Excerpt from She, the island[i]
A novel about Furteventura
One morning as I was writing, the receptionist knocked on my door.
"You have a visitor."
She stands by the reception and looks out. She radiates the stillness of a Greek statue. On the floor beside her is her travel bag. The young writer K. R. She is no more than thirty. We had seen each other a few times. We had had discussions in which her sharp mind, calmness and clear thought became apparent. She once asked me to read her short novel. It was about a relationship between a student and her teacher. Written with talent. I closed my eyes for some obvious similarities, praised her for the style and advised her to seek inspiration in more social themes, of which in our present there is an abundance.
"Social is transient, while love in its essence, being a universal human experience, is eternal," she answered, looking boldly in my eyes.
"The transient can become a constant in a human life. I did not mean giving up love as a topic but contextualising it. Relationships do not grow on their own. They have soil, environment, humus. Love between a teacher and a student is a banal plot. What is unique in your story? What makes it different from all the other similar stories?”
She blushed, took the manuscript, and thanked me dryly. We had not seen each other since. And now she was here. All the questions were unnecessary and therefore unavoidable.
"K., what are you doing here?"
"Can I get a cup of coffee, please?"
She left her bag in the reception and we went to the nearby café. She had a sip of the coffee and rubbed her eyes.
"I came because of you."
"Because of me?"
"I heard that they sent you into exile."
"How did you get here?"
"On a boat."
"How did you get access?"
"I have some useful acquaintances. As soon as I heard about it, I organised my trip."
"Why are you here?"
"To share your exile. So that you are not alone. I do not expect anything from you. Whenever you want me to leave, I will."
She looked down at the table and, when she uttered the last sentence, her lower lip quivered.
"K., I am not alone in this. You shouldn’t have come. I want you to leave immediately."
Silence. Her gaze had turned heavy when it met mine.
"Are you sure?"
"Can I stay with you until I find a boat for the continent?"
"No. I do not want to give grounds for speculation. You know I’m married. But I will ask some of my new friends here to put you up."
She took a deep breath but did not cry. She looked me proudly in the eyes and stood up. At the hotel, I asked the receptionist whether she could accept the young lady at her home. She nodded, without asking questions, explained to her how to get there and gave her the key. Five days later she told me that the lady had left. Love is indeed the most tragic in this world. I wrote in an essay - "love is a child of deception and generates disappointment." But what blindness had brought that young woman to this God-forsaken place? How could she imagine that I would accept her? That I would betray Concha? A pretty and educated lady indeed, and talented, but how her beauty, youthfulness, education, and talent could replace everything that Concha, who is not only my wife and mother of my children but also my sister, companion and mother, has given me?
This episode, which I was not going to share with anyone, briefly broke the peace of my solitude and my deep conversation with the island. But then time took it away, disappearing like the circles formed on the surface of a smooth lake from a stone thrown into it.
The employee in Unamuno House Museum had told me of a woman who followed him to the island. I remembered this in the evening when Juan said he had come here to move away from a woman. Unamuno had not chosen to come to the island. Nevertheless, by arriving he had moved away from the young lady. His retreat, however, was not accepted as an obstacle, but as an opportunity. The lady, crossing the ocean, had done the impossible. But sometimes the impossible is not enough. Only the possible is.
I saw her on the deck of the ship, which had to get her closer to the answer to her sleepless nights. With hair flying in the strong wind, dashing towards the island of strong winds. Full of determination, hope, and a difficult to express feeling. The feeling.
The feeling that does not leave me while I pack my luggage, while I travel by train to Madrid and then by bus to Cádiz... The feeling that keeps me going, while I board the ship to Tenerife and then to Las Palmas and finally to Fuerteventura... The feeling of destiny. Once I knew of his deportation, I called my father and asked him to use his contacts with the government so that I could follow him. How he tried to dissuade me from doing it. Finally, I said, "If you do not help me, I will find a way myself." He knew I was not kidding. I am his daughter, after all. My mother died when I was five. He only has me. For me, he would do the impossible, even if it means sending me to a God-forsaken island in pursuit of love. Love. I devoted my first short novel to it. To him. To this fate I have been sensing since the moment I met him, after I had read through all his philosophical works, heavily underlining, memorising whole passages. I believed that in this way I would possess something of him, of his extraordinary intellect, mind and spirit; that in this way I would draw him closer to myself, for our souls to bind together. I introduced myself to him after a literary discussion at the university. Now he knew of my existence. The first step towards the target had been passed. The first step is the most important one. Every succeeding step is easier if the first one is overcome. Our acquaintance has opened the way for communication. We met a couple of more times, again at such events.
We had long conversations about contemporary Spanish literature and philosophy before I asked him to read my novel. He accepted in his generous, sophisticated way, and I almost lost my mind with excitement. Now he was to have something of me. Something of my innermost self. It was to penetrate his thoughts, and perhaps his emotions and soul. I gave him my book as if I were giving myself to him. Its fluttering pages which he would unfold with his noble hands were my trembling body. Two weeks later I waited for him after a lecture and asked if he had read it. His dry reply was a desecration of the body of my book, of my naked body from which he had diverted his eyes because it was not perfect enough. His advice that I write on social topics was offensively ridiculous. Hasn’t he himself written that "Love is the most tragic thing that exists in this world and in life." It is, therefore, most worthy of being shared, told, expressed... In all possible forms. Write on social topics! How can you force yourself to write about something? Does he write by his will and not by the vocation of his mind and soul? I said nothing. He did not like my book. All right. This would only stimulate me to write the book that he will like, and which will compel him to look at me with other eyes. I would write a novel that will touch his soul, and make him feel the fate that pushes me to him.
But while I think about the plot, the message of his deportation comes. It means years without seeing him, without access to him, without the possibility of slowly but surely building the invisible thread that will connect our destinies forever. Years that will erase the memory of me, will bury under the sand those steps I had made to get me closer to him.
Then the solution just comes to me. It’s simple, I clearly have to follow him. This deportation is my chance. There, banished from anything familiar, close and dear, he will need a soulmate. He will need to share the pain, to pour it, to transform it. And what is more transformative than a new love, a forbidden, hidden, comforting, of exile. A love of a young woman, of a woman-artist who understands him, admires him, honours him, is ready to fall at his feet, to give herself to him right away without any preconditions and demands. No one would know. Even if this love lasts only days, it is worth it. Because love never ends - once it has emerged, it lives in one form or another until the end of days and even after their end.
The wind blows in my face, the ship cuts the waters, and I am overwhelmed with determination and hope. He cannot send me back. He can not help being touched by the power of my gesture, by the courage, by the days and nights on a gruelling journey, the gift I want to offer him, to give all that I have, without wanting anything in return. I will be in his destined exile time, which is beyond ordinary time, as if it doesn‘t exist, and therefore everything that happens during that time would be as if it has never happened. His compassion would not let him reject me. He would be shaken by my strength and vulnerability. It can not be any other way. But if... If he turns me away, at least I would know that I have tried, I have crossed the ocean of this love.
I arrive at a rocky land and find his hotel. Everything is a dream. A rock in the ocean, a town, the prison-hotel. Surreal. Have I really done this? Yes, I have. Here he comes. He is surprised, but not as much as I expected. He seems calm and peaceful. Not tormented as I imagined him. In a restrained manner, he asks me what I am doing here. I don’t answer but ask for a coffee. I do have the right to a coffee. He takes me to a café and I tell him there. I say I came here because of him, that I do not want anything but to accompany him in his exile. And I will leave when he wants. But he wants that right now. Right now! He refuses to accept me at the hotel-prison so that people do not gossip. I did not expect such provincial thinking of such a great mind. Who cares what people say? The volcanic rocks of this desolate island would crackle with tenderness or pity in front of the vulnerability of a woman who forsakes her pride, her honour, everything she has, but not him. He is kind, but insistent and indifferent. Like a wave that washes the shores of the island out of habit.
I am ready to fall to my knees and beg him. I do not, I suspect it would be in vain. Yes, it is in vain – he tells me nothing would help. Better to save what remains of my dignity. One thing is sure: he will remember me. Not weeping and begging, but with admiration and amazement. Proud, not, though it is what I am, insane.
Marina, the receptionist, is an angel, sent to me by the merciful God. She offers me shelter at her home, gives me the keys. I find it without too much wandering in a neighbourhood on the outskirts. A room with a large bed and a few pieces of old furniture. I sit on the bed and let everything pour out. When I have cried myself out I wash my face, go to bed and fall asleep. Marina’s arrival wakes me up. She changes her clothes and starts cooking.
She does not ask questions. She was born on the island and has never been away. I learn that while we are having dinner. I ask her whether she is not interested in seeing other places. Maybe, but not necessarily. She feels good here. You have to see the island, she tells me, before you leave. She would ask her uncle to give me his car. The next morning she goes to work, and I get in the car and drive through the rocky, then sandy, desert surrounded by volcanic mountains. Yellow-beige landscape. Biblical. And as I am driving, something extraordinary happens. The pain which possessed me even in my sleep, diminishes. And with every kilometre, I feel more and more myself, more and more mine. I pass through La Oliva, Betancuria, Pahara to Ajuy, where I park and walk down to the pebble beach. Waves like walls fiercely overwhelm the shore. The wind pushes me, but its roughness is a caress compared to the philosopher’s quiet and courteous dismissal. I sit on a stone and look at the ocean for a long time. At once frightening and alluring. Tranquillity goes deeper inside me. I drive back at sunset. A sunset that blossoms in shades of yellow-gold-orange-pink. The orange light penetrates me to the bottom of my tormented being. After that, there is only bliss left. I now understand the philosopher’s radiance. How silly I have been! How vain! To invent his martyrdom so that I would be the one saving his soul! But his soul had found its home! Now mine follows it. That’s how we would meet, he and I. Not with bodies, but with our souls, on the island, recognised by them as their true homeland. This thought gives me consolation. I have not made this journey in vain. By not reaching him, I have captured him. He would have liked this contradiction with his taste for duality and counterpoint. My face is wet again with tears, but tears of happiness and gratitude. This is the philosopher’s gift to me. Without knowing it, he has repaid me for all my aspirations, anguish and efforts.
The next day I drive to the other end of the island - Handia. I stop briefly in Antigua and light a candle in its white church. A thanksgiving candle for my transformation brought by the island. I walk on the vast beaches, letting the mystique of the landscape fertilise all my senses. This is the novel I will write. A novel about a woman who arrives on the island in love with a man, and leaves the man in love with the island.
On the fifth day, the ship comes. I hug Marina firmly and get on it, windblown and renewed. I look back at the island. I am not going back. It is already in me.