-Where did you stay? You worried me hombre–complained Juan as he settled his large bottom beside him at the kitchen table. Jeremy had not slept more than a couple of hours and yet he felt vigorous and energised. He ate the freshly baked roll with avocado and tomatoes in complete bewilderment. His taste buds were alert and heightened. The sensory experiences of the night before were still stamped in his frontal cortex and he was contemplating the white lighthouse when the croaky voice of Juan interrupted his dream-like state.
-Mujeres? You were with a mina, eh? –he continued –you careful with the girls. They love English pounds around here. You like minas not boys, right? My nephew the muy weon turned marica. All that time in Valparaiso turned him butterfly.
Jeremy wondered why they called women minas in Chile. Was it landmines they were referring to? If women in Chile were mines then Lula was a quarry of diamonds. He thought about her lighting candles in the cathedral and felt a sudden urge to believe in God for her. She was probably as good enough reason as any for developing a religious fervour. And Juan would surely like that. There were crucifixes and plastic figures of saints and virgins scattered all over the house. Sometimes Jeremy thought he had woken up in a monastery. -I like girls –responded Jeremy –most of them but one in particular.
-When I had your years I had hundreds hombre. I was captain of the soccer team.
-I don’t like football –replied Jeremy turning once again to his bread roll.
-That’s impossible. The English love soccer. They invented it. I played like Diego Maradona when I was young. I always liked the man even though he was Argentinian. But look at him now, sucking Castro’s stick. A coca-communist. What team do you like in your country?
-I don’t follow any.
-That’s impossible. Are you sure you are not gay?
-Not everyone in England likes soccer and some of us don’t even have tea with milk.
-I need to ask the Iron Lady about that.
-Juan, do you know Augusto is in England now? –asked Jeremy battling his own desire to refrain from any kind of lengthy conversation with his host.
-Augusto in England? Que va?!
-Yes, apparently he went there on some kind of medical thing.
-How do you know? -I heard at university.
-What demonios would the communists know?
Juan stopped to think for a moment. He seemed troubled. Not by the information but by the fact Jeremy knew something he didn’t about the General. It perturbed his sense of reality.
-Where in England? London?
-I don’t know.
-He makes many allies everywhere –he continued, changing his tone from annoyance and surprise to that of a condescending lecture–and I think I heard he needed an operation on his back or like that. We pray for him every day here. Did you know before Augusto there were queues for bread? Many kilometres of queues and robbers everywhere. Chile was a disaster. The red ones with Allende were throwing this country into the rubbish but the General saved us. He gave loans to the military. This house? Is good, yes? He bought it. Augusto bought it. Bless his divine testicles.
Jeremy was sure Lula would hate Juan with the entirety of her being. He could just imagine her clamped to the kitchen floor, staring at the old military man with the two momentous pliers of her eyes, arms shaped like a vase, fist clenched, waiting for her moment to pounce with her visceral communist rage. It had to be her who kissed him. There was no other explanation. Madrina was too old and he was pretty sure Ulises was not gay or was he?
-The first copper mines in Chile –continued Juan –were made by the English. They even have their own cemetery here. We have a beautiful relationship with the English. Beautiful.
-Who was Allende?
-A little man the Russians put here. The Russians liked to put tin rockets in the sky and their people in the throne of countries everywhere. Bless the General! He came and put them in their place.
Jeremy realised he should speak more Spanish with Juan. It was his intention to learn more especially if he was to court Lula properly. He needed to learn her tongue. He had to show her he cared about her culture and her heritage. To impress her he would probably have to learn Aymara but where would he learn that?
-I need to learn more English. Especially now that Augusto is in England. How do you say comunistas hijos de puta?
Jeremy decided not to answer. Once again he prayed for Juan to shut up. He did not let his brain breathe and he was terrified of losing the remnants of the San Pedro which were still navigating in his system and allowing him to exist at a distance from reality.
-What was his first name? –asked Jeremy.
Juan stared into the distance taken back by the new meaning of the word pronounced by Jeremy’s lips. Perhaps it was his accent or hearing the name translated but it was the first time Juan thought about its denotation. Salvador, Saviour. He repeated the words in his head to scrutinize the implications once again. He remembered the news of his death on public TV. How the whole barracks had all celebrated for days.
-The coward killed himself –sentenced Juan. But his tone had lost its wonted cockiness. Instead it was clear he had forced the sentence out of his mouth before retreating to the living room area and picking up the newspaper.
-Our economy is doing really well –he shouted from the other room –It’s doing great.
The next day Jeremy found an office at the back of the University Campus which assimilated a General Reception Area. About fucking time he had screamed to the heavens. The secretary printed out a list of classes he could attend with a detailed map of where to find them. It was the first time he was walking around campus like a beheaded chicken. No wonder he had the whole university population wondering what the hell he was doing. An hour later he finally found himself inside a lecture room waiting for a Mr. De Aguilera to deliver a class. He had chosen his class in the hope that Lula would be there but she was nowhere to be seen. Instead around thirty other Chilean students gathered around the folding tables scattered around the space. The room was very different to the lecture halls Jeremy was used to at Leeds University. They were plain and had very little furniture or audio-visual equipment but he felt safe there. It had been months since the last time he was sat in a learning environment and he liked listening to the chatter of his fellow classmates as he thought about Lula and the lighthouse. He was lost in his thoughts when he noticed one of the other students hovering around him.
-You Gringo? –Asked the student brusquely.
-Soy de Leeds –replied Jeremy in a friendly manner.
The youth sniggered and so did some of his friends in the background.
-Gringos killed Allende –he said –fuck them.
Jeremy looked up at the boy. He was bigger than the rest of them but Fuentes was right, they all looked younger than him, even his antagonist. He would not have said he was more than eighteen years old. He wore a red t-shirt and jeans and Nike trainers. Jeremy stared at the trainers.
-Why you here??
-Literature –replied Jeremy –Neruda.
-This is classical literature class –responded the boy and all of the class laughed. It was a collective scorn that Jeremy shrugged off though it was not what he had expected from this first day in class.
-Neruda? –repeated the student/bully –Ancient Greece weon.
The bully was satisfied and he returned to his seat. Jeremy’s calm was shaken. He moved around a couple of times before settling in a chair at the front of the class. He thought he could sense the eyes of his fellow pupils at the back of the neck. He was wondering whether to leave when the professor walked through the glass door. He was carrying a pile of books and a bottle of water. Jeremy liked him immediately. He was young and attractive. He bore a large smile but commanded respect. All of the students returned to their seats in silence.
-Relax chicos–he said –hoy hablamos de Herostrato.
No one said a word. De Aguilar went on to explain the story of Herostratus, a 4th Century BC arsonist who burned down the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, modern day Turkey in order to immortalise his name.
The professor explained he was captured immediately and tortured for the audacity of the offence. Before his death Herostratus confessed that he had burnt the temple because he was born poor and pined for a chance at being known. The Greek elders, infuriated by the sacrilege were determined to punish him beyond death. They passed a decree which forbade any Greek to ever mention his name. But De Aguilar went on to explain that laws do not dictate folk tales only the mood of the people does. Herostratus was not forgotte because of the insolence and fearlessness of his actions and his name became a metonym for a person who commits crimes to become famous. The professor then asked the students what they would be prepared to do in order to make a mark in history and become part of the collective conscious. There were some moments of silence before the bully held his hand out excitedly.
-I would rape the Queen of England –he assured.
The whole class burst into laughter. Everyone except the professor. Jeremy laughed too even though he figured the dig was probably aimed at him. De Aguilar was not impressed but admitted that killing a king, a queen or a celebrity was a very effective way of forging a place in history though he said it was one of the most difficult and dangerous feats to pull off. He mentioned Francois Damiens who tried to kill King Louis the 15th in the eighteenth century. He failed and he was tortured mercilessly for days. Then the professor said killing a celebrity was perhaps easier and spoke about Chapman who went into history for killing John Lennon. The bully protested and started shouting that both Allende and Lennon were killed by the CIA. Other students joined in making the same claim. The professor was unperturbed. He did not deny or reinforce the claim and rather went on to ask the class what a work of literature required to stake its claim in history. No one replied. Then he looked at Jeremy and politely elicited a response. Jeremy said that a good work of art was meant to be forever young. De Aguilar smiled and asked Jeremy whether he was referring to a Bob Dylan song. Jeremy said he preferred Pulp and De Aguilar addressed the class to ask them whether a work of genius should always feel fresh and revitalising to human consciousness, regardless of the historical period. The bully replied that it was probably easier to rape a queen than to come up with a piece of writing which was eternally new. The professor agreed and affirmed that for that particular reason we should all read Homer more voraciously. Jeremy then asked what the difference was between The Iliad and The Odyssey. The class laughed again. The professor explained The Odyssey was the sequel to The Iliad and explained that the Odyssey was based on the adventures of Odysseus or Ulysses as he was known later. The Bully asked what use there was to heroic deeds if the bloody Romans were eventually bound to change your name. The professor said that although military victors usually wrote the books, it was the work of poets to maintain the human pneuma and this was possible through the transmittance of tales and by constantly regenerating language. He then went on to comment he would rather they had not changed the names of heroes or Gods and that the military dictatorship in Chile should never have obliterated Pablo Neruda from the university syllabus. A couple of students at the back coughed at the last remark. De Aguilera was not fussed. Jeremy’s eyes were wide open. Jeremy delayed his departure after the class by fiddling with his notebook and pens and waited for the other students to leave before approximating the professor.
-Gracias por la clase –he mumbled.
-You are welcome –responded the professor in perfect English. It was not the American English accent Jeremy was used to. Instead he spoke a very clear and neutral English closer to a Scandinavian take on the language.
-I wanted to know about Neruda –declared Jeremy.
-There is a poet from your country –said the professor –Christopher Logue. He has composed some beautiful translations in English. I can ask my colleagues in the department if they have a copy.
-Thanks. Thanks. I read him in Spanish but sometimes the language escapes me.
-Yes. Poetry is impossible to translate. You have to rewrite it.
-Mr De Aguilera?
-Call me Sergio –said the professor.
-What happened to Neruda in 1973?
-He had cancer. He was in hospital.
-Yes. Some think his body was reacting to what they were about to do to his beloved Chile. They say he used to call his cancer Pinochet.
-He left the hospital as he suspected the military were ordering the doctors to kill him there. He died in his house some days later. The family say it was the cancer but his driver claimed he was injected with a deadly poison at the hospital.
-Augusto killed Neruda?! –exclaimed Jeremy.
-Most people would agree that the great poet could not digest seeing his country savaged by thugs.
-Fucking Juan! –exclaimed Jeremy.
-Thanks professor. Do you know a girl called Lula? –asked Jeremy going against the very nature of his upbringing. The professor laughed.
-You can usually find her at the Afro-Son.
-Bye. Bye and thanks for the lesson.