The Barcelona simulation wasn’t the same the next day, it was greyer, a forensic shade of purple, with cops at certain corners, hawkers, non-descript, nebulous tanned whiteness, whispering threats that would’ve been Hungarian if he’d gotten close enough
and it took a further hour walking around the Museum of Modern Art for Tak to realise he couldn’t stay
not if he wanted to keep his mind on the right track
distant from the claws of Count Otius.
He bought his ticket openly this time and sat down on one of the benches, looking at La Vanguardia online.
Made it four lines before he had to reach for his dictionary and as he searched
the demon girl floated back into his brain
telling him she was still there
still on the beach
so why didn’t he come and say hi?
Tak repeated the usual phrase in five different languages, struggling on the Japanese version even though he’d always thought it was his best one
then went back to the news.
He read all the stories he was interested in and hissed at the business section, then went back to the dictionary and double-checked the headline words
blocked the demon girl speaking to him
again and again
blocked that fucking Dahli too
buffering in the background
halfway out of the sea in a seaweed smoking jacket.
When the tannoy announcer called his train, he stood up and for the first time noticed that all the other benches had daytime-reality Spanish people sitting on them, which meant, at some point during the night, the security guards had cleared all the homeless and the immigrants, driven them off to god knows where, and now he was the only black person in the station.
It was weird
as he was reading the paper
he’d almost forgotten what he looked like
[or unconsciously re-imagined it]
the same way he’d thought he was Japanese sometimes when he lived in Japan
but as soon as he came out of the study bubble
or the strategy bubble
and saw the two security guards lurking nearby
staring at him
he remembered clearly what and where he was.
Studying a textbook has to be the worst way to learn a language, he thought, stretched out alone on a four-person table seat, maybe good for vocab and grammar structures but when you’re on a train full of Spaniards, speaking full tilt Spanish, it’s a fool who doesn’t put his head back and listen in on everyone sealed in around him.
Tak put his head back and opened up.
One youngish guy in a Jigoku t-shirt was saying repeatedly the words computer and break, another older guy was talking about communism and a girl with semi-green hair was telling someone on the phone that she was definitely going to Amsterdam to study Dutch.
Of course he couldn’t get all of it
only the words he knew
and some of the phrases were used in a way he wasn’t familiar with, but generally he felt that he was making progress.
If he actually talked to a Spaniard
at native speed
he’d be lost within three lines
without a doubt
he was on the ledge of lower intermediate and
he didn’t really wanna speak to Spaniards anyway cos the two cunts the previous night had spoken Spanish and they’d tried to mug him and
whack him on the head and
the little demon with the girl face
she’d ripped into-
He opened his eyes, checking the seats opposite and to the side, then stood up and checked the other seats in the carriage and, even though people were staring at him, he didn’t care, he had to know that he was alone on this train.
When he was sure of it, he sat back down in the empty seat next to his own and tuned into the girl nearby who was going to Holland soon and
he focused on each word she was saying, trying to figure out her language, failing seventy-nine per cent and instead crafting new lines in his head
what he would say to charm her
to seduce her
to fuck her in the toilets
or a cabin
or anywhere really
long as she wasn’t Hungarian
the counter-agent thread
talk to her
focus on Holland
ask for the story of why Dutch and how and
when the train docked
get up and go
no number swaps
just goodbye and maybe some other time.
Form, shape and the conservator chunk of his brain stood stoic in Madrid station
stoic and lost
so lost even the immigrants were looking at him like an oddity, a black hole that had just opened up and neglected to switch to wolf mode.
Was this where I want to be?
There were dozens of places he could go, dozens of cities he knew from football teams, but which one was best
which one would have no demons
pretending to be juveniles?
Tak walked to the closest bench and sat down, realised the guards were staring at him, yet rubbed his head like a lunatic anyway.
Madrid was the heart of Spain, the city all lines were forcibly linked to like succubus veins, only the closer to the tip of each vein you got, the paler it seemed,
the poorer it seemed
with the sole exception of Marbella
which was a shithole of pink gangsters and an Arab-funded replica of the white house
the fucking white house
He pressed fingertips into the two sides of his temple, harder, wondering if this was one of the real ones.
And even if it wasn’t
there wasn’t much he could do about it.
‘Where you from, brother?’
Tak looked up, grunted when he saw the West African with a tilted head staring back at him.
‘Relax, brother, you got a friend here.’
‘Okay, calm, calm.’ The guy laughed, nervously, and sat down on the edge of the bench. ‘I’m angry too when I come here, but I never say fuck off. You need to be more care.’
‘I’m not angry.’
‘You Nigerian, right? Lagos?’
Tak reached in his pocket and wrapped his hand around the knife, but cut it short when his head started throbbing again.
Again, the temples were kneaded as the man ran through his rehearsed spiel, telling him where to go for cheap food, where to get work on the sly, where to find women.
‘Some guys learn Spanish, but you ask me, maybe better you don’t do. Some of this shit they say, brother, it push you too hard, but you react and it is done.’
Tak stopped rubbing and looked at the man’s face. It was cheerful, open. And his voice. His English. It was too designed, too artificially imperfect.
‘Don’t talk to police too. Don’t look on them. They no good. And don’t stand out, don’t speak with white people with that screwed peanut face for ten seconds more, you be okay, brother.’
‘On Magyar? Dolgozol Vele?’
‘Brother, is that English? Don’t know what you saying.’
Tak put his hand on the knife again and weighed up the options. The guy was a demon. The train station was packed. Stab him. Walk away.
Tak looked past the guy’s shoulder, at the small group of Eastern Europeans watching the scene. Ah, that’s what it was, a team effort. He stood up and took a step left, but the man put out a hand to stop him.
‘Brother, no that way, it’s no good.’ The man gestured towards a café to the side, packed full of Spaniards. ‘Look, maybe we can sit down five minutes, have some food. I tell you some things for how to survive in here.’
‘I have enough for quarter the price.’ He checked his pockets and pulled out some coins. ‘If you have enough, I can pay you this later.’
‘Get off me.’
‘Or we do a trade. My information about this place, you pay three quarter the price…two euro max.’
‘Come on, it’s a good deal, brother. You not hungry?’
‘I’m not your fucking brother, cunt.’ Tak took two of the man’s fingers and twisted them. ‘Stay away from me.’
‘… … … … …’ moaned the West African, in his native tongue.
Tak let go and walked off quickly before the man tried to retaliate, confident he wouldn’t scream out cos that would bring the police and, like he said, the police were the same everywhere
even in a crowded train station.
He was right, there was no noise behind him, but
as Tak walked to the other side of the station and looked at the board hanging down from the ceiling he remembered he still didn’t know where he was heading so he looked back at the bench and the guy he’d half assaulted and
the wretch was still there
clutching his hand
not making a single sound.
No one was coming over to help him either,
not even the other immigrants,
white or black
which meant he was either a stranger to them, a closet Hungarian, or they hadn’t seen what happened, but
if he was Hungarian and connected
then he wouldn’t have let Tak walk off without pursuing, he wouldn’t still be nursing his wrist, he wouldn’t be stuck there wearing the same face Marina Sirtis had in Bed of Sin 2: Castle Intrigue, he’d be confident and scheming and probably holding a knife of some kind, but he wasn’t, he wasn’t doing any of that, no weapon, no schemes, he was just sitting there, sad, disappointed, drained, alone.
Screaming at himself not to bother, Tak walked back over, hand sliding into his pocket, and when the guy saw him coming, he half-ducked as if a missile were about to be fired at his chest, but Tak didn’t fire anything, he just touched the guy’s shoulder, said, ‘sorry, mate, I’m having a bad day,’ and gave him twenty euros in two ten-euro notes.
The West African looked at his wrist, nodded and turned to walk away before spinning back and saying he only needed one, but Tak saw it coming and refused to hold out his hand.
Tak thought about telling him to head to Denmark if he could, or Iceland, or the left wing part of Tanzania, but they all had cops too, and nationalists, so instead he said he was sorry about the hand, but that it was lucky too, things could’ve been a lot worse
which was a strange apology
but also the truth.
‘Okay, brother,’ the guy repeated, turning his wrist in slow rotations.
‘You better go eat now.’
The West African nodded awkwardly, a clipped bow, and walked towards the café he’d just warned against, leaving Tak with the train board, but now he had an idea
an old friend he’d forgotten about, Richard, the guy from school with the guitar avatar online who’d married the Spanish girl and gone to La Coruna to
to do what?
Ah, it didn’t matter, as long as he was still there.
Tak looked up at the schedule and saw a train going north in an hour, and another one going direct to La Coruna in two.
He bought a ticket and went to the café and sat away from the West African guy and thought about the potential landmines that could come from seeing someone he knew
someone who knew him
who would ask about Jemba and
‘No, no, no, no…’
He repeated the phrase in five different languages and drank some coffee, which was Lego-size, just like in Italy, coffee for fucking Scott Caan, and
when his blood was hitting 80 beats again he got up, went to the platform, got on the train, got out the textbook and didn’t study, put away the textbook, got out a notepad, stared out the window at Galithian countryside and reached for thoughts and ideas and then, borrowing a pen from the guy opposite, wrote down a 100 word synopsis of Dracula, in broken Spanish. When he was done, he tried to read it back to himself but it was too simplistic, the Spanish too basic, and other thoughts were calling from the Tsukamoto alley of his brain, thoughts of sexed-up Pakistani men, vampyrs, Hungarian mood, Jemba, the Croatian girls, the fake castle, the darts bar in Tsunashima, Satomi and her short skirt, the real Takuya, Richard, his life in Spain, his blank-slate wife, the possibility of a place without headaches, the sea again, the one up there and desolate and
When the train pulled into La Coruna station, he headed straight outside and sent Richard a message. There was no reply after half an hour, not that he was expecting one, but there was something about the clouds in the sky and the pink hue round the edges that was inspiring, reminded him of past times
and more recent times
which weren’t so bad the more he thought about it.
Maybe he shouldn’t have left so soon, without
A group of teens went past, shouting feral but Loach about football, possibly mistaking him for a local player.
Past is past is past is past is
in Hungarian hands now.
Can’t go back.
Finding a cheap, Margate-drab hotel online, he booked a room, walked for an hour down a long slow declining road and then left along the main promenade, through mist that was probably residue of the same clouds from earlier, found the hotel, checked in, struggled with the manager, who spoke only slurred Spanish [and glared at him until he pulled out his British passport], went to his room, sat down on the bed and told himself again
it’s fine, Rich is a friend, he won’t care,
it’ll be fine
it’ll all be fine
better here than granite in Madrid station.
Tak hadn’t realised it was Christmas
until Richard messaged back the next day and said:
‘Fuck man, you’re here, really? Holy shit. It’s Christmas Day tomorrow, you have to come round ours for lunch, don’t worry, my wife’s family speaks some English, not much, but if it gets tough, I’ll handle the translation. Can’t believe you’re here. Ten years [Jeremy Piven voice] TEN YEARS, MAN! What the hell have you been doing with yourself? Is Jemba here too?’
Tak sat on his bed and thought it through.
He didn’t care about eating Christmas dinner alone, he’d done it before, he’d do it again, but this was a chance to practise his Spanish and
he was curious
what exactly was Richard doing here
how good was his Spanish?
For some reason it pissed him off that Richard had assumed he spoke zero Spanish, as if he were still the same guy from school who’d spent French lessons throwing compasses at Adrian Bayle’s head and saying meine augen tout mir vee in a shit German accent.
That wasn’t him
that hadn’t been him for years.
Didn’t anyone tell Richard he’d been in Japan?
Tak walked round a hill with a lighthouse and a tiny castle to the greyer side of La Coruna, where there was another promenade, this one leading all the way to the Razor.
Apparently, Richard’s flat was overlooking it, though not high enough up to see onto the football pitch.
According to the numbers on his phone it was early afternoon, but there weren’t many people about, and the few people who did walk past performed an exaggerated double-take when they saw Tak going the other way.
One of them stopped and asked for his autograph, which he didn’t catch the first time the guy said it as the whole thing was in lightspeed Spanish, and it annoyed him when the guy repeated the line in slow English, cos his English wasn’t even good, not as good as Tak’s Spanish. It was the same thing that had happened in Japan too, if you didn’t understand the first time, they’d switch to basic English and his Japanese would get nowhere, which is what they wanted, their language skill to increase, his to get fat and bitter and do whisky commercials.
Despite the annoyance, he signed the autograph with a squiggle and posed for a photo. When the guy had gone he went on his phone and looked up the Deportivo squad and almost laughed when he saw the player the guy had mistaken him for.
Ah, fuck it, at least it wasn’t Nelson Mandela
though in another fifty years
it might be.
The promenade ended and the Razor began, the stadium instantly outmoding the lighthouse he’d been to an hour earlier.
Tak checked his watch then did a full lap of the stadium. It wasn’t match day so the area was almost deserted, except for one scruffy-looking guy trying to pull a poster off the wall and
another West African guy coming out of the toilets, wiping his hands on his jacket and looking straight over at him.
Was he a footballer?
A Ghanaian entrepreneur?
A British guy drifting around killing demons?
Tak blinked, wondering if he was seeing things, but it was real, the guy was really there, and now he was really walking over to Tak, waving at him.
Fuck, more brother talk
not this time.
Tak turned and crossed the road quickly, re-checking his phone for Richard’s address, and when he looked back he saw that the African guy had stopped and was staring at him. It was too far away to read his expression, but the body language was crumpled, and Tak couldn’t help but get the feeling that he’d devastated the guy in some way, which was weird as all he’d done was cross the road so he wouldn’t have to talk to an invading stranger.
would’ve done the same thing to anyone
even Tommie 4 year Sankara.
No guilt, not his fault
not my brother.