Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The prolegomenon to the storm

It was good to have a house, and a very comfortable one it was. The fact that we lived in the rich people’s neighbourhood meant that even the average garage was larger than most of the sordid bungalows in which my fellow students had found refuge, though it did present some inconveniences. One of them was the fact that every single motherfucker in the place had to own at least three dogs the size of prehistoric buffaloes and train them to hate humanity. Every time I passed by one of the houses, there would be such a chorus of rabid barking from the gates that I felt encouraged to walk around with a double-barrelled shotgun. Bizarrely, the owners of these gloomy beasts were the most courteous people imaginable (in accordance with the rule that kindness is more common than bananas in Martinique). Once I even walked across a couple engaged in a firey conversation – since they were shouting at each other and swinging fists in the air, I held myself to a side of the road and tried not to interfere. Even so, when I walked by the woman turned to me with a sharp eye and aggressively wished me a good day, only to look quite angry when I seemed lost for words. Talk about contradictory expectations. That’s like me walking into a gay bar, getting drunk like hell and stripping on the stools, and then getting angry like fuck because someone squeezes my buttocks (disclaimer: this is not something I have done). (Disclaimer: the previous disclaimer is true. Seriously).

Then there’s the fact that the rich neighbourhood is located next door to the Valhalla and the transports cost insane amounts of money, presumably because you get the privilege of riding on pieces of derelict antiquity, so that getting to the university every day feels like going to Tokyo in a dinghy. Eventually I decide to walk it, but because the sun is something out of Dante and whichever path you choose you’ve got to walk up and down the hills like goats, I start sweating like I never have before. You’d think that the expression ‘dripping with sweat’ would have a mostly metaphorical origin (especially in the English language), but I swear it was coined by the first visitors in Martinique. As I walked up the various Everests which stood between me and campus, rivulets started flowing down my chest and shoulders. My eyebrows and chin became like an enormous sponge. Eventually as I walked towards uni I started stripping. As soon as I took my shirt off, half the people driving by in the traffic honked their horns and start yapping about my physique. I wasn’t bothered by this and I kept walking with my nipples to the wind, though I did mull it over for a while when I was hit on by this guy with sunglasses who was as gay as a windmill and who thought I was deliberately passing in front of his house bare-chested as a way of peacocking. Even that, however, was not enough to deter me, and within a month there I had a skin the colour of bronze.

I pondered on both these things in discussions with my housemate. I hadn’t realized when I’d first met him, but Jack had some pretty remarkable personality traits. One of these was that he was very prone to ranting. Another, and on a more singular note, he was the crassest human being imaginable. ‘Dude,’ he’d say when stepping out into the garden, ‘every time you lay a brick in that toilet it smells absolutely godawful. What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you sick?’

‘What do you mean? Do you defecate flowers?’ I’d respond, feeling somewhat miffed.

‘Of course not. But my shit smells like shit. Yours smells like carcass. You ought to see a doctor or something about it.’

‘For bloody hell’s sake,’ I shouted, ‘why on earth would I want to be discussing this with you!...’

‘Why? It smells like there’s a cemetery for giraffes in that bathroom and you’re asking me why? I’ll tell you why…’

I wouldn’t have minded these discussions so much if it weren't that his favourite hobby consisted in walking all over the house in his underwear while farting like there was no tomorrow. His other favourite hobby was buying the cheapest rum he could find at the supermarket (normally in gargantuan bottles containing two and a half litres for six euros), then seeing if he could make it drinkable by pouring everything he could find in it. Once he had the ill-fortune of mixing rhum, sugar and coconut milk from our garden in equal portions without investigating the laxative effects of coconuts, so that he spent the night throwing up and the morning, well, indulging in his first favourite hobby for hours on end.

So days went by and things were, give or take the occasional discussion with Jack, pretty much idle. The university classes had started and the level had proved to be laughably low, which meant that the weight of the academic work was incredibly light. With this in mind, I started looking for a job as a way of filling up my free time, most of which I was at that time spending at the house of a few German fellows of mine – rastas mostly, with facial hair of varying degrees beyond normality. One of them looked like Robinson Crusoe, and I befriended him quite quickly. We spent our time upon his terrace, getting stoned and watching the sunset, after a whole day during which I’d done nothing but solve incredibly easy academic problems and read Faulkner or Umberto Eco on the beach.

I was thinking that I was pretty much set for the whole year until, eventually, something happened to make my life temporarily unlivable. Jack walked home with a translucid package, something like a rolled up duvet, under his left arm. I asked him what it was, but he went straight to his room.

What was it? Well, I didn’t know, but for a good week that would be the end of my peace. You guys will have to wait until the next blog entry to find out the arcane nature of the object.

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