Stories of a Tiny Life: Time slots full of cross-references or mirrors in which to look at oneself, inside or as a footnote.
In my house
This afternoon I ironed my clothes. After that, I folded them and carefully placed them on the bed. Now I’m looking at them. They’re an almost perfect collage: three black T-shirts, one over the other, a pair of jeans, two jumpers, four pairs of socks, two shirts and three pants. I open the suitcase and start putting the collage inside. I also put in a toiletries bag and a pair of slippers. I close the suitcase and leave it next to the door. When I go back to the room I think about the Spanish word “calzoncillo”. It’s an ugly word. On the contrary, in English, that same word, in any of its translations, “pants”, “underpants” or “boxers”, is a more neutral term, with no weird connotations. I go to bed. I switch off the lamp on the bedside table. The alarm clock says it’s 00:35. Tomorrow I will go on a long journey. I close my eyes, freeze an image of Isabel and try to sleep.
In his work The Storyteller, Walter Benjamin quotes a popular saying: “When someone goes on a journey, they can tell a story.” It seems the person qualified to tell stories must be someone coming from afar, because it needs to be someone who has seen new things worth telling. Up to when I was twenty-something, I travelled quite a lot: China, the US, France, Italy, Morocco, England, Ireland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Holland and Argentina. I did it every time I could and always on my own. I visited some tourist attractions and then lost myself in their streets. But, above all, I devoted my time to writing down reflections on a notebook and to sleeping. I slept a lot. Looking back, it could seem somewhat absurd: I travelled hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kilometres to places I didn’t know to sleep eleven or twelve hours a day and write things down on a notebook. I never met anyone who was worth talking to. Except for Isabel, she was worth it.
In the air
I’m sitting in a Ryanair plane. I flick the pages of a magazine while the stewardess gives the last instructions. In fifteen minutes I will buy a lottery ticket and eat a Kit Kat. In an hour and a half I will land in London. Two days of fair before me. Last week I tried to convince my editor not to go, but he said that it was non-negotiable. It’s your novel, Iban, he said, I need you there with me to try and sell it. In the last years I try to travel as little as I can. I don’t like it any more; it gives me something similar to anxiety. Now, when I find myself in a city that is not mine, I feel reality augmenting its speed, which becomes uncontrollable, and I cease to understand it. There was a time in which I was scared. I thought that by having stopped wanting to know new places there would come a day when I would have nothing new to tell. However, in time I understood that I would never need to travel again. My trips had always been to places that were different from the ones that surrounded me. J.M. Coetzee explained in Diary of a Bad Year that there exists a new path that allows people to travel without moving, not only through thinking and lectures. “The path of quietness,” he calls it, the path of voluntary darkness, of internal migration.
At the fair
A man in thick spectacles and with credentials round his neck gives me some papers that I keep on signing. My editor is sitting with me, I can’t see his face, but I’m sure he’s smiling. We’ve just sold the rights to my novel to a publishing house called “Pomona”. Bioy Casares said that writing is like adding a room to the house of your life, that there’s life and there’s thinking about life, and that is almost like duplicating your existence. The first edition in English will have a print-run of 5,000 copies. The advance will allow me to devote my time to writing for the next few months.
At the hotel
I contemplate my clothes folded on the bed. It’s my second collage in forty-eight hours. One after the other, I put all my garments inside my suitcase again. I look through the window. It’s dark. I see lights, and cars passing by. I remember that it was here, in London, where I saw Isabel for the last time. Since we split up I live locked up in that room Bioy talked about, constantly trying to emigrate somewhere else. I know that she still lives in this city. I know that should I dial her number we would see each other tonight.
I leave my hotel room and walk towards a restaurant. She’s sitting down, waiting for me. She still smiles as much. Still looks at me that way, too attentively. With her eyes open wide. We remember our first day together. She congratulates me for having sold the novel. “I keep a close watch on you,” she whispers. She tells me about her career in advertisement in London. Also about her husband and their three-year-old boy. Of how difficult everything was on the first year and how wonderful it is watching him grow. We finish our dinner. We promise to keep in touch more often, talk through Skype, and see each other again next summer. We kiss twice on the cheek. The second kiss very close to the lips. I go back to the hotel. I feel somewhat disorderly. The main character of Michael Houellebecq’s Soumission says that for him nostalgia is not an aesthetic feeling, but something that simply exists because the past, no matter if it were good or bad, is always beautiful, and so is the future. The only thing that hurts, he continues, is the present, which we carry about like an abscess of suffering between two infinites of placid happiness. Nostalgia in English is also called nostalgia. This one is a beautiful word.