Taken from a thing I wrote about my last days in Barcelona.
Dare to be one of us, girl / facing the android’s conundrum / you don’t know how long I’ve been / watching the lantern dim / starved of oxygen / So give me your hand / And let’s jump out the window…
They took me under their wing and into their home to seek solace. I was in my very own sanctuary. I realised this while standing on Marc’s miniscule balcony which looked out over the tiniest street in all of Barcelona.
‘But this is not a street’, I remarked. ‘It’s a sliver of space so small, you can barely even see it!’
‘It has a street name and everything’ Marc protested.
‘This makes no sense!’ I decried, rather unnecessarily.
‘Sheree, not everything has to have a reason’ Marc offered seriously.
‘Everything has a place’.
Before finding sanctuary in the old city, I was lost and didn’t know where to go. I only knew I couldn’t stay where I was.
I was told to meet friends in the square who may have been able to offer a spare room for a few months. Plagued by the idea of going to meet them on my own, I asked my ex at the time if he would come with me. He shook his head and said he had no place there anymore, and that even though they started off as his friends, they ended up as mostly mine.
I cycled over to the plaza. Standing there in the middle of the plaza stood my future, my drunk future, huddled together and hollering out my name, searching for me through the crowd.
‘Shereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee donde estaaaaaaaaaas’.
I called out and ran over to them. They predictably made a scene. I met everyone from the house that night and they half-heartedly interviewed me about taking the room, in between doing shots.
Rodrigo leans in and whispers in Spanish.
‘The German girl in the room now? Crazy. Depression. Not good. You the same?’
I feel dejected already. They can see it on my face.
‘Don’t worry. Only crazy survive here. You’ll be with you’re own. But don’t drain us of our energy, okay? Be crazy for a little while but then be good’.
Be crazy good. Got it.
They will eventually pass their energy over to me through a drip like system, because there’s enough to go around.
Bienvenida a tu nueva casa
Welcome to your new home.
Photography by Sophie Roberts
Each night I find my way home by following the path around the most beautiful church I have ever seen, the Santa Maria del Mar. I use the giant old rusty key to open the magnificent door to the old apartment and walk up the many flight of stairs to our place. It was once an artist’s house and you can still see old film reels and paint scratchings on the wall.
The ceiling in my room is so high, it looks like it goes on forever. Nobody needs that much space, I think. Only giants. My bed is elevated on a stage in the middle of the room, but there is no show to see here. The room is devoid of windows. There are two big glass doors covered with blinds for privacy. There is always darkness here, and in the throes of Barcelona’s mild winter, no one really minds. The only reprieve comes in the form of light from the main balcony window. I will sit for many hours slumped on that tiny balcony, bare legs leaning against the railings, searching for sunlight and holding a glass of sparkling wine that cost two euros in my hand.
This becomes my favourite place to cry.
‘Do you ever think about all the things you did wrong in that relationship?’ Rodrigo calls out to me, while I balcony brood.
‘No, I hadn’t thought about it’.
‘I’m sure you were a problem’, he says seriously without a shred of hesitation.
I laugh for the first time in a long time. This is the start of me always thinking that exact, painful truth in future heartbreaking situations.
Stolen glasses. Photography by Sophie Roberts
For some reason everyone likes to congregate on my stage bed. At some point they all pass out there and there’s no space for me, the owner of the bed. I wander in to someone else’s bed – any will do – and sleep there. No one cares or notices until the morning, when they wake up in a flurry of exchanges, pushing each other out.
‘I have the smallest room and bed’, Marc would shout out in frustration. ‘Why does she always end up here!’
‘You were in Alba’s bed!’
‘SHE WAS IN ALICIA’S BED’
‘No, you were all in my bed for some reason’.
‘Tonight I’m going to sleep in the biggest room and I don’t even care’.
They slump with careless abandon all over the place.
Photography by Sophie Roberts
They’d often lecture me on my attitude to life, telling me to loosen up. Who cares if he was flirting with other women, meeting with ex-girlfriends and setting himself up to be a massive player while still being with you? Just do the same back, they’d say.
‘What’s the big deal?!’
You can live life however you want, they’d explain. If a guy wants to kiss you, you can kiss him. It doesn’t have to mean anything!
‘But I don’t care about any of that’.
‘One day you will want to, even when you don’t care about it’.
Whatever, I think, hating how right they’re going to be.
They stop and stare at me when I come home from the markets, exhausted from carrying bags of overflowing vegetables, herbs and meats.
‘How do you keep getting free food Sheree?’
‘I don’t know. I smile at them, ask how much it costs and they say nada!’
‘It’s a gift and a curse!’
I soon become the designated acquirer of food for the house.
We jump around in the kitchen and say ‘family reunion’ just after coming home from a normal day. We sit and hang out in each other’s rooms, in the living room, in the kitchen or wherever but we’re always together. We get excited when someone returns after going away for the weekend.
We drink copious amounts of tea and coffee. I have my favourite cup at all times, the one I acquired from my mother who abandoned everything when they left their expat home in England. That tea cup would remind everyone of me, including my ex boyfriend, who would move in after I’ve already returned home and would later go on to smash the cup to a million pieces out of frustration, unable to erase me from his mind, oblivious to how much I suffered in that house in much the same way.
One day we run out of gas in the kitchen and nobody rushes to replace it. Instead Alicia grabs her guitar, Alba orders pizza, Marc buys some booze and I sit in the living room with my notebook, which helps absolutely no one. We all congregate together on the couches, which have moved to the stage in the corner (there were so many weird, elevated stages in that house). Lit candles sit in wine bottles in random places, fairy lights snake across the wall and a Spongebob doll sits on the TV we never use (‘WE HATE THE TV!’) and stares at us (Bob Esponja is his Spanish name). Alicia is lazily playing music, trying to recreate the song she once improvised about me during a gig- Bird Girl, and failing to remember it.
We have no gas for a whole week, maybe longer.
The other three housemates crawl out to the space and we’re laughing, drinking, lazing about, joke-telling and critiquing something or other. Within minutes, the place is full of people and a party is beginning somewhere, a single domino being pushed at the start.
Photography by Sophie Roberts
We all love cameras funnily enough. The filmmaker, the photographers, the amateurs. We sit for hours, comparing our cameras, like proud parents. One of the housemates, I can’t remember his name (or I’ve deliberately chosen to forget for various reasons) parades his new Canon 7D around, filming us as a way of testing it as the rain hammered down outside. Everyone in the house was keeping me company, as my friends had gone to my farewell party without me. He films my reaction. I am wearing a black tulle dress, my hair in a braid. I’m sitting on the couch in silence.
‘Why are you sad?’ he asks, the camera trained on my face.
I stare long and hard at him and say nothing because that’s exactly what I feel in that moment.
They come home and find me on the couch watching re-runs of Gossip Girl even though I’ve never watched an episode before in my life.
‘What is this mierda?’
‘I don’t know’ I reply, ‘I’m watching it because I can’.
‘Get up. We’re going out’.
They, quite literally, drag me out of the house. We dance manically at a night club called Nasty Mondays to music they’ve never heard of before but which is second nature to me. They sing the wrong lyrics and flounder about without a care in the world. We keep singing and dancing all the way home, bouncing down the promenade near the beach.
‘We can’t go this way, I got attacked around here probably!’ I cry out woozily, not really sure where I am, just needing to say it in case it happens again and I can say I told you so.
‘You’re with us now! Nothing can get to you!’ and they form a hilarious, albeit entirely useless, protective wall around me, falling over themselves.
We have such a good time, maybe too good a time, that we barely remember how we got home or why there were toasted sandwiches waiting for us when we got there. It’s morning and I crawl in to Alicia’s room and sit on her beanbag, reading a book about broken hearts because I can’t sleep and I’m hurting.
‘I don’t feel well’ I say to her.
‘I know’ she replies.
One night when I’m walking home alone, I stop to feel the stone cold wall beside me. My hand delicately brushes over it as I walk all the way home and I’m afraid to remove it. It’s then that I know this is home. The labyrinth streets you get lost in and the dark but illuminating old quarter, the old familiar paths, the quiet plaza with the candles sitting in the bullet holes from Franco’s civil war. And then there’s the fire in the people that’s so close and contagious to me, I almost catch it.
On one particularly maddening night, I run through the old city in tears, screaming in Spanish at that infuriating ex behind me, throwing things at him.
‘We’re not even together anymore, why do you still care!’ he pleads with me, but I’m not listening.
‘She has the face of a horse!’ I scream back irrationally. ‘It’s insulting to the memory of us!’
I hear him laughing at that. He follows me all the way to my house, pleading for me not to be mad at him.
I slam the door in his face, exhilaration pumping through my blood. Where did this Spanish heat come from? It makes no sense.
Everything has a place.
I turn back down the stairs and open the door calmly. I look in to his teary, pleading eyes, shake my head with a mixture of sadness and pity and mouth out a sorry. I close the door gently this time, the old, quiet girl in me coming back for a moment.
I don’t remember where I ended up sleeping that night, but one of the house members kissed me on the forehead and whispered something in Spanish.
‘You are alive’.
For my last night in Barcelona, I arrived home from a Christmas in Malaga to find a smoky, hazy fog throughout the house. It’s empty except for one. In our absence, Azdrubal, the extremely lovely Mexican drug lord hermit who occupies one of the rooms has taken over the house, smoking pot incessantly for about a week. .
He balked at my presence, apologising for all the smoke. He didn’t realise I was coming home so soon. He tries to fan the smoke away uselessly. I can’t help but think that he is the sweetest drug lord I’ve ever known.
I tell him I’m leaving the next day.
‘Where to next?’ he asks cheerfully.
‘I’m going home’.
He looks confused, because my home is there with them.
‘My other home. Sydney’.
He hits the wall in protest.
‘But we don’t even know each other that well and Sydney is ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD, MAN!’
He chooses to deal with this news by continuing to get plastered.
I am surprised to find I still have 50 euros left in my bank account. I spend it all on pizza and booze for my last night with the last person I expected to spend it with. Azdrubal mentions something about all his dreams coming true when I come home with the pizza and I wonder if he has eaten at all in the last week.
‘Why don’t you just stay in Barcelona?’ he says, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world, his eyes trained on the six pizza boxes in front of him, knowing all too well I could feed him for at least another week.
‘I have to go back I guess,’
‘Do you want to?’
‘I don’t know anymore’.
He smiles, nodding absently, possibly stoned. He looks over at me and says words I’ll likely never forget, mainly because he wrote them in my little red book for safe keeping.
Vuela mariposa vuela vuela vuela vuela.
Fly little butterfly fly fly fly fly.