Let’s take each other’s arm
And if one of us should die
The other will lay flowers on his grave
Hey, Puig, do you remember, when we were kids, how we used to hurtle down the hairpin bends on the road down from Tibidabo on our bikes? We must have been mad. You always went first; you were never frightened! You used to ride down letting go of the handlebars, sticking out your arms and pretending to be a plane. And when even that wasn’t fast enough for you, you would pedal with all your might singing ‘Hay Carmela’ at the top of your voice! While I would grip the brakes and feel the cold wind freezing the sweat in my armpits. I would try to follow you but I never managed to. At the bottom of the hill, you would be waiting for me with your big smile. You were smiling with euphoria. When I stopped, you put your hand on my chest, where my heart was, and said, “Badaboom bam bam! That’s beating like mad in there. You must have been a bit frightened, eh?”
I didn’t reply. I shrugged. Of course I was frightened. I can tell you now, I spent my childhood being frightened following you everywhere but I would rather have died a hundred times over than not be with you.
— Imagine you’re a bird! Like me, look, I’m flying!
You would run, with your eyes closed, along the parapet of the terrace in Güel Park. I would start running along in the middle of the esplanade and feel dizzy straightaway. Then you would take me by the hand, laughing, and tell me that I would never, ever fly because my backside was too heavy. I would laugh as well... Do you remember, Puig?
Remember that endless summer’s day, the day when I had to leave Barcelona. I was fourteen – two years younger than you – and my father wanted me to go and live with him in Lyon, to continue my studies. We walked through the town, without saying much to each other. You were holding me by the shoulders. I don’t think we were really sad, because we knew it was inevitable and that this was the beginning of the journey towards the alluring world of adults... But you were not smiling anymore. The day stretched ahead, we did not feel like doing anything
“We could go on the beach one last time? You won’t be able to go in the sea very often in Lyon!”
We went in the sea, as naked as when we were just kids, and we dried ourselves behind the spiky rocks. We caught the last tram at eight o’clock, without speaking, each looking out at a different side of the street. I got off first. You waved me goodbye through the window and said something I didn’t catch. The next day, I was in France. All that happened yesterday, Puig, or the day before at the very most!
We wrote to each other quite regularly over the first few years. You came to Lyon once for a few days in July. You had changed, grown taller, grown up a lot faster than me. The old childhood bond was no longer there and sometimes there was some awkwardness between us: we were beginning to live our lives in different ways. We had to learn to get to know each other again, to tolerate the things we didn’t know about each other. I have one particularly vivid memory of those difficult, often silent hours, when we wandered about the streets of Lyon. It was you who then began to write less frequently. Sometimes I would wait several months before hearing from you. I was twenty-one when I received your last letter in which you told me, tersely, that you were ill. It was a bitter letter and you asked me not to reply.
In May of the same year, I received a letter from your mother saying that you had committed suicide.
You had gone to Tibidabo on a warm April afternoon, and you had gone into the amusement park. With no hesitation, just like in my memory, you had gone towards the big wheel that dominates the top of the hill and the whole valley. You had got into a carriage, with your perpetual broad smile. The illness was doing its utmost to make you into someone else, someone weaker and less of a man. You had long understood that death is the triumph of gravity: when the carriage stopped at the top of its trajectory, you embraced the horizon and, with your eyes wide open, you threw yourself into the void. As you were nearing the ground, you lifted your head, like the fighter planes we used to watch in the sky, and went back up to the sun. I know you smiled at death, I’ve seen you do it so many times: did she allow herself to soften? Where are you now, Puig?
I went back to Barcelona later, in October. I wandered around the city, wherever my memory rolled back to and wept. In the afternoons, I went to Güel Park, and sat on the terrace. I had no-one now to hold my hand on the edge of the precipice. Then I thought of you and I think that, when the time comes, I will also choose to go like a bird. I will be brave enough, Puig, I promise! I will go up to the top of a tree in the park and I will watch the people, drunk with life, swooping down to the low part of the town. I know that one of them, I can hear it now, will be singing ‘Hay Carmela’ at the top of their voice.
Translated by Wendy Cross