by Armel Dagorn
Once I lived with a Spanish boy called Guillermo Ferrero de Lima. He came from A., a small fisherman’s village, where the tame Mediterranean sea and the wild Atlantic start to mingle and nobody knows who’s who. He was a very sweet fellow, a tall, dark man with an eternal stubble on his face, eyes black as an angry ocean, and big, strong hairy arms and hands – a sailor’s hands as he liked to say.
That’s one thing you have to know about Guillermo. I have, myself, never seen him outside the city, and he worked in a call-center, selling cable-TV on the phone eight hours a day, five days a week, to suspicious Americans who asked him if he was from Bangladesh. Nevertheless, he was a sailor in his mind – and in mine. He was clearly made of whatever stuff those sea-people are made of. I have seen him in classy cocktail bars, but when he’d come back to the table and sit down, pint in hand, things around would start disappearing – the flashy neon lamps, the high-heeled blondies – and you’d swear you could hear the seagulls outside, and the lament of a departing ship’s horn. A movement at the corner of your eye might catch your attention, and you’d then be surprised to discover a dapper tuxedoed man sipping his mojito where you thought you’d see that dusty-bearded docker, limping his way out, mourning softly for his favourite whore’s bed. And I’m not overdoing it. All his life (that is before coming here, to the city) he had spent in A., where who’s not a merchant sailor is a navy sailor, and who’s not a fisherman’s a fishmonger. His father, a fisherman who would be stay out on the ocean for weeks on end, would always take him to sea for shorter trips; Guillermo was full of stories from back then, and from earlier on, when his forefathers – blood-related or simply fellow countrymen – were sailing the whole world round, just to set foot on new worlds and unearth their treasures.
The other thing you have to know about him is that he took showers for hours – OK, there I might be overdoing it a little bit. But a one-hour shower was nothing unusual for him, so I suppose he did spend hours in there every week. And he liked his shower quite hot, which would always leave a damp mist in the badly ventilated bathroom for ages. Mind you, he was very good about it, and he would come and warn us he was going for a shower, so if we needed anything in relation to the bathroom, we had better do it or get it now.
I suppose it’s knowing him and his ways which prevented me from being too surprised when it happened. One day, as he was in the shower for quite longer than usual (it had been almost two hours, and my bladder had started to curse him in a way that would have made a sailor blush) the hot and damp air rose more densely, with more pressure than usual. The shower curtain started bulging, swelling – Guillermo grabbed the end of it, in such a way that it formed a sort of balloon over the basin. The whole cubicle shivered, slightly at first, then harder and harder, until finally it took off the ground just as the roof, under the pressure of the hot air, popped off like a champagne cork. At that moment, I shouldered in the door, alarmed by the noise, but Guillermo was already up in the air, up high, tightening his sail. He then looked down at me, and waved and said something; I couldn’t make it out (he was too far gone already) but I knew what he was saying, even without lip-reading it. “Te escribiré!” And that’s the last I saw of Guillermo, before he disappeared, smiling and sailing away, in the blue sky above the dry midland city he’d made a port of.
But whenever I open the mailbox, my heart skips a beat, or throws in an extra few ones, because I know that one day, there’ll be a letter from Singapore, or Panama, or one of those God-forsaken places. And I know it will smell of salt and seaweed, and be stained with stale beer – and it’ll make me happy.