17 Feb 2011

Graffiti (and tattoos)

to a blue-eyed fairy

I’ll be back, with another tattoo on my left ankle. It’s going to be Freedom. You’ll know  when. Just have a look at the walls.

1. So many things begin and perhaps end as a game, I suppose that it amused you to find the sketch beside yours, you attributed it to chance or a whim and only the second time did you realize that it was intentional and then you looked at it slowly, you even came back later to look at it again, taking the usual precautions: the street at its most solitary moment, no patrol wagon on neighboring corners, approaching with indifference and never looking at the graffiti face-on but from the other sidewalk or diagonally, feigning interest in the shop window alongside, going away immediately.

2. The sketch didn’t really match with the one you had drawn just few hours before, but in some way it did. It was like that tattoo, just a word: Adventura. That was Latin, and you remembered it ‘cause you saw it just few weeks before, tattooed just up on the right ankle of that beautiful blue-eyed girl, having a coffee in the Starbucks. She was sitting right in front of you. A very attractive, picturesque and at the same time unpretentious blond and blue-eyed traveler or adventurous tourist, with that rucksack lying down on the floor and that look on her eyes like trying to retain every single detail of the limited landscape framed in the window she was sitting by. Retaining everything just to forget about all she had seen, few minutes, or hours, or days after. You also had been a traveler but you never had this ability, and your rucksack became heavier day by day with memories and people and stories. 

Every letter of her tattoo was of a different color, some kind of handwritten fonts with flourished spurred upstrokes, and the tattoo itself was like a silent scream, something shouted, yelled to the sky but mutely, with a sort of rational passion, a well-mannered, hidden and sensible rage. But coming to the town hadn’t been a very sensible choice. Tourists had run away after the sudden coup, and she was the only one sitting in that Starbucks which only few weeks before was crowded with people and languages.

3. Your own game had begun out of boredom; it wasn't really a protest against the state of things in the city, the curfew, the menacing prohibition against putting up posters or writing on walls. It simply amused you to make sketches with colored chalk (you didn't like the term graffiti, so art critic-like) and from time to time to come and look at them and even, with a little luck, to be a spectator to the arrival of the municipal truck and the useless insults of the workers as they erased the sketches. It didn't matter to them that they weren't political sketches, the prohibition covered everything, and if some child had dared draw a house or a dog it would have been erased in just the same way in the midst of curses and threats. In the city, people no longer knew too well which side fear was really on; maybe that's why you overcame yours and every so often picked the time and place just right for making a sketch.

4. You never ran any risk because you knew how to choose well, and in the time that passed until the cleaning trucks arrived something opened up for you like a very clean space where there was almost room for hope. Looking at your sketch from a distance you could see people casting a glance at it as they passed, no one stopped, of course, but no one failed to look at the sketch, sometimes a quick abstract composition in two colors, the profile of a bird or two entwined figures. Just one time you wrote a phrase, in black chalk: It hurts me too. It didn't last two hours, and that time the police themselves made it disappear. Afterward you went on only making sketches.

5. When the other one appeared next to yours you were almost afraid, suddenly the danger had become double, someone like you had been moved to have some fun on the brink of imprisonment or something worse, and that someone, as if it were of no small importance, was a woman. And you couldn't prove it yourself, but she was her, the blue-eyed girl sitting in front of you in the Starbucks. There was something different and better than the most obvious proof: the same tattoo now converted into graffiti. There was a trace of her smile, of the look of her eyes, her aura. Probably since you walked alone you were imagining it out of compensation; you admired her, you were afraid for her, you hoped it was the only time, you almost gave yourself away when she drew a sketch alongside another one of yours, an urge to laugh, to stay right there as if the police were blind or idiots.

6. A different time began, at once stealthier, more beautiful and more threatening. Shirking your job you would go out at odd moments in hopes of surprising her. For your sketches you chose those streets that you could cover in a single quick passage; you came back at dawn, at dusk, at three o'clock in the morning. It was a time of unbearable contradiction, the deception of finding a new sketch of hers beside one of yours and the street empty, and that of not finding anything and feeling the street even more empty. One night you saw her first sketch all by itself; she'd done it in red and blue chalk on a garage door, taking advantage of the worm-eaten wood and the nail heads. It was more than ever her --the stroke, the colours-- but you also felt that that sketch had meaning as an appeal or question, a way of calling you. You came back at dawn, after the patrols had thinned out in their mute sweep, and on the rest of the door you sketched a quick seascape with sails and breakwaters; if he didn't look at it closely a person might have said it was a play of random lines, but she would know how to look at it. That night you barely escaped a pair of policemen, in your apartment you drank glass after glass of gin and you talked to her, you told her everything that came into your mouth, like a different sketch made with sound, another harbour with sails, you pictured her as the one in the Starbucks, you chose other profiles too, you hugged her, you loved her a little. 

7. Almost immediately it occurred to you that she would be looking for an answer, that she would return to her sketch the way you were returning now to yours, and even though the danger had become so much greater since the attacks at the market, you dared go up to the garage, walk around the block, drink endless beers at the cafe on the corner. It was absurd because she wouldn't stop after seeing your sketch, and almost any one of the many blond women coming and going might be her. At dawn on the second day you chose a gray wall and sketched a white triangle surrounded by splotches like oak leaves; from the same cafe on the corner you could see the wall (they'd already cleaned off the garage door and a patrol, furious, kept coming back), at dusk you withdrew a little, but choosing different lookout points, moving from one place to another, making small purchases in the shops so as not to draw too much attention. It was already dark night when you heard the sirens and the spotlights swept your eyes. There was a confused crowding by the wall, you ran, in the face of all good sense, and all that helped you was the good luck to have a car turn the corner and put on its brakes when the driver saw the patrol wagon, its bulk protected you and you saw the struggle, blonde hair pulled by gloved hands, the kicks and the screams, the cut-off glimpse of blue slacks before they threw her into the wagon and took her away. 

8. Much later (it was horrible shaking like that, it was horrible to think that it had happened because of your sketch on the gray wall) you mingled with other people and managed to see an outline in blue, the traces of that orange color that was like her name or her mouth, her there in that truncated sketch that the police had erased before taking her away, enough remained to understand that she had tried to answer your triangle with another figure, a circle or maybe a spiral, a form full and beautiful, something like a yes or an always or a now.

9. You knew it quite well, you'd had more than enough time to imagine the details of what was happening at the main barracks; in the city everything like that oozed out little by little, people were aware of the fate of prisoners, and if sometimes they got to see one or another of them again, they would have preferred not seeing them, just as the majority were lost in the silence that no one dared break. You knew it only too well, that night the gin wouldn't help you except to make you bite your hands with impotence, cry, crush the pieces of coloured chalk with your feet before submerging yourself in drunkenness.

10. Yes, but the days passed and you no longer knew how to live in any other way. You began to leave your work again to walk about the streets, to look, fleetingly at the walls and the doors where you and she had sketched. Everything clean, everything clear; nothing, not even a flower sketched by the innocence of a schoolboy who steals a piece of chalk in class and can't resist the pleasure of using it. Nor could you resist, and a month later you got up at dawn and went back to the street with the garage. There were no patrols, the walls were perfectly clean; a cat looked at you cautiously from a doorway when you took out your chalk and in the same place, there where she had left her sketch, you filled the boards with a green shout, a red flame of recognition and love, you wrapped your sketch in an oval that was also your mouth and hers and hope. The footsteps at the corner threw you into a felt-footed run, to the refuge of a pile of empty boxes; a staggering drunk approached humming, he tried to kick the cat and fell face down at the foot of the sketch. You went away slowly, safe now, and with the first sun you slept as you hadn't slept for a long time.

11. That same morning you looked from a distance: they hadn't erased it yet. You went back at noon: almost inconceivably it was still there. The agitation in the suburbs (you'd heard the news reports) had taken the urban patrols away from their routine; at dusk you went back to see that a lot of people had been seeing it all through the day. You waited until three in the morning to go back, the street was empty and dark. From a distance you made out the other sketch, only you could have distinguished it, so small, above and to the left of yours. You went over with a feeling that was thirst and horror at the same time; but then you saw the orange oval and the green circle, and the little letters spread out all around the oval and the circle: Adventura, and, on the very right of the circle, something like a clock and two little air planes, one going, the other coming. You stood there staring at the graffiti, and finally the relief came: this night the gin would be lifted for her. And I know, I know but what could I have done? I was lucky enough they didn’t kill me and decided to send me back, but in some way I had to say farewell to you, let you know I would be back one day, and at the same time ask you to continue. I had to leave you something before going back to my foreign refuge, remembering so many things and sometimes, as I had imagined your life, imagining that you were making other sketches, that you were going out at night to make other sketches.


we'll meet again, somewhere
and I'll also have my tattoo done


(to JC, also, as  a tribute)


Anonymous said...

All thumbs up!

Francesco B. said...

esto me lo tengo que pensar un rato... pero está super bien escrito...