PROSE: Lost Luggage by Jordi Puntí (Catalan)

Chapter 1: Photographs
Secilyaylali4_petit_medium
Seçil Yaylalı: Petit
Translation by Richard Thomson

We have the same memory.

It’s very early. The sun has just come up. All three of us – father, mother and son – are yawning sleepily. Mum has made some tea, or milky coffee, and we duly drink it. We’re in the living room, or the kitchen, quiet and still like statues. Our eyes keep on closing. Soon we hear a lorry pull up outside the house and sound its horn. Although we’ve been expecting it, the bellowing roar makes us jump and suddenly we’re wide awake. The windows rattle momentarily. It’ll have woken the neighbours. We go out to see our father off, as he climbs up into the truck and sticks an arm out of the window, putting on a smile as he waves us goodbye. It’s clear he feels bad about leaving. Or not. He’s only been at home for a couple of days, three at the most. Up in the lorry, his two mates call out to us and also wave goodbye. Time passes in slow motion. The Pegaso moves off, lumbering away as if it doesn’t really feel like it either. Mum’s in her dressing gown, perhaps a tear escapes her, perhaps not. We, the sons, are in pyjamas and slippers and our feet are freezing. We go inside and get back into our beds which are still slightly warm, but our thoughts keep us awake. Head going round and round. We are three, four, five, seven years old, and we have been through the same scene several times before. Back then we do not know this, but we have just seen our father for the last time.

We have the same memory.

The scene we’ve just described took place about twenty years ago, at least, and this story could begin at three different points on the map. No, four. The removal lorry might have faded into the morning mist enveloping the Quai de la Marne, north of Paris, leaving behind it a row of houses on rue de Crimée across from a canal which in the dawn light looked as if it were out of a Simenon novel. Or perhaps the truck’s engine shattered the damp silence of Martello Street, just across the way from the grass of London Fields in the East End, going under the railway bridge in search of a main street out of the metropolis, where the roads are wider and driving on the left is no big deal for a trucker from the continent. Possibly we’re in eastern Frankfurt, at the foot of one of those blocks of flats on Jacobystrasse they built after the war: here, the Pegaso headed off uncertainly towards the motorway, as if terrified of passing through a landscape of factories and woods to join the caravan of lorries which were similarly carving their way through the arteries of Germany.

Paris, London, Frankfurt. Three distant random places, their only link being the fact that our father was driving a lorry transporting furniture from one side of Europe to the other. There was one more city, the fourth, which was Barcelona. The point of departure and arrival. In this instance the scene was replayed with neither truck nor wearied brothers in arms. One of us – Cristòfol – with mum and dad. Three people in the poorly-lit kitchen of a flat on Tigre Street. But this farewell was also played out with the same quiet calm he anticipated – so much so that it almost seemed rehearsed –, with the same vague concern he’d mastered in other homes, with other families. That look trying so hard to be calm but brimming over with sadness. The look to which we all four surrendered: hours after, the next day, a week later, we’d look in the mirror as we brushed our teeth and see it once more in our eyes. A sadness accepted. That’s why the four of us now feel we were always all over the place, and why now, so many years later, our childhood disappointment is multiplied by four. We also like to think of the mothers, the four mothers, as if they were one. The suffering not shared but multiplied. None escaped the bad times. Nor us, the four sons.

Sorry? Don’t quite get it? Not clear enough?

Well, this does need some explaining. We are four brothers – more accurately half-brothers – sons of one father and four and very different mothers. Until around a year ago we still didn’t know each other. We didn’t even know of each other’s existence, scattered across god’s earth. Our dad wanted us to be called Christof, Christophe, Christopher and Cristòfol (Cristóbal until the dictator Franco died). Said out loud like that, all in one go, the four names sound like an irregular Latin declension. Christof, German nominative, was born in October 1965 and is the heir to an impossible European lineage. Christopher, Saxon genitive, arrived almost two years later, his birth suddenly broadening and colouring the meaning of a Londoner’s life. The accusative Christophe took a little less time – nineteen months – and in February 1969 became the direct object of a single mother in France. Cristòfol was the last to show his face: a case of circumstance, entirely defined by place, space and time, an ablative in a language which doesn’t decline.

Why did our dad give us these names? What made him insist on calling us as he did, so obstinately that in the end our mothers were persuaded to agree to it all? Maybe he didn’t want us all to be unique? Fact is, none of us has any other siblings. We did talk about this with Petroli, his mate on removals along with Bundó – on removals and secrets –, and he said no, when he talked about us he never got us mixed up and knew perfectly well who was who. We tell ourselves that maybe it was some kind of superstition: Saint Christopher is the patron saint of every driver of every mode of motorised transport; we four sons were like little offerings in each country, little candles lit to watch over him as he travelled around in his lorry. Petroli, who knew him very well, denies this and says he didn’t believe in the afterlife, suggesting a perhaps more outlandish but equally credible possibility: maybe he just wanted a winning poker hand, four of a kind. “And dad?”, we asked. The joker who turned it into a straight flush.

Life is very short, and there’s no time…” Christopher starts singing without prior notice. We let it go because the line’s pertinent as well as being a Beatles song. All of us are big fans of the Fab Four, but we’re not about to play now at guessing who’s George and who’s Paul, who’s Ringo and who’s John. We’ll keep this sort of exercise to ourselves, along with this business of interrupting the story with a song. It’s the first and last time we will allow an individual contribution – a solo – unless it has previously been agreed with the other three. This isn’t some karaoke bar and there have to be some rules so we can get along. If all four of us were to talk at the same time it would sound like crickets in a tin can. What’s more, Chris is right: life is indeed very short, and there’s no time.







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