Bilbao BBK Music Festival

A line of people walking uphill anticipating the reward that awaits them at the summit: I’m tempted to say it’s like a pilgrimage but the last pilgrimage I was on was in 1994 and it was a solemn affair comprising of elderly folk muttering the rosary. There weren’t any dreadlocks, or people necking cans, or whoops of excitement or stag parties. That’s the scene we have here hiking up Kobatamendi. It’s a Music Festival up a mountain. Namely, BBK Live.

The pace slows and the crowd is corralled into lanes.

We monitor the queue’s progress.

‘Come onnnnnnn.’

I try to stamp the impatience out through my feet. It’s always the way. The small steps towards a football stadium, the slow crawl of traffic towards the beach, the wait at the bar; It’s a kind of wonderful agony.

A roar rises from the other side, a guitar stutters and a voice greets the crowd through the PA.

Shit.

Once finally inside all negativity, all tiredness, all worries are cast off me as if it were just a cloak I chose to wear. We are walking very fast.

‘Lets have a beer, then to the main stage. Fleet Foxes,’ Liam says.

We find a spot stage right. The band are plodding through a song.Guitars, hair, beards.

‘Crusties,’ Liam says. ‘I bet they eat nettle soup and do yoga.’

I know they’re back catalogue. I’ve got a beer in my hand. I’m primed to be stirred by their soulful folk harmonies but their songs don’t grab me. They work through the set-list. We stand, stare and applaud when appropriate. I need to piss. I let the music pass over me as I peel away from the crowd and make my way to the Portaloos.

I take the piss.

Stepping out of the portaloo is like stepping into a parallel universe where things are the same but tweaked, slightly. It’s darker, the band have finished and Liam’s eyes are as big as plates.

‘What happened to you?’

‘Nothing. I’m fine. Drink this,’ he says handing me a fresh beer.

‘Phoenix are on now.’

’Lets go.’

We find our spot. The heads and shoulders in front of us are all bopping before an elevated oasis of light upon which stand the celebrated people. The songs get into my chest. I’m compelled to dance but the wet grass robs my moves of grace. It’s not doing Liam any favours either. He’s like an old fella with bad knees trying to keep his balance as the ground tremors. My endorphins spike. I feel gentle waves of joy pass through my body.

Phoenix finish to rapturous applause. The lights go up and the crowd turns away. We follow the stream of chattering people towards the main stage, the main event; The Killers.

‘That was fan-tas-tic !’ Liam says, putting his arm around me.

‘Why are you speaking like that?’

‘Like what?’

‘Your words seem clipped and really clear…like REALLY CLEAR.’

‘Lets have a cigarette.’

We light cigarettes and take a long slow drag.

‘Yeah?’ Liam asks.

‘Yeaaah,’ I say nodding, but I’m not sure what the question is. Oh, maybe it’s about the way he is speaking.

‘It’s like your words are really resonating with me,’ I clarify.

‘When I said Phoenix were fantastic ?’

‘Yeah, that. And everything you said.’

‘I know what you mean. Words are carrying a bit more weight. It’s like they are connecting us.’

‘Exactly!!!!!’

I feel an immense fondness towards Liam. I trust him implicitly. Enough to say…

‘I feel like I’m lifting but I’m not… of course.’

‘Hey,’ Liam starts. ‘I should probably tell you that I took the liberty of putting a little –‘

‘Hey there you are!!’ says Dee, suddenly appearing before us.

We are surrounded by Dee, Leire and Rachel. There’s a lot of hugs. It’s good to see them. We tell them so several times. Together we push our way through the crowd.

‘Oh I hate being small,’ Dee complains. ‘You can’t see anything and you keep smelling people’s armpits.’

The Killers emerge through a mist of dry ice and lights. They take their positions. There’s an anticipatory hush. My night hasn’t taken off just yet. I want to be wowed. And then a familiar riff rings out. Our eyes lock together in recognition.

‘Mr Brightside!!’

It’s punch the air feel good. Euphoria abounds and before it has a chance of escaping they launch into Spaceman, Somebody told Me and Human. Just when you think they have no arrows left in their quiver they release a volley of hits; Read My Mind, Runaways, All These Things that I’ve Done.

The waves, powerful now, pulse through me. I clench my teeth. I hug my friends. The five of us are united by the music. Leire paints all our lips. We sing, we dance, we bunch together for photos.

The show climaxes with When You Were Young. The Killers leave the stage. The fancy lights cease and we’re just standing in a field at night; there’s a smell of damp grass, lights are bouncing off skin and shadows are long.

The waves don’t recede, they persist but with a dark undercurrent. Suddenly, they overwhelm me. My throat dries, my tongue swells,  nausea rushes through me and there is one thing on my mind; Water!

‘Water? Yes I have water,’ Rachel says removing a bag off her back.

I snatch the bottle with both hands and stagger through the crowd. Blurry, hostile faces get in my way. I barge through. Bile rises from my stomach . I try to hold it in my mouth but it’s no use. My body jerks forward and a sickly juice is expelled. It splashes onto the shoes of those not quick enough to get out of my path.

I straighten up and keep moving. Once clear of the crowd I find a patch of grass to park my ass. I suck the two litres outta the bottle. Liam sits beside me. I’m not sure what he is saying but his words are soothing. The others catch up with us. They are observing us, muttering conclusions. I feel guilty and I want them to leave me here with Liam. He understands.

‘What happened to you guys?’ Leire asks.

It’s a fair question but everything’s a little tilted and I can’t even begin to explain.

‘Dodgy pints,’ says Liam.

Something Similar? It gets off to a bad start…

Something Different?5 Things I Hate about Bilbao

Okay, there was no decent recordings from BBK Live so here’s two from Glastonbury:

 

 

Plain Sailing

It’s getting away from it all, while at the same time, being in the centre of everything.

The tide is low. The black and snot-green walls of the riverbanks slide by. Above the riverbanks, the hotels, apartments and businesses of Portugalete and Getxo look down upon us from either side. You would think that all those buildings would generate more noise, but no, they just observe us with a thousand eyes. The only sound is the chug of the boat’s engine.

We are on board the Happy Thought. Aritz, el capitán, is on the roof removing the covers from the sail. Liam is nervously manning the tiller. I’m sipping a beer. It tastes good. Aritz finishes with the sail and ducks into the cabin to fix the toilet.

I smile and wave at the other boats.

‘It’s a bit like I’m the owner and you two are my lackeys,’ I say to Liam.

Liam fails to smile.

‘Here do you wanna, take the… the reins?’

‘Na. You are doing a fine job. And it’s a tiller.’

‘Well you do it then, fucking Brendan the Navigator. I wanna roll a ciggy.’

‘Smoking’s bad for ya.’

This is bad for me…for us. I haven’t a clue what I’m doing.’

‘Aritz would tell you if anything was wrong.’

Liam makes a face.

Once we get closer to the mouth of the Nervion, Aritz cuts the engine. The wind picks up and we pull extra jumpers out of our backpacks. There’s an eerie silence. The engine was like the constant murmur of a reassuring mother, but now it’s gone.

Aritz positions himself next to a crank and starts winding. The sail rises up the pole. The sheet flaps about at first but once he’s done winding it puffs its chest out proudly. The wind pulls the boat to one side. I feel my stomach lift. I clutch onto the rail. The boat is nearly on its side. If I let go I’ll be tipped out. Eventually, the wind subsides and the boat settles.

‘I don’t want to steer this anymore,’ Liam says, ashen faced.

He leaves the tiller go. I look to Aritz. He shrugs. I drain my can and take the tiller. The vessel and the lives within are now in my hands.

Aritz goes back to the toilet. Liam attempts to roll a cigarette with trembling fingers.

‘I have no idea what I’m doing here,’ I say once Aritz resurfaces.

‘You are doing Grrrreat!’

‘I dunno man. I don’t feel safe in a boat that has me in charge.’

‘To go right, push it left. To go left push it right. When wind is straight: 25 degrees either side,’ Aritz instructs and then he ducks into the cabin again.

He makes it sound easy but it’s not like I have the river to myself. There are canoes, trawlers, big sail boats and tiny sail-boats. There’s also the wind and its whims.

Liam stands up, lights his cigarette and takes a long, slow pull. I’m straining on the tiller. Suddenly, the arm of the main sail swings violently. Liam bends backwards to avoid getting his head taken off.

‘Jesus!’ he says, crouching towards the bench.

‘I did say smoking is bad for ya.’

‘Well…’ is all Liam can say. He sits there shaking his head.

‘Some reflexes on ya though. That was like something outta the Matrix.’

It all seems a bit dangerous but every time Aritz resurfaces from the cabin he smiles an ‘Aint life grand’ smile. I decide not to panic unless I see him panicking. I pick a red building on the docks as a yardstick. After twenty minutes, we still haven’t moved passed it. I hope no one else has noticed.

‘This trip is like my relationship; A lot of effort but essentially going nowhere,’ Liam says.

‘This wind is like a girlfriend; one minute she’s your friend, then suddenly, and for no apparent reason, she turns on you,’ I offer.

Liam emits a mirthless chuckle.

Finally Aritz emerges and takes the tiller. I sit down next to Liam.

‘How are things with Emma?’

‘Ah we are fighting a lot. To be honest I-’

Suddenly, Aritz is roaring. I look ahead and see a forty foot sail boat heading our direction. It’s going to hit us. The captain of the forty-footer is moving frantically on deck. But surely it’s too late. I brace myself for the cold water. As the huge sail looms over us I close my eyes.

It hits us on the port side. Miraculously we remain afloat. With both captains pulling the tillers the boats veer away from each other.

We stand. We are staring at the captain of the forty footer. He’s staring right back. A combination of language barrier and shock renders us dumb.

‘All that water and you two are hitting into one another!’ bellows a fisherman on land.

Once we sit back down Liam and I feel the need to recount the story from our own perspectives. We are agreed that the other boat was at fault. A calm descends. Aritz is in charge. Liam and I are just sipping cans and looking about. The boat slowly progresses towards the bay.

‘I guess it’s plain sailing from here on in,’ I say.

‘Yeah,’ Liam agrees, ‘Boring, isn’t it?’

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar? Bilbao Metro 4am

Something Different? Cans on the Bench

 

 

A Breakdown in Communication

The next morning the questions are still following me around like persistent bees. My girlfriend finally responded to my text, acknowledged that things aren’t okay, but failed to signify why they aren’t okay. I guess I should know. I wanna cut the bullshit so I suggest we meet over coffee. Fine, she says.

So after Spanish class I walk across town to Santurtzi. The rain and the tall buildings lend the place the feel of a dark, damp cave. It’s the type of weather that makes you grimace.

I’m standing outside the café when I see her coming towards me with an umbrella in hand. Now, J looks serious at the best of times, but as she nears I see her eyes are burning with an extra intensity; I mean, she looks like she wants to fucking kill someone. I’m pretty sure that I might be that someone but I have no idea why.

We kiss on the lips.

‘What’s wrong J?’

‘Nothing.’

Well, you should tell your face that.

It’s a terrific quip that I keep to myself. Instead I say, in Spanish, that it’s clearly more than nothing. She makes a dismissive sound, letting me know that I have failed to execute the phrase correctly.

I feel like my stomach is being held hostage by her face. The atmosphere is heavy and I wanna change it.

‘I’ve been worried,’ I say.

She shrugs.

We step inside the café. It’s just another café: pintxos wrapped with cellophane on the counter, elderly clientele, uncomfortable chairs and the owner looks like he hasn’t had a day off in years. He’s in no rush. As he prepares the coffees I think: Am I gonna get dumped here? No, she wouldn’t have kissed me on the lips if she was going to do that. I mean no-one has ever been betrayed by a kiss, have they? We sit down at a table.

‘So. How was Saturday night?’ she asks.

She said Saturday night as if there were quotation marks around it, as if it were some silly made up time in a made up game I play with my friends. She’s looking at me really closely.

‘Fine. Nothing special,’ I shrug. ‘We had some beers in Casco Viejo: Noel, Dave and I. We went around to a few bars and finished up early: got the metro around 130. Sin mas.’

The casual manner which I deploy does nothing to disarm her. She unleashes her second question.

‘When did you make the plan to go to Bilbao? I’m just curious.’

Curious? Furious more like. Another great quip that I keep to myself. Still, I know now what’s up.

‘That morning. Remember when I texted you and you said that you weren’t feeling any better?’

She nods. She’s listening intently and I feel like I’m one wrong word away from a massive argument.

‘So I assumed I wasn’t going to see you and made plans with the boys,’ I continue gingerly. ‘Then you said we could meet for a coffee and I thought Great, but I assumed it would be just that – a coffee.’

‘Things went differently than I had expected,’ she says.

‘You thought that we were going to spend the night together?’ I say, touched.

‘Yes. And over coffee we have this big conversation about spending the future together. Then, I go to the toilet and when I come back it seems suddenly we aren’t even going to spend the evening together.  And I was like ‘Que?’’

‘Okay, alright. I’m sorry.  But, you understand as well, that I thought it was just going to be a coffee?’

She nods.

Something occurs to me.

‘But how come, when we said goodbye on Saturday evening, everything was alright?’ I ask.

‘Sometimes you only think of these things afterwards,’ she says.

‘So, yesterday, I was trying to figure out what was wrong. I figured it was something to do with the conversation we had had, that you had changed your mind about the future and all.’

‘No, no.’

‘And when you didn’t text me back last night I was so worried. I was so worried,’ I say.

‘Yes. I’m sorry.’

Her hand reaches across the table and caresses mine. The tension dissipates and a warmth comes over her features. My stomach begins to settle.

‘I feel better now. Now that we talked about it.’

We finish our coffees. Such is the change in mood I expect that, once we step outside, the atmosphere will have shifted accordingly; the sun will shine, birds will chirp and a barber shop quartet will be on the road singing songs of love. If anything though, the weather is worse. We huddle under her umbrella and set off together.

nocktoebenaughto

Something Similar?An Anti -Valentine’s Story

Something Different? Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

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

 

Hello, what’s this?

I’m outside the Molly Malone Bar when I see them, the pair of them in Charlie Chaplin costumes. They’re not pulling faces or doing funny walks – just enjoying their fags. I ask James for some tobacco, quickly assemble a cigarette and walk over to them. Six steps.

‘Tienes mechero?’ I ask, with my thumb working an imaginary device.

‘Si,’ says the taller Chaplin, opening her hand to reveal a lighter. I light up, take a drag and ask what’s with the Charlie Chaplin costume.

‘We are not dressed as Charlie Chaplin. We are Dupont y Dupond.’

‘Who?’ I ask.

‘Thompson and Thomson,’ says the smaller Chaplin.

‘Who are they?’

‘They are from Tintin.’

‘Fuck yeah! The detectives.’

They nod enthusiastically, relieved I get it.

‘Billions of blue blistering barnacles!’

They look at me.

‘Do you know him? The sailor captain fella…from Tintin?’

They nod, but I don’t think they know what I’m on about.

‘So, why are you dressed as Thompson and Thomson?’

‘It is our cousin’s Detective Themed Birthday party,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘And everyone thinks they are twins but they are not even brothers,’ says taller Thomson.

‘But we are sisters,’ says smaller Thompson.

‘But not twins,’ adds taller Thomson.

James comes over and we end up going through the conversation again; this time in Spanish. Then, we pair off. I’m talking to the taller Thomson. She is studying engineering in Santander. She lives in Sestao. Her sister’s name is Vane. Her name is Jessica. No it isn’t a typical Basque name but there was a trend for English names around the year she was born. As she talks I nod and nod. It’s not that I strongly agree with trendy English names; it’s more that I am in accord with how she comes across. There’s something about her – and it’s not the moustache.

She asks about me. She listens.

I become aware that James and Vane’s conversation has dried up. The cigarettes are finished and feet are shuffling, eager to move on to the next moment. For James and I that’s finding somewhere to eat. For Jessica and Vane – back inside to be enveloped by their friends and the general tomfoolery that costumes engender.

But I don’t want to let Jessica go just yet.

‘Let’s get a photo!’ I say.

Jessica and Vane agree.

I give my phone to some guy. The four of us stand together. The photo gets taken. We separate. James walks over to our friends. Vane starts to walk inside. I walk with Jessica towards the door.

‘Where are you going later?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. My cousin will decide. What about you?’

‘I don’t know. Café Antxokia maybe. Do you know it?’

‘Yes, yes. I like it.’

‘I might see you later then.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

And then we are at the door. There is nothing left for her to do but walk through it and she duly does. It’s unlikely I’ll see her later, or ever again for that matter. Bilbao, with its 1million inhabitants, is a big and small place at the same time. Some people you bump into. Others, well; different circles, same fishbowl.

‘Jessica!’

It’s said before I have time to think myself into inaction.

She stops in the doorway and turns around. The two of us move to the side so we are not getting in people’s way; this creates an odd sense of privacy that emboldens me.

‘Are you single?’ I ask.

‘Yes.’

‘Maybe, sometime, like next weekend, we can meet for a beer?’

‘Okay.’

A pang of joy!

‘So I’ll take your number then.’

‘Okay.’

Another!

I produce my phone. She begins to call out her number but James, who is hungry and oblivious to the delicate matter at hand, comes over and presses me about going for some food. I fear the interruption will give Jessica a chance to review the situation and change her mind.

‘I’ll be over in a minute,’ I say to James. Whether it’s through my words, my tone or the look in my eyes I don’t know but, thankfully, my message is received and he ghosts away.

I look at Jessica. She nods and continues to call out her number. Joy and relief! I carefully type it in. I enter her name but my finger slips and I spell it Jessicq. No matter, it’s there now.

‘Okay. Great. I’ll call you now so you have my number,’ I say.

She takes out her phone, looks at it and shows me the screen. There it is, my number.

‘So. I’ll text you to arrange a drink or something.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

I put my phone in my pocket. She drops hers into her bag zips it shut. I lean in and kiss her on both cheeks. She goes into the pub. I go back to the lads. I have trouble keeping the smile off my face.

Six steps; a light, a chat, a feeling, a photo, a question, a number. The start, maybe, of something.

happy trails

Something similar? A Bit of Romance

Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

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

 

 

Insomnia

Last night I was tilting back glasses of yellow, smoking cigarettes and talking like a man who had a handle on things. The bar was crowded with smiling faces, the dance-floor a blur of bright dresses and dark suits.

Now though, I’m alone in my bedroom. My body hums in rejection to the whole idea of sleep. Thoughts race through my mind. I keep expecting these thoughts to arrive at a conclusion, whereupon I turn over, drift off into a satisfying slumber, wake up refreshed and go forth into the rest of my life with a brand new attitude. But, it ain’t happening.

I’m scared too. Of what? I don’t know. Something I forgot or did or said, or something I should be doing, apart from sleeping.

I throw off the cover and let the air at my legs. It’s 3am and I have work tomorrow. Fuck, today. I envision the pre-work routine; getting the bus, a quick coffee, the stale air of the classroom, devising plans, photocopying, checking my tired, weary red eyes in the mirror. I picture the students coming through the classroom door; The kids loud and boisterous, the teens slow and unenthused, the adults chirpy. How am I gonna do it?

Outside, a distant dog yaps. A car passes.

My mind jumps from past to present to future.

I think of last night’s sing-song. The choruses were belted out, loud and assured. The verses were fragile things, often solo efforts with muddled lyrics. We leaned in and willed on the one charged with taking us to the good parts. My cousin was confident with ‘Streams of Whiskey’ though. He galloped through the verses.

‘I have cursed, bled and sworn/Jumped bail and ended up in jail/Life has tried to stretch me/But the rope always was slack…’

I can’t think of the rest. The lines hang there, dissatisfied, like their journey has come to an abrupt and unwanted ending. I guess that’s what makes Shane McGowan such an amazing song-writer. When he puts words together, they belong to each other. I contemplate turning on my phone to check the lyrics but then I think of Paula and how I should never have given her such power. I don’t know what’s bringing my thoughts to her but I can’t control the bastards. The last few weeks were shit. I knew it was gonna happen but I clung on anyway. Let her do it, I thought. Still though, if I had more self-respect I would have split. How could I let someone waste my precious time like that, worrying over whatsapps?

I think of girls I have dumped. I’m haunted by the look in their eyes. What gave me the right to cause such hurt?

You can’t win.

I get out of bed. I get the pack of cigarettes from my shelf, open the window, sit on the bed and spark up a fag. The escalators are still. There isn’t a soul around. I see the ‘Hanging Bridge’ looming over the buildings. I like that bridge. So do the locals. There is a photo of it in every café in town. Portugalete and its famous hanging bridge.

‘How did you end up in Portugalete?’ Paula had asked, mystified.

‘Well, before I moved here, I was worried about two things more than anything else; not having any job and not having any friends. Dee promised me both, in Portugalete.’

And Dee had delivered. She was unhesitant and unrelenting in her help. Recently, she was told to move out of her apartment. There were two rooms available in my apartment.

‘Do you mind if I move in?’

She saw the look on my face, my shrug.

‘I understand if you don’t like the idea,’ she added.

‘It’s just we work together and socialise together and to live together too…’

‘Okay. I get it.’

What the fuck was I protecting? My solitude? I should have been a better friend.

The difference a day makes. Yesterday I felt like things were tidy, that behind the scenes things were somehow working in my favour. Today, the opposite. The tide was in, now its out.

I stub out the fag and close the windows. I lay down and look up at the ceiling. I try to concentrate on my breathing. I hear birds tweeting. Please.

What can’t be more than thirty minutes later a too loud alarm goes off. My bones, tongue and eyes are heavy. They have been touched by sleep and yearn for more. I force myself to sit up. Sleep has arrived and is ready to carry me away. I have to push it off and get outta bed.

nocktoebenaughto

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