I sat alone in the hush of a Mediterranean night. Only the cries of a nearby soccer match penetrated this holiday of silence. I cradled a bottle of red wine in my left hand, a local brand, and a ruck full of books and dirty clothes lay at the base of the mosaic bench. I took a swig from the bottle and tried not to cringe. I hated wine.
“If I survive,” I said, “I will come back here and become the greatest war writer of all fucking time.” I was half-drunk, dressed in a dark hoodie, blue jeans, and hiking boots, and sported a young man’s scraggly attempt at a beard. I believed what I had said, not because of those things, but because I was still allowed them in the first place.
I pulled out my journal and tried to write. I found myself unable to use anything but the cheap words, so I put down my pen and returned to the bottle. I told myself I’d try again later, but even then I knew I wouldn’t.
A young Spanish couple walked by holding hands, all smiles and possibilities. He shared my slender frame and sun-brown skin, but was blessed with a round face and rounder eyes. She had an ass I found attractive. I relayed both of these thoughts to my fleeting company. He either did not understand English or was keen enough to pretend not to, but she flipped me off without turning around. I loved her for this and considered chasing them down the path and punching him in the face and carrying her off to a chapel to marry and fuck and fight and fuck again and fight again so I could leave behind something other than angst but then remembered that effort disgusted females so I had no chance.
“Shame, shame, go away,” I said. “Come again another day.”
A gust of November wind swept through the air and up the hillside, whispering with wintry prospects. I looked across the terrace into a garden that lodged fake bird nests for real birds and real trees for fake lizards. I wished I’d asked one of the Germans at the hostel for drugs or something before I came here. Drugs would’ve made this moment more true. They were probably having fun without me somewhere, a real fun, the type of fun that can only happen to those fully committed to the moment unlike those of us that dabbled in it before and during and after all the other stuff.
The fucking Germans. They’d seen through the beard and taken one look at my desert camo assault pack and little brown razors poking out of my head and known right away that I wasn’t one of them, that I was a tool of imperialism that still subscribed to the archaic notions. There was a history joke in there somewhere, the grandchildren of Nazis being above it all and holding the ethical high ground over a newly minted G.I. with a bad haircut. I couldn’t think of it.
I took another sip from the bottle and imagined I could hear the waves crashing on the faraway beaches below. Then I pretended that this city famous for its revolutionary spirit still thundered with it. Unsure as to what exactly revolutionary spirit sounded like – though I was pretty sure it had a foreign accent – I decided that there was no way it included tourists or the demands of the street hawkers infecting Las Ramblas.
Looking down at my apple green tee shirt emblazoned with the motto Visca Catalunya!, I giggled like a motherfucker.
I pulled out the top book from my ruck. Without looking at it I knew what it was. My fingers flipped through its well-worn pages. I placed the book on my lap while my right leg twitched and twitched. “Stop talking shit,” I said. “You couldn’t capture the aura of this place when you were here, either.”
After I put away the book, I remembered how I had scared off the pretty Spanish boy and his girl, and smiled. I considered myself harmless back then, so I found it amusing when others didn’t feel the same way.