And then it happened. Like all momentous things occur. As you are about to make coffee or go to the loo. Someone puts on the TV and it is there. The day you start to get over the flu. A couple of news bulletins before your birthday. Early spring or late summer. Moments after the rain stops or hours after an indigestion. Events have no conscience. No timescale. They have no regard for your state of mind or the particular innings of the day. Tragedies and miracles alike. They just occur and we are left there with our bewilderment to gather the destructive or restoring remains of its consequences. Miracles and tragedies are not dissimilar in their surprise. They are conniving and tyrannical and can even happen simultaneously: the same intruding event causing opposing pain and joy to a varying range of recipients. Just as it happened on 16th of October 1998. A date which would have had no relevance in Jeremy’s life if he had not decided to take that university exchange program to the other side of the world. To a country he knew almost nothing about. He would have flicked through the item of news with utmost indifference. Like a flood in Tahiti or a revolution in Ethiopia. Who the fuck cares, right? When you are in London about to get wasted in the pub with your friends the trials and tribulations of the planet seem so far away and irrelevant that you might as well be watching the History Channel as a form of passing time. But Jeremy was in Chile when he found out and for Chileans this was one of the most significant historical events in decades. Jeremy walked into the living room at nine twenty nine in the morning and saw Juan sitting on the blue sofa with his hands buried in his head. At first Jeremy thought someone had died but for Juan it was worse. Far worse. He opened the shutters of his fat hands and turned to Jeremy in despair.
-Bastardos. Your traitor government. They arrested him –he whined.
He had tears running down his cheeks. Juan looked like shit. He was wearing underpants and an old beige vest which was covered in sweat and tears. His unwavering convictions had abandoned him and though Jeremy sensed a potential explosion of rage in his demeanour there was nothing but disappointment and pain at the stage in Juan’s energy fields.
-Who? –asked Jeremy cautiously tiptoeing into his proximity.
-Augusto Pinochet weón. Our holy General treated like a chucha criminal!
Jeremy knew it was best not to stay near to pursue more facts about the issue. He said nothing and resorted to pretend the old man was not in tears.
-Chucha ingleses! Nothing gone right since they took away the Maragret.
-I think she resigned Juan.
-Chucha tu madre! –screamed Juan.
Jeremy retreated worriedly though a glimmer of hope had opened the knot which had troubled his intestines for weeks. The arrest was good news for his romantic existence. Surely his nationality would cease to be a determent for Lula’s love. Surely it would be easier to date her considering the development in the political circumstances. But what if he had to accept that it was his actual individual self not his national identity that Lula rejected? What if there was no rejection because Lula had not considered him as a viable option to her affections? The thought made Juan’s horror seem like a stroll in the park. Catalina walked in the living room and hugged Juan. He stroked his head like she was soothing a defenceless child or a wounded cat. Jeremy had never seen a grown man look so helpless. His father would have never displayed such desperation in public? Where was the mask of containment he was used to?
-How did it happen? –asked Juan unable to hide the traces of excitement the news had awoken in his psyche.
-Chucha tu madre –repeated Juan.
Catalina looked up at Jeremy indicated with her neck that it was probably a good idea for Jeremy to sod off. Jeremy complied and headed towards the door. In the background he could hear the growls and howls of the old military man. Poor bloke he thought, the guy was acting like if they had assassinated his whole family and yet what was Augusto to him? He had never even met the ogre! And also, reasoned Jeremy, what a joy to know that even the great General might not be exempt from a good kick in the butt by the human rights police! Who had indicted him? He hoped he could brag about the English moral compass to his newly forming Chilean acquaintances. He ran up the slope to the university like a coked up gazelle and headed straight to the library. Ulises was waiting for him.
-Do you know? –Inquired Ulises with a watermelon smile upon his face.
-Yes. Yes –replied Jeremy –this is great news. Tony Blair is not too bad, is he?
-Tony Blair is a puto rat in a socialista dress. Garcon, the judge in Spain got him but good he did not stop it so good good. That weón sadista will pay at last. We have to throw fireworks!
-Where is Lula? –asked Jeremy.
-No está –replied Ulises as he invited Jeremy to accompany him to a small garden area circled by a dozen palm trees behind the library where a group of students had congregated to celebrate the arrest of the general. The mood was jubilant. There were students hugging and shedding tears of joy and relief. Ulises joined in the cheer and the congratulating. Miguel was there too. He was talking with some fellow pupils and approached Jeremy and Ulises as soon as he saw them.
-Perhaps England is not so bad. The fat general, can you chucha believe it? At last! –he exclaimed as he approached Jeremy and wrapped him up with an enormous bear hug which almost squeezed the air out of his ribs.
-Yes. At last! –muttered Jeremy. He recognised the warmth and smell of Miguel’s body from wrestling with him in the classroom and though he did not know how to react he felt reinvigorated by the acceptance and the prospect of being able to hug Lula in a similar way. Other students came over and embraced him after Miguel’s gesture. Jeremy had never felt such physical proximity in his life. He wasn’t sure if he felt uneasiness or excitement at that moment. He was neither part nor parcel of the arrest but something had opened up in him. Something close to a feeling of pride and hope. Was that what it meant to be part of something bigger than himself?
Miguel passed him a bottle of a yellowish coloured liquor in a transparent bottle. Jeremy took a huge swig to impress Miguel and his friends only to realise when he tried to give the bottle back that the alcoholic percentage of the beverage far surpassed anything he was used to. He coughed and choked on the fiery substance as it filtered into his esophagus. Miguel and the Chilean students around him giggled.
-What the fuck is this hombre?! –spat Jeremy, still coughing.
-Pisco. Nectar from the chicha uvas cosmicas. Do you know in Quechua it means bird? Fly weón.
-I don’t care what it means. It fucking burns.
Ulises laughed too.
-Leave the Gringo –he commanded with a smile.
Jeremy was about to reply when Miguel stopped him.
-Yes, we know you are not Gringo but from Leeds –he laughed- but you still drink like a Gringo, eh?
Once the liquor settled in the stomach it made Jeremy’s whole body feel warm and fuzzy. He took the bottle from Miguel’s hands and took another swig. A bit more gently this time, letting the yellowish liquid filter slowly down his throat.
-Bueno weón, eh? –mocked Miguel.
The number of students in the little plot of green was increasing by the minute. Young lads carrying Spanish guitars were turning up and girls dressed in shorts and colourful see-through tops joined the festivities with banners demanding Pinochet’s extradition to Chile. A magnificent spread of quivering golden sunlight was caressing the congregation of stirred youths. Spring was taking its first steps in 1998 and the early warmth was summoning a feeling of anticipation heightened by the General’s arrest and the consumption of extremely powerful liquor. Fuentes and a number of teachers arrived too and joined in the drinking and the general fuss. One of the teachers stood on a bench and announced his Political Science classes were cancelled for the day. The announcement summoned a deafening cheer from the exhilarated crowd and prompted the guitars to jump out of their cases. The whole group became a chorus of defying partisans. Even Fuentes seemed eager to join in the rhythmic protest songs. Jeremy did not recognise any of the tunes except “Bella Ciao” which he had heard an Italian Scar band play in an alternative venue in the back streets of Leeds. He knew this song summoned a feeling of resistance and revolution. He too felt animated and subversive for a moment and joined the singing with a quiet humming of random vowels. He could hardly follow Spanish lyrics. Needless to say his Italian was deplorable. Ulises looked at him disapprovingly. He was embarrassed but knew it was the right time to stretch his embarrassment and his Englishness. He sang louder emphasising the words he knew, Bella Ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao! Miguel looked at him and laughed but put his arm round his shoulder.
Jeremy thought about his mates at UNI. No one knew songs in foreign languages apart from La fucking Bamba or Volare by the Gypsy Kings, why? Fuck, he did not know anyone who was fluent in anything other than the modern version of the language of the Anglo-Saxons! No one cared about politics either. The day Blaire was sworn into office, everyone was at a Blur concert consuming beer and buying a new strand of ecstasy pills appropriately labelled, “doves.” That day students became a mass of fluttering cotton brains preaching love and connections. The last thing on the minds of the intoxicated brats was the nature of the political party in power in England. They knew nothing of Tony bloody Blair and neither did Jeremy. Apart from the fact that he looked like a big-eared posh college boy who would never get a pint at his local boozer. And that wife of his. Hot by any standards but definitely up her own arse. Not the kind of people you want to have at your birthday party. Not anyone’s idea of equality loving socialists. These people would not be welcome in this improvised party for the arrest of Pinochet. They had in common with Che Guevara what Jeremy shared with a mixed race trans Evangelist minister from the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro. Would his council house estate friends be invited to that gathering of pisco partisans? At least they looked and sounded classless like everyone else there. Though they would probably confuse Pinochet with the fable of the long-nosed liar. They were not really up to date with anything other than Indie record labels and the price of an English breakfast at the University Campus canteen. The last time he asked a mate if he knew the exact location of Budapest, the friend had responded that it was definitely in India and when Jeremy bedazzled with the answer had inquired further the undeterred philistine had indicated that he knew about the Indian Budha thing from a documentary about George Harrison and the Beatles. In the same Trivia game another stoned mate had confused Homer with Homer Simpson and when asked about Homer’s greatest achievements had responded beer and three children.
-Fly, fly weón –insisted Miguel as he passed Jeremy the bottle.
-Chucha this is strong –replied Jeremy.
She arrived then. Just as he was downing another shot of Pisco. He spotted her immediately entering the mini-garden with a smile as huge as the Wembley Stadium and legs longer than the rivers of the Amazon jungle. The liquor hit him straight in the third eye and he was gone. Gone into the trip of his pining. It was more intense than he had anticipated. How could he control? Lula was wearing a red linen dress and military boots that travelled all the way to her knee-caps. He felt like spreading his body in front of her and declaring he would be honoured to have her trample over his face if only to feel a form of interaction. Miguel noticed the visceral impression. He was an astute creature with more social and emotional intelligence than his brusque manners gave him credit for. He patted Jeremy on the shoulder and smirked with malice.
-No weón, there you can’t go, no way.
Jeremy had no time or space in his psyche for Miguel or anyone else. He followed her every move as Lula glided from student group to student group congratulating her fellow pupils for the news of the arrest. Every time she approximated her perfect body to another tangible flesh, Jeremy felt a raging beast of a boxer punch him hard in the abdomen. At one point when Lula hugged Fuentes in what he thought was a slightly inappropriately and lengthy manner, Jeremy felt a weakness in his knees and had to breathe to prevent a humiliating tumble. Miguel also helped him to keep balance.
-Sois weón English, por ahí no –threatened the ex-bully turned companion. Ulises looked at both youths disapprovingly and tried to deflect their obsession with Lula by discussing the possible and immediate consequences of Pinochet’s arrest in London. He explained a quick extradition to Spain where he we being processed for the death of two Spanish students in the early days of the dictatorship could result in a thorough judicial process and an eventual incarceration which he assured would be a positive outcome given his state of judicial immunity. Ulises expressed the fear that though incarceration in Spain was a good outcome he felt that the only way to heal the deep wounds of the Chilean nation, the general should be trialled and imprisoned in Chile. He also commented that a clandestine assassination attempt was another option to seal the fate of the General and that the only reason that would not happen in England, though there were many Chilean asylum seekers there who would give an arm and a leg to whack him, was the fact that communists were unwilling to upset a supposed pseudo-Socialist government such as the Labour government. Ulises also commented that if he had the chance he would finish the general off himself and remind him of all the students he massacred before doing so.
But despite the animated political ramblings of Ulises neither Jeremy nor Miguel cared for Pinochet’s fortune at that specific moment. Their thoughts and passions were hostage to Lula and her incredible skin and legs as she made her way towards them through the mist of intoxicated students. Jeremy was not aware then but Miguel had his share of experiences with Lula as both a friend and a lover. They had shared a night of snogs and drunkenness a few weeks before and he had not seen her since then. Miguel was not privy to Jeremy’s infatuation either but his feelings, despite his Englishness, were exposed for everyone to see. If he had not been so nervous and suffered from a dry mouth, Jeremy’s tongue would have been hanging out of his lips and dripping saliva a the mere thought of Lula. When she approached them she seemed surprised to see them together but Pinochet’s arrest made everything else fall back to a state of insignificance. He embraced them both with equally fervent passion and expressed her deep relief at the arrest of the general. She had tears in her eyes as she repeated the words, padre, papa, padre. It was the first time in weeks that Jeremys saw her as she was, beyond his craving, beyond his insecurity, beyond the vision of herself he had created.
-Felicidades Lula –he muttered.
-El weón will die in chains –said Miguel.
Ulises hugged her too and together they went over the options of his future once again.
-What’s Blair like? –asked Lula.
Jeremy did not know what to say.
-Well. He is not the Iron lady –he managed to mutter.
-Esa concha su madre will try to help him –complained Miguel.
-She is no one know –assured Jeremy nervously. He did not have clue how much power Thatcher had at that point.
-Bueno, today we celebrate –commanded Miguel as he passed Lula the bottle of pisco.
-Tienes razón Miguel. Hoy es para celebrar –answered Lula –my father would be proud.
And Jeremy thought of his own dad. Sitting in front of the BBC channel. In his morning gown. A tea in one hand and a cup with whiskey in the other. Complaining about the weather. Watching the news and wondering what all those well-dressed Latin looking people were doing in front of an embassy protesting the arrest of ancient looking white-haired general they call, Augusto Pinochet.