One of you will betray me (Matthew 26:21)
Manolo led us into a narrow dark street.
Rocío squeezed my hand. ‘This is so exciting!’ She smiled at Manolo. ‘Thank you so much.’
We climbed up the steep stairs behind the garbage containers and entered the flat. It stank as if we’d stepped into a life-sized ashtray, but it was just the living room. A tiny window opened to the staircase. Neon lights illuminated the room. Three Chinese people were smoking in front of the TV. Rocío gripped my hand harder.
The girl introduced herself as something that sounded to me like Chung Ching Chu.
‘But in Spain name is Belén,’ she added. Did she know that Belén meant Bethlehem?
She showed us the kitchen. We were greeted by overflowing ashtrays and innumerable bottling jars filled with eggs, chicken feet or other, best left unidentified, animal parts. Rocío’s grip started to feel more like an iron vice now.
‘You like?’ Belén asked.
‘Very inviting.’ As long as I never had to eat with them.
Manolo led me to my room. It was probably six square metres. A single bed, a damp mattress, a couple of hooks in the wall, no window. All mine for 350 euros.
Rocío looked as if she was going to faint. I kept my money and dragged her out of that place.
When I texted Raúl about it later he sent me a picture of his large room in Stuttgart.
‘consider ur options’ he replied.
The next Thursday everybody was supposed to go on general strike. The protesters forced those working in shops and bars to close down and join them. My mother lost that entire day’s salary. In my office we were all grinding away. From about eleven we heard them shouting ‘No a la reforma laboral’. Rocío rang.
‘Where are you?’
‘Can’t make it.’
‘But it’s a general strike. You have to!’
‘My contract ends next week and I need a new one.’
‘Are you coming Rocío?’ a guy with a German accent shouted in the background.
‘Right. Gotta go, Wolfgang’s waiting. You do what you have to do.’ She hung up.
When the protesters marched past our office and realised we were still inside they threw raw eggs at our windows and tried to force up the iron roller shutters. But around half past one, everything went quiet. They’d probably all gotten hungry and returned home for lunch. And after that they all seemed to need an afternoon-long siesta.
Rocío never rang again nor did she pick up the phone when I called her. Alejandro didn’t say anything about a new contract.
‘Should I come back on Monday?’ I asked him on Maundy Thursday. It was the most important Christian holiday, but what did he care?
‘You’ll get a new contract. Three months, five hundred euros.’
Five hundred euros was only two hundred less than what I got at that moment.