I had not seen him for at least seven years; nor spoken to him for probably a few more. Once I had moved to the other side of the world, keeping up with developments in my home town had been difficult. Despite the quick uptake of technologies everywhere by almost everyone, distance has a way of imposing a veil of secrecy on other people’s lives.
I had arrived in Valencia a few days before Christmas. I had plenty of time to catch up with friends and family. My brother had asked me if I wanted to come along and pay a visit to Franky Rabbit. It was mid-afternoon, and TV shows were incredibly boring or stupid, so I said yes.‘Is he still selling drugs?’ I asked my brother.‘Sip. Still in the business.’ He shrugged his shoulders as if to mean that things may change from time to time, but certain people won’t ever change. I did feel like having a little smoke of hash, so I decided to tag along.Rabbit Frankie had been a kid from our neighbourhood. We had seen him on the streets day after day, although he had attended a different school than ours. Our parents had wanted us to do better than most and had therefore enrolled us in a semi-private school. I had transferred to the local public high school as soon as I turned 14. Franco had died three years before, and switching to the state high school had been a blessing in disguise.My brother was driving in the mid-afternoon dusk. The December air soon felt chilly and damp. The Mediterranean is great in summer, but in winter, soon after sunset, its humidity soaks into your bones and chills you down
Rabbit Frankie was renting a flat in the north-west of the city. Rentals were not expensive in those days, and he was certainly making a killing. Besides his drug dealing, my brother told me on the way there, these days Frankie had achieved honourability by getting himself a job as a public servant.‘You must be kidding’, I replied incredulous.
‘Not at all,’ my brother quipped. ‘And so the public enemy became the public servant.’So bloody typically Spanish, I thought. Apparently, Frankie had used his jet set connections to his advantage, and some obscure government official had picked him for a non-existent position within an even obscurer division in the Regional Department of Health. The irony did not escape anyone. It was like putting the wolf in charge of the herd of sheep.We parked the car.***The bell rang, pressed by my brother’s middle finger. After ten seconds or so the door opened and Frankie’s face appeared behind it. And suddenly I wished him hurt, suffering. I could have even wanted him gone for good. Let this prick suffer, for goodness’ sake. He deserves it more than anyone else I know!Elma. Seeing him after all these years had brought her back. A beautiful girl with a great future ahead, all the boys in the neighbourhood were secretly in love with her, or at least admired her beauty. Gleaming straight black hair, gracefully shaped, an enchanting smile beneath warm, fiery black eyes. Why she had chosen him, we never knew. Elma went out with Frankie for years – and was loyal to him even when he got first in trouble with the law as a trifling neighbourhood dealer. He was then a minnow dreaming of hitting the big time.Seeing his stupid face after so many years stirred some bad memories. How Elma had jumped off the rear balcony of her 7th-floor home. How had such a young life full of possibility been brought to an abrupt end? We never knew what drove her to such profound despair.Frankie did not seem to recognise me at first. Then my brother mentioned I had only been back a few days, and that I’d be partial to some weed.‘Oh, you’ve been abroad now for a few years, yeah?’I just nodded. My brother kept on: ‘Australia, man! My bro’ here went to Australia. He has kangaroos and koalas in his garden! Ain’t that awesome?’‘Wow! Is that so? One day I’m gonna travel over there and have a swim at that pool where Crocodile Dundee took that American babe. Oh my, what a woman! Nice curves and even better legs, mind you. Yet my favourite is still Madonna, you know?’‘Is she just?’ I quipped. ‘You know, I share something very special with Madonna! Something real special you will never share.’Frankie raised his eyes and shook his head to one side to move that silly fringe of his out of his sightline. ‘And what might that be, show-off?’‘We were both born on 16 August.’
|Happy Birthday to you (and myself!). Fotografía de Jonas Bengtsson.|
***We didn’t stay long. My brother gave Frankie a couple of crisp €10 notes. We (or rather, I) had got what I wanted, so there was no point in humouring the despicable human being Frankie was. But there was no stopping him. That’s what coke does to some people: they talk rubbish nonstop.He had been going on about AIDS and whatnot when he suddenly brought back the singer into the conversation. ‘You know what Madonna started singing at her last gig?’‘Nope,’ my brother joined in.Frankie switched to English. ‘Hey, you, don’t be silly, put a condom on your willy!’I must have winced quite noticeably, because Frankie suddenly stared at me and asked if he hadn’t pronounced everything correctly.‘Yes, mate,’ I tried to reassure him and said in English. ‘Queen’s English, jus’ purrfect!’The idea sort of floated in the air, which stank of cigarette smoke.‘Time to hit the road for us,’ my brother said. ‘Thanks, see you around, Frankie.’‘Hasta la vista, baby,’ was Frankie’s rejoinder.‘Great story about Elma Donna, Frankie,’ I said while heading towards the door. ‘I’m sure you will never forget Elma Donna, will you?’I turned around as I reached the door and fixed him with my eyes. Whether he had got the message or not, I did not care. Elma’s name had been pronounced loud and clear enough to prick his conscience. If he ever had one.