Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Fuentes When Jeremy went missing in the valley, Professor Fuentes was the first person Ulises and the others called. After all, Fuentes was the liaison with Leeds University and though no one trusted his judgement they agreed that it was his responsibility to find the gringo. Twenty hours had passed since he left Pacho’s garden to take a leak and was nowhere to be seen. The group had been too stoned and pissed during the night to take account of his disappearance but in the morning a wave of panic spread across the house as they realised Jeremy had not slept in the bunk bed Pacho prepared for him. A search party surveyed the surrounding habitat to no avail. They had even skipped lunch to pursue Jeremy’s whereabouts and though none of them were expert trackers, not even Pacho, they agreed that the gringo had abandoned the pedestrianised path and precipitated himself into the wild. Not that the valley was particularly dangerous; there were no deadly Amazonian animals nor poisonous snakes. Still it was not the ideal place to spend the night alone, especially if you were a Gringo. Ulises recreated all kinds of horrendously bloody scenarios in his head. He was prone to anxiety and exaggeration when it came to fear and fatal outcomes. He was used to funnelling terror in his imagination and suffered the destructive energies of fear reserved for biological self-preservation He imagined remnants of right-wing militia groups of the Pinochet era might have kidnapped him in account of his Englishness. He thought the milicos could have taken him for interrogation and torture. His other hypothesis were that intoxicated hippies had sacrificed him in an ancient pagan ritual or that bandits had robbed him and left him naked to die in the woods. The alarm bells were ringing when they found Jeremy’s clothes on top of a rock a couple of kilometres from the house. Ulises thought reality had proven his maddened suppositions. Miguel who had laughed Ulises suppositions off started to worry too. He knew the gringo was an unpredictable romantic mess but why would he take off his clothes and walk into the night? He did not know him well but the whole scene seemed improbable and absurd. Pacho asked the group if anyone had given him peyote or any other hallucinogenic substance but they all agreed he had just smoked a couple of tokes from a marihuana joint. Hardly enough to drive anyone insane. What the hell had happened? Fuentes arrived at 10 pm at night with a bottle of pisco in one hand and a plastic bag full of cigarette boxes in the other.
-A ver! What the hell is the matter here?!
When the students explained the scenario Fuentes laughed and narrated a time when a friend of his had disappeared for five days only to reappear holding hands with a German anthropologist who he said he had married in an ancient ritual carried out by the descendants of Aymara royalty. Fuentes said it was the first homosexual marriage in Native Indian history. Ulises and the students did not find it funny.
-Listen –said Fuentes –all we have to do is drink pisco and wait for the boy to come back. It happens all the time in the Valley. Gringos coming here to lose themselves. They have not seen war and have read too much Paolo Coehlo and think there is a relationship between burying the compass under the chucha stars and opening the third eye. It’s all mierda. Gringos are bananas. That Brazilian charlatan lives in a fifty-room mansion in Switzerland whilst the idiotas buy his book and come here to speak to the trees under the chucha stars. The boy is just breaking pelotas.
Ulises insisted the situation had nothing to do with New-Age cheap literature and the fact was that they had found Jeremy’s clothes on a rock and was nowhere to be found. Miguel agreed it was serious. Pacho and the other students were in two minds but remained cautious.
-Why would a Gringo take off his clothes? –asked Miguel.
-They all crazy the English–responded Fuentes –ecéntricos. Think of Jeremy Bentham!
They debated whether to contact the police but they all agreed they were dangerous fuckers, more dangerous than wild animals and it was probably too early to get them involved. Pacho lay some bread rolls on a table with avocado and tomato and they passed the bottle of pisco around as the sun set once again over the valley. Fuentes told stories of his youth in England and the students gathered around half-interestedly and half-not knowing what else to do. It was Sunday and they knew they would have to return to La Serena in the morning to attend their university lessons. The situation would have to be resolved one way or another. Ulises was not happy. He adventured out into the surroundings of the house and called out for Jeremy. There was no response. Fuentes laughed at him and called him a hypochondriac, psychosomatic, oracle of terror, cloud in trousers, weón. All the students agreed Fuentes was mad as birds and acting like a real cunt.
When I met Fuentes twenty years later I too concluded that Jeremy had been conservative in his description of his derangement and from where I stood the professor seemed completely out of his tree. The first thing he did was pull his pants down imitating Jeremy’s naked adventure in the valley and burst into a croaky and malevolent laughter. I did not know what to do or say. Not that he let me get a word in. The scruffy sixty year old was all dirty jokes and mockery as he took me out and he offered a tour of the places he had drank himself to death with Jeremy during 1998. When I asked him about Pinochet, he laughed and mocked my pronunciation.
-Pin/ou/shet –he repeated –that white ogre was nothing but deflection.
-What do you mean? –I asked.
-Jeremy –he responded –he used the General to get Lula hot.
I asked him where he had learnt his English but the professor was not prone to responding inquiries. He was also silent when I asked him for Lula’s whereabouts or whether it was true that Jeremy had spent three days naked in the wild as he had assured me.
-Lula –laughed Fuentes –Jeremy thought I was her boyfriend. I was much more than that. Let me tell you, I was Jesus to her.
But Fuentes did not expand. He liked to witness people corrode in their bewilderment. He wanted to see them gazing into his brain for breadcrumbs of his clarity. I had never met anyone like him.
-You want to be him, don’t you? –he asked after three beers.
-Jeremy –he responded –that’s why, you are here. You want to be him, don’t you?
-Now. That’s absurd –I defended –I am curious about Chile and writing an article about Pinochet.
-Pin/ou/shet –he repeated. Many Chileans wanted to be him. They did not choose Ghandi or Victor Jara. And they started to kill just like they thought he would have. Cockroaches. Afraid of walking with their own shoes. Jeremy was a chucha loco but he proved to me he wanted to be his own fool. What about you?
-What about me?
-What story you looking for?
-The truth –I responded proudly.
Fuentes laughed in my face.
-The truth died with they killed God –he said- now all we can do is lay our testicles on the table and see where they take us. Finish your beer weón.
I never got to grips with Chilean beer. I always found Escudo light and tasteless. I am a man of ales. Pale ales, IPA’s, bitters; anything tasteful and muscular. Escudo was like Fanta to me. I did not understand why Jeremy went on about it. The wine was much better in Chile though it made me sleepy. My eyelids were like iron shutters for most of the time I was there.
-So you want to sleep with her too? –asked Fuentes.
-Lula weón. You want to know why Jeremy lost his canicas.
-I don’t know what you are on about.
-Know what he said what he came out?
-What did he say?
-He said he’d talked to God and he too was has the hots for her.
-Yes for Lula.
-I was laughing like a monkey. But Ulises was a bag of nerves. Jeremy was naked and looked completely crazy. They wanted me to take him to hospital. To call the university but I said all that crazy gringo needed was a cold bath for his pelotas.
-Jeremy said he forced you to tell him where she lived.
-I took him myself –responded Fuentes –I wanted to see with my own eyes how he made a total chucha fool of himself. But I was wrong. It played against me.
-He slept with her, didn’t he?
-He put his pelotas inside and that was it. The university out of the window. And my five thousand soles. Gringo loco. But I was happy in a way for him. I hate stories which don’t surprise, you know? All the same chucha stories. Look around. Chilean students who will get a job and feed their babies. Sometimes I think the boredom will make my brains explode. If you don’t have a good story, anadate culiau.
-What happened to Lula? Jeremy said he has not heard from her in ten years.
-You want to sleep with her, don’t you? You think you can be like him. You have never felt the thing. And you think you better because you done good. You got a job and a salary and you pay tax. But it works differently weón. Madness is a free ticket. Look at me, no one has pelotas to mess with me. They leave me alone here and the minas love it.
-I just want to know what happened.
-Read a chucha book weón.
The singer who performed at The Afroson that night was Dominican. He had a low velvet voice and sex poured out of his throat every time he opened his mouth. Fuentes said they were black butterflies fluttering out of his throat. He said to me that if you don’t have black butterflies fluttering out of your throat you should not bother to sing at all or even speak. I was bemused as I had never met a philosophy professor who spoke like a deranged poet. Fuentes noticed my confusion and assured me he was trying to mend the rupture daft Plato had created between poetry and philosophy in the Republic. I responded that I knew nothing of it and Fuentes scoffed. Couples danced in the ballroom and a group of students shared beers and popcorn in painted bowls of clay. Fuentes abandoned me at the bar and approached the students. They seemed tense and unimpressed with Fuentes drunken demeanour but asked him to sit down with them anyway. I stayed put at the bar and relived the conversations with Jeremy in my head. The Afroson was exactly the way he had described it to me. The only thing Jeremy had omitted from his descriptions of the place was the smell; the whole venue smelled like roast dinner just like my local pub on Sundays. I observed the deco, the candles, the uneven furniture, the instruments hanging from the walls. I imagined Jeremy drinking, laughing, singing. As I had seen him do in the bars of Hackney. The waiter, a middle aged dark man with a fine moustache approached me and asked how I was doing. He seemed dressed for a New Year’s Ball but it was a quiet Tuesday night and he seemed out of place. He looked at me condescendingly and poured me another glass of red wine.
This one you don’t pay –he said –I know who you are. I heard you speak of Jeremy.
-Did you know him?
-I did –he responded and left me there to continue with his affairs behind the bar.
I thought about Fuentes’ comments. Was the mad professor in the right? Was I there to usurp him? Had I chased his panache all around the world? Or did I want to celebrate him? Honour him with the article and the travelling. Would I find Juan? Would he speak to me? And Lula? I was not good with uncertainty. That was why I never had a break. I had either studied or worked for the last 20 years of my life. Holidays, especially on the other side of the world, were a real menace. The drinking would not help; I had to remember the premise, the purpose, I could not derail from my mission; find out more about Jeremy. Write about Pinochet.
Fuentes returned to the bar even more drunkenly than when he left to sit with the students. He precipitated his arms round me and spat at my ear as he whispered his words of madness.
-They never say what they thinking –he mumbled –they try when they drink but they can’t ‘coz it takes practice. To be truthfully harsh you know? You worse. Never say what you think.
-I think you are drunk –I stated trying to be seem affirmative.
-You stick around maybe you see what drunk is weón. I am just warming engines.
-I need to get to the hotel. I have to write, you know?
-I met him once.
-Yes. Pi/nou/shet weón. I went to Santiago with my rich aunt. We sat there in the hotel Plaza when he came down. I was twelve years old and he gave me a badge which said Chile. A chucha badge. He was dressed all good and smelt like he had figured it all out. I wanted to be him that day. After that I never tried to be anyone else.
-Did you see him again?
-Chile is a wound with a flag. We were born into life from pain, blood and a crucifix. The whole country is bipolar. We created the general and we are to blame for him.
-Do you teach that in your classes?
-Teaching is for idiots. What I do to my students is peel them like potatoes.
-Is that what you did to Jeremy?
-Jeremy was an idiot gringo but he did it all by himself.
-Good night professor.
-Pay the beers puto.