Iñaki is gone. Now I understand that the old miserable bastard had wormed his way into becoming my friend. My only friend. But the traitorous fiend went and disappeared into the great beyond, abandoning me.
For a couple of days I walked aimlessly through the surrounding cities, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do. I had so much to talk about, so many concerns to voice out loud, but nobody would want to listen to me. For now, while my beloved Alazne is at work, I have decided to travel around. If I spot some living person getting into a taxi, I sneak in, no matter where the passenger was headed. And I also board trains with the purpose of stopping at specific cities. I’ve come to appreciate rambling around Donostia again, which was the main reason why I chose to settle in this area after I visited every country in Europe during the previous decade. But even returning to some of my old habits isn’t erasing my anxiety. I had allowed myself to rely on someone. Now he’s gone, and I am alone.
I used to believe that dying had been a blessing. I was discovering places that I could never find the time, resources and strength to visit back when I was alive, because I would need the money to support myself, temporary homes to crash at, and I had to fear that someone would assault me, rape me, kill me. As a newbie ghost, my then seemingly endless curiosity led me farther than I would have ever thought possible for me. But eventually the sights grew similar, and a feeling of disconnect crept into me. I was traversing a dead world, series of memories unrelated to me, because I could never influence them nor make myself noticed in any significant way. I got to learn about and even care about some breathing people, but there’s a limit to how many human stories you can witness before they become stale.
Back then I was what others call a newbie ghost. Through dying, I had been transported into a parallel world full of possibilities. I couldn’t understand how virtually every other ghost I came across pitied me, or didn’t want to give me the time of the day. I felt like a teenager all over again, failing to get why all the adults replied with varieties of ‘you’ll understand when you are older’. But now I get it, for sure. It’s all the same, you do little else than pile up regrets and disappointments, and you end up isolating yourself to avoid losing your mind entirely. Who knows for how long we will remain damned, and an insane ghost is a sorry, embarrassing sight.
Even now, sitting on the edge of a roof with a panorama of nighttime Donostia, it feels like a faded picture from another era. I have to suppress the urges to try to scratch people and throw objects, which I have never managed to do, because pushing a vase off a table at least would confirm that I retain some power in this world.
Losing myself in the streets, often less than a meter away from people if I can’t avoid them, doesn’t improve anything. It’s just gray, washed out shit everywhere, and those breathing, decaying people cannot see me, cannot hear me. It gets so tiresome. No wonder some ghosts just retreat to some abandoned refuge and become recluses. May as well waste the afterlife in some decaying ruin, because nothing holds any meaning. You can’t form any ties to the world from which you came, and other ghosts are unreliable. Even worse, once you are dead you can’t force yourself to die again.
How could I have been so stupid as to let myself rely on someone else? I always told myself that I just interacted with other ghosts because I needed to kill time. But I have never learned my lesson. Although I have lost others along the way, I ended up falling for it again. I find myself needing to share some opinion or realization, and I wish for someone to look back at me and acknowledge that I still exist.
I’m bound to lose everyone in the end. It’s just the way things are. But fuck, what is there to do in this empty plane when you can’t connect with anyone who matters, and you are damned to witness the world pass you by?
And there’s Alazne. I fell in love with someone who is oblivious to my existence. How could I recognize that it’s indeed love? I never felt it back when I was alive. Maybe I’m just obsessed. But no matter how I refer to this need, the fact is that I have to return to her place over and over so I can be around her, watch her, listen to her. When I stop pitying myself, she’s all I can think about. I can feel my obsession growing whenever I visit her apartment. It’s only a matter of time before I completely crack, especially because the more time passes the lonelier I am.
I can be honest with myself. It isn’t love. No matter how much Alazne occupies my mind, and how justified I feel in spying her, it can’t be love when she doesn’t even know I exist. Me wanting to caress her, make love to her, make her think about me as much as I think about her, is pure selfishness. After all, love is for the living. It’s tied to time, to future plans, to creating a family and passing on the genes. When you can’t care about any of it, nor connect with anyone, you wouldn’t be able to form a personal relationship. What do I have in common with those who still breathe, with their mad rush to fulfill goals? All I know is about remaining a witness to the decay and eventual oblivion of it all.
Still, knowing won’t stop me. If on one side I can only look forward to roaming through a wasteland until the end of time, and on the other I can satisfy my needs by stalking my miserable woman, I’m choosing the option that will make me feel better. After all, nobody can judge me any longer.
Alazne continues sliding slowly along her downwards spiral. She doesn’t use makeup, but she spends a few minutes every day studying the damages that approaching thirty has inflicted on her pretty face, or what looks like a pretty face for someone in love. She hates her dead-end job in an office doing boring shit that she hasn’t mentioned, and I haven’t been interested in following her there. She browses the internet idly, and her masturbatory habits barely pause her depression for as long as the orgasm lasts. Still, when she gathers enough energy to grab her guitar and lose herself in an hour or more of playing other people’s songs, she gets a taste of how her life could have been if she hadn’t been dragged down by the rest of herself. She has tried to write a few songs of her own, but she grew frustrated and loudly declared that she didn’t have any talent.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling masochistic, I try to touch her gently. Put all my energies into it. Alazne never feels it. If she wanted to, she could walk right through me, and she would never know I was there. Now that Iñaki is gone, I also spend most nights with her, lying sideways and staring at her sleeping face. When I try to lick her drool with my ghostly tongue, my efforts pass through the molecules. I want to cry, but nothing comes out.
As I roam around I find myself looking out for other ghosts. I can’t deny to myself that I want some company, of any shadow who might want to look back at me. There’s the usual groups of ghosts who follow each other even though they don’t have enough to say; still, getting separated could mean losing their pals for a long time. Ghost children enjoy their time in the playgrounds, crashing birthday parties, trying to appear in group photos. Some of the naturally talented ghost kids befriend toddlers or even older children, until those breathing kids lose the ability to peer into their beyond. Personally I don’t know why anyone would go through the pain of befriending one of the living, if they will inevitably forget you. Adult ghosts enjoy joining reunions and convince themselves that they are involved in these strangers’ lives. And there are the saddest ghosts, those who sit on empty stools at bars, or on empty benches at parks, and gaze longingly at the young couples.
One of those nights I was staring at Alazne’s relaxed face as she was lost in a dreamworld. I miss being able to fall asleep, for my brain to produce a crazy hallucination that would grant me a parenthesis from the horrid world outside. When I stop to think about it, life as a ghost is like one of those nights I used to endure while alive, in which I managed to sleep for an hour or so and the rest I would roll around wishing to die.
In any case, I couldn’t deal with having Alazne so close and yet being unable to fondle her, so I hit the darkened streets in search of some entertainment. In the third bar of the night I spot a female ghost sitting at one of the empty tables in the back. She acknowledges me for a moment, then she looks back down and loses herself in her own worry, regret, resentment and all that garbage.
I sit on a stool at the bar, although shortly after a living customer approaches me and I get out of the way before he sits through me. I want to have a conversation with that female ghost. I can’t make out all the details in the shadowy blur to which she’s been reduced, but she has waist-length, disheveled hair, and she’s wearing a nightgown. I approach her nervously.
“Ah… If you don’t mind, I’ll sit with you.”
She offers me a vacant stare. I sit down next to her as I try not to pay attention to the awful smell of the room, or the fact that the walls are covered in writings and drawings by drunken patrons. The ghost woman is silent.
“So… What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” I ask nervously.
She doesn’t answer. Instead, she looks down and opens her right hand, revealing a small bottle of pills. Likely she had been holding it the day of her death. I never understood how, for example, some clothes ended up dying along with us, so we are spared the embarrassment of spending an eternity naked. I wish I had been a Pharaoh. Maybe I would be riding through the afterlife in a chariot.
“I’m having a rough night,” I continue. “The usual for all of us, huh? And I thought it would be nice to have a chat.”
She attempts to drop the contents of the bottle of pills in her ghostly mouth.
“Hey, those are prescription,” I raise my voice in protest to stop her from swallowing the pills.
I reach for the bottle. She makes no effort to prevent me from taking it, likely because it’s now empty, and in the process I feel her cold skin. Her body seems so fragile and small.
“Did I ask you to bother me?” the ghostly woman asks with disdain.
She has dark bags under her eyes, and her nose is bleeding somehow. But despite the decay, she’s still beautiful.
“You should take better care of yourself,” I say. “What’s your name?”
“You wouldn’t know it.”
“I might. I’ve been around here for a long time. I may know your family.”
I’m allowing words to leave my mouth without thinking. I just want to talk to someone who can answer back.
“Carmen,” she says finally. “My name is Carmen.”
“I’m Irene,” I say as I offer my hand to shake. She doesn’t return the gesture, and stares at me with a look of pained resentment.
“I guess I’ll have to repeat myself. Why are you bothering me, Irene?”
I attempt a smile, but end up avoiding her gaze.
“I’m lonely. Isn’t that your case as well? I try to talk to those breathing bastards, but none of them cares.”
“They do care. It’s most of what they do. And they happily live their lives away.”
“Well, I’m not one of those ghosts who can move stuff or appear for the living. I can only possess some of them, in limited circumstances. So it’s not as if they can listen to my troubles.”
“And you thought that I would care about whatever you are going through?” the woman asks mockingly. “Why on earth would I wish to speak with you?”
“You are troubled, aren’t you?” I reply too eagerly. “You can tell me everything that’s hurting. If you just let me in…”
Carmen’s face becomes livid with rage.
“You are pathetic,” she snaps. “I don’t need ghosts to listen to me. I’ve survived on my own without any help.”
“You haven’t survived, and neither have I. You can’t call it surviving when we can’t die any further. And I also killed myself, you know? At the time I thought I had good enough reasons. We can get along, lessen each other’s pain… Isn’t it what this is all about?”
“Fuck you. I’m calling the police.” She pulls out her phone. I guess she also died holding it. She pushes a sequence of buttons, then lifts the phone to her face. “Hello, I’d like to report a stalker.”
I have never come across such a thing as a ghostly police force, and neither ghost phones that worked, so this woman is likely nuts.
“If you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine,” I say in a low voice. “But I mean it, you know? I’ll listen to whatever, and you can listen back. Please.”
Carmen looks down at her phone. After a few seconds of staring, she raises it to her ear and says: “Hello, my name is Carmen. I’d like to report…”
“Carmen, please let me in. I’m begging you.”
She throws her phone across the room in frustration. It passes through several people.
“You’re just angry, Carmen,” I say in a conciliatory tone. “I know. I’m here for you.”
She turns her head away from me, refusing to make eye contact. Her breaths are rhythmic and forceful, as if she’s trying to avoid crying.
“Until recently I had a friend,” I continue. “I also thought I didn’t need others, but that’s because it hurts too much when they leave. We are lying to ourselves. Just someone being able to listen to us can change everything. I want to be that person for you.”
I inch closer to Carmen and extend my hand out to touch hers. She clenches her hand into a fist.
“I don’t give a shit about your problems,” she mutters. “Nobody does. Whether you are hurting or not, it makes no difference. You are already gone. You don’t matter. Where do you think we are, idiot? This is our punishment.”
Although I have felt like shit for many years, I haven’t approached the rage and bitterness evident in Carmen’s voice.
“Whatever this place is, we can make the best of it,” I reply carefully. “We can still communicate if we want. Or do you believe that you deserve to spend the rest of possibly eternity in pain?”
She glares at me, maybe contemplating how to kill me. Although I’m a ghost, I can feel fear. I wouldn’t be surprised if my body was shaking visibly.
Carmen exhales and closes her eyes.
“Shut the fuck up,” she answers, exhausted. “You don’t know a damn thing. Just go away.”
“I won’t. I’ll stay right here in silence, possibly for an hour or a couple. If you want to share something, I’ll listen.”
“I don’t have anything to fucking say.”
“Okay, that’s fine. I’ll just share my thoughts, and if you have something to add, great.”
Carmen groans, then stands up forcefully. She kicks through our table an empty beer bottle, and it sails through the air and crashes against a living person’s back.
“Hey!” a middle-aged guy who looks like a tourist exclaims. “That hurt! Who the hell threw that bottle!”
Carmen glares at me and walks away. I feel hollow. I lower my head, but I don’t have to follow this ghost woman’s movements to know that likely I won’t see her around for a while, and when I do, she will consider me an enemy.
I takes me around half an hour to gather the strength to stand up and leave the bar. I want to return to Alazne’s cramped apartment, to her likely warm bed, where I can close my ghostly eyes and daydream of living together with the woman I love, of marrying her, of spending the rest of my limited life watching her grow old. But as I shamble along the street, I can’t bear it any longer and I fall to my knees. I ball my hands into fists and I let out a guttural wail. I wish to do nothing else for as long as this consciousness of mine remains than to scream my heart out, knowing that nobody would listen to me nor comfort me. Like an abandoned baby left to die in a sewer.
“Nobody will love you, you know that?”
A man’s raspy voice says this to me. I shake my head and rub my eyes.
“You don’t love yourself either,” the voice continues.
I open my eyes and I see some old, homeless-looking ghost staring down at me. The kind that mutter to themselves and that I ignore in case they direct their stream of crazy towards me.
“What is it to you?” I ask in a hollow voice.
“You’re a ghost. You have no right to live in this world, let alone try to form connections.”
I definitely feel now that I don’t have the right to do what I want. I narrow my eyes.
“So what? You’ve never done anything wrong?”
“I lived a good, clean life. But ever since I died, I’ve been doomed to wander this city. I was never able to move on to the great beyond. My spirit is trapped, just like you.”
He continues staring at me with those soulless eyes. He seems to be waiting for me to ask more questions. I stand up and wipe my eyes in case some ghostly tears remain.
“Nobody cares about your problems,” I say, and walk away.