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Lights Of The Dawn— Giovanni Figueroa Torres

Nov 22, 2022 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Spanish by Rajyashree 

 

When I order my first Guinness, Alin, the Romanian chef, is about to leave the pub. Alin takes only one or two pints. He drinks in the bar looking at his glass, his own hands that enclose his small field of vision. He neither participates in others’ conversations nor does anyone invite him. Because Alin is known to be a man of rituals. Drinking a pint in solitude is considered to be one of them. Keeping the mouth shut and not moving the neck even when an attractive Irish lady sits by his side, is also part of that ritual. At times when I ask him to stay or offer him another beer, he gives me a glance with an embarrassed smile. “Some other day, Marco”— saying this, he pats me on the back and walks away with the same smile that plunges into my abdomen. 

The rest of us stay at O’Donoghue’s until it closes. This is our plan after a long day of work; to drink, to get drunk. Not every day, but we go there as frequently as possible. O’Donoghue’s never closes its doors. 30 years ago, when Juan Pablo II was shot, even then the pub had remained open. It is said that, on that Wednesday, radio news about the attack was played in the pub instead of music. Drinking there is a religious thing for us, especially after spending hours within the infernal rhythm of the kitchen of Mi Bella Italia, the shitty restaurant where we work. 

Like all shitty jobs, ours too has some benefits, no matter how little they are. Here we can get drunk every night after the duty is over, cook our own pizzas, and flirt with the waitresses who were born behind the Iron Curtain. Mi Bella Italia pays me a minimum wage for washing pans, pots, containers, toilets, and sinks; for scrubbing floors and counters, and for cleaning and drying cutlery, plates, and more plates on which they serve the food to the paying customers. I work for eight to ten hours and till one in the morning. As I finish mopping the kitchen floor, my back receives a series of intense shocks of pain. Like some signals, they make me understand that the best thing would be leaving this job or well, setting the restaurant on fire. Although they are not completely crazy ideas, I do not think that for now, I am not inclined toward either of them. 

By then, one of the head waiters, leaning against one of the false door jambs that separate the kitchen from the restaurant, looks at me with a face that says he wants to kick my ass. They always say that I am the slowest of the dishwashers in Mi Bella Italia.

“Good things take time,” I tell them. “Look at the floor, it’s spotless.”

The answers are almost always the same.

“Hurry up if you don’t want me to shove that mop-stick up your ass,” says Ruta, a charming Lithuanian girl.

“I’m going to shove the bacon up your ass,” says Victor, the other Romanian, who takes his time to think and innovate insults, “I will wait till you poop and will make you swallow it right away if you don’t hurry.”

“If you don’t finish it in two minutes,” Gonzalo, the Spaniard, always threatens me, “I’m going to spit on each of your plates and spill a fucking shit in the Neapolitan sauce.”

On the second floor, I change my clothes. We exit through the back door, frightening off a couple of rats, and walk to O’Donoghue’s, which is situated on the other side of Suffolk street, just opposite Mi Bella Italia. There are all the others. Tom, the owner of the restaurant, his brother Shane, the queer accountant who gives us the salary, Guido, the head cook, the other chefs, the waiters and waitresses, the other Latin American dishwasher, and the regular drunkards of the pub.

Walking through the wooden door of the pub, I soon find Alin’s unalterable portrait. The same pose, same gesture, same tilt of the head, same position of his hands on the bar counter. You could almost say the same level of beer in the glass. Others don’t even notice him. Alin is ‘the invisible man’; except for Johnny, the barman, who receives five euros for his beer every night.

Since I started working with him in the kitchen, I realized that something was up. Something odd. The others ask questions. Idiotic questions, but after all they want to talk, filling the air with words and mixing them with the intense smell of tomato paste. “I met Pablo Escobar”, “I did my military service with the FARC guerrillas”, “my house is on a poppy farm”, and “Pibe Valderrama’s curls are real”. Even Macek, the Pole, asked me if we were taught from childhood to use firearms like the Jews. They always want to talk, to know your life, and to confirm if the movie stereotypes are true. If in Bogotá, there are palm trees, and if in Medellín the priests are assassins too. On the contrary, Alin is not interested in anyone. You can talk to him, of course, he’s a decent guy, but he never asks any questions. It seems he does not want to know anything about you, his surroundings, or the people who surround him.

Within a very short time, one knows what the staff of Mi Bella Italia want to do with their lives. Tom wants to open a new restaurant branch in Galway, Ruta wants to marry her Nigerian boyfriend, have three children, and graduate from Griffith College in Management, Gonzalo wants to open a calypso bar in Cadiz, José, the Venezuelan, my fellow dishwasher, wants to work for Facebook or Google, and Guido, the Italian chef, wants one of us to suck him off after work. Or before, if we prefer. Honestly speaking, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. I still tell myself that I am young, though that immunity wears off with each passing day. But it is obvious that I will not stay here for long. Well, everyone seems to have a plan, a place to get to after Mi Bella Italia, except Alin.

In the afternoon there is always a period where you can relax a bit and talk shit. Everybody wants to talk about their life. Why they got there, which team they support, and how many women they’ve slept with in one night. It is the moment before sunset, when the restaurant begins to fill up, from then on, the only conversations are strung together with shouts, curses, insults, and plates crashing against the wall. When the kitchen closes, nobody wants to talk. All they want is to leave as soon as possible. They clean, shake, take out the garbage to the alley of the rats and go to O’Donoghue’s. No one gives an extra minute. When they leave, the only one left in the kitchen is the dishwasher. It is the most unfortunate state of human existence. As you scrape burnt grease off the stove and scrub the walls of the ovens and the floor with bleach, you imagine the others drinking, holding a pint as they stare at the asses of those women who just walked in, and you yearn with all your being for a cold sip of beer that will freeze your throat. While your back is breaking into pieces, you promise yourself to find another job. But when you get into the atmosphere of the pub, you forget about all the curses and the promises of murdering someone. 

In that period, right before the hell that the sunset brings, when you can chat and cackle like a happy parrot, I have tried to get close to Alin, to know him a little, but all in vain. My first day with him was long, like the life of a repentant monk. He didn’t speak to me. I watched him from the counter where I was peeling potatoes, onions, and carrots, while he cut the salami, the mushrooms, and the salmon with the scrupulosity of a miniaturist. In the beginning, I thought he was rude. But then I thought he might be mentally retarded. Knowing Tom, I was not surprised to think that he had hired a disabled person to save a few coins from tax. Maybe he is deaf and dumb, I assumed that too. But when he asked me for the ingredients to make pesto, I realized it wasn’t any of the above. He is nothing but a silent character. And what is wrong with that? Of course nothing. However, it was not only his reticence that drew my attention but also his willingness to continue the job without any complaint, or any frown. He is a soldier in the trenches of Mi Bella Italia. When some other chef is absent due to illness (excess alcohol in their system), Alin has to double his efforts and I do not remember seeing him in a bad mood or taking it out on us, the dishwashers, or any other staff. I’ve seen him release beads of sweat from his chin as he pulls a pizza out of the oven with one hand and shakes a pan with the other to combine linguine with shrimp. Perhaps in those drops of sweat that slide down his body are his dark thoughts about injustice and his miserable fate, if he ever thinks that way.

When you work with Alin, you talk and he listens. He smiles when you exaggerate the story a bit to make it more interesting than it really was. I always wonder if he is really listening to me or if we are just acting in a silent movie where he must smile at my communication maneuvers. After a few hours of working together, you reach the point where you think you have softened him up and you drop one or two questions. Alin smiles. He knows very well how to handle it. Depending on the question, he either avoids it or answers with monosyllables. 

— Are you married? 

— No. 

— Then you have a girlfriend. 

— No. 

— But you like women. 

— Yeah. 

— And there’s no one around in sight? 

— Go and bring me the leek to make the soup. 

I run down the stairs, into the huge refrigerator, and by the time I come back with the leek, I have already lost Alin. He thanked me with a smile and with his eyes like crystal clear puddles, freshly created right after a rain.

Víctor, the bald compatriot of Alin, says that Alin comes from a working-class family, from the outskirts of Transylvania, and that he grew up with the material precariousness of the Ceausescu dictatorship.

“Why are you so interested in Alin?” He asked me once and then humiliated me in such a way that I could not speak to anyone about Alin again.

“I’m not interested,” I told him. “He just seems a bit strange to me. Nice guy, but weird.”

“Well, people like Alin are there in this world,” he said. “Have you ever been taught not to meddle in other people’s business? Leave him alone. Or is it that you want to suck him? Is that so? I would say, you have a fagot face bigger than the front of the restaurant. If you want to suck cock, you should start with Guido and then go through Shane. Perhaps in a short time, they will make you the boss of the kitchen.” 

Needless to say, Victor is a son of a bitch with a sense of humor. Alin converses laconically with him in his language, with a beautiful accent that sounds like a waterfall in the mountains. But he doesn’t seem to go on too long either. In the same way, he speaks very little with his other compatriots, a young chef, who looks like a boxer with two bat-like ears, and a Bucharest waitress in her thirties who has the most beautiful ass. Alin exchanges words with them, in brief conversations, as if they were playing human telegraph. And I have seen both the compatriots twisting their eyes, like they were looking at the ceiling without tilting their heads, perhaps asking themselves the same question just as I did, “Is he deaf and dumb, impolite or simply goofy?”

However, as a chef in the kitchen, Alin comes off well. In his face, you can see the love he has for gastronomy, despite the fact that he might never become a cook like Guido, who just by spreading his little fingernail in a concoction understands what ingredients are there and what type of cooking it is. This Romanian is not a magician, but he does everything well, especially chopping and cutting. He is not as fast as Macek, but he cuts with the accuracy of industrial caliber. He never fails. On a carrot, for example, the results are staggering, like $50 Fitzwilliam casino chips. Alin works well, and he seems to enjoy it. And just as it is Italian cuisine today, tomorrow it could be painting yellow lines on the streets or putting light bulbs in public events. Alin, like almost everyone else, came to Mi Bella Italia by chance. 

It is clear that we all are there because we did not get a better job. Except for the Irish owners and Guido, who loves to find you alone in the narrow corridors between the counters and the walls. The rest of us ended up in Mi Bella Italia so that we do not die starving or because there was nothing better for us to do. However, Alin does not seem to fit that conjecture. He looks calm, comfortable, and accomplished. Some may leave in six months and others may take a decade to leave the restaurant, but at the slightest opportunity, we all would drop our aprons on the floor, stomp on them, spit on them, and tell those who would stay to go to hell. On the contrary, I see Alin sitting next to the stoves, grey-haired, aged, marked as a registered item of the restaurant, and the day when Tom would sell the restaurant he will also be included as a part of the inventory.

After Guido, Alin must be the oldest of the bunch of Europeans. The youngest is José, my South-American friend. Unlike Alin, you have to beg Veneco to shut up. He suffers from speaking. In addition, he has a high-pitched voice and a ruthless accent. After listening to him for a quarter of an hour without stopping, you can only dream of cutting his tongue out with the knife that the Pole uses to dissect codfish (bacalao). But he’s a good guy, all the same, with a verbiage tenor. Perhaps time, with its mastery of destroying everything, will lead him to an Alin state someday, where he will be quiet.

The rest, including myself, are between 25 to 35 of age, the range that usually appears in surveys as a young population, the population that does not give a damn about anything. Alin passed through that phase long ago and probably in some other country. But still, it seems he does not give a damn about anything; life, time, love, or death. 

The day Tom and Guido, with their English-like rancid mascarpone cheese, explained to us the plan to revitalize Mi Bella Italia, I understood that for them Alin did not exist. Or maybe, he did exist, but he was like the tree that grows in the garden, the tree that you wish were not there so that you can build your jacuzzi, but if you knock it down you would break granny Petunia’s heart. They gathered us all at the bar. The only chef left in the kitchen was naturally Alin. They even invited our dishwashers, the zeros to the left of any restaurant. There we were, and we were witnesses when Alin’s name flew between them like a cork from a bottle that should not be uncorked. Guido’s face said it all, in its Italian facial language.

“Alin is Alin,” he said, with a certain melancholy and a great deal of ambiguity.

“He’s a man who’s given his all for this business,” Tom added.

It sounded like they were talking at Alin’s funeral. But the late Alin was still in the kitchen, carefully and elegantly slicing the courgettes and aubergines, chopping the parsley and garlic for the mayonnaise with an unbeatable pulse that is required to defuse bombs. What was left unclear from the meeting, and I seemed to be the only one who cared, was whether those few vague words meant that Alin would still be with us or would go out and find a new kitchen with his embarrassed smile. Until tonight, when we have drunk a few barrels of Guinness at O’Donoghue’s, nobody knew what those words of the bosses meant.

I don’t think Alin will be happy if he gets fired, but I don’t think he will make a dramatic scene either. I may be wrong, but I don’t see him bursting into tears like a soap opera martyr. If I were Alin, to a certain extent I would not mind being fired. A good kick in the ass can be miraculous. To wake you up, to take away that indignity within you. But I’m not Alin and nor do I want to be in his shoes. Or maybe I want to. Who knows! José told me one day, “If anyone is happy in this place, it’s him,” and he pointed to Alin, who at that moment was rummaging through his pockets to complete the five euros for a pint. “Look at him, he lives in his world. Some will say he looks like a moron. And well, yes, he seems like a moron, but who cares. What I see there, with that goofy laugh, he is a happy man.”

Maybe José is right. Alin is a happy man who faces life in silence and there he goes, day by day, fighting back, with a smile that shows that everything, even existing, makes him sad.

A few nights before that incident, I saw Alin somewhere other than the restaurant or the pub. That night, I had an altercation with Guido, who called me a piece of shit, a chump, a son of a bitch, and many more. Because according to him I did not cut the slices of bread properly. The restaurant was packed and the night was a disaster.

“He has you in his sight,” José told me, while I was washing pans and he was polishing the cutlery. “He wants to eat you. And until you give it to him, he will keep screwing up your life.”

My days are numbered in Mi Bella Italia, in short.

In the pub, Guido was in a corner of the bar with Tom and Niall, the owner of O’Donoghue’s. They cackled loudly and their bellies shook as if shaken by a giant hand before they were gobbled up. I exchanged a single glance with Guido and at that precise moment the corners of his mouth turned towards the floor and his expression wrinkled. I had a second pint, long sips, and left. I live near Kilmainham Gaol, to the west of the city. I usually ride my bicycle through Dame Street, then Thomas, and then I go through the neighborhood of St. James Hospital. Sometimes I pedal down the avenue of the River Liffey which is faster. Going through its bridges and its dark facades, I find my way to Heuston Station. That night, as I was pedaling and the cold easterly wind was scratching my face, I noticed a small, opaque figure crouching against the huge walls of the Guinness workshops. I passed him and almost reaching the train station I realized that it was Alin. Though I could not see him very clearly, the way that person was walking, it had to be him. I didn’t know where he lived. Maybe we were neighbors and we both didn’t know. I decided to wait for him. A few minutes later, the figure protecting itself from the wind started walking along the sidewalk of the river, next to the concrete parapet. He turned over the streetcar bridge and headed toward Phoenix Park.

I still don’t know why I decided to secretly follow him, instead of approaching him, exchanging smiles, and accompanying him to his destination. It was the end of summer. However, the night was cooler than a cold one. I wondered if Alin always walked that distance, which seemed heroic, or if he had just run out of money for a taxi. The row of lamps illuminated the sidewalk and part of the road that bisected the park. On either side, the night and the trees seemed like two endless black walls. There were no other walking souls apart from us. Alin was walking hunched over, with his hands inside his jacket and I was following him from about 300 meters of distance, also on foot, carrying my bicycle with my right hand.

After twenty minutes, Alin finally stopped. I didn’t know exactly which part of the park I was in. After heading south at the roundabout, I more or less knew where we were, but after several curves and a shortcut through a forest, I felt lost. At times I was losing track of him since in some stretches the darkness was violent, but I was always able to reach him without him noticing that I was behind him. Alin stopped at a clear edge of the path, about fifty meters far from a thick forest. An extremely narrow road descended from there and disappeared into the mouth of another forest. There were some tiny lights in the far, that seemed to be like a few cars. Those very lights created an ashen bubble at the bottom of the trees. Alin stood motionless, looking in the direction of the vehicles. Nothing was heard. The rumor of the night was as fragile as Alin’s opinions. My bike and I were leaning against a thick, rough tree with a not-very-high crown. All that could be seen of Alin was his silhouette, dark and still inside the darkness. He was not doing anything. He didn’t even move. He barely took his hand out of his jacket once and passed it over his face. He stayed like that for about ten minutes, during which I nearly lost my mind. I thought if I left right then, I would have missed something revealing. But nothing happened.

Ten minutes later, Alin turned around and started walking along the same route, which he surely knew perfectly well. I’m sure he could go through it blindfolded. Hiding between the bushes, I saw him cross before my eyes. It must have been after three in the morning. Nothing made sense. I looked for the nearest stretch of road and managed to get out of the park in less than a quarter of an hour. For a while I stared at the ceiling of my room, wondering what the hell Alin was doing in the park at that hour. Perhaps those vehicles that were seen in the background of the landscape were the reason for his nocturnal walk? At some point, while I was chasing him, I imagined that I would discover a wicked side of Alin. I imagined him as a deer poacher, catching one and carrying it home on his shoulders. I also imagined him as a pervert, sticking out his member in the middle of an empty road, in the middle of the night, and repeatedly naming one of the waitresses from Mi Bella Italia. I even imagined that a car with tinted windows would appear out of nowhere, from which several intimidating men would come out, kiss Alin, and do business, exchanging a suitcase, money, weapons, and someone’s body in black bags. But none of that happened. 

I told José, who was quite surprised. “I don’t know what is more strange…” he said, keeping his hands busy drying dishes, “…whatever Alin was doing there or the fact that you were following him. Both are sick.”

According to José, he was on a date with someone who never showed up. It wasn’t a bad guess. In his opinion, Alin was something strange but that he got into a park at dawn to contemplate nothingness was not crazy.

“Everyone has their fetishes,” he said, “At least he’s not one of those crazy people who go into a church to masturbate with the statue of Jesus Christ. Victor is right. Leave him alone.”

That Saturday night the restaurant was abuzz. Several pizzas burned, careless stoves caused flames to scratch the ceiling, knives flew over a few heads, and the war between the waiters and the cooks intensified to the point that I thought the outcome would be a couple of victims on each side. However, the day ended and the differences were resolved with a few pints. When I arrived at O’Donoghue’s, Alin’s young chef compatriot, the one with the bat-like ears, was making out aggressively with one of the new waitresses, a brown-haired woman from Hungary. Everything seemed to be fixed. The others toasted, laughed, and celebrated. One of them was Guido, but when he saw me his nostrils bulged like two screaming mouths.

Alin was about to leave. I saw him rummaging through his pockets. I looked for José. He was with two new Brazilian girls in town. They communicated in a kind of Portuñol

“He’s about to leave,” I said in sign language, pointing my lips at Alin.

He affirmed with repeated nods of his curly head. I left him alone. I watched as Alin crossed the room and left without saying goodbye to anyone. I sat at the bar where he was sitting. I ordered a Guinness. I asked Johnny if he had ever talked to Alin. He could not hear me. I repeated it and he made a face of not understanding anything. “It’s nothing,” I told him. And I ordered a whiskey. I drank it slowly as if I were drinking coffee. For that price, it should last me at least a couple of days. After finishing, I went to José. He received me with a face of tedium that reached his collarbones. We left without saying goodbye.

“It’s chilling, fagot,” he reproached me, “and what a good time I was having.”

We walked to City Hall and José took one of the public bicycles. After going two kilometers, we docked his bicycle at Heuston station and I padlocked mine with a railing. He never stopped talking during the whole time. I had to request him to shut up. But he didn’t care about my request and took the opportunity to tell me about one of the Brazilians. It’s impossible with him. At the entrance to Phoenix Park, we spotted a small, thick outline moving across the illuminated concrete. It was Alin.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here,” José said. It just needs to rain.

Alin repeated his routine just like he did the previous day. This time, fewer lights were visible at the bottom of the road below.

“Is that all he does?” Jose asked me.

I affirmed.

“He is crazy,” he said.

It seemed that Alin was going to turn back, but instead of turning back, he started going on the other side of the road, which descended into a dark plain. We waited a few seconds and left the forest where we were hidden. From where Alin was standing, the cars and their red and white lights could be seen better. 

“What are these cars all about?” Jose asked.

“Keep quiet,” I told him.

We descended the plain that Alin had taken. Behind a thin line of trees, we saw Alin walk across a field with rock-like formations protruding from its surface. They could be old tree roots. But they were not.

“Quiet, fagot!” Jose said. That rock just moved.

It wasn’t a rock. It was a huge deer that raised its back as soon as it felt our presence. His face was terrified. Two other male deers, with their antlers raised, were watching us carefully. We got petrified. Finally, José shut his mouth and let the night and its horned creatures speak. Behind the quadrupeds that were watching us, a giant herd of deer was resting in the meadow. Through their midst, we still do not know how Alin walked without causing any shock among the animals. Without a doubt, he was the invisible man. 

We slowly backed up and headed back the way we came. A few minutes later, a police vehicle stopped us. The officer lowered the glass of his window. He asked us if everything was alright. We said yes. He asked if we were drunk. We said no. He asked if we were disturbing the deer. We said no. The officer looked us over from head to toe, perhaps chewing on our words to see if they were true or not. Then he smiled slyly, asked us to go to sleep, and left. 

“Did you see the giggle the bastard gave us?” Jose said. He must have thought we were having sex.

I laughed.

“My eggs are frozen and now that policeman thinks we’re fagots.”

On the way home, if I pronounced even two sentences, it would have been a lot. José took control of the conversation. In any case, I was exhausted and only responded with affirmations, denials, or snorts. How could Alin not scare the deer? José wondered over and over again. All kinds of answers came to him. His analysis, at three in the morning, led us to believe that Alin was autistic, and according to José, autistic people have a different sensory communication with other beings.

“Some of them can talk to trees,” he said.

We also considered the fact that Alin had passed through that meadow countless times, so he must now be an acquaintance of the deer family. One more. Even for them, he must be a silent guy, a hearing and speech impaired, or a simple idiot.

“Many Romanians are gypsies,” José reasoned. “Maybe he has sorcerer blood or his family had a circus.”

“A circus?” I asked.

“Yes, a circus. The gypsies have always had circuses or have been related to circus practices. It may be that Alin knows very subtle training techniques.”

Jose slept at my house. He lived at the other end of Dublin, near the ocean, closer to Liverpool. We shared a bed and even there he didn’t shut up.

“What if Alin is an alien?” He asked.

“I’m sleepy,” I said. “Shut up, it’s almost dawn.”

“I’m serious. In all the movies, the aliens always choose those places, like Phoenix Park, to contact their brothers from another galaxy. If I were an alien, I wouldn’t meet my family in a mall at noon.”

I couldn’t resist any longer and exhaustion crushed my eyes as if they were the hooves of a frightened deer. I don’t know how long he talked, but when I got ready to go back to work in Mi Bella Italia, José was in sound sleep.

Three days later, José, Alin, and I met in the kitchen. The Venezuelan was making a dessert, the Romanian was chopping the chives finely, and I was cleaning the greasy filters in the ventilation ducts, the worst crap one can imagine. When José finished talking about the beauty queens in Venezuela, he started addressing Alin with a certain tact that I understood, would put the theme of the park and the deer like a poorly washed tablecloth on the table. I stopped what I was doing and went to him.

“Don’t go screwing up,” I told him.

His self-confidence planted a smiling and confident face.

“Alin,” he called.

The Romanian, with his usual good-guy smile, raised his head and continued to chop the chives. 

“What do you do every night in Phoenix Park?” Jose said.

Alin’s face did not immediately deform. The lightness of his smile became rigid. His eyes began to blink more frequently. His hands didn’t stop. The chives that came out of his knife transformed into tiny cylinders of perfect shapes. Alin looked at José, trying hard not to change his face. When he rotated his pupils and looked at me, his gaze, between fast blinks, pierced my chest. We had uncovered him. He seemed to tell me this with great pain. The last cut of his knife was heard with greater force and left a sharp echo in my ears. José and I noticed the splash of blood over the tavern and over his apron which was always the cleanest one of us all. His finger, or a piece of that, fell down on the cutting board like a man killed by a sledgehammer blow on the head. During this fraction of a second, Alin never stopped looking at me with that smile as if it was an intense, long-lasting fight.

José shouted and ran inside the restaurant. Alin and I remained in our positions, staring at each other, in a sad duel to see who says a word. They carried his finger folding it in a kitchen towel full of ice and took him to the hospital. That night was not very busy but during that shift, everyone was talking about Alin. A small vapor of sadness took possession of all the workers of Mi Bella Italia. Even Guido left his grimaces and snubs for some other occasion. Alin is Alin. As he had said.

Of course, I was the one who must have cleaned up the chopping board. I was trying to imagine, there were only the remains of slices of a lamb loin so that I would not vomit or faint. That night in O’Donoghue’s, we all reunited in groups. José told the story of Alin. Everybody was wondering about that place of automobiles in the dark. José continued with the ‘astonishing’ as he classified it, the astonishing story of Alin walking amongst the sleeping deer. The women were more surprised than the men. José concluded his story with the incident with the police officer. Everybody roared with laughter. People from the other tables and corners turned their heads to see us. From then on, the story of the policeman who thought we were having sex in Phoenix Park became more popular. Perhaps it was better that way. The group dissolved and the jokes about the Latin American homosexual dishwashers started pouring from everybody’s mouths. 

“I would say,” started Victor, the hairless countryman of Alin, “Guido must be proud of you. But in this case, you won’t have to bring him to the park. He will be satisfied with a blowjob even inside the urinal or in the corner passage.”

He patted me on the back hard and gave a loud laugh. But he could not repeat it to my face. He understood it.

“Do you know what is down there?” he asked.

“Where?” I asked.

“Those lights, below the park”.

My face got a mixed expression.

“Whores,” he said, “some high-class whores. You need to put together your salary with the salaries of six more dishwashers like you to spend a little time with one of them.” He spoke with a fine line of sadness on his lips. “Tomorrow I will go visit him. Will you accompany me?”

I said yes. He patted my back again. But this time a bit softly, like a father to a son saying ‘Well Done!”. Many got drunk that night. One of them was José. We had to push him in a taxi and send him home. Something turned on. I climbed on the bicycle and went slowly through the bank of Liffy. It was a cold night but not so windy. A soft dew was falling over at a horribly slow pace. I was heading home. But after crossing the station Heuston, I looked towards the dark, empty road of the park. That night I could not see any deer.


Note: This story is included in the book ‘Once bajo la lluvia’ by Giovanni Figueroa Torres, published by Ediciones Oblicuas , Barcelona (2018)


Also, read an Assamese story by Manoj Kumar Goswami , translated into English by Harsita Hiya, and published in The Antonym

Friendless— Manoj Kumar Goswami


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Giovanni Figueroa was born in Sogamoso, Colombia in 1980. He is a writer, editor, and proofreader who has worked for several media outlets and academic institutions. Giovanni also teaches Spanish and creative writing. In 2017, he co-wrote and published Optimistic Stories About People with Very Bad Luck (Historias optimistas sobre personas con muy mala suerte). The following year, he published the collection of short stories Eleven in the Rain (Once bajo la lluvia, Ediciones Oblicuas, Barcelona). In 2020, Giovanni published the novel The House of Water (La casa de agua, Lobo Blanco Editores), a coming-of-age story set in the 1960s in a small Latin American town of the Andes. The book was a thesis of merit for the Creative Writing Master’s program at the National University of Colombia. He was granted a scholarship there for his outstanding grades and had the opportunity to be the assistant teacher of Joe Broderick, an Irish-Australian playwright, biographer, and intellectual. Broderick, a lecturer on Joyce and Beckett, suggested that Figueroa visit Ireland in order to know the culture. Figueroa lived in Dublin from 2011 to 2014. He describes that period as a life-changing experience. In Ireland, he had different jobs: sold newspapers on the streets, organized aisles in Ikea, washed dishes in an Italian restaurant, and became a barista for a chain café selling chocolates and coffee. His story Dawn Lights (Luces de madrugada) depicts part of these experiences. In 2004, he won the International Platero Literary Award (presented by the Spanish Book Club of the United Nations) and was a runner-up for the Art Nalon Literary Award in Langreo, Asturias (Spain). Currently, he resides in Bogotá with his wife and daughter.

Rajyashree holds a couple of Master’s degrees in  Bengali Language and Literature and Film Studies from Jadavpur University, India. She is currently after her third  Master’s degree from Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, Spain. Other than the day job that she works at, she also teaches Spanish at Ramkrishna Mission Institute of Culture as a visiting faculty. When not preoccupied with the myriad of her occupations she is often found penning short stories in Bengali. 

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