These years — the early 2000s — are anonymous years for the city (perhaps for the whole world): years during which everybody’s passions are slowly obliged to withdraw into a vacuum, where they then become incapable — like trying to right the path of a car whose steering column locks up at 110km/h on smooth asphalt, losing traction and beginning to glide sideways, like a knife across the surface of butter in summer — of having any effect on anything. Time passes listlessly.
Arturo, thirty-seven years old, of course does not know this. He drifts through the B-worlds of the city, working odd jobs (the possibility of having a career snaked passed him permanently not long ago), drinking too many coffees, bullshitting, feeling melancholy, working out in his bedroom, watching sunrises and sunsets over the train tracks, until one day one of the many deals he has vaguely tried to initiate goes through and he finds himself, for the first time in his life, with enough money to not have to worry, or even, should he maintain his current style of life, have to work at all for several years.
But one evening, seated in an Internet café trawling the somewhat bare landscape of cyberspace, he decides that he should leave the city as soon as possible, to see what it feels like.
He stays up all night reading a slim novel, set in the present day and published only months ago, and at daybreak — the novel long finished and discarded underneath his bed — he walks to the central station with a small hiking backpack on his shoulder and catches the first bus to the airport, where he buys a ticket to Athens, Greece.
Exhausted, he falls asleep before the plane takes off, but his slumber is invaded shortly after by the thick smell of watery coffee and defrosted croissants. After an indeterminate amount of time spent between sleep and consciousness, deliberating what to do, he flutters his eyes open (with great difficulty) and then quickly turns around to catch the elbow of the stewardess who has just passed him with her trolley, and, apologizing, asks if he could also have some coffee and a breakfast, which he then scoffs quickly, which makes him feel a little bit sick, which in turn leads him to ask the stewardess for a second cup of coffee. He’s so tired he can’t tell if it makes him shaky or not. He sleeps fitfully for the rest of the flight.
After the plane lands he is, with only his backpack as luggage, quickly through customs: outside, smoking a cigarette in the shade and looking at the ground, Arturo sees his old friend John, to whom he sent an e-mail from the Internet café yesterday evening, hoping he would receive it in time for his arrival. John laughs and then smiles when he sees Arturo; he throws his cigarette to the ground, stubs it and walks slowly toward him. John is wearing a white short-sleeve polo shirt, and his lightly tanned arms, which have very little hair, sport several new tattoos, all in different styles Arturo notices with mysterious pleasure, but he doesn’t say anything to John about them.
They embrace and then walk out from under the spaghetti of concrete overpasses directly above the arrivals area and into the sun. The sky that day is an almost painfully hard blue. A long line of solid hills runs across the horizon, and the bus, which they take into the city, where John lives, follows the hills all the way until they end, whereupon it rounds them and follows them back in the opposite direction, from the other side.
That night they eat dinner out in the front yard of John’s ground-floor apartment, under the throbbing orange of the streetlights. They wash the pasta down with glass after glass of cheap, pale red, almost pink wine, which they pour from a large plastic bottle. Thin, agile cats populate the shadows. Many of them seem to know John and from time to time approach him and greet him. After they finish eating Arturo clears the table, takes everything back into the kitchen, rolls up his sleeves and does the washing up. He also cleans the electric stovetop, while outside John remains seated smoking a cigarette and staring at the leaves of the lemon tree above him, which partly filter the orange light of the street lamps. From where he is seated the leaves appear black and oily.
Arturo comes back out and they keep drinking and reminiscing about when they desperately wanted — and in fact together tried — to live in big cities, on what felt like the cutting-edge of the world, until at some point, at Arturo’s urging, John leads Arturo back inside his apartment and into the narrow nook behind the front door where John has installed a little desk and a desktop computer. John switches on the computer and it whirs to life. They wait patiently in front of it as it loads its Windows program. John sits down at the chair and Arturo leans down and looks over his shoulder as John opens a Word document. There is no light in the room other than the pale blue emitted by the computer screen, which reflects off their staring, side-by-side faces: Arturo’s is expectant but nervous, his mouth hanging open slightly (an expression similar to that he has when he dreams — recurrently — that he is at the beginning of a boxing fight or cycling race whose outcome will, if successful, allow him to abandon his ambitions once and for all, safe now in the assurance that he has achieved something that has changed him forever); John’s nervous and grimacing, lips pursed.
Here it is, says John, and he gives a short, sharp, laugh.