O be joyful (Isaiah 66:10)
A week later my foot was still hurting and I went to the physiotherapist.
The receptionist led me into the treatment room. ‘Please take off your trousers, shoes and socks, the therapist will be with you shortly.’
I did as I was told and lay down on the massage table.
’You can take off more, let me see what I missed…’
The therapist had a big grin on her face. She had long blonde hair and was wearing a short lab coat, almost as sexy as her fire-fighter dress. Only this time she wasn’t wearing high heels.
‘Rocío.’ I grinned. ‘Nicely played.’
She blushed. ‘I don’t trust myself when I’m drunk and couldn’t be sure I wanted to see you again. If I’d felt too embarrassed, I wouldn’t have treated you.’
‘Glad you came to your senses.’ Was she wearing anything underneath?
She touched my foot. It felt very good.
‘So, what do you do?’ She leaned forward offering an interesting view of her dark green lace bra.
Her fingers seemed to suck all the pain out of my ankle. I told her about my work and tried not to think about her almost-naked body under that lab coat.
‘At least you can leave,’ she said. ‘My degree isn’t accepted in other countries.’
‘I’m not going anywhere. This is home.’ And Rocío proved that our women were so much better looking than any guiri.
After fifteen minutes she stopped. ‘That should fix you.’
‘So I won’t have to see you again?’
‘You can always invite me to dinner.’
‘If you’re up for a dinner around eleven at night.’
‘How about Friday?’
‘You have to pick up Mr Sanchez in Granada. Go there tonight, find yourself some free place to stay and bring him here tomorrow by eleven.’
‘I’ve plans tonight.’
‘Oh. You have plans. Meeting some nice girl, are you?’
‘How do you think we’re supposed to compete with German engineers, when all you ever think of are parties and girls? You want to keep your job?’
‘Well, there you go.’
Cantabria was probably the most German part of Spain. No parties, no sex, just work and rain.
At ten thirty that night he handed me his car keys. I left Cádiz through our former industrial zone. At the Delphi factory, the lonely banner reading ‘No one closes Delphi’ had come loose on one side and was fluttering in the wind. The 4500 jobs that had been there were long gone, including my father’s job.
I reached Granada around two in the morning and the friend with whom I’d planned to stay, heard neither the doorbell nor his phone. So I lowered the passenger seat into a horizontal position and made myself comfortable.
I drifted in and out of sleep until around half past four when a couple lurched past the car.
‘Let’s go to your place,’ the girl said.
‘Not an option. Would wake up my parents,’ the guy responded.
‘Thought you lived alone.’
‘No babe, can’t afford it anymore.’ He pushed her against the wall and pressed hard against her. ‘Don’t you feel how much I need you?’
‘Oh baby.’ She tried to kiss him.
He zipped down his fly and pushed her head down. ‘Go on babe. Suck it hard!’
‘Everybody can see us here.’
‘Let’s do it between those cars.’ And down they went right in front of me.
From the sound of it, it was going to be a quick one, but then she screamed. ‘Ah, shit! Shit, shit, shit!’
‘What’s the matter? Don’t stop!’
‘No, shit! There’s dog shit everywhere down here!’
‘What do you mean? Oh, shit! That’s disgusting!’
I have to admit, we don’t take the ‘Scoop the poop’ slogans too seriously in Spain. They tried to get rid of the stuff and rubbed their hands and asses against my bumper and bonnet. Then they hurried away. Not much passion left, I suppose.
I drove around the city in search of a car wash, but nothing opened before nine, so I used the T-shirt that I was wearing under my work shirt to scrub the car as clean as I could.
I picked up Mr Sanchez at seven thirty. He looked like he was in his sixties; he was overweight and he liked his cerveza, as I found out at eight when he suggested we stop at a service area.
‘I’m supposed to get you there by eleven,’ I said, but I was craving a coffee so I stopped.
‘No harm done if we get there a bit later.’
He obviously didn’t know Alejandro well.
Mr Sanchez ordered two beers.
‘I have to drive. I’d rather have a coffee.’
‘Coffee? No way to start our relationship, amigo. And a little cerveza won’t stop you from driving.’
So cerveza it was.
‘You work for that bastard Alejandro?’
‘He pays you?’
‘Lucky you!’ He laughed. ‘But there’s no future for you here. Go to Germany. They’re looking for engineers. I worked in a factory there when I was young. Best social security system ever. Became a sick leave expert. Wanna know how?’
The beers arrived and he held up his glass.
‘Call me Manolo.’
We chinked glasses.
‘So I told the doctor ‘bout my kidney pain and he made me piss into a plastic cup. But I’d come prepared. With a needle I pricked my finger and dropped some blood into that cup. So imagine what happened, when the results came back.’ He inhaled half of his beer. ‘Straight to hospital, it was. Kept me and my needle there for three weeks, trying to figure it out. And after that, I had to stay at home for another three weeks. Paid vacation. Cheers to that!’
The rest of the glass was gone.
‘Time of my life. Nice women, blonde ones with blue eyes. You should go.’ He waved at the bartender and put two fingers up. ‘Now I’m into trading.’
‘What do you trade?’
‘Properties, my wisdom and my connections. I can get you anything. What do you need, son?’
‘Oh, I have just the thing for you. A nice room in the centre of Cádiz.’
‘Seriously?’ I couldn’t believe my luck.
Two more beers arrived and Manolo held up his new glass, halted midway and kept it there until I’d gulped down my first. I raised the new glass and we chinked.
‘You can move in today after my meeting with Alejandro.’
‘Oh! Shouldn’t we take a…’
‘And because I like you so much, you get the room at a special price, three hundred fifty.’
Three hundred fifty euros was half of what I earned. Would I be able to survive with what would be left? And could my mother cope without my monthly contribution to the household expenses?
‘Cheers to that,’ he said.
When I’d emptied the second glass the deal began to sound good.
‘You’re late! I told you to bring him here at eleven!’ Alejandro’s eyes were bulging in rage.
‘It wasn’t my fault.’
‘You’re wasting everybody’s time! Sit down and make up for the lost hours!’ He stormed into the conference room and slammed the door.
I hurried to the car and sped to the nearest car wash. I had to make it back to the office before their meeting ended. At the first car wash, four cars were already queuing up. I drove on. The second car was decorated by graffiti that read ‘Closed by Angela Merkel’. At the third car wash I managed to get the car cleaned, but only after listening to the attendant complaining about the crisis for endless minutes. I paid with my last ten euros and rushed back to the office.
The conference room was deserted. No sight of Manolo.
‘May I ask what you’ve been up to now?’ Alejandro asked.
‘I cleaned your car.’ Surely he would like that? I showed him the bulk of gas, toll, and car wash receipts. ‘I spent 138 euros overall.’
‘You can shove those receipts up your ass! Not only did you keep my client from arriving here on time, I hear you also bored him with stories of your sad little life. You’re of no interest to Mr Sanchez. His connections might have supplied us with new contracts, but after you pestered him he will probably think about it twice!’
‘Don’t you dare talk to him again.’
This probably wasn’t the right moment to ask him for Manolo’s number.
Sunday evening, I was finally free for dinner. Rocío picked me up on her scooter. I wrapped my hands around her waist and we rode along the bay. Her hips were firm and muscular under her dress. Her long hair was flowing out from under her helmet filling the air with a fruity smell. I wanted to inhale her, drink her in, stop the scooter and take her right there. Maybe she would let me take her to a private spot on the beach later on. We passed the mall and jolted over a barely tarred track to a sandy parking place right on the waterfront. Although she’d somehow managed to drive in them, Rocío couldn’t walk on the sandy ground in her high heels, so she took them off and walked barefoot. She had perfect legs and she looked stunning in her black dress.
Wooden fishing boats were rocking on the waves. The fishermen stored their equipment in skewed corrugated iron shacks overlooking the bay. Diego’s shack was adorned with a crude, concrete terrace where he grilled fish for the locals.
We sat down on what had once been white plastic chairs and Diego decided to serve us mackerels with piriñaca. No candles decorated the table, no table cloths and no glasses. Below us the fishermen tied up their boats and stored their equipment. Rocío kissed me. The fishermen bantered and whistled. We sipped our beers from freezing cans, squeezed fresh lemon over the fish and vegetables and dug into the food.
Flickering orange lights marked the coastline. I took a picture of the view and another one of Rocío and sent both to Raúl.
‘things ur missing out on’ I texted.
‘asshole’ was all that came back.
Fog rose from the ocean and got caught in the abandoned bridge pillars.
‘When I was young my parents always told me how the new bridge would boost our economy,’ Rocío said.
‘The bridge was the reason why I became a civil engineer. I was so excited when the works finally started. It should have become one of Europe’s highest and longest bridges and I so wanted to be part of that!’
An enormous cruise ship entered the bay and anchored behind the bridge pillars. Our view was gone.Even the cathedral towers disappeared behind the floating skyscraper. German party music sounded from the deck.
We gulped down the rest of the food and asked for the bill.
‘Fourteen euros, cash only,’ Javi said.
‘I’ll take care of this,’ I said. Even I could afford to invite my girl to dinner at Javi’s.
I leafed through my wallet. Gas receipts, toll receipts, car wash receipt. No money. I began sweating. I looked again. Gas, toll, car wash. Nothing else.
Rocío took out a twenty euro note. ‘Here you go.’
‘I’m so sorry.’ I was glad it was dark and she couldn’t see the colour of my face.
I didn’t really feel like taking her to a hidden spot on the beach anymore.