V What’s on your mind?

          His name is Norman and he leaves his studio apartment early in the morning, buys some coffee at a small café near his building and goes for his little walk.

          He left early this morning and headed for the Immigration Services, at his steady pace. He has been doing it for a couple weeks, and he is up for one more attempt, apparently. If he is lucky, they will finally give him his documents.

He is not the first one to arrive, and there is already a queue, but it will not take too long, he is just there to take what is his by right. In five minutes they will open the doors and the revolution will begin, people pushing and running up the stairs to get their ticket, to wait some more, but in a new order. He comes in last and he waits, sitting down and reading yesterday’s paper. He is not reading, really. Everyone is so unnecessarily loud. Can they hear themselves?

          The words in the newspapers do not appear in a coherent order. He can’t make sense of what he is reading because a new noise has emerged in the waiting room, which is already too small for so many people. Yellow walls increasing his hunger for justice, pillars in the middle of the room, hiding that electronic board with the numbers, or what in the devil’s name it is, creaking wooden seats, people standing up shouting their petty stories at their waiting-room friends, all that noise created a new one, and that is the reason why he could not read, let alone make sense of what he is doing and thinking. It’s starting again: people are becoming mad and throwing their heads at the nails randomly pinned to the walls, bleeding but not making any sound, even though they seem to suffer, opening their mouths in pain. Others are struggling, getting up from the old wooden seats because they are sinking into them, grabbing the arms of the others around and dragging them in too, the ladies lose their temper, using their clean and sharp nails in self-defense against the old men with sick rapist faces… There is a pregnant adolescent by the stairs, bleeding, pieces of meat and bones sliding from her womb like bullets exploding from a G7 rifle, falling down the stairs, like a football, and perhaps that is what killed both the baby and the baby’s mother… The savagery soon stops and everyone is back in their places, unharmed.

‘Next! Number ten! Number ten, last call!’ He gets up, sweating, facing the lady behind the desk, and very politely and smiling he replies, ‘That would be me, Miss!’

‘ID?’ She asks without looking at the man, typing furiously. The noise of her typing sounds like castanets. That sound always reminds him of Spanish telenovelas and all the fatality of love and jealousy, and more latino cliches…

‘I have none. That is why I’m here; I have come to pick up my ID… I had it made months ago. I have been coming here since I got a letter from you, saying it was ready’ He says, promptly in a monotone.

‘I suppose you have a name? The letter?’ This one is that type of mechanical office mouse that never looks at anyone and gives orders like she is some kind of bossy motherfucker.

‘I don’t like your manners…’ Looking at the pin she had on her shirt with a her name tagged on ‘Gertrude! This is not the first time I’ve been here, and not once have you taken your eyes off that screen. I told you before. My name is Norman. Norman Marwick. I’m carrying the letter with me. Here it is’ Handing it to the woman, who is still typing, her face only a few inches away from the screen.

‘Mr. Marwick…’

 ‘Norman, please!’

Mr. Norman…’ She says insolently ‘Your card must have got mixed up with other the mail and we are looking for it, as a matter of fact. We have already informed the other SEF offices, just in case. In fact, you, Sir, already know this. I have a note here on your file saying you have been told about this before.

‘Just in case? In case of what, if I may ask?’

‘You will receive a letter when your documents arrive at our office.’

‘In case of what?’

‘Mr. Norman, your case will be taken care of. Until then, you will have to wait patiently…’

‘Listen, I don’t care for your notifications. I should have my documents by now. I would like to leave your office today with my ID in my hands and not later. If my case were to be taken care of, I wouldn’t be here this morning, now would I?’

 ‘Number eleven!’

 ‘You’re not listening to me!…’

‘Number eleven!’ Norman is facing her, standing up, now ‘Miss, I need my card, how am I supposed to be able to work if I don’t have it??’

‘NUMBER ELEVEN!’

He sits down. Something hits Gertrude. She stands still, looking at him, in silence. A silver blade buried in her forehead, a clean, fast, surgical strike. The ceiling fan rotates madly. It is June in Portugal and it will only get hotter, until late October. People complain about the heat, women fan themselves with their hands, and the ceiling fan is whirring at full speed. It is also old. The power shuts down, and as the fan stops working, a rusty blade flies across the room, burying itself in Gertrude’s forehead. Her face is shrinking, while her skin wrinkles and cracks, showing the dry red tissue of her paralyzed cheeks. It is rotting and falling away in thick purplish pieces of meat. Her eyeballs get sucked into her skull, which is now showing, teeth and all. Not even a strand of hair, it falls to her fat shoulders, like ashes.

She stands still, looking at him, finally. She is silent, waiting for Norman to leave, so number eleven can have his seat.

‘I won’t leave this seat until you give me what I came for! I didn’t come here to leave empty-handed… again!’ He says with a condescending grin on his face.

‘There’s nothing I can do for you at the moment. You’re welcome to wait in the waiting room, to go for a coffee or go home. Everything else is out of my hands.’

‘Everything else??’ Choking. ‘You haven’t done anything!!’

Eleven!’

          Norman is a middle-aged Englishman, raised in Belgium and now living in Lisbon. As a young college boy, he was a rich and adventurous bastard. His parents, a beautiful wealthy aristocratic couple, raised him to be an educated and well-mannered young adult with enough freedom to enjoy the perks of having a fortune to spend, and so he went to college to live a bit more… after all, it is all about the experience. Brilliant, a coke enthusiast, a Byron admirer, a Whitman fetishist, privileged, playboy, perfect son, wasted, a graduate.

          He is tall, about 6’2’’, not taller. Swimmer’s feet. Long, white and flat. Long toes with clean pinkish nails. Long legs, skinny, but with the muscles toned, beautifully shaped. Pale, smooth skin. Scarce blond body hair, almost unnoticeable to the touch. Long, fit torso; broad back. Long thin arms and big-fingered pale hands. His eyes are brown. You would think Norman would have blue eyes, but he doesn’t. His stare is that of an angry boy, and his eyes are of a deep chestnut brown, hidden under bushy blond eyebrows. Long-lashed small chestnut brown eyes, followed by a prominent yet elegant nose, with wide nostrils, which give him a heavy and apprehensive look. His lips are thin, always wet and red, heralding healthy coffee-stained teeth with the most honest smile. His features are very narrow and simple, but the conjugation of the childish intensity of his dark eyes, the refinement of his nose and the vivacity of his mouth draw attention to this evasive man. He wears his straight blond hair short and neatly styled. No hats, no glasses, nothing. His face bears no disguise. He has managed to remain the same, over the years, despite the apparent sadness he displays every morning, when we see him walking down the street.

          It all went wrong, after college. He was of no use. He had spent intolerable amounts of money on his self-destruction and sexual depravations. He had a reputation he did not even acknowledge. Norman spent his twenties putting himself together and reading the literary masters, dealing in art and selling his inheritance, or what was left of it. Mr. and Mrs. Marwick disowned him, but the day after his grandmother’s funeral he received a sum of money large enough to live a comfortable life without having to work. This is how Norman Marwick became a pensive literary expert and an eligible bachelor.

          He moved to Lisbon in his thirties. It was summer and he decided to stay. The hot Portuguese weather makes him feel calm and at ease, as does the winter, when it rains, the air is damp and it feels cozy. At the time, Portugal was a place where he could live at a much lower cost, the ideal refuge. He felt at home. He never took the time to register as a citizen, though, after being practically expelled from his homeland. He never considered having a job either.

Since then, he has lived in Alameda, right next to the best of the universities in Lisbon. It took him some time to get over his past life; he would mingle with the students, occasionally take one home to spend the night with and what not. He has been all alone for five years, now. He had his period of fun until he suddenly felt he had had enough… I would say it is that boy’s fault.

          Norman leaves the building early in the morning, enters the café, orders an expresso, says good morning and sits down at the corner table, where he stays for five lazy minutes, with an enigmatic look. Everyone wonders what is on his mind, he always looks absent and, sometimes, terrified. He says goodbye and leaves, walking in his own particular way. He arouses so such much interest that some people feel intrigued, while others are actually scared. His behaviour is the main reason for the neighbours’ apprehension; they see Norman as a lunatic who might go psychotic, because with tourists you never know… He is a different race, they say.

‘He might not be much of a social animal, be he is never unkind, and he is certainly not dangerous!’ Says young Alexandra, a true Lisbon student-girl, who works at the café. It is morning and they are expecting Norman to arrive at any minute. Norman steps slowly into the place dressed in black, orders his coffee, says ‘good morning’ and walks towards his table.

‘Why so black?’ Whispers a client to the girl.

‘Shh! You talk about him so much but you’re the real bastards!’

‘Hey Norman! He shouts at him. ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, perfect day. Got to seize the day!’

‘Why so dark? Has someone died?’

‘Yes.’ Five minutes had passed and it was time to go – ‘Bye.’

‘Hey, Mr. Marwick!’ The girl went after him.

‘What is it, young Alexandra?’

‘You forgot your change!…’

‘Oh!… Keep it and buy yourself something pretty.’

‘But… it’s only 25€ … Something pretty costs a lot more…’

‘Ok, you! Messing me around.’ He says laughing. ‘Here, take some more… thirty more.’

She has that natural seductive nature that makes everything around her fresher, and she likes teasing Mr. Marwick.

‘That’s very generous of you, Norman…’

‘Yeah… I’ve got to go.’ He choked after what she said. She noticed it and asked:

‘Norman… Mr. Marwick!… What’s on your mind, Sir?’

Her words echo in his head. She is bound by her arms and legs, gagged and blindfolded. He takes his time touching her breasts with his knife, ripping off her clothes, making her feel the cold metal against her firm tanned skin, her arms, neck, mouth, fingers, in between her thighs, her tongue. He kills her, slitting her throat; he doesn’t want her to breathe anymore. She can no longer say those things. He craves the knife in her heart.

‘Nothing is.’ He turned, looking terrified, and walked away.

          There he was, at the reception, where he had first talked to him, where he had first teased him, where he had first fucked him. He had seen him before with his friends, skipping classes. Norman found out he worked at that hotel, which was nothing but a small guesthouse. He paid a visit and paid for a room, and introduced himself.

‘What’s on your mind, Sir?’ The boy asked, as Norman froze at the reception door.

Later that week they were undressing each other, lying on the reception floor, late at night, after all the guests had gone to sleep. The night after, they would take turns posessing. Each round, a taste of coke. After that week, they spent their time together. After some time, they were making love. Months passed and they were hurting each other for pleasure. Norman bears the scars as proof. A whole year of excitement and pleasure without end, no boundaries. It could have been a lifetime.

‘I’m glad we did it.’

‘More than glad! It is what it is, now.’

‘It’s real… yet so surreal!’

‘I know, right? We have rings!…’ Norman talks excitedly with a constant smile. They both laugh, looking into each other’s eyes. ‘So, now what, Mr. Marwick?’

‘Now is now… I want you to tell me you feel alive.’

‘I do.’

His face told the contrary, as horror filled his eyes. Norman cut the guts  out of his body.

‘Talk to me! Will you?’

‘I…’ He fell. He did not cry. He didn’t make any sound. He just fell.

‘Talk to me!! It’s starting again, I’m afraid!!’ He dropped to his knees, splashing in his own blood.

          By the time he had realized which part of their last minutes together was real and which was not, he had found his dead heart.

GJ

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