Beauty and Blood The next morning Jeremy woke up sobbing. He thought the sadness was fruit of the epic hangover but while his head cleared quickly the feeling of gloom lasted three more days. Juan had to be avoided at all costs and Jeremy tried to shake the blues off at the library studying articles and newspaper entries about Colonia Dignidad and Augusto’s regime. The gloom only got worse. He learnt The National Stadium had been turned into a Chilean version of a concentration camp during the first weeks of the dictatorship. He discovered photographs of long-haired youths hanging around the sports stands in socks and pants. It was an ugly sight. The youths were guarded by young ragged-looking soldiers with long second world-war rifles. Both parties looked disorientated and weary. Like if they had all been corralled into the snapshot by the monstrous shepherds and farmers of fucked up historical events. Jeremy learnt Victor Jara was tortured and shot in that same landmark, battered by the stocks of the soldiers’ rifles and then kicked and punched to death. In the report, however, there was no mention of his hands being cut off. He wondered where the professor had gathered that information. Maybe it was a strand of reality which was too painful to be divulged publically or perhaps someone made it up for poetical effect. What was clear was that reality outstretched the terror zones of Jeremy’s worst fears. How could the human psyche perpetuate such sadist violence? How could they dismember a folk singer in the very stadiums he used to perform in? He imagined the bruises though, the blood and the anguish. The face of despair of his final minutes. A face which was known for its perennial smile. Jara was the joyful prince of the Chilean folk scene and though he sang of the terrors and hardship of the common people he never relinquished his vivacity and joyfulness. Dark and handsome. Messianic in appearance, with his long dark hair and his infinite eyes. Jeremy imagined they tortured Jarvis Cocker and a cold chill travelled throughout his body. Surely the indie scene would rise up! Surely it would not be permitted or would it? And Jarvis was not even that handsome. How could the international community allow that to happen? Jeremy read about Jara’s wife. Joan. English. A dancer. Joan breathed hope into his system. Maybe he could tell Lula about her. Remind her there were many partisan Brits in their ranks. That not all of them turned a blind eye. That they would never have allowed anyone to torture their rock Gods.
He thought of Lula’s dad again and cried again. How could he look at her without thinking about the Embassy, the bloody English Embassy. The shelter which shooed her away. They were all complicit in the killings. They could have been avoided. According to the paper Punto Rival, thousands of university students, communist party members, unionists and socialist government officials had disappeared during the first years of the regime. Jeremy studied the Falklands War too and read Chile had been used as a secret airbase for England to attack the Argentinians in 1982. He visualised Augusto and Margaret Thatcher drinking whiskey in a hotel room and machinating their plot. He could smell their expensive perfumes and see their perfectly ironed clothes hanging over the armchair. Surely it was ethically wrong to be perennially creaseless. Did she wear trousers too? Was it one of her woollen blue suits which resembled the clothes of a strict headmistress or a head nurse? Did he take his medals to bed? That white admiral suit with multi-coloured badges he wore in Juan’s photograph? Why did they not study modern history at school? Why had he never bothered to look into the terrors of his empire? His family had never mentioned the Falklands that he knew of until 1986 when Maradona’s famous hand of God sparked a series of spiteful attacks on the country including we humiliated you fuckers in your island in the South Atlantic. So much nationalist nonsense. Why did no one think of what it meant to the thousands being persecuted all over Chile?
Lula’s psychological torture could have been avoided. She was so beautiful. Surely she did not deserve that exaggerated quota of pain. She was so beautiful that it hurt to visualise her. A well of pain opened in his gut when he thought about her bulky red lips and her desert coloured skin. He thought about her thinly sculpted neck and the slight declivity of her shoulders which sprang back up again in the last moment creating two little hills of grace. Her hair was thick like he imagined Amazonian jungles to be and her eyes, well her eyes were just out of this world! If they had an international eye contest she would definitely come up in the top four. No one could deny that. He knew his friends back home would not hesitate in labelling her a bloody hot chick but would they understand the absurd cosmic levels of her beauty? Jeremy sighed. He was pale, untanned, blue veins popped out through the skin of his legs. Her perfection in his mind made him feel tiny. Smaller than a snail. Smaller than a peanut. Smaller than a grain of sand. Smaller than the offshoot of the atom of a grain of sand. It was terrifying to think that she was not part of his world. Perhaps she would never be. This thought was almost too much to bear. He wanted alcohol, drugs, violence. And for a moment he understood them. The soldiers. The damned Generals. The idiots who saw beauty as such a faraway concept that they rather kill than admit it was beyond them. He was not different. He was a sadist pig. He resented the thought that Lula did not belong to his record collection, to his history or to his blood. She was otherness, detached from him, beyond his control. An obstreperous gas balloon spinning off into the distance. What could he do with that feeling of nothingness? With that dread of being undeserving, lesser, unequal. He cried again and wondered about the torturous state of Chilean recent history, he wanted to repent, he wanted to tell Lula she was godly and he was a cunt. He spent the next days trying to look for Lula at university. He visited Ulises a couple of times at the library but he swore she had not been around. Jeremy believed him. Lula was elusive as was his happiness. He drank his sorrows at The Afroson and continued existing mostly at the campus.
Days later in class, De Aguilar lectured about the ancient God Hephasteus who was outcast by his parents Hera and Zeus from Mount Olympus for not complying with the models of badass Ancient Greek Godly perfect beauty. De Aguilar said he was considered a deformed offshoot of kings but that in reality he was slightly less beautiful than the rest of his siblings. His only sin was being an ugly sod. In his exile Hephasteus learnt many trades and eventually became the God of blacksmiths. For years he forged the most powerful and magical weapons of divinity; the winged helmet of Hermes, the armour of Achilles, Eros’ bow and arrow. He also forged a golden throne for his mother which he presented as a birthday present. What no one knew was that the throne was actually a trap to punish her for his banishment and once Hera sat on it she would not be able to move. De Aguilar commented that he Gods had been tricked and Hephasteus was revenged. Zeus pleaded for his wife’s release and promised to give Aphrodyte in marriage if his banished son liberated her. Hephasteus agreed and in no time was married to one of the most attractive and sexually desirable of the Goddesses of Olympus. The irony was that he considered the less attractive of the Gods managed to marry Aphrodyte. De Aguilar commented that beauty cannot be bought and Aphrodyte never reciprocated his desire and was perennially unfaithful. De Aguilar said she had hundreds of affairs with both mortals and Gods. He then asked the class if we were prepared to bargain and accept for beauty even if we knew it would never belong to us completely. Jeremy thought about Lula and wanted to cry inside.
By this time Jeremy had expected the class bully and clown to stick his hand out and try to outwit the professor and amuse his class-mates but no one said a word. Jeremy wondered if all the other students had their version of Lula in their heads.
De Aguilar navigated the silence for a minute and then asked the class if they thought beauty was in the eye of the beholder.
-Claro profe –exclaimed the bully. He argued confidently that a mina who was attractive to him might not seem sexy to anyone else in the room and yet he would not desire anyone but her. The girls in the class protested asking why beauty was always equated to the woman’s body and her sexuality. The bully mocked them. The professor asked if beauty and attraction were the same thing and the bully responded that they were cousins or even sisters. Jeremy stuck his hand up and summoned his best Spanish Language skills to argue that there were some beauties which were incontestable. The professor asked him what he meant. Jeremy wanted to shout the name Lula over and over again. He wanted to scream that she was universally splendorous and no subjective law in the universe could deny that but instead he argued that there are things you see which are intrinsically more beautiful than others. Then he went on to comment that the picture of a smiling Victor Jara was more beautiful than a picture of him tortured in a football stadium. The whole class froze for some seconds. It was as if the foreigner’s mention of their secrets had thrown them all into deep paralysis. Jeremy wondered how he had become the kind of person who declaims political messages in public. No one responded to his comment. The professor moved on and started a seemingly unrelated speech about Lord Byron, He said Byron was one of the most sought after bachelors of the early nineteenth century. De Aguilar said some women considered him the most attractive specimen of humanity of their time. He was fashionable and proportionate. His wide droopy eyes caused both obsession and desire in women and men around him. De Aguilar commented an ex-lover had described him as one of the most dangerous males of his generation due to his irresistible charm and seductiveness. And yet the lecturer said Byron internally felt monstrous because he had been born with a slight deformity in the middle toe of his right foot. No one could see this and yet he felt he was ugly and grotesque.
The bully interrupted again and argued he Byron was a concha su madre because he was vain and did not write as well as Keats. The professor responded that sometimes insecurity makes us see monsters in our mirrors. He said vanity is also way to cover up our sense of inadequacy and failure and the more the dress up the more we feel we have something to hide. The bully disagreed and so did part of the class. He asked if we thought Dorian Grey was a symbol of victory and success or internal failure. No one replied. De Aguilar sighed. He quoted a poem by Maikovsky which opened part one by saying,
Do you think I am mad with malaria, why do we bestow such splendour on a drunken mass?
The students did not know what he was on about. Neither did Jeremy. De Aguilar finished the class by asking everyone to write an essay about Beauty and the eye of the beholder using literary references. Jeremy found it ironical that he had come all the way to Chile to learn about English and Western literature and canons of beauty. He was pondering on Lula and packing his books when he was suddenly approached by the class bully. The professor had left in a rush and there only a couple of other students remained in the classroom. The bully stood in front of him like an inquisitive cop.
-What do you think you know of Victor, gringo!? –he spat out menacingly. He had his hands on his hips and looked over Jeremy.
Jeremy took his time to respond. He refused to engage with him at first. He was annoyed that the lad interrupted his thoughts about Lula.
-What I know is horrible –replied Jeremy eventually, meeting his dark eyes with an equally challenging stare. It was in the bully’s eyes that Jeremy perceived the light-coloured nature of his own eyes. He remembered they were blue. Bright and light blue. He could feel the Bully’s pupils propel against his blueness and thought that though terrifying the boy’s eyes were very beautiful.
-We don’t need Gringos telling us what is good and beautiful. De Aguilar knows a chucha neither! Why we studying white Gods? Do you see any white people here? Jeremy looked around. Most of the students did seem to have native blood as the colour of their skin and their features attested to but they were a very mixed bunch. At certain times Jeremy felt he could easily be in Spain or Portugal. They definitely did not look Indian.
-Those two girls there look German –protested Jeremy as he pointed to two pale-skinned lasses he had noticed earlier at the back of the class.
-They are daughters of German immigrants -informed the bully- but we come from the indios here. Our blood is brown like heroin, eh?
-And the Spanish?
-Those hairy and ugly concha su madre –he responded getting closer to Jeremy’s face –look at my arms. Not one chucha black hair.
-What’s your name?
-What you care weon?
-The Spanish came to fuck with our mothers. If we are European it’s because we were raped.
- I am on your side hombre –assured Jeremy.
-You will never be on our side weon! –Screamed the bully approximating his face to Jeremy’s nose. The proximity was too much.
Jeremy was up to the neck with feeling intimidated and his thoughts about the dictatorship and Lula had led him to a state of increasing tension and annoyance. He was not having it. He grabbed the bloke by the shoulders and pushed him back just like his dad had taught him.
-Fuck off! –he screamed.
The bully reacted like a mad dog and propelled himself onto Jeremy’s torso stretching his arms towards his neck. His hands were thick and tough like loaves of bread. He buried his fingers in the pale flesh of Jeremy’s neck. A river of adrenaline travel quickly to his cranium. Jeremy had not been a fight for years and the bully had taken him by surprise but his survival instinct kicked in immediately. He withdrew the bully’s titanic hands from his neck and jumped on top of him. Both wrestlers toppled and landed on the floor. Jeremy banged his head on a tablet of a lecture room chair as he fell down. The bang heightened his senses further. He grappled the bully and pinned him to the cold tiled floor of the lecture room. The bully pushed back and turned Jeremy over landing on his belly and trying to punch him. Jeremy pinned his arms and immobilised him. The other students gathered around them cheering and shouting. The bully was on top when Jeremy managed to liberate his left leg and kick him with all his strength. The bully groaned. They turned over again. Jeremy howled. It was the first time felt alive since the San Pedro experience. It was also the first time since his arrival that he did not felt like a bloody foreigner, like a gringo, like an outsider, like an observer, like a flaneur. He growled with pain, excitement and pleasure, with fear and with pain. The bully was confused and amazed. He had not expected Jeremy to react so fiercely but Jeremy felt part of him. He felt he finally understood his skin, his history and was not there as a conqueror but as animal, one more creature sent to existence to survive and perpetuate. Politics ceased to matter. History seemed to matter. Augusto seemed to matter. He was fighting for air and for Lula. To prove to her and the others he was not a feeble observer from abroad but a human who championed the human pneuma just like Salvador and her father and Victor. Jeremy managed to push his forearm into the neck of the bully and pressed hard. He knew he could cut his air supply for some seconds and subdue him.
-Para! Para! Esta bien! –screamed the bully as he tried to wrestle out of Jeremy’s grip. The other students in the room sighed.
-No soy chucha gringo! –screamed Jeremy. The bully conceded and breathed deeply as he tried to get back to his feet.
-Ok. Ok. You are not a chucha gringo. Whatever. English. American. You come here and think you better.
-Fuck off! I am from Leeds. I live in a housing estate where a fucking plate of pasta is exotic food. There are people whose house is smaller than a fucking camping tent.
-Pinochet is in your country. Why don’t they arrest him?
-No one in my house liked Thatcher when she was prime minister anyways.
-What of the Falklands?! –asked the bully losing momentum in his anger and threats.
-Look, what’s your name hombre? –asked Jeremy, hands on his waist gasping for air.
-Me llamo Miguel –he said more calmly as he started to get his breath back–and yes Victor Jara was the most beautiful man in this mierda nation. The German looking girls sighed.
–Don’t worry about them. Their parents were Pacos –claimed Miguel.
-What’s a paco? –asked Jeremy.
-Police. Police. Ex-military police.
The crowd around them dispersed as Jeremy and Miguel calmed down and gathered their belongings. They were about to leave when they saw the wretched figure of professor Fuentes march into the class.
-Que mierdas?! –he screamed as he burst in.
Jeremy and Miguel remained silend.
-Que chucha are you doing?
-Nothing’s happened –assured Jeremy calmly –we were just fooling around.
-Fooling around? They told me you were fighting weon. With this subnormal? I am supposed to keep you safe. That’s why the pay me those soles hombre!
-Senor –interrupted Miguel.
-Tu te callas! I am going to tell Leeds about this mess. I am not responsible. Boody English! –he sighed.
Fuentes grumbled and muttered beneath his voice.
-Hombre, one cannot even have a hangover in peace these days. Bastardos.
Miguel and Jeremy left the lecture room looking at the floor.