic prowled the periphery of the square. There was a scruffy young hippy girl in stripey hareem pants juggling in the middle of the plaza, with few people paying her any attention. The air was balmy, just the right temperature, without a trace of cold to it even though it was past eleven. Winter would come soon enough and there would be plenty of time to shiver in the streets like stray dogs.

It was here, after smoking the joint that Gali launched his calculated attack. He was leaning against the low stone partition of the carpark entrance, his legs splayed, and he put his arm round my waist and pulled me in between them. His thighs closed round me, preventing me from moving away, not that I was making any attempt to do so.

‘Er, listen,’ he said, ‘I think Corazon is a total wanker. I can’t believe he just dropped you like this. Unbelievable! I think he’s mad if he doesn’t want to go out with you because you’re gorgeous. And if he doesn’t want to go out with you, then I do.’

So that was that settled, then. What better way is there to have a dig at your heartless ex lover who has just dumped you to go back to his ex than by attaching yourself to his taller, younger, handsome friend? No bandy legs here. And I liked Gali, in that uncomplicated way any mid-thirty year old is by default going to like a good-looking man ten years her junior who has a crush on her. Ours wasn’t a formal relationship, neither had it been with Corazon, and there was a shyness and awkwardness and some kind of mental or emotional block in Gali that stopped it ever going anywhere, so it would sporadically start, edge forward, stall, then jerk to a stop like a frosted-up car in winter, but there were romantic moments. After we had been out all night, one madrugada (early morning, coming at it from the night before, usually) he took me to the bar just below the bridge at Opera. A strange location- the bar was closed, the pot-plants and potted trees lined up like sentries, the chairs and metal tables stacked and linked together with heavy chains, footsteps trotting over the raised pavement above our heads, and no doubt roaches and rats running around behind the tangle of furniture and the overflowing bins. But there was a sleazy romance about it, especially when the sun began to come up pink over the tops of the buildings, and he pulled out two chained chairs and a small table for us to sit at, and we smoked joints and kissed in the approaching dawn, in the middle of the city but all alone at our secret terraza. He also took me to Candela, the flamenco bar in Anton Martin which is now round the corner from where I live, and told me it was his father’s favourite place. He pointed out people he’d met when he was a child, from the faded black and white framed photos of singers, dancers and musicians, and introduced me to the resident dopehound, a burnt out flamencero who apparently was really something in his day, but was now a stooped, shuffling little man with evident mental health problems, who went from table to table asking plaintively ‘anyone got a joint? Go on, gimme a puff, just a little one’ and would then wander off with it in his hand.

There were also dates on the park near my house overlooking the ‘river’ which was undergoing massive re-modelling, the motorway next to it being sunk underground, and the land on top landscaped into gardens, cycle tracks and paths. Here we took a bottle of whiskey and the inevitable smoke, and it was here under the stars, half drunk one night, that I began to realise the extent of Gali’s dimly thought-out racist opinions. We were chatting about one of my recent trips to Cuba and I was trying to explain the ‘shirt off your back’ dynamic which leads any sane and compassionate person to give away every personal possession they can share, as soon as they see how little everyone there has, and in relative terms, how much we have in the developed West. Gali was sitting cross-legged on the grass, dressed entirely in white logo-ed sportswear including some pretty flash trainers. He had a long blade of grass in his hand, which he was using to trace idle patterns along my neck and shoulder. He yawned.

Si, claro, hay que ayudar, sobre todo a las negritas.’ (Yeah, sure, you’e got to lend a helping hand, especailly to those cute black girls over there.) which was a comment worthy of Torrente, the fictional macho, sexist, racist Spanish copper.

About another third of the way through the bottle of whiskey he started to mouth off about South Americans in general, trotting out that tedious old chestnut about ‘them coming over here, stealing our jobs’…

‘I don’t see you applying for many jobs flipping bugers, waiting tables, manning call centres, looking after elderly sick people… or actually applying for any jobs.’ I replied.

‘That’s not the point. What right do they have to come over here anyway from their crappy poor countries to live here? All those Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Bolivians, Panchitos, Sudacas de mierda…’ (these last two are insulting terms similar to ‘Little Pancho and Jungle monkey.)

‘Have you ever read a history book?’ I asked him.

Gali took another swig of the whiskey and handed me the joint.

‘History? Nah. S’boring.’

‘Why do you think Peru for example is such a poor country?’

His yellowish-green eyes were as indifferent as the surface of a pond. Who knew what was swimming or drifting beneath the surface?

‘I don’t know. How should I know? Who cares anyway?’

‘Well, go and read some history books before coming out with bollocks like that. Peru was a fabulously rich country, the Incas had a highly developed civilisation and mountains of gold until you lot arrived and when they were hospitable to you, stole it all and massacred them all. How do you think Spain got rich through colonialisation? By raping and robbing South America.’

‘Oh, and you British! Like you didn’t do the same?’

‘Sure we did. I’m not going to start comparing empires. We were a bunch of bastards as well. But at least we have the decency to suffer some colonial guilt, which is more than can be said for you lot.’

I tried to calm things down by repeating a joke I once heard from a British asian comedian who told a long anecdote about the British Raj packing up and withdrawing from India, culminating with the crowds they were leaving behind crying out,

‘No! Don’t go, don’t leave us! Well… all right then, if you’re determined to go back to the UK we’re coming with you. Wait for us!…’ but he failed to see the funny side.

‘Bunch of ugly little midgets anyway. They can all fuck off home.’ he muttered, referring to South Americans, not Indians. But the final straw came a while later one hot afternoon when we were lying in bed at his shared flat.

The fan in the corner purred, breathing cool air over us, and the traffic outside hummed and jostled. Gali and I lay naked, flank to flank. We had just had another relatively unsuccessful attempt to make love. What a strange boy he was- so passionate, needy and at times gentle, yet thoroughly conflicted about our liaison. It was more than obvious that Gali wanted me, and I was more than happy for him to have me, that much was mutual, but when push came to shove, or rather, moer accurately, when embracing came to rolling over or under or wherever, he lost his nerve. I can only assume there had been a fair bit of bragging going on, on Corazon’s part. Don’t tell me that when one of a group of male friends is banging an older woman he isn’t going to show off about it and probably share some pretty lurid details as well? As a result I think I unwittingly intimidated and emasculated him. Beneath all those layers of the arrogance of youth there is normally a desperately insecure young man. The sweat cooled on our bodies, his hard thigh twitched with embarrassment. I held his hand. It really didn’t matter; whatever he thought, I wasn’t comparing him to Corazon. We smoked, chatted, rolled around a little more. I mentioned that the week before I’d had my handbag snatched in a shoe shop on Calle Arenal, a street running just off Sol, in a square kilometre that is supposed to be the most highly populated per capita by thieves in the whole of Spain. I didn’t even see who did it, they were so fast. They must have been following me, waiting for their moment.

‘Those fucking moros!’ (Moors/Arabs) he spat out between perfect, even teeth. ‘I should have bashed more of them when I had the chance.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Oh, me and some mates used to go out some nights and show those fucking moros a thing or two. After they robbed my aunt, she lives near the centre, and they grabbed her bag one night, gave her a real fright. People shouldn’t have to put up with that sort of shit.’

‘What, you mean like vigilant justice? You got the guys who did it?’

‘No.’ he replied. ‘We just used to drive around late at night and pick a few of them off. Kick the shit out of them. They derserve it.’

‘Hang on- so you and some mates drove around jumping random arabs, or people you thought looked a bit like arabs and beat them up?’

He nodded. That soft baby face with its expression as free of guile as a puppy’s. Inside that athletic young body the seed of a budding neo-nazi germinating.

‘I told you,’ he said. ‘They deserve it. They shouldn’t be here in the first place, and they shouldn’t all be thieving bastards.’

Needless to say Gali and I didn’t last much longer after that. I may be unprincipled sometimes, selfish and lustful, but even my lust has its limits.

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