[ fiction - march 05 ]
The Spanish wine that we drank in the Black Sheep Bar (which was probably not Spanish at all) made the roofs and the balconies coil around the lights of the narrow streets. There was no one about and Llosa argued with me until he drew his knife.
We faced each other near the port. We could hear the sea. The stories of elsewhere have driven us mad, made us curse each other night after night and threaten anyone that crosses our path. I knew I had to face him down. He would kill me just to show others that things happen to him.
I drew my knife and laughed aloud. He spat on the ground. We know that this is how it is done. We have seen this ritual how many times?
On the balconies one or two eyes caught the sight of the glittering knives while the rest of the town slept with mosquitoes buzzing in their ears.
If Llosa wasnít going to get a woman tonight, then at least he was going to kill me. And the only reason I was standing in the plaza was because they had thrown me out of the bar before I had finished my bottle. I cursed the little whore from Algeria who was probably finishing it right now.
I was due to leave on the first ship of the new month. Llosa was never going to leave. This made a difference and we both knew it.
We came close and he made the first swipe. He caught my cheek. We were both so relieved at the sight of blood that it may as well have been a kiss. He drew away and swayed from side to side. We do these things to perpetuate what others say is done here. It is a port town and although we would never say as much we are proud of it.
I struck at him coldly and I felt it go deeper than the hilt. He knew at once he was done for. He fell back onto the ground, the knife still in his chest and he waited for his heart to stop beating with the same tired insolence that had characterised his whole life. With his eyes already closed he held out his hand. I was embarrassed by the gesture. He didnít shake my hand, he just held onto it like a beggar. His voice was different now. It had an almost paternal pride and arrogance. I couldnít help thinking that none of his bastard children would be in any way moved by his noble strength in death.
He muttered that I had done well and that I would do better never to come back. Then he fell silent and I watched the blood flow over the sand around his body. The storms of the last fortnight had covered the entire town in a thin film of yellow sand. The acrid smell of blood rested on the air.
I said a quick prayer for the passage of his soul and was surprised that I knew it all. Then I ran away down the darkest street.
I never did go back. The last time I heard of Llosa was in a bar in Cartagena. A man I vaguely knew was recalling a fight he had had with him. I noticed how old and wrinkled the man was. It is only in mirrors that we age and before there were mirrors there were the faces of others.
The younger listeners held onto his every word. They too were driven mad with the stories of elsewhere. After each gulp of wine they could understand that faraway port a little better. They longed to walk its streets, to have the girls that walked along the wharves after midnight, to fight any man who questioned them.
I slipped out before the lights went up.
When I woke the next morning the lady of the boarding house I was staying in told me about a body that had been found in the Plaza de la Luz. My boat wasnít sailing for another week and a heaviness settled over my body. I wanted to leave that night.
The news of a knife fight and a death, said with such indifference, almost as if it had never occurred, brought me back to that night in Port Vell. Thirty years had come and gone since then. But it is always the same in this world. We are rarely punished for our crimes; but we must live with their tedious and inevitable repetition. My actions had in some way been responsible for the death of that slow, brutal soul whoever he was. The evil that we do is returned by others imitating us; as we have imitated someone else and that some else goes back until he can see the eyes of Christ and carries on nailing the hands to the cross as if he is fixing a broken chair. This soldier will never be forgotten but his name, his family, his mundane grief, is already lost forever. We are all just doing our job. Our work will never be remembered, only the knife and the nail are.
The heaviness that came over me was not eased by the strong shafts of sunlight through the kitchen window or the shadows in the unfamiliar street that led to the reeking port. I felt a sharp homeless pain run through me and when the lady of the house left the room I sat there a long time thinking about that night in Port Vell.