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Translated by Peter Bush
I’ve met lots of Galicians working in that factory, but I found mine in a disco a long way from the city where I live, and that’s why we did such different things together. Well, you know, sir, maybe not that different, please don’t start imagining anything outlandish. I told him I’d a way of spotting Galicians, whether he wanted to believe me or; by that time I’d developed a special knack that allows me to detect them. You don’t believe me? I tell you I can, if I’m in a crowd, I can pick them out a mile off. Sure, I know they not so different, but they’ve got traits in common. Lots are swarthy, black-haired, round-faced, but you also get fair-haired thin-faced bright-eyed specimens. You can’t find words for what makes them alike, because it’s nothing concrete, it’s a particular way they have. OK, maybe I’ve imagined this Galician bit, but not entirely, I tell you.
I bumped into my Galician at the bar when my arm brushed against his. He smiled and asked me in Spanish: what do you bet we were born the same day? I couldn’t hear him and let myself be carried away by the music. The beers I’d drunk were making me light or heavy-headed, as if I couldn’t feel my weight, or whether my body was mine or belonged to someone else. Which is the whole point of getting drunk, right? I felt he was so close I could smell his breath, the hair falling over his eyes as if he were half asleep. So what do I get if it turns out we were born on the same day? That’s not possible, I replied. The 18th March, I said as slowly as I could, emphasising the ‘th’ and the ‘ch’. The kind of thing that makes men go wild, wherever they come from. There you are, me too! I called him a liar, said what a roundabout way to pick up a girl, trying to be original and that I didn’t believe him for one minute. He took out his ID card and showed it to me. Hey, it’s not the same month, day or year! Sorry, I sometimes forget when my birthday is. I was still looking at his ID card when he started to sniff the roots of my hair behind one ear while his hair tickled my shoulder and cheek. His long black hair fell down like a curtain. I tried to smell the fatty smell the roots of his hair gave off, you know, the fatty, almost unnoticeable smell greasy hair gives off at the end of the day, that makes it stick to people’s faces if they don’t wash it the next morning.
He pressed his nose into the folds of flesh behind my ear, doing it on purpose, wanting to implant it there and I resisted. Didn’t you know some men want to get inside you even where there’s no hole around? He slurped and sniffed, sucked my smell up and let out a long, affected sigh. He started to mutter indecent stuff, the things he would do to me, but he wasn’t stylish, because you can say such things with style. Or perhaps it was too soon to get so personal, using coarse remarks more likely to shake me out of the haze I was in and that’s why I put a finger on his lips when he said your cunt’s all wet or I’m going to fuck you here and now. He wasn’t turning me on, was being too in your face, reminding me too much of the real situation. I’d been there before, knew what he was after, but I made an effort to make the scene more attractive, to give his clumsy misfiring a poetic touch and find something out of the ordinary to define the moment. You’ll think it strange, but by now you must have seen how good I am at retrieving spaces other people prefer to forget. But obviously, if the guy is set on filling the chit-chat between two players with crude expressions like “I’ll stick it right the way up you”, nobody can stop the fantasy slipping away as if by magic. And no way do I mean soft porn fantasy, I mean, it’s about having a little respect for the other person involved. If he’d have seen that, then…
I recall some men by their flesh, by their size, by the way they fill my space and seem to draw me towards their own bodies. Some were so hairy I stopped worrying about my own. I loved trying to meet their needs, loved them being so immediate and real, I loved to feel them weighing me down, squashing me and making me feel small to the point that I disappeared. Gripping my love handles and never letting go, feeling safe, tight up against them, as if I could never drown. He was like that, all body. Pity I never got to that stage with my Galician, I never felt his weight on me. I had to make do with hugging his huge belly in one of those lavatory stalls where we cracked the bowl? How did that happen?
What did we do to make us feel a sudden splash of water under our feet and us laughing our heads off? I still don’t know whether it spurted from some pipe or other we’d not seen or whether it was all awash before we got there. We didn’t do anything different, he went on kneeling in the water which might have been dirty, for all we knew, gripping my thighs, leaving red circles that disappeared after a while when his chubby fingers stopped squeezing me, and he surfaced for a breath of air. My palms slipped on the lavatory walls as I tried to stop keeling over. The water was cool.
We left the lavatory and looked for a friend of his. All I remember about him is that he was bald and dark-skinned, though not enough to make me think he was from abroad, and that his eyes were bulging right out of their sockets. I saw myself reflected there drinking and the Galician talking to him, who obviously knew we’d gone to the lavatory to do what we had done. The Galician, in sopping wet trousers, stuck his tongue deep inside my mouth, inside my ear, while he looked at his friend and I followed his gaze to his friend. Who told us he’d tried to get off with a waitress and that she’d turned him down. You know what, I was insulted, I was the one who didn’t want her; her breath stank. She was a good-looker, but when I was near her and she opened her mouth I stepped back, feeling sick. I felt re-assured by the two bodies close to me, as if I was inside a container that could hold me and at the same time in a big crowd. When the Galician took his tongue out of my ear. he left a cold sensation that lasted until his saliva dried.
The Galician hugged me from behind in front of his friend and when he did that, I thought why not. Why not? What the hell, I’m me and it’s my body. Why not? You and I talked a lot about that question, afterwards, didn’t we, sir? And it wouldn’t be easy to come up with an answer. He kissed me, bit my lips and sucked them away from my gums, ran his tongue around my neck and pinched my bum hard. I only realized that he was doing it hard the next day, when I saw the purple bruises in the mirror. He was feeling my breasts all over in front of his friend, who was all eyes, in the packed disco. After doing that, he pulled me over to his friend, and now the three of us were having a good time; all their legs were wrapped round mine and both were breathing hard on me, the Galician with his warm tongue, his teeth all over my neck and his hands on my breasts till he’d pulled the material away, till I was completely naked in front of his friend, who was gawping. Maybe they’d done a deal, but the other guy had only eyes for what the Galician was offering. And I was what was on offer. I expect you’re shocked, right, sir? That’s why I’m telling you because you’re the only person I could tell. I tell you there’s nothing so nice as the lightness you feel when you know your will is in someone else’s hands, you
can’t imagine how carefree you feel when relieved of the burden of life. He was the one doing what he wanted with me and I wasn’t the one taking decisions. He grabbed me by the back of the neck and yanked my breast out, looking deep into his friend’s eyes, as if saying look what I’ve got for you but I knew he would never touch me however close he got. He was swigging beer when he saw the Galician almost pushing me on to him, the cold bottle against my skin, the froth running down my neck to one of my nipples and in between my breasts. The beer forked down two paths.
Later on we left and went to another disco crammed with even more bodies, but it’s all a distant memory. I only know we went to his place, that just the two of us went up in the lift, that he had other friends in the other disco and I could smell their smells all around me, I don’t know if they touched me, if they hugged me, if I got too close to them. And you won’t believe this, however much I’d like to leave all that behind, I’m still upset by the fact I don’t really remember what happened with them.
At his place I felt something give inside of me, I thought it must be all that excitement. He’d left me in bed, a very clean, wooden bed with normal, everyday sheets. Almost all men, whatever strange things they like doing, use standard sheets that lead you to think about their daily routines, how they strip them off and put them to wash, how they flatten and fold them, how they make their bed before going out or don’t when they’re in a hurry. All men, wherever, keep some kind of secret that you really don’t want to know about. My Galician had left me there and I took the opportunity to run my finger through the liquid that had oozed into my knickers to see what it was like. I turned up a sticky swab of red blood I rolled between my fingers for a while. I know that you, sir, won’t find this disgusting: after all, it was only blood from my body. I like to look at my blood, like when you cut yourself and wait for it to bubble up on your skin. I told him we’d have to stop, tittering and making signs with my fingers, I told him I was out of action. You mean you’ve got your period, he asked in Spanish. So what, I found that out when I sucked up some of your blood and very tasty it was too. My head buzzed and felt revolted, but I was too drunk to think much about him. Our rhythm dropped off, our movements slowing down when he was inside me when we were side by side because neither of us could go on top. It was really nice doing it in slow motion, with him talking slowly and both of us moaning away.
I didn’t give the Galician my telephone number. I reckoned he was odd, his way of being affectionate was odd. I fell asleep while he was still inside me and my blood ran all down my thighs to my knees, bright red, first-day blood. I remember him putting my head on the pillow, fetching a wet towel I could feel over the soft skin on the inside of my thighs, I remember him running his fingers through my hair, as if he were combing it, his hand flat on my cheek, and him kissing me on the arm, a kiss that wasn’t the kiss of a one-night stand.
Najat el Hachmi was born in Morocco in 1979. At the age of eight, she emigrated to Catalonia, Spain with her family. Her novel The Last Patriarch (Serpent’s Tail, 2010) won the prestigious Ramon Llull Prize in 2008 and the Prix Ulysse in 2009. she had previously published one other book, an autobiographical work, I Too Am Catalan. This is an excerpt from her latest novel, The Body Hunter, published in April in Catalan by Planeta.