The sudden brightness lightened up her furious nightmare and from the dreamed images she sensed that it was time to return to the world of consciousness. Without opening her eyes she enjoyed the tender caress of the slow morning wakening. She snuggled in one side of the bed to wrap herself with the warmth of the bedsheets and dozed again till she felt a weight close to her. With a cheek sunk in the pillow she was only able to see through one eye and it struggled to open. Sergi was gazing at her silently. His smiling eyes seemed to want to see through her thoughts but she already knew the meaning quite well. It wasn’t the tender expression of a beloved man nor the lewd one of a lover that wanted her with passion. It was the look of a naughty boy about to do something forbidden. Caressing her through the sheets he said with trembling voice:
– Remember that this weekend I am going rollerblading with my pals!
Júlia couldn’t be bothered telling him anything. She moved her head slightly to signal that she remembered and she decided to disappear swallowed between mattress and quilt. Sergi would come back late on Sunday because his rollerblade friends were so important that she did not have the right to ask for any more attention from him than the one she was already receiving. And what kind of attention was that? Was it sliding his arms round her waist and kissing her neck when he found her in the kitchen making dinner for him? Or was it the previous cuddling when he needed more? Did she have to consider all that attention from him? Apart from those few moments, she could have lived alone and it would have made no difference at all.
She got up in a bad mood and put on her gown. She made herself some coffee to tidy up her mind. She was mad about the fact that he did not take her into account at any time and her feeling of being abandoned grew stronger and stronger every day. She had made the wrong choice but at her age there was nothing she could do about it.
She showered and got dressed very quickly. At least she would be busy that morning because she had to take her translation to the publishing house and clarify what she was not hundred per cent sure of about her work. She looked through the kitchen window. The irreverent spring sun dazzled the blue cloudless sky that highlighted the skyline of Poblenou and all its irregular rooftops. She took a jeans jacket and a bag and left the house considering whether she would finally have the guts to confront Sergi and tell him what he made her feel like. She crossed the Rambla and continued along Lull Street. On the corner with Llacuna she saw a man by the street containers. At first he did not catch her attention. She often saw people looking for things in the rubbish bins due to the crisis. They used to appear at any time of the day pushing a supermarket trolley to put the things they could sell again. When Júlia found herself nearly opposite the containers her attention was drawn to the stranger. He had carefully placed two big paper bags and had tied up the handles with a lace. They looked like a paper bundle. The man, who she thought could be about eighty years old, changed the position of the bags until he seemed happy with it. He walked off when she was already nearly in front of the huge containers. With her avid curiosity she approached the bundles to have a look at them and found a little paper attached to it saying: “Where I am going I am not going to need it any more”.
A strange feeling made her heart go mad. Júlia thought for a second and then, with amazingly quick steps, followed the stranger that kept on walking up Llull Street. The old man wasn’t very fast so she reached him easily.
– Excuse me! – She said without knowing exactly how to go on with the conversation.
The man’s eyes, round and loving, became wider. As Júlia had gone silent the man asked:
– Do you want anything?
– Excuse me. I might stick my nose where I probably shouldn’t but… I’ve seen you leave that bundle next to the container and I have read what was written. I wonder if…- she stuttered- if you lack something…
The old man looked at her with an expression that could be of surprise or anger.- You’ve read it already. Where I am going I won’t need anything. Therefore I want to give the content of the bundle to someone who might require it.
Júlia started feeling uncomfortable. It might have been a stupidity to stop that man. Other people’s lives were definitely none of her business.
– Excuse me! When I read your message I thought you might…
She couldn’t finish the sentence. She felt ridiculous and looking down, she started walking towards the underground where she would find a shelter to hide her shame. All of a sudden she realised she preferred rainy days above sunny ones. When it was rainy, people hurried up to reach their destinations and didn’t pay attention to others and she could cry until her heart calmed down without anybody telling her anything or even noticing her. Exactly as it had happened some weeks ago, one of those afternoons in which Júlia stayed home to finish a translation. Sergi had travelled with his rollerblade friends and she, buried in the four walls of her flat, felt that her life was passing by and happiness had abandoned her completely. Late in the afternoon it had started to rain and she had burst into tears. The sound of the raindrops colliding against the windows didn’t let her concentrate. Or maybe it was her anger? She suddenly felt the urge to soak in the rain and clean her face and the tears in the street. Nobody would notice because they all snuggled underneath the umbrella and hurried up for shelter. Júlia went down the street and tried to cross it without noticing the red traffic light.
– Girl! Are you tired from life!
She stood still with the huge lorry stopped in the middle of the street waiting for her to react.
But there wasn’t any downpour that day and the sunlight would show her wet eyes clearly.
In the underground platform there was almost nobody and she headed for the last bench to sit for a while. She would let a train or two go by. The publishing house was open till late and she could pop in any minute. She decided to wait to get hold of herself.
She lost track of time but somebody sat next to her and pulled her back to reality from her daydreaming.
– Do you like sitting in underground stations and looking at the floor or you don’t feel fine?
Júlia moved her head towards the speaker. It was the old man of the bundle and for the second time that day she didn’t know what to say. They kept silent till the man told her:
– There’s something special about underground stations, don’t you think? You can find familiar faces or new people every time you come down.
Julia didn’t say a single word.
– Some years ago I used to like taking the underground every day at the same time to observe people. Some were going the same way every day but most of them were new to me. I have always thought that young people might nail a lot here…
Júlia’s heart started beating faster. She had met Kevin in the underground. In fact, both saw each other on the platform until one day he asked if she wanted to go for a coffee with him. “Maybe” she said shyly.
– Excuse me. Maybe I am being nosy but are you Ok?
Júlia stared at him and her lips draw a smile.
– This is exactly what I asked you before. Remember?
– Yes and I have replied harshly. I am sorry. I am generally not like that.
– And I am not so curious… – she said to smooth the conversation.
The old man stretched his arm to shake her hand and said:
– Enric Ruíz. Nice to meet you Miss or Mrs…?
– I am married.
– I have already imagined… such a beautiful woman!
– Don’t laugh at me please! I have already felt embarrassed once today…
– Before, in the street when I asked you if you were Ok…
– What came to your mind then?
Júlia thought for a couple of seconds before telling anything.
– Something rather silly, forget it!
– Ok then. I won’t insist.
Two trains had already stopped and departed and the third one was about to arrive.
– Are you in a hurry?
– A little… -Júlia lied deliberately.
– What a pity! I wanted to invite you to a coffee. But we could also drink one tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow… and you make sure what you had in mind before was wrong…
Júlia blushed. He was able to see through her.
– I don’t know. I have some things to do…
– It’s alright. Look that’s how we’ll do it: I will wait for you in the platform of this underground every day this week at this time. If you come and you feel like it, we’ll drink a coffee. Otherwise I’ll just jump in and observe the other passengers. Is it ok?
Júlia nodded and took the train that had just arrived. She stood behind the sliding doors that where closing staring at Enric and smiled at him.
Next day Júlia woke up on her on and could delight in the morning laziness with a coffee in the balcony. Meeting that old man had made her think of her mother and she decided to write her a mail. She had not seen her for a long time and maybe she could visit her. Both had grown apart because Júlia didn’t want to accept her mother’s opposition to her marriage with Sergi. “He is not what you need Júlia” “You don’t have anything in common and he’ll make you unhappy the same way you father did with me!”. But she wouldn’t listen. In her late thirties she was afraid of being left on the shelf and signed up the damned contract that, as she eventually understood, did not help keep the flame alive. She sat in front of the computer and wrote a loving message. She received a reply while she was getting dressed. Her mother invited her to spend some days in her flat in Margate. A tender image of an elderly woman with a chignon and a wrinkled face came to her mind and made her answer the mail immediately to accept the invitation. On second thoughts, she really needed to switch off and reflect. Sergi would not even notice she wasn’t there.
She worked for a while and at twelve she felt anxious. She put on her shoes and walked towards the underground station in Llacuna. She went down the stairs slowly as if she was afraid of not finding there who she was looking for. What a familiar feeling! She had sensed the same for months as she expected to see Kevin and he had become the only colourful touch in her absolutely grey life. Drinking a beer with him and meeting him in the park made her feel full of energy and alive again.
At the end of the platform she saw Enric sitting. She approached him with a smile and when she was next to him she asked:
– Coffee!- He said stretching his arm towards her so that she could help him stand up. They picked up a bar and they started talking about the crisis and politics about the weather and Barça and about her hobbies. After a while, when they both had a feeling they had known each other for years Enric asked:
– Júlia. What did you think when you read the message I left next to the bundle in the container?
She remained silent for a while and being incapable of telling a lie she replied:
– Quite honestly?
– Yes, honestly.
– Well I thought you have considered committing suicide.
– How did it cross your mind?
– I don’t know. It is said that people who want to commit suicide tidy everything up before doing it. You seemed so accurate when placing the bundle next to the container… and then there was the message: “where I am going, I won’t need it”.
There was a silent break whose meaning Júlia did not grasp.
– What if I told you now that was exactly what I intended to do?
She sighed deeply and looked at him and then at her cup.
– I suppose I would be surprised. You don’t seem the kind of person who commits suicide.
– You neither. – He replied in a dry way.
– Me! I have never thought of that!
– Only sometimes, when I am very sad I wonder if my life makes any sense at all, if I feel empty after all…
– You see… exactly the way I felt when I left the bundle.
– But I am not considering suicide…
– You are young. You can change your life if you don’t like the one you have. You can try to find a sense for it… I have already lived it up and I am tired.
– You mean you still intend to commit suicide?
– No. Not any longer.
– Very simple: even if I have lost my wife and my business and my life is meaningless, I can still change something around me. Something I don’t like, no matter how small it is.
That afternoon they said goodbye to each other and promised one another that they would meet again soon and on her way home Júlia thought Enric was right. She could live to change something and to start with she would change the loneliness of two elderly people.