You were a city of many dispositions. Rainy, stormy, sunny, misty, windy – I saw them all, and everything in-between. I saw great beauty and great ugliness in your streets: dark smoke rising in the misty golden morning, black like blood, and sodden cigarettes on the beautiful hundred-year-old pavers. Storm water, angry and joyous, rushing across roads and seeping into my boots, carrying autumn leaves. My breath in tiny clouds in the cold of the garden as I stood there in my trench coat with stiff fingers, just like the smokers I could smell at the bus stops as I waited alone in that city for a bus to a place I had no image of.
You were where I was reacquainted with loneliness – my room in my host family’s apartment, where I lay sick and scattered and barely existing, looking out the window to my companions Venus and the moon, listening to music which worked better than medicine. Duxeus Hospital, with a tube in my arm, hoping it would re-hydrate me. ‘La Lune’. ‘Dis Moi Lune De Argent’. ‘LUNA’. Celestial songs I poured into my bloodstream as I stared into your soft pink-purple sunsets without stars. I learnt how to be lonely again, and how to be good company to myself; how to notice, how to try and enjoy every moment of solitude and bustling city noise. To be present in this moment. To flicker myself back into existence.
I remember eating an orange on the apartment balcony, home alone, in the sun, outside for the first time in days. It was exhausting, but I smiled, and the breeze brushed me, and you were there on the misty horizon shining and reflecting the sky in tall glass buildings. I resisted the urge to jump. A dog was a friend to me, silent and loving, sitting by my side as I drank tea in the empty house.
Your hills which I longed to hike up into the azul sky. Dandelions as I sat up there and spoke to you, growing even in winter. Your rooftops that snatched my breath into your cold wind, and glowing lights a reassurance at night. Your churches in which I prayed, gilded, gold and wood.
It was an honour to be asked to teach your children.
But, in your beauty and your ruins, I was sick all this time. I was dehydrated on the first day and couldn’t fix it, no matter how much water I drank. After a week of diarrhoea and nausea, I began to dissociate from my body and felt my brain was hovering a few metres to the left. You took me into your hospital. I saw three nurses, desperation and distrust fighting under my skin where my drip pumped saline in the crook of my elbow and I said, ‘Vale’ and let the bitter, chalky pill dissolve under my tongue.
I went back to school the next day, on meds, and taught. I was acting weird. I laughed at a kid saying ‘Martes!’ (‘Tuesday!’) in a Batman voice a bit too hard. But, by this time I was tired, too tired, so tired. I had to return to my family, the word that had been showered upon me like the consistent rain: family, how are your family, is your family ok.
If I hadn’t become sick, left when I did, I could be stuck with you still, Barcelona, far away from the country I helped them study. Hurricane Gloria hit your people, and now, you are sick, and I wish you a swift recovery. People of Barcelona, I saw you struggle on through rain and storm, and as I call the friends I made in Spain, see them stuck in their apartments, smile at each other and try to think of ways to live, to move, like this – valiente. Te admiro. You got on with your day like it was nothing, paraguas stuffed in rubbish bins when they failed you like parrots with broken wings. Vamos, vamos. Tranquilla.
I want you to know that I loved you for what you are. I do not regret leaving you. I do not have regrets. They are painful and worthless. Fortuna had other plans. I may not be able to forget your beauty, but I also may not be able to forget the ache in my limbs, in my lungs, in my heart, the cold in my bones, the pain in my head and the cold sweat I woke up in every night. I still cannot lift heavy things with my left arm, I still feel my drip inside it, and I still feel a shard of fear inside me that melts slowly like ice. That feeling of utter emptiness – no water, no food, empty stomach, hollow chest, losing blood, can’t sleep.
I think I’ll always remember the ache and beauty of you. One day, I may return. No promises.
Lo siento. Adios, senora.
Emily Siggs is a writer, editor and poet with a love of obscure knowledge. She conducted the interview project Australian Aishwaryas for the Centre for Stories, which you can find here. She won the youth section of the 2016 Patron’s Prize for Poets with Tuesday Mornings, was published in the 2018 COZE journal, and had two short stories published this year in Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Zodiac Anthology (Cancer and Leo). She completed her degree in professional and creative writing last year and is currently working on an experimental dark fantasy novella, Nefelibata. Her Instagram handle is @emilyexploresspace.