Updated: Oct 16
Jeremy spent the next couple of days trying to find Mr. Fuentes at the university. The door of his office remained locked and even Ulises did not have a clue where he was. Jeremy soon found out Ulises knew about most things and he believed him when he said that he professor was nowhere to be found. The situation reminded him of the time his dad had disappeared in the middle of the night and gone AWOL for weeks. Jeremy had spent long hours after school pursuing his father’s trace all over the city centre with the innate sensation that his future happiness was somehow vanishing too. He was only twelve years old and no one in his family told him what was really going on. The old man eventually returned but the hollow feeling in the stomach never really left him. It would pop up unexpectedly in the most random of situations and roaming around in a distant land looking for an old professor had definitely summoned the anxiety once more. It made Jeremy decide to boot his twelve month plan of sobriety and find a joint in which to get completely and utterly wasted. He wondered what drinking in a foreign land would feel like and concluded the answer would surely beat spending another evening homebound with Juan and his obsessive Thatcherism.
That evening Jeremy ate his rolls with avocado and tomato in a hurry and hit the streets of La Serena. Ulises had pointed to a sort of gastropub named “Afroson” where Bohemian locals played LIVE music every night. He did not know exactly what the word “Bohemia” meant but he decided it sounded exotic and alluring. He found the place quite quickly in one of the narrow back streets of the city centre. He was a little reticent at first. It looked nothing like the working class boozer down the road where he would get trashed with his mates whilst bouncing up and down to Pulp or Blur. The candles and table cloths reminded him of a French restaurant he had once been to in Liverpool. A place he had not enjoyed whilst trying to pretend he was not a ruffian to an American girl he had dated. He was not used to the smell of corn and non-matching furniture either but when the barman of the charged him 500 pesos for a massive bottle of the local beer “Escudo” Jeremy thought he had walked into paradise. He could get at least ten bottles with the equivalent of the five pounds he carried in his pocket. The thought transformed his state of mind. He wished he could share the experience with some of the alcohol loving lads back at home and toasted to them when he received his second giant and ice-cold bottle of Escudo. As he scanned his surroundings, his eyes and ears were drawn to a bearded thin old man who was playing a melancholic tune on a Spanish guitar in the adjacent room. The song was melodically pleasing though Jeremy was not accustomed to such raw emotion. The man sat alone in a small stage arpeggioing the hell out of the instrument and releasing the most minor chords in the world. Jeremy had never realised you could formulate more sorrowful chords than an Aminor. That nylon-string guitar sounded more melancholic than a funeral march. He thought about the bands he liked, even Lou Reed could be dark as hell but at the electric guitars and the epic production made you forget about the heroine infused lyrics. What he heard that night was pure unfiltered pain. When the guitarist proceeded to sing the mood in the venue darkened further. A heart-warming and emotional howl emerged from his throat and filled the entire physical space with longing and wet desire. It was a refined and tuneful howl to all accounts but so sad that Jeremy wondered how anyone could decide to endure such misery on their night out and pay for it. It cost some extra soles to enter the central area of the venue where a dozen tables were spread out in front of the stage. Customers in what Jeremy described to himself as hippish attire were sitting in groups of four chatting under the candlelight and drinking the sadness. He had never seen anyone drink sadness before and it seemed so unfitting of his idea of an exotic venue; there were pots and plants everywhere and instruments decorating the walls. Jeremy took one of the high-top stool at the bar nearer to the entrance away from the stage and paying area which was separated by a bamboo screen. He could still hear the music perfectly. The howling continued.
Jeremy was sipping his beer happily pondering on the nature of melancholy and music when a grey-bearded homeless looking man walked to the bar and stood beside him. The middle-aged man smelt of beer and cigarettes and his knees did not look too stable. The bartender greeted him like he was an old friend and offered to serve him the usual. The man nodded and then turned towards Jeremy unexpectedly. He seemed to have rehearsed the sudden turn of neck.
-Hey hombre, you are not from here, right? –he inquired.
Jeremy was shaken by the intrusion and took a couple of seconds to respond.
-No, no soy –responded Jeremy brusquely, summoning his best Spanish as he found himself drawn to the remarkably large blue eyes that emerged from the greyness of the man’s face.
-Gringo not, I hope. People here are not too warm to chucha Gringos here after 1973.
-1973? –remarked Jeremy confusingly –no estaba nacido.
-You gringos have no clue, do you?
-I am not American –responded Jeremy desiring to feel more confident–I am from Leeds.
-Weon! A la chucha!
Jeremy recognised the expression from his initial encounter with a voice in Senor Fuente’s office. The man suddenly burst into laughter causing the waiter to stop his chores for a second and stare at the pair of us.
-¿Qué pasa hombre? –inquired the barman.
The man continued laughing. His laugh was deep and croaky like an old truck engine.
-I should have known you were here! Bloody English can’t stay away from a bar, can you? And you look so much older than the kids here.
-Leeds University, si?
Jeremy was perplexed. It took him a couple of moments to realise he had stumbled by accident with his infamous missing professor.
-Yes. Yes, they said you would come but I did not know so soon and they gave me extra money can you believe it? 50,000 Soles to tutor you and make sure you don’t mess it.
-I was looking for you. I went to your office many times but …..
-Drink maestro drink. Classes are for insecure people and you look older than those weones. How old are you?
-Good. Good. Drink. We are going to spend the bloody 50,000 soles in nights and drinking. That’s what you like you English. Bloody English, always got a shoe somewhere. Everywhere. An island telling the whole planet what to think and spreading their chucha tentacles while they have beers and tea. I mean, you have your own cemetery here, in Coquimbo yes, their own bloody ground to put their dead. And the indios? Well, they are burying in football grounds, when no one is watching. They have no place. Drink. Drink maestro. You are here to study Latin American philosophy, no?
-Let me tell you now before you start sticking your head in a pool of shit. It doesn’t exist. There is no Latin American philosophy. We threw it down a shithole when we decided to suck the tit of the French. They wanted this to be like Paris but we are a nation of Spaniards and Indios. We never look inside, no one ever looks insides.
-Inside Mr. Fuentes?
-Don’t Mr me. What am I saying? That our politics is a result of our incapacity to put our own brains on. Look what happened in 1973?
-Do they teach nothing in the elder Empire? Typical who cares about the indios, right? What happened was that they fought somebody else’s war here. What happened was that we were never in control of our chucha su madre destiny. What happened was that we have been killing each for years because no one wants to think and because everyone wants a house in Viña del Mar.
Jeremy listened attentively. He was lost but fascinated by the professor’s eyes and his apparent indifference to the world around him. He had never met anyone like that. His father would have imperious opinions about England and the world but he made sure he did not express them in public. Not even the drinking would shatter the mask he projected upon his neighbours and workmates. Jeremy’s professors at University were too politically correct and uninspiring to draw his attention but Fuentes was different. He did not seem to give a fuck! He spoke to Jeremy with fervour and openness. He moved his arms vehemently and raised his voice continuously. He was conversing with himself too. He was not trying to keep face. He was not lying. Fuentes was alive. More alive than he had seen anyone else be before.
-Huevones all! Heading to a black hole someone else made.
-Who is Augusto?
-Ausgusto? Your iron Lady knows well who he is. Ask that little chucha su madre. She know him well. Some in Chile would rather call their children Satan. Augusto is your next door neighbour who wants the biggest, fastest car and is ready to rape and cut heads to get it. Augusto is the big bad wolf. Augusto is the dry season and the reason we will never be ourselves. Augusto is the little shit we all have inside us when we drink poison.
-What did he do?
-What we have been doing since we landed here five hundred years ago. Pillaging, raping, beating the tiger with a baton. But this Augusto bastardo had a special knack for it and he enjoyed it too or so they say.
Jeremy noticed that the atmosphere in the room got more agitated when the singer in the adjacent room started playing a slow minor waltz he had introduced as “I remember you Amanda,” or something of the sort. The professor paused for an instant and looked reflective and doleful. Jeremy could not catch the lyrics of the song in their entirety but there was something about a factory, people not returning, a las waiting, Amanda.
-Hands, they cut the chucha hands! Bastardos! –shouted the Professor when the song ended.
-Chucha maestro, will have to teach you everything. The 50, 000 soles must be a joke. They cut his hands! In the National Stadium! They cut his chucha hands for every communist soul to see.
-The Pacos hombre the pacos. The green capped enforcers of spite and imbecility.
-Why did they cut his hands? –asked Jeremy in deep shock.
-The songs. He wrote them for the workers so they cut his hands to make an example. I cared a fuck about politics but you had to take a side then. Imagine, they cutting off the hands of the poets. How can you not take a side?! Sometimes maestro you gotta take a side. Even though they are all imbeciles but the hands of a poet you cannot cut. First the shot Lorca, then this.
-What was his name? –asked Jeremy shyly.
-Victor Jara hombre everybody knows the angel de la chucha. What school did you go to? They tell you nothing there.
Some punters were in tears by the end of the song. Tempers rose when someone said something about the food queues. They seemed to suggest there were food queues before the death of Victor Jara. Jeremy could not understand much but he immediately realised it was a hairy subject and he should not intervene. The professor changed his tone quickly after realising he was participating in a shared emotion with other human-beings around him. If there was something the professor despised was shared emotions.
-Chucha su madre todos. Sex maestro, is the only way to defy death. And the prettier the body, the more you push it away –said the Professor changing the subject completely and returning to his maddened frenzy. Jeremy recovered his composure too and took a swig from his bottle.
-I met this Chilean girl outside your office –stated Jeremy surprised by his own openness.
The professor laughed profusely.
-An English romantic. I thought Lord Byron had ended all that chucha nonsense.
-They are just different to girls from Leeds, that’s all.
-Happier. More relaxed.
-I like you maestro. You are a complete naïve bastardo but I like you. The professor continued laughing. Jeremy was embarrassed but the professor’s antics and the five large bottles of Escudo had liberated his inhibitions and obliterated his shyness and awkwardness. He enjoyed being ridiculed. He was chuffed to be noticed. He felt like shouting like the professor. He felt like being cocky, asking people inappropriate questions, shouting at them, calling them cockroaches. He stood up and ordered another Escudo. The professor laughed.
-Beer will save us all. Imagine what a great world we would live in if all those meddling Augustos stayed at home and got chucha su madre drunk. If they stopped measuring their cocks with the extent of their destruction and opened another bottle.
After the moments of tensions which followed the Victor Jara song the punters settled down at their tables and indulged in their drinking. The bearded dude abandoned the stage and gave way to a trio of musicians who started to play a kind of rhythmic sex dance they called musica Afroperuana. The guitar and the drum box carried the rhythm and the singer floated melodically over a tantric series of syncopated beats. There was immediate movement in the listener’s limbs and even the professor seemed ready to burst into dance. Jeremy had never seen people’s limbs move so freely and in such a short amount of time. He was used to the jumping, and head rolling of the Indies but these people seemed induced with fire.
-This is music maestro. This mierda can heal a nuclear explosion.
The mood in the Afroson changed dramatically. The bartender’s lips curved into a semi-smile and couples left their tables to float freely around the central space of the bar. The music was intoxicating. Even the two men who had been arguing about politics moments before embraced in a rhythmic exchange of pats. Women encouraged other women to dance. Couples passed wine-bottles and cigarettes to each other and the talking became loud and agitated.
The professor entered the main dancing space and referred his attentions to a young lady who was sitting alone in one of the tables. Jeremy was left alone on his bar stool drinking beer and observing the general feeling of joyfulness.
And then she entered. Later on he would tell himself he had sensed her even before she walked through the door. Jeremy was flabbergasted when he saw her. She was wearing a white linen dress which hang perfectly over her sculpted golden skin. Her green eyes popped out like two maddened frogs and carried his thoughts into a sort of drunken limbo. For a moment he forgot he was on the other side of the world. The intoxication and the novelty of the humid music, the cheap beer and the Professor’s maddened appearance blurred Jeremy’s sense of reality and his eventual memory of the scene. What was clear was that the fervour shook his psyche to the core. He became possessed by a dark and lustful energy almost immediately. All of his childhood traumas flowed into the centre of his cranium and yet he did not remember feeling more alive, more connected to the centre of his being. It was the same girl who had floated passed him outside the Professors office some days before. Jeremy was sure about that. He felt he was connecting to a moment of religious fervour or traumatic accident. He knew the innate make-up of his brain has suddenly changed. His immediate response was to jump out of his stool and approach her but ten years of rejections and British awkwardness kept him glued to his central position. Lula walked confidently towards the bar, her water-melon smile accompanying her all the way to his position. She then stopped at the wooden bar and asked for a bottle of wine. The bartender smiled lasciviously. Jeremy prayed for her to not to talk to him, not to return the flirting actions. He thought about his next move. He could not make it. He was gobsmacked, paralysed, distraught, elated. And then she spoke.