Sunday, 24 May 2009

Other people's ghosts (i): Bienvenido a la Casa AM

Ok, that's the bus station, La Serena, after eight hours drive, a bit of sketching and the beginnings of the desert. Let's find a taxi and go to this place - it sounds nice enough: a garden and a friendly family house. I hope the taxi driver won't rip us of like the one this morning - too tired for that, my stomach is feeling very unwell. R., did you understand what he said? Where are the word endings in his speech? Did he say 3.500 for the town centre? He doesn't know Brasil? Let's go to Plaza de Armas instead. Why does he drive back to the Panamericana? I'm sure he takes us round the whole town... what do you think? Oh no - there's Calle Brasil. Oiga - el hostal esta en ese calle. Si, si - yo lo se. Heh - so he knew where we wanted to go? But why was he so funny about it? Ok. There it is. That's nice, he gets out of the car and rings the bell. The door opens. The owner speaks English and has rooms.

Good. An old town house, an inner courtyard, the rooms off the hallway, none with external windows. The furniture like my grandparents'. The rooms look ok. That's all fine. A, the owner seems nice enough. Late forties, he seems very nervous, anxious, he doesn't seem to find time for breathing between speaking. He tells us breakfast is at 9.30, there's a computer we can use. All fine.

The room is damp, mouldy even. I only realise when R asks if I've got a cold - no, I don't, but can't stop coughing before I finally fall asleep.

Getting a shower requires a complex lighting of the boiler procedure. The house is charming, in a very old-fashioned sense. But, why are these two elderly women sharing that room? One of them always in her dressing gown and slippers. She never speaks. All you hear is shuffle, shuffle, shuffle through the house. She looks at you and quickly looks away. The dogs bark, they howl, right outside our bedroom. The wash basin has this amazingly complex crack, right through it. I need to remember to sketch it.

Out for the day, we come back to loud music - a mix of 1950s Cuban, a bit of Kurt Weil and some Ella Fitzgerald. They are in the kitchen, high-spirited, making dinner. I talk about our day in Coquimbo, we laugh and joke. I ask A if we could have breakfast at 8 next morning because we'll be going to Elqui Valle for the day. No problem. They laugh as A's stumbling over his words - 'El vodka', his son says and laughs some more.

R and I sit outside for a bit, drink some wine, have a cigarette. Inside, A's son now tries to persuade A to go to bed. But instead, he's slumped over the computer, unconscious, there are coughing fits, I think he's been sick now. He doesn't want to go to bed. Finally he goes. All the while, R and I sit outside - far too close in the family home.

The next morning there's no breakfast - A's angry with us 'I don't serve breakfast before 9.30'; so we leave without. The son ignores us, so does the woman who was there the night before.

We come back late at night, after having seen Saturno y sus circulos. A shadowy figure runs out of one bedroom, runs back in, comes back out again... shouts after us... 'Here's your remaning 1000 pesos. You mustn't leave the water tap dripping when you leave the house'. He's agitated. It's past mid-night. The woman shuffles through the house. Somebody runs into doors, furnitures. I can't sleep. The house overwhelms me. I joked to R the day before: 'In a few days we'll decipher the various comings and goings of people'. But now there are far more than those living present. I can feel them, and I think of Allende's Ghost House. So much secrecy and so much malevolence. I'm writing it down before I try and sleep so as not to offload it to R., it would probably stop her from sleeping too.

The next morning we say we're leaving. A. comes out briefly to do some breakfast, disappears into his dark bedroom again. The Lady with the Slippers can speak - fast and loudly on the phone, we realise. But noone talks to us. I'm writing another blog entry. While opening Explorer the adjacent Word document is entitled 'Los etapos del alcoholismo'.

I wonder who put it there. His friend who refused to serve us breakfast yesterday morning and merely said that it was Don A.'s house so we should speak to him. R. was upset about it, I thought: well, good for you, co-dependency is so easy to accomplish. Or maybe his son? Who knows.

We leave, move three houses further along and stay two more days in La Serena. How friendly the city suddenly becomes.

Don A. also saw a ghost - two days later and 10 mins before we were taking the taxi to the bus station, he runs past me, sitting in a cafe. I felt someone watching, ignored, and ignored a little more, only to look up to see him having seen me, dazed and confused. His life at that moment clearly wasn't one for a bright morning sun.

Family secrets. Not to be witnessed, not to be known. We stumbled into some. Alcoholism was probably only one of them. We had to go. Days later, R told me of the fresh blood she found the morning we were leaving on the living room floor. And what were the dirty blankets doing on the couch in the dining room? Why was there this immaculate front room with everything around it falling apart? Why did noone of them go out during day time?

Ghosts? Memories. Experiences. Things and people that were and remain so powerful. There'll be more.


Jeanette Jobson said...

Now that was a different experience! How creepy! But how wonderful too and your story telling is entrancing.

Gesa said...

Thank you :) That story had been rummaging around for a few weeks so it was time to put it on paper. Yes - have had a few bizarre overnight at other people's houses experiences, but this one made it straight to the top on a number of counts.