SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT
This is the last time she does this to me, I swear it's the last. There, I'll slam the door so you don't have any doubts, bitch. This woman is killing me, I can't stand that bossy tone she uses with me all the time, like I'm a retard. She always gives me some lame excuse: “But, mi amor, it's almost Christmas Eve, how can you suggest something like that now?” Goodness gracious, what kind of answer is that? Is Santa Claus going to be jealous if I make love to my own wife? “It's not that, mi amor, but my mum and dad will arrive in a couple of hours and I haven't even begun to prepare dinner.” “Yes, of course, my love. If it's not your daddy, it's the baby; if it's not the baby, it's the job, or you are tired or your blood pressure is low or your blood pressure is high or any other stupidity. Also, it's the same every year: only your family would think of eating fish at Christmas.” “You know that my dad doesn't like anything that flies, mi amor, don't keep bringing up the same subject, please.” I have no say at all in what is supposed to be my house, it's like talking to a beheaded chicken. “Come on, mi amor, be a good boy and help me get down the silver and glasses from the cupboard. “Sod off, Patricita, count me out for tonight, I'm going out.” “And then we dress up; my dad will love that you are wearing the necktie he gave you last year.” Whatever you say, darling, but don't hold your breath.
Damn, it's already dark at this hour, I had better put on my scarf before going out. Damn European winter; why do I have to put up with it anyway. “We'll spend some quality time together soon, mi amor.” The usual stuff. It's so windy, but it's only a couple of blocks away and from there: hasta la vista, baby. Arnold is the man. I rush out of the office, I put up with that awful queue to abide by the ridiculous rite of exchange and what do I get: “Oh, it's nice, my love, thank you.” Thank you? That's it? I swear this is the last time; this joke ends today. It's bloody cold, and it is raining now.
Well, I'm already here and luckily the metro is coming. It shrieks, it opens, it offloads, it loads up, it whistles, it blows, it shuts, it shrieks again. People get on, people get off, people coming, people leaving, who understands this? Everybody is bustling about. “Silent night, holy night?” Don't make me laugh, please, I'm not up to it. It looks like there is a free seat over there. Shit, even on a day like this you are squashed up with these people, you travel in these stock cars that smell of bum. Ah, women, as usual, taking up all the room with their little bags and packages, all they are good for is shopping. “But it's on sale, mi amor.” I'm sure all the store owners laugh at them. In the words of a wise man: they are creatures of long hair and short ideas. And you, pig, stop pounding the phone, you'll crush it, you idiot. Do you really need to laugh like that, boys? Why don't you go back to your own country, there's not enough air for all of us in this fucking old world. Don't push, damn it.
“Bonjour Monsieur, Dame, désolé de vous déranger, je n'ai pas de travail, je n'ai pas à manger.”
No, not again, please, what have I done to bump into this guy every day? Doesn’t he take a holiday, the tosser? I'm beginning to hate accordions. As if this city wasn't noisy enough. Next, he will be singing a carol, the wanker. Oh, at last, my stop. Let's see, this is a mess, the secret is to run away if you don't want to be crushed by that miserable mob, they look like cattle coming out of their pen. Hang on, rabble, I'm getting off first. Oh, fuck, now it's raining hard. Damn country, you live perpetually wet. Let's see, the square is over there, I hope that little pub I was in the last time is open. I couldn't give a toss if it snows today. Dreaming of a white Christmas, I don’t need that now. Those damn stores are still open. This is a sweet deal, amazing, always something to buy, stand in the queue, push, wait, pay, run. How much nonsense is committed in Thy name, Lord? Is that guy going to sleep there in this cold? Apparently, newspapers keep you warm, but how tough, I could not. Oh, I'm here at last, I was about to freeze to death. Will there be someone? Doubtless another guy who's had a fight with the missus.
“Une bière, monsieur s'il vous plait”
Luciano went out into the hall and pulled the handle, furiously; the door crashing into the frame broke the dry silence of the identical buildings of the Unidad Vecinal , drowsy as they were in the early afternoon heat of the Peruvian summer. A voice weighed down by sleep let out an insult that bounced off the green walls. Luciano grabbed the handrail and almost flew down the three flights of stairs until he reached the central passage, crossed the football field, vacant but for the sun, and came out onto the street. Without stopping, he lit a cigarette and went down the path to the canal. The hot concrete almost burned through his shoes, but he didn't slow down until he reached the hero's oval. There, he followed the procession of taxis and motorcycle taxis that vied with each other in a cacophony of horns, plunging into the shadow of the main avenue that had cut short the routine of the siesta, resulting in a stream of movement, noise and sweat.
Luciano passed quickly in front of the home appliance stores, chemists, toy stores and clothes stores, all decorated with plastic pines covered in cotton snow, golden baubles on the branches and shoe boxes wrapped in gift paper at the base. The sellers, in shirt sleeves and tie reaching down to the midriff, mingled with the carols, the television sets at full volume, the smell of grilled chickens and the sirens and lights of the toys. Luciano dodged a Santa Claus with a dirty beard and a pillow belly, newspaper stalls on the edge of the floor, and street vendors hawking replica sunglasses and watches, and turned down a narrow avenue. He walked half a block among the dollars changers who, calculator in hand, had taken over the entire sidewalk, and stopped in front of the bookstore. He whistled several times towards the balcony that hung over the gallery until Chino peeked out of the window, his slit eyes lost between the ruddy, sweaty cheeks.
“What is it, Lucy Luciano?” Chino shouted, all smiles.
“Come down then, Chino, it's past four in the afternoon and you're still sleeping; I don't know how you manage in this heat.”
“University is over, Lucy, I need to rest after those shitty exams.”
“Hurry up, Chino, I need to tell you something”
“Man, what's with that face? I'll take a shower and I'll be down in a minute to have a cold blonde with you.”
They crossed the street and entered the Venecia ice cream bar, in front of the main square. Golden fringes with red lettering wishing a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year danced in the hot air of the ceiling fans.
“What's up, Lucy, you look tense,” he laughed again.
“Cut it, Chino,” he said with a choked voice. “My negrita left me.”
“She dumped you? I don't believe you,” he waived to a waiter. “Mate, a beer, please, and quick, my friend wants to slash his wrists.”
“Ici votre bière, Monsieur.”
Ah, this smells so good, you don't find this anywhere else. And this watering spot is not bad, really, it's busy and the music is very good. I need to go out more, I shouldn't be stuck in the house. “Go out? I'm dead tired, mi amor, we'd better go to bed early so as to be well rested tomorrow.” Always the same, every day is the same: go out, work, come back, eat, clean, television, sleep. I don't know what I'm doing with my life. I play the businessman all day and at night the middle-aged family man. Is there nothing else? Who will remember me a hundred years from now? Nobody, nobody. We are victims, victims of this mess. Trapped with no way out. Yeah, better stop philosophising and drink your beer, man. To your health, Patricita, and I hope you and your “daddy” choke on your fish. Ah, this beer tickles your toes, there is no doubt that in this respect the European are much better than us. “In Europe everything is better, my dear Lucy Luciano, you were right to leave Peru, matey.” That Chino phones me every Christmas without fail, he's getting maudlin in his old age; he that used to be a piece of work. “Give my love to Patricia and the baby and best wishes for the whole family.” Oh, my dear Chino, sometimes I don't know what I'm doing here. Yeah, I'd better have another one before I get the mopes.
“Une autre bière s'il vous plaît Monsieur.”
So the negrita is here, in Belgium. But, how is it possible?
“I don't know how she got the visa, but the fact is that she left; the negrita had her resources, you know that, Luciano.” Good old Chino never changes, still making fun of people. But it is true that the negrita was gutsy, a real woman; not like you, Patricita, frigid in spite of everything. Oh, negrita, mi negrita, what are you doing in this cold country?
“But tell me, Lucy Luciano, what happened to the negrita?” Chino looked at him over the rim of his glass.
“I don't know. The usual staff, you know, that my parents don't like her, that she is confused, that she doesn't want to end up disappointed, all the bosh that women say.”
“Woman that does not nag is man, matey; but maybe you haven't bonked her properly, amigo. Women are high-maintenance, they need care to be happy, Luciano.”
“Talking is easy, Chino, but what do you want me to do if she never wants to have sex, even though her parents are never in the house.”
“I don't believe you. So she has not even shown you the little turtle?”
“What do you mean, you Chinese piece of shit?”
“They say that the negrita had a turtle tattooed down there, just above her thing, when she went to Brazil last summer. A blue turtle.”
“Stop fucking around, Chino, I don't know anything about that bloody turtle. All I know is I need to get her back. I don't know how, but,” …the voice choked again, “she is the woman of my life.”
“Calm down, Luciano, easy. Look, have another beer and calm down. Let's drink to them, even if they don't deserve it, matey.”
“Fuck, Chino, can I never have a serious conversation with you?”
“No, Lucy, I'm with you, man. Look, why don't we go to the place for a good fuck, brother, that will cheer you up. I'm going to introduce you to some girls who will take away all your sorrows.”
“To the brothel? Today? I'm not sure, Chino, today is Christmas Eve.”
“Let's go, Lucy, do as I say. Look here, mate, the last one, we're leaving, the girls are waiting for us.” The Chino flicked the foam off the glass onto the floor. “In addition, on Wednesdays the girls have a check-up with the town hall doctor, so they will be fresh as roses.”
“Okay, but let's go fast, if I'm not back for midnight mass my mother will break every bone in my body.”
To go back home now? No, no way, man? To put on my toy suit and play the happy family, while I slash my mouth with those bloody fish bones. No bloody way. But, the problem is that here it looks like they are going to close, there is hardly anybody left, what do I do then? I think I'll order one last beer and take a stroll around the red light district, otherwise I'll end up forgetting how it's done. Yes, of course, you always say the same thing and in the end you never do anything; deep down, you are weak. But with a double Johnny Walker inside, I'm unstoppable. Nothing like a good drink to combat indecision and postpone your insecurities. Ah, if it were not for the drink, how many things would not have happened. Enough, poet, enough.
“L'addition s'il vous plaît, Monsieur.”
There must be a taxi on the other side of the square, hopefully, otherwise my balls will freeze off; it will snow today, anyway. Oh, what luck, there is one right there. Right, all set, crank up the heating a little bit and turn off your music, please, amigo, and let's fly because the world is coming to an end. I'm on my way, Patricita, honey, you know?
Chino revved up his 125 cc, quickly left behind the last houses on the city limits and were plying the Pan-American that cut through extreme desert. A little further on, they went down a sloping dirt track. The wind formed dunes against the walls of the unfinished construction that, in that forsaken place, challenged the flatness of the sand. They stopped between parked trucks where a couple of sun-weathered guys with greasy hair flanked the door.
“What’s up, Chino, we keep an eye on your bike, OK?”
"We're here, Lucy Luciano, tonight we are going to make a man of you.” Chino smoothed down his hair with his hand and walked in holding his hands a little off his body.
Luciano followed him at some distance, but stopped in the doorway, where the tin gates had come off the hinges and rested on pieces of old brick. The rooms with walls painted red formed a U on a sand and stone field. Each door had a number drawn with enamel paint and on the lintel a spotlight, wrapped in coloured cellophane paper, signalled the availability of the woman to the patrons. The curtains filtered the red half-light and the jostlings and cooings of love that issued from within. A tough-skinned man with no teeth filled buckets of water from an iron cylinder and ran into the rooms, as they became empty.
Luciano advanced a little more and stopped again. To his right, a corridor opened onto a room, lit by hospital lights and dotted with plastic tables, where the moaning of a slow bolero could be heard. A tragic couple in the centre was oblivious to the rhythm of the music and a voice, seeped in beer, knelled a song over the desert wind. Luciano turned to look at Chino who had reached the back of the courtyard, where two women were talking loudly. The taller woman wore a black brassiere and lace panties with garters and high heels. The other, with big tits, wore a red bikini with little golden stars, that showed the folds of her belly and plastic Hawaiian sandals. Both women wore a Christmas red hat with a white pompom on the tip.
“Look who's there. My cocky hunk,” said the taller one. “Hello, Chinito, lindo how cute, I'm sure you've come to give me my Christmas present.”
“How are you, my girls? I've brought you a friend that you are to initiate in the arts of love.”
Chino turned to look at Luciano who had been standing in the middle of the patio, leaning against a solitary carob tree, smothered in urine and cigarette butts.
“What's up, Lucy, matey, are you scared? Come, I'll introduce you to a friend. You'll like her so much that you'll want to take her home to dinner and introduce her to your dad.” The three of them laughed heartily.
“Enough with the bosh, Chino,” Luciano said as he approached, giving his cigarette short, frequent puffs; his voice sounding as if it were not his.
“Come, sweetie, we're not going to bite you.” said Diana Carolina2, for that is what the taller woman, who had already put her arm around Chino's waist, called herself.
“But look at this cute rosy-cheeked boy, I bet he hasn't lost his cherry, poor thing.” The woman with the big tits approached Luciano, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into the room. “Come, baby, I'll teach you how to walk. I had a premonition that today was going to be my lucky day. You have money, don't you, sweetheart?”
“Don't worry, love,” Chino shouted in between bursts of laughter. “I'm treating my friend to his first lay.”
I'm going to pay this wild man and get off this thing at once. Luckily we are almost there; there is the train station: choo-choo train, choo-choo train. What's wrong, you idiot, are you nervous?. I hope there is somebody there; there must be somebody, because tonight I'll do it no matter what. You'll see, Patricita. We'll see if you give me the same old excuse. Aha, I can see some lights over there. How civic-minded, the queens of the night are working. I could do with another drink now.
“Je descends ici, monsieur, combien est-ce que je vous dois?”
Damn, it's freezing, I put on my gloves again, on and off, on and off. What if someone sees me? Only I would think of coming here today. Let's see, that guy over there seems to be drunk or stoned, better not look at him and walk right past to see what is offered in these windows. What disgusting curtains, these probably used to be houses and now look at how they have ended up, with coloured lights and tacky bars. The things you have to do to get laid, damn.
Let's see if I can get a little closer. But stop shaking, man, you look like a schoolboy. This one, no doubt, she comes from the land where the sun is born. Nothing against you, Madame Butterfly, but you'd look better in a kimono than a bikini. Go back to your homeland, skinny, or open a Japanese restaurant, you're bound to do better. Although, as my grandmother used to say, there is always a lid for every pot. Ah, but it seems that she's seen me, yes, and she's waving, what cheek. No, honey, no, I don't like yellow. Let's have a look at the next window: ah, this one has two floors, mezzanine-type, one girl on each floor, business is business, man. No, thanks, one is enough to start with, but I would like two sometime. But not with these who look like Red Army officers. I'd better keep looking. How much do these ladies get per month? It can't be a pittance because, as that wise man, Don Corleone said: nothing loosens the purse strings like women and booze. Damn, more Asian food here too, are there no natives left in this country? Wow, it's beginning to snow, so what now? I'm going to look a bit more until the end of the block and if there's nothing I'll come back some other day, because I'm freezing. A guy is coming out. I'll try the skinny one, at least she's in high demand. Oh, this one is different, at least she has something you can hold on to. Besides, she's dark-skinned, she seems to be one of us, not bad, not bad at all. Turn around then, girl, so that I can see the merchandise. But what is that? It looks like a turtle and right there, but, no, it cannot be true, it must be a coincidence, they look alike, nothing more. A blue turtle. But it is her, it can't be, it's her, fuck, it's her, dressed like a whore, but yes, there's no doubt. She mustn't see me, she mustn't see me. Come on, quick, quick, before she recognises me. It can't be, it can't be. Negrita, my negrita, what are you doing here, hawking your wares? A taxi, I need a taxi, I'm going to be sick; I slip, damn; you're drunk, you idiot.
“Drunk? No, Mom, what makes you think that? I only had a couple of beers for the heat,” Luciano said with a slow smile, as he reached out to grab a slice of panettone from the table. The trays of brown rice, salads and cakes were mixed with the plates, cups, lines of cutlery, and red and green napkins. At the centre, legs in the air, the golden turkey dominated the dining room.
“I'm sure you've been with that Japanese lowlife and that slag you've been seeing lately. I really do not understand you, Luciano; you didn’t even accompany us to the church; you don't know how embarrassed we were.” The fan flattened the woman's big hair stuck with hairspray. “Eduardo, please, say something to your son, the boy will turn out badly.”
“Look, Luciano,” the gentleman said slowly, “we've already thought about it and the best thing for you is to get out of that rotten environment you're in. I have spoken with my sister and after the holidays you'll spend some time with her.”
“With my aunt, in Europe?” Luciano said. “No, you can't do this to me, you have no right, it's my life you're talking about.”
“You must take things more seriously, Luciano. If you cannot we have to do it for you. Noblesse oblige. You have your whole life ahead of you, son, later you will thank us.”
Luciano left the dining room without saying a word, passed through the kitchen, crossed the garden, grabbed the entrance door, put in the key and went in.
“But, where have you been all this time, Luciano? You had me worried.” Patricia was wearing a pleated dress with buttons around her neck, a Paisley scarf and pointed shoes that Luciano didn't remember having seen before.
“I just had a problem, Patricia, I'll explain later.” The stench that came out of his mouth mingled with the hot, fishy smell that floated in the air.
“Have you been drinking again, Luciano?” Her pencilled eyebrows fluttered illogically. “My dad is very upset, we have been waiting for you for hours, I don't know what to tell them. How dare you do this to me in front of my family?” she said, her voice barely controlled.
“I'm sorry, love, I was a little late, I don't know what happened to me.” The intermittent glow of the Christmas lights dotted his pathetic words.
“Please get changed and apologise, Luciano, it's so embarrassing. Tell them you've had a problem at work. We will talk later.”
“Yes, my love, it will be like you say, and Merry Christmas to everyone.”