Airport/Groceries on the Dancefloor

Airport

London Gatwick. I find the boards and scan with tired eyes. My flight doesn’t jump out at me and I feel momentarily vexed. Has it all been one big mistake? Wrong date? Wrong time? (In airports I always feel like I’m on the brink of a huge blunder). Then I see it. Bilbao. VY7293 19:55. Boarding gate will be announced at 19:05. Grand.

I head towards Departures, negotiating the wheelie bags and fond farewells. I queue. The guys at security have an impatient air and seem perpetually mystified at the hesitancy coupled with stupidity that comes over the passengers. Every day the same. I take out my laptop and place it in a tray. I pull out another tray and drop my bag into it. I remove my jacket and stuff it alongside my bag. I stick my wallet and belt in the sides. I dig my hands into my pockets and feel for loose coins. None. Grand.

I pass through the metal detector without a beep. I meet my bag on the other side and refill my pockets, slip on my belt, place the laptop back in the bag and heave it onto my back. Passport, wallet, ticket, phone, keys, boarding pass. Grand.

Shiny shops in a busy thoroughfare. I find the food hall. The stench of coffee greets and entices me. I pay for an overpriced coffee and sandwich. The coffee feels good. The contents of the sandwich conspire to create zero flavour whatsoever.

I go down to the seating area. People are reading or pushing buttons on their phones while intermittently checking the boards. It seems a numbness has come over us all. We are in-between, waiting for our lives to start again.

Portugalete, Bilbao

I drop my bag in my room, splash water on my face, reapply some deodorant and go outside. I tackle the hill with purpose. It’s been a long numbing day of travel (3 hour bus journey, airport, flight, airport, flight and car ride) so my energy surprises me. I guess my legs are relieved to be finally set free out of doors.

It’s a big night here in Bilbao. The bars are heaving. Jessica and her friends are in the ‘Why not?’ I’m excited to see Jessica as we’ve been apart over Christmas. I’m also a little nervous as I’m about to meet her friends for the first time.

The bouncer nods at me. The bar behind him seems like a busy cave of activity. He pulls the door open and I step inside, and inadvertently, into a group of eight or so people standing in a crescent formation. They all seem to be looking at me. They must be Jessica’s friends. Meekly I scan the group but I can’t see her anywhere. Then I see her sister Andrea. I smile, kiss her cheeks and wish her a happy new year. This confirms to the group that I am him, Jessica’s new fella. I feel the eyes switch from curiosity to appraisal.

Finally Jessica appears at my side. We kiss, hug and say a few words. A drink is handed to me.People from the group step forward to introduce themselves.  Marie Luis, Alvaro, Luis, Martha, Mirren. We speak in Spanglish. We have to lean into one another to be heard above the Reggathon blasting out of the speakers. Everybody’s nice. Everyone makes an effort. Nervousness has me tilting back my glass with speed.  Aritz, Akine and Ane. After a whirlwind of introductions I’m relieved to be back standing next to Jessica. Another drink is handed to me.

‘I’ll get the next,’ I promise.

I spot a plastic bag on the floor. It’s filled with a box of breakfast cereal, a litre of milk, eggs, apples, bananas and mandarins. How curious it looks! It seems as though  it has been transplanted from somebody’s kitchen of a dreary Tuesday morning to this limitless Friday night of disco balls and lights.

‘It’s for you,’ Jessica says following my gaze.

My face clouds with puzzlement.

‘Tomorrow is a holiday and all the shops are closed,’ she explains. ‘Seen as you were arriving late I thought I’d get you a few things.’

I smile at the bag of shopping and then at Jessica. My fondness for her deepens.

 

Nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? What is she like?

Something Different? Bilbao Metro 4am

 

Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

I wake to the sound of an alarm. I press snooze in the hope that Monday fucks off for itself. It doesn’t. Monday doesn’t care if you partied hard at the weekend. Nor does it sympathise with you about the fact you feel a little cheated; all week the weekend seemed like a book full of clean blank pages waiting to be filled with wonderful things. Now that book is bounced off your dehydrated head and lands open on a page baring the cold facts; you got drunk and did a few chores; it’s over now and a pressing list of demands awaits. I get outta bed. It’s my birthday. 34 and feeling every bit of it.

It’s a bright cool morning.

I have to catch the train to Bilbao 4 times a week, which means four times a week I am running through the cobbled streets of Portugalete, bag bouncing on my back. Each time I tell myself that I need to leave my house 5 minutes earlier but I’ve been telling myself that four times a week for three weeks now. Still, I haven’t missed a train yet.

On the train everyone silently agrees not to get on each other’s nerves by shutting up and staring at their phones. I check Facebook. There’s a lot of people saying happy birthday. Facebook has prompted them to do so. I do the same when prompted. Everyone must be getting tired of everyone’s birthday.

In Spanish class I start to think that Saturday’s partying has left me brain-damaged. It takes me ages to construct a sentence. I am a little disgusted with myself. Will I ever learn this fucking language? I need to slow down on the weekend boozing. Mind you, I’ve been saying that every Monday for about five years now.

Afterwards my classmates and I go for coffee and cigarettes. None of us are particularly enthused about having to teach kids later on.

‘I don’t know how I’m gonna be all singing and dancing today,’ deadpans Aaron in a droll Newcastle voice, the imprint of a hangover on his face.

‘I hate when you have to tell-off a kid just before you do a song and you’re really angry, but you have to force a fake smile and say ‘Come on everyone! Let’s sing ‘We’re going on a Safari!’ James says.

‘My kids don’t even like songs! And they’re six! I’m there dancing and singing and their eyes are boring through me. I’m 33…34 and I have a hangover. What the fuck is your excuse young fella?’

I drain my coffee and run for the train.

Later, in class, I’m asking my teenagers what they did at the weekend.

‘I hang out with my friends and studied,’ is the standard answer.

They stubbornly refuse to let the conversation go anywhere. Maybe they’re just bored that they are doing the same shit over and over. Life is short, they say. Nay, life is long; Long enough for us all to get into ruts. Long enough for us to get bored. Ashley Madison has it the wrong way round. Life is short. Have an affair. If life really was short would people get bored of their partners and seek out affairs on the internet?

Life is long. Have an affair.

Life is long. Get drunk.

Life is long. Give up alcohol for six months.

Life is long. Live in another country.

Life is long. Take up a new hobby.

Life is long. You may as well have kids.

Life is long. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

‘Did anyone do anything different?’

‘I went to Bilbao,’ says one pretty girl.

‘Oh really! What did you do there?’

‘Take photos.’

‘Took photos.’

‘Yes.’

‘Of what?’

She looks at me like she doesn’t understand.

‘Of buildings like the Guggenheim? Of homeless people who possess a tragic wrecked beauty?’ I suggest.

‘No…of each other.  For instagram.’

Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand.

In my next class I have my six year olds doing exercises.

‘Running, running, running, running, jumping, jumping, jumping, jumping, eating, eating, eating, eating, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.’

Their enthusiasm and big wide smiles are a pleasant contrast to the guarded, sullen teenagers.

The adults file in. I smile and greet them all. They take their seats – everyone always sits in the same seat. As they settle I notice Martha isn’t here. Odd because she never misses a class. Then there is a knock on the door. Nerea jumps, opens the door and switches off the light. A low flickering candle enters the room. A low chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ begins. My name’s on the cake and all. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Happy Trails

Something Similar: A Black Star on the last Day of School

Something Different: Squat Diddly

Bilbao Metro 4am

I turn the corner and look up. Sure enough, there is a tall pole with the lit red symbol atop. It’s a welcome sight. I walk towards it. I go down a flight of stairs, down a steep escalator, then down another steep escalator. It’s hot. Anymore feckin’ escalators and we’d be at the earth’s core. A train screeches up the track. I quicken my pace and slip my card out of my wallet. I hope it has credit. I see the roof of the train by the platform below. The doors open. A beeping sound warns people to get their asses inside quickly. I run. I swipe my card. The gates open. I take the stairs, sidestepping as fast as I can. But, as I arrive on the platform the train moves off. It screeches in a kind of sneering manner, which I appreciate none-too-much.

The train is like a sideways parting curtain that slowly reveals the other platform and there, casually waiting, are the Bilbao folk that have it sussed. I didn’t miss the train. I’m on the wrong bloody platform. Dumb luck. Anyway, why was I rushing? Even if I had missed the right train there’d be another along in ten minutes. It’s not like I haven’t time to spare; I’ve just wiled away hours drinking in bars.

It’s not the same atmosphere of waiting you get during the day; voices are raised and every now and then someone bursts out laughing. I scan the crowd. Gangs crowd around benches. Well, groups. Gangs sound intimidating. Guys and girls. More guys than girls. There’s one woman who stands alone. It looks like there’s a uniform under her cardigan. A cleaner maybe, mid-fifties on her way home. Her thin lips give her an impatient expression. Two good-looking girls come down the steps and stand in front of an advertisement for an English Academy. Tight jeans and leather jackets.  I consider walking over and striking up a conversation, you know, to practise my Spanish. In the last bar I pushed myself to approach a girl and say ‘Hola. Que tal?’ She rolled her eyes and walked away. I was left standing there like a dick. Thankfully, the lads didn’t see it ( although I could feel some fella in some corner laughing at me). Anyway, I decide not to talk to the two pretty girls on the platform. Well I don’t really decide anything. I just stand there near the bottom of the stairs, waiting like everyone else.

A breeze blows through the station. I look down the tunnel and see a huge square can rattling up the track. People stand and survey the carriages sliding by. There’s a gasp and a screech as the train settles. The doors open. We inch inside, disperse, and find a place to park ours bums. Those already seated gather themselves. I sit on one of the flip down chairs near the door. The cleaner sits on the seat opposite, her two hands clasping the strap of her handbag, her back erect and her eyes alert. She’s primed to bolt at a moment’s notice. The two pretty girls find a space halfway down the carriage, sit down and busy their thumbs with their mobile phones. The train moves on. As we enter the tunnel the engine screeches like a banshee.

I can taste the alcohol in my mouth. I try to figure out how much I had. I lose count after six and conclude that it’s enough to secure a hangover, but also enough to engender the current mood of insouciance. I look at my phone for something to do. I go on Facebook. Photos, videos and comments slide by. If I have time for this it’s a lie to say I don’t have time. I feel an aching dissatisfaction slowly rising. I slip my phone away.

A couple of stops later the cleaning lady leaves and a drunk guy staggers on. It’s like the changing of scenes in an unscripted play. He sits where the lady was and instantly falls asleep; head tilted, mouth open and Adam’s apple protruding. As the train gathers speed his head moves side to side slightly. As it slows again he inches forward. When the doors beep he awakes. Confused, he looks around. His eyes meet mine and narrow in suspicion, as if he’s woken up in some hellish nightmare and I’m to blame. I look away. Eventually he gets his bearings and repositions himself in his chair. People let themselves out, people let themselves in.

The drunk guy keeps himself awake by telling himself a story that seems to both amuse and surprise him. He staggers away at Barakaldo.

‘I have no idea how I got home,’ he will tell his friend’s tomorrow.

The train pushes on. There are now just a few people scattered around the carriage. Everyone’s quiet and tired. On the way in we were nicely presented and curious to see what Saturday night had in store. Now, that curiosity has been spent. I wonder if we’re one step closer to, or one step further away from where we wanna be. Neither, I suppose. Saturday night is more a necessary side-step.

 ‘Portugalete’ announces the electronic voice. People stand and gather by the door. We exit the train and ascend the two flights of stairs and escalator.  A few people grimace as the early morning Autumn chill hits them at the exit.

After five seconds the crowd have vanished. I’m alone on a quiet street surrounded by tall buildings. It’s just a matter of getting to bed. Sleep awaits me there.

nocktoebenaugto

Something Similar; It gets off to a bad start…

Something Different; A Black Star on the last Day of School