We smoked a last joint outside the club and got inside as the bands were starting up. Apolo wasn't designed for concerts, but more as a ballroom, and its attractive but inconvenient booths, and railings that separated the dance floor, meant that people were splayed around the room in various positions and poses. We settled behind one of the wooden railings close to the overflowing dance floor, which gave a good vantage point from which to see the stage and also doubled as a leaning post as the beer and hash began to play together.
The Blues Explosion powered into their set and the room filled with the warm damp smell of sweat and smoke. The people in the crowd were all fans and the excitement was tangible in the heat that scoured the room. The band flew intermittently into view through the to-the-beat lighting; flashes of blue, red, white and green throwing blankets over the room, illuminating in silhouettes the band up on the small stage and the bobbing heads in the sea of people all around. I didn't know the band, but the sound, the energy and the atmosphere they produced, pulled me into the show. The whole room moved together in a perfect unison of chaos-music, light, heat and every movement controlled by one collective consciousness. To my right, Joan rocked, eyes closed and Roger gripped me by the shoulders, shouting, "Joder, Sam! Ellos son de puta madre!"
Abandonment, freedom, enjoyment. Life. My hands on the splintered wooden rail in front of me, I rocked more and more to the crushing flow of the wild noise that tore out from the stage. I became fixated on the drummer, afraid he would disappear and the music stop as the lights fell, leaving a black void in their absence, and my head lolled grossly back toward the ceiling. Bang, bang, bang. White, red, white. The drummer pounded the taut skins in front of him as though willing them to come back to life. Afraid, I tried to shift my gaze to the front man, but I was drawn back inexorably to the unremitting punishment being delivered by the drummer. Rocking faster and faster upon my axis on the rail, the heat billowed up in a gust of red light. Bang, bang, bang. The drummer slowed, Joan opened his eyes and I saw his profile in a skeletal x-ray, Roger gripped my shoulders but this time there was no shout. White, white, white. Black.
I didn't hit the floor. My spasmodic rocking had alerted Joan and Roger to my state, and Roger had pulled me back as I dived forward and over the railing toward the floor. I didn't hit the floor but I had gone for a few seconds. For a few beautiful moments all the noise and the heat had been left behind. It came back quickly but at a distance, as though everything was submerged in water.
Joan and Roger had supported me out of the main room, bought me a bottle of water, and gone back in to enjoy the concert, leaving me standing alone at the bar. I could stand, but my eyes refused to open. My mind was back to the madness of reality but my body wanted to stay with the fall. Sips of water felt good and brought some relief to my skin that was tingling like it had been through a bush of nettles. I knew that the bar staff, and people passing to the bathrooms were looking at me and laughing, but I didn't care. I felt amazing inside and my outward appearance was of little importance.
– Éstas bien?
– How do I look?
– Well, I can't open my eyes to check, but I believe you. "Jodido", that's not very nice language for a lady.
– Qué pedo, wey? A lady? You're English, right?
– Yeah, I think so. Most things are pretty unclear right now though. 5 minutes ago I embraced and dived into oblivion, and now I'm blind at the bar talking to a Mexican.
– How do you know I'm Mexican?
– "Qué pedo, wey?" Only Mexicans say that, wey!
– You're weird.
– Do you want to take a shot of tequila with me? It will help you to see again.
She smelled good. Her hands were delicate but firm as she held my own to cover the nape between my thumb and forefinger in salt, then place the chunk of lemon between my fingers. My body still shaking, I picked up the shot glass of tequila and she touched my arm to calm me and told me tranquilo or I would spill the good Mexican drink. Ok. Ready. Salt. Tequila. Lemon. Bang.
Inside my throat bile welled up in sickly reaction to the acrid power of the shot. I wanted to throw up, but my disdain for outward appearances didn't stretch that far. I swallowed back the temptation and took another bite of the lemon. My eyes screwed up at its bitterness, which then forced them open rapidly. Eyes flickering open to closed, adjusting themselves back to the impact of the brightly lit bar, the noise from the band and the people redistributed itself around me and I came up from my sea of darkness for a new taste of this dirty air.
– Are you ok?
The girl was looking at me, unconvinced and answering her own question; her right eye brow arched into a sharp V of doubt. She was beautiful. Silk black hair cut a sharp angle across the top of her face (one single strand had fallen loose and over her left eye) and came down tight and harsh behind her left ear, forcing me to follow it down toward her neck- elegant and proud, a small dark freckle halfway down. Small, red, slightly chapped lips. Dead black eyes. Brown but only at second glance. A glance that was hard to take as the eyes didn't invite you in. Eyes that were difficult to meet until she smiled and I didn't have to.
– Otro chupito de tequila?
– Why not.
Joan jumped on me from behind, stinking of alcohol, sweat and smoke, wild with the energy from the show that had just finished. Roger put his arms around us both and we all fell down together on to the dirty floor in front of the bar. As we struggled back up to our feet, Roger whispered to me, "Qué carbon! Quién es ésta chica?"
– Come on, shouted Joan. Let's go on and party at the flat. I'm fucking happy. I love you all.
The party was crazy. The 3 other guys we shared the flat with had also been out and had brought their friends home. As we zigzagged our way back up through the city on foot, we met 4 Russians and added them to our group; 3 girls and a guy who looked exactly like a famous German football goalkeeper. The flat was full of different nationalities and personalities. Joan produced tins of paint from his room and announced that the living room wall needed painting. Drunken people covered in paint, filled the wall with images and messages — SEX and LOVE being spelt out the loudest in metre-high letters in turquoise paint. A video camera captured the whole thing forever and was probably never seen again by anybody.
– Hey Inglés. I'm going to go.
– Inglés! Have you forgotten my name already?
– No, SAM, of course I haven't. I just got used to everybody else here talking about el loco Inglés!
– Ha. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing to be known as.
– I think it's good, it suits you.
– Anyway, why are you trying to run off so quickly?
– There are too many people here. It's too hot, I need some air.
– Air? I know where there's a load of that. Let's go up to the roof. Come on, follow me.
Inside the city nights never fell to black the way they were meant to. Either the sun didn't go far enough away, or the moon got too near, but nights in Barcelona never meant blackness. In place of the dark, there was a dull red glow that bathed the city at night, presenting the people and all the things under the sky as indeterminate copies and hues of the things they represented under the daylight of the sun. Things were beautiful and distant in this light but they needed to be touched twice for you to be sure that they were really there.
– Mira qué bonita es la cuidad. Your home, Pocohantas!
– Cute. Have you already forgotten my name?
– No, but I don't know how to say it properly.
– M-I-X-T-L-I. Think of the word mist in English.
– It's beautiful. Does it mean anything in English?
– In English, no. It's Azteca. I am Azteca. Mixtli is the Goddess of the moon.
– Well, I'm honoured to be in the presence of a Goddess.
– Thank you. I like my name. It's the only positive thing I ever received from my Grandfather. The pendejo who picked it.
– Asshole. My Grandfather the great Mexican hero. The general who would be proud to tell you that he once entertained Juan and Eva Peron at our family's summer home. Puto pendejo.
– So you don't get on well with your family.
– Oh, yes. We're the Mexican Brady Bunch. My Grandfather would probably be less wiling to tell you that he told his only son he believes his granddaughter to be a prostitute.
– Shit, that's tough. When were you last back there?
– I ran away from there more than five years ago, when I was sixteen, and I haven't been back since.
The eyes that were so hard to meet at the bar were not so intimidating under the ghoulish light on the roof. Mixtli turned her back on me and looked out over the city she was still a stranger to. She was just a thin wisp of a girl but standing there looking out blindly over the edge of the roof, she gave off a dark, angry strength that joined seamlessly with the strange night that enveloped us both. I stepped forward and placed my hand on her shoulder, unsure how she would react. She softened, let her neck fall slightly back toward my grip and continued to stare out over the city and into the distance.
– Y tu, Inglés. Qué haces aquí? Apart from passing out in public places.
– I don't do a lot. Read, watch films, go out, drink.
– Nice life, but what do you do for money?
– That's boring. Not worth us wasting breath on.
– Oh, ok, so you're too good for work like everybody else?
– Haha. A thinker, then. A frustrated artist.
– Yes. I'm actually in training to be a clown. I want to grow up to be Henry Miller.
– Ok, so I can be Anaïs Nin.
– Well, you could try.
– But you must need a muse.
– Why, would you like to be mine?
She turned back to face me and I tried to see through the wall that was the solid mass of those eyes, trying to get some indication as to whether this was real, or just another pretentious dance between two strangers playing their respective roles, showing off to their new expectant crowd of one.
– Would you like to walk me home?
Mixtli lived out of town; a walk and six Metro stations from where I lived. As she went to walk down the steps of the Metro I called her tonta and said that I thought we had only to walk to get to her place. She stopped dead, her face froze over in anger and she unleashed a flurry of Mexican Spanish at me that I couldn't understand, but whose message I could not fail to comprehend. I walked after her down to the track, asking her to explain what it was that she was so upset about.
– I go home now. Vete, ya! It's better if you go back to yours too. You don't call me that, ok. Just because you think you're smart, because you've read a lot of big books and been to University. I don't care, nobody calls me that.
I had understood tonta to translate to silly in English, and was glad I hadn't used the first Spanish word that had come to mind, estupida. I looked at her standing there, after her diatribe. A soft down of sweat had covered her forehead in the small space between her hair and her thin eyebrows. Five minutes behind me there was a party, full of my friends and other pretty girls, and I was standing on the Metro being shouted at for making an innocent remark. I looked her up and down and wondered whether this was really going to be worth the effort. Mixtli stood opposite from me, staring, fighting against her own anger but refusing to back down. The lights of the station flickered overhead, the tunnel behind filled with noise from the impending arrival of the old blue line train, I apologised, wiped the line of sweat from her brow, reached for her hand and walked with her onto the train.
Mixtli's room was small and untidy. Clothes covered the bed and the small amount of available floor space. A little wooden desk covered with drawing pencils and a large closed pad, and an overflowing ashtray, stood on the right hand side of the room against the wall. On the left there was a single bed, the mattress made up but lying on the ground. Three or four shelves on the walls above the desk and bed gave extra storage space, and were filled with photos, a Snoopy doll, CDs and candles. A large Frida Kahlo self-portrait print depicting the artist naked but mangled, her body meshed with the metal a lifetime of operations had left with her with, was hung in an expensive looking frame on the left hand wall. A small window looked onto the interior of the building. Opened up, recurring, retching coughs could be heard and the bitter antiseptic smell of ointments and illness filled the air.
In the morning, in the kitchen before I left, she jumped on me, wrapping her legs around my waist and arms around my neck, burying her head up against my neck, then whispered into my ear.
– Eres mi cocodrilo. That is what you reminded me off last night when you opened your eyes at the bar — a crocodile. When you leave, I'm going to draw you a picture. It'll be the picture of how I saw you at the bar. It is for you, but I will never show it to you.