That night, Alazne and I dined at a restaurant located in our hotel. Its dining room reminded me of lounge bars featured in Hollywood movies from the forties, but if they had been jazzed up with vibrant colors. The marble flooring reflected the shadows of the tables and chairs, and shone under the scarlet, polyhedric lamps. Both the pillars and the velvet curtains were apple red, and all the internal walls were covered in a mosaic of mirrors that reflected each other. My girlfriend and I filled our stomachs with ham croquettes, seafood chowder and lamb chops with honey sauce, and we topped it off with rice pudding sprinkled with burnt sugar and cinnamon.
When we walked up to our room we knew that despite how exhausted we were, we couldn’t go to sleep on a full stomach, so we leaned our backs against the headboard and we watched YouTube videos on Alazne’s tablet while we held hands. Near midnight, our caresses turned into making out, and then undressing ourselves to taste each other’s skin. We made love as if sleepwalking. Only our moans rose above the electric humming that leaked through the walls.
As if my conscious mind has suddenly switched on, I find myself retracting my tongue in a second long break from licking Alazne’s swollen, lubricated labia. My girlfriend’s hamstrings are resting on my trapezius muscles, the fingers of my hands are interlaced with hers. I absorb the view: the enlarged, throbbing clitoris peeking out from the hood, the shiny, punch pink labia minora spread as if welcoming a deep kiss, a catenary of gooey pussy juice linking my mouth to her vagina. As I lean in to polish her pulsating clit with my wet tongue, I realize that I have never felt as comfortable in my new role as a man than now, when I direct my girlfriend’s pleasure with the tip of my tongue while a trail of my creamy cum slides slowly down her perineum.
On the next morning we took advantage of the breakfast buffet again and then abused the services of the same taxi company so they would drive us around. This time, though, we could have bothered to walk, as we only wanted to leave the housing development filled with a hundred identical houses, and then go past an isolated and quiet working-class neighborhood made out of peanut-colored apartment buildings. The taxi left us at a train station, barely a raised platform. We took the C3 line to Oviedo, a journey that would take around an hour.
I had already braved through what I intended to face in Asturias. I had wanted to discover if I was resilient enough as a human being to return home after I abandoned the consequences of my choices for twenty years. Now I can’t tell if I’m relieved or just numb. But I want to take advantage of the rest of our time here to enjoy the sights with the love of my life.
Alazne and I sit shoulder to shoulder on the train. I look around the plasticky interior and at the commuters bathed in fluorescent light. Most seem tired or fed up as if they are heading to work. A few of them are staring down at e-book readers. Two young guys are listening to music through their earphones and they have it way too loud, leaking the drum beats.
“So what are we seeing first?” Alazne asks while she plays lazily with my hand. “The cathedral?”
“Yeah, it’s close enough to the train station that we can walk there. I’m sure I came a few times to see it with my parents, I guess when I was so young that they thought they had to bring me to a bunch of fancy places.”
Beyond the tranquil, verdant hills of the countryside and the passing clumps of pillowy clouds, some stretches of the journey are dominated by imposing industrial complexes. Dozens of meters long chutes, overlapping pipes, begrimed silos, metallic towers that remind me of guard posts from a post-apocalyptic movie, and smokestacks that exhale grey plumes. Only near the end of our ride the train passes in front of sleepy towns that likely house people who work in Oviedo.
Once we reach the capital of the province, Alazne and I look out of the windows at the bustling streets where plenty of cars and pedestrians hurry up to their destinations, and that likely would have teleported if they could. Many of the buildings are far larger than any we have been accustomed to on this trip, except for our hotel, and have been designed carefully. The train slows down as it approaches the main station. I’m impressed by the sight. The equivalent of the first two floors of a building are emptied out and lack walls, and many pillars are supporting a horizontal building, like the box that a television would come in, upon which is stacked, at least from our perspective, a tall, blocky building that contains offices
Whenever I stop to think about the intricate stuff that people have managed to build, I’m mesmerized, and yet it all feels so fragile, as if it would only take a huge disaster for the tenous links between all the steps, from wanting to construct a building to placing the last brick, to be severed, and the survivors would be left wandering around increasingly ruined monuments of a technological era that they couldn’t reproduce nor comprehend.
When we exit the train and its station, we head towards the cathedral following the route we looked up last night. I force myself to ignore the constant feeling of déjà vu, and I focus on the feeling of Alazne’s warm hand on mine, and on checking out the storefronts. My girlfriend looks at the surrounding apartment buildings, even at some of the passersby, as if she can’t quite believe they exist.
“This is one long street, one of the main ones, I suppose,” I say. “I like the style of these houses, and how they differ in color. The similarly fancy residential buildings in Donostia look far more sober.”
“It’s all so strange, isn’t it?” Alazne says dreamily.
“It’s familiar, but strange. It gives me déjà vus, so I’m sure I’ve been here before.”
“All these people, we likely won’t see them again for the rest of the day. They had never existed before we came to Oviedo, and once we return home they’ll be gone forever. Still, these lives must exist by themselves. I don’t know how this world can bear so many stories. It’s… suffocating.”
Alazne holds my hand even tighter. Her big, hazel eyes widen, staring at the world around her. Her cheeks are flushed, and her light brown hair falls in gentle waves.
“There are definitely too many human beings on this planet,” I say. “We should have never grown beyond let’s say five hundred million people. I don’t know how anyone can take a look at the world we have created and not realize that it will end in a bloodbath. But politicians love their pyramid schemes that demand more and more babies to be born.”
Alazne looks down at the pavement, then closes her eyes tightly for a moment.
“I didn’t know you felt that way as well. It doesn’t seem to bother the vast majority of people. I hope that I won’t end up giving birth to another monster.”
“Oh, it will be a monster for sure. But it will be ours, which is the whole point.”
“I guess that when you cross two monsters together, you can’t expect anything different.”
“Well, we will do better than our parents, won’t we?”
“We sure will,” she says with a sad smile. “I just hope that he or she manages to remain happy enough.”
Although we need to walk in a straight line, we have to navigate through crowds. A few groups are talking in the middle of the sidewalk, which isn’t that wide, forcing others to walk around them. Some restaurants and coffee shops have placed tables outside, leaving a narrow passage between the seated customers and the front of those buildings.
“You know, I have been wondering if I was being selfish,” Alazne says hesitantly, “and maybe cruel. I think clinical depression has a strong genetic component, right?”
“I suppose so,” I reply, having wondered the same thing myself.
“Should anyone risk having children with a tendency to depression, or I guess even worse genetic conditions?”
“Well, the main point of having babies is to perpetuate one’s existence. But they can be a source of joy and fulfillment. Are you regretting our decision?”
She looks troubled, and I’m guessing that the presence of so many strangers is worsening her anxiety.
“No, it just will be harder than I thought.”
“I recall you saying that holding our baby in your dream felt right, what you should do. So I believe that if we don’t start a family, you will regret it. If we do have children, there is a risk that they will suffer from the same conditions with which we struggle. But we should do a better job than our parents to help them through their troubles.”
Although Alazne sighs, she keeps smiling softly.
“I guess I’m just afraid of the future. Afraid of our little spawns growing up and one day confronting us and demanding to know who the hell did we believe ourselves to be to burden them with such pains. What would we say then?”
I pull her closer so I can put my arm around her waist.
“I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. And if it does, well, we’ll deal with it then. But I don’t think you should worry excessively about the future. What matters is now, and that we love each other. Maybe it’s irresponsible of me, but I can barely care about anything else.”
Alazne leans against my side, and I feel her warmth.
“We are all monsters,” Alazne says as if she had been considering it for a while.
“Sure. Everybody will die some day, and we all know it.”
Shortly after, we reach the vast square that on the opposite side ends at a famous cathedral. Ancient people somehow organized themselves to construct it during hundreds of years. We stop to gaze at it. An Asian, probably Japanese, tourist is standing nearby shooting photos with his expensive camera. The cathedral’s color reminds me of peeled peanuts. Its porticos seem to have been built for giants, and apart from the intricate spire, a wall over the main doors displays a huge rosette. I have never cared about the beliefs of people associated with such buildings, but the structures are awe-inspiring, and certainly better than most modern architecture, which seems to be modelled after construction sheds.
“Let’s get closer,” I say. “The whole cathedral grounds are supposed to be interesting.”
“Sure, but I want to take pictures too. Stand over there.”
She takes out her phone, and she starts lining things up so my hopefully presentable self will fill most of the left half of the picture. I keep smiling as her phone plays a digital sound. She looks down at the screen.
“That’s good. You know, we have to take plenty of pictures and print some of them at a store. You only framed that one picture of me you took back during our first date at the amusement park.”
“One of my most priced possessions.”
Walking across the vast square, which is mostly empty due to its size, makes me feel as if we were exposing ourselves to sniper fire. On one side of the square, a sloped sidewalk is occupied with the outside tables of a series of restaurants, where I guess we’ll eat today. On the left side of the cathedral, we pass through the gate of a fenced garden with four small trees pruned to conical shapes. Except for the fence that separates the garden from the square, the other sides are delimited by walls in which they built alcoves that feature statues of long-dead people. The full-bodied representations seem vaguely Roman to me, although the crowns they sport belong to the Middle Ages. Those probable kings are holding swords, pointing at indeterminate places or staring into the distance. Alazne takes some photos of them. We move on towards the back of the garden, where parts of the wall jut out forming pedestals that hold, out of people’s reach, the busts of bearded men wearing crowns. Three of the busts are partially blackened with soot as if some fire broke out but nobody cleaned the damage.
Alazne takes more photos.
“Who are these people supposed to be?”
“Kings, I guess.”
“They don’t look very regal to me. Some of them are looking in strange directions.”
“I guess they were just people before they became kings. And then one day they became ghosts too.”
Alazne rubs her chin.
“They stopped being kings once they died.”
“I think they would disagree with you on that.”
I keep staring up at the busts. I have no idea why, but those coin gray depictions look more real than the vast majority of the people we’ve come across. These kings died long before I was even a gleam in my rotting old man’s eye. Were their struggles worth it? I imagine they had families, people who loved them, people who hated them, and now virtually the entirety of mankind has forgotten their names. Maybe some of their ghosts still roam around to ponder similar questions.
I myself was a ghost for twenty years, and although in comparison I have barely spent any time enjoying my new life, the processes and burdens that my living body subjects me to are starting to make my time as a ghost feel like a distant nightmare. The chemical reactions in my brain keep pushing me subtly in this or that direction, towards eating, pissing, shitting, fucking or sleeping. In between those needs, my body keeps alerting me of a myriad of minor annoyances and pains, from the sweat building up in my groin to the background ache of the bruises that Oleksiy bastard caused on my abdomen. All these sensations tie me to the here and now, but no matter how bad any particular day gets, I can always look forward to the respite of sleep. Still, it’s all so brittle, and our lives hold no intrinsic meaning beyond the lesson that we are here one moment and gone the next, with the only guarantee that until the instant our brain stops receiving oxygen we will need to struggle through thousands of problems and persistent pains. In less than a hundred years I, Asier, will be gone, and although thinking about it makes me want to cry, Alazne will be gone as well. It will only take time for the entire universe to vanish too.
During our last night in Asturias we dined at the same restaurant we had patronized, but instead of walking up to our rooms to digest the food in peace, we decide to leave the hotel and take a walk in the moonlight through the quiet housing development made out of identical homes. It has only gotten chillier in the last couple of days, so Alazne is wearing a pullover sweater.
The crickets keep chirping as my girlfriend and I, hand in hand, follow the sidewalk to wander around. The sound of our footsteps reverberates. Most of the houses remain dark, probably unoccupied, although in the few houses where light leaks through the windows, at the most I hear the murmur of conversations, likely from movies. The streetlights are properly spaced and insects are flying around their glass-covered lamps, but the area seems so deserted that the little oases of light they spill onto the sidewalk make me feel safer.
“It would be nice to live in a place like this, wouldn’t it?” I ask.
“Yes. Too bad we had to come so far to get here.”
I have grown anxious enough anticipating the eight hours long trip that awaits us tomorrow.
“Don’t remind me of that, though.”
“I love our actual home, Asier. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
“Yeah… Me neither.”
A tiny drop of water, probably from the humidity that has settled in, falls on my left arm. I look up. A cloud is drifting in front of the moon, turning the area around us into a dark grey void.
“It may start raining soon.”
However, no second drop falls on me. After we turn a corner we spot a couple in their forties, along with two young kids, who are taking things out of their car. I suppose that the house in front, which has the gate open, belongs to them, or maybe to some other family members. The scent of food wafts from the windows of that house, and now that I’m paying attention I hear an animated conversation muffled by the walls. As we pass the family by, they nod towards us and smile amiably.
We realize that if we follow this side street to the end we’ll reach a shoddy wooden fence that offers a view. The housing development was built on top of a hill, and on this edge there’s a steep slope downwards which gives us a panorama of seemingly the entirety of Avilés. The lights of the apartment buildings down there, many of them identical ten-story tall monsters, give off an almost blinding glow when contrasted to the darkness that surrounds us. To the right of the panorama stands a line of even taller smokestacks, and to my confusion two of them aren’t spewing smoke right now, but shooting flames. What a weird world.
“It’s gorgeous,” says Alazne in a tired but grateful voice. “I mean, there isn’t much to this city, but it’s still humbling.”
I don’t know how to answer beyond agreeing, so I remain silent. I didn’t feel that Alazne expected a response. I listen to the sound of the breeze for a few seconds, then my girlfriend puts her warm hand on mine. She’s looking up at me, displaying such a trusting affection that it tightens my throat.
“Thank you so much, Asier,” she says in a voice tinged with emotion. “Thank you for making today happen, as well as the days before. I wish that we could just stay here forever, watching the world.”
She turns her face towards the panorama, showing me her profile, and observes the view as if she wanted to burn it into her mind. Close to her temple, a lock of light brown hair is swaying slowly in the breeze.
“The world doesn’t care about either of us,” Alazne says quietly. “Nobody notices we are passing through here, or that we will be gone. None of the things built out there had us in mind, and there’s little we can do to affect this society in any way.”
I stay quiet, and wait for her to continue.
“When these days I look back and think about who I used to be, that ossified form which I believed would be the last, I remember those times I passed my head through the noose and tightened it around my throat. The deafening noise of blood surging in my ears, my face burning up. That person would have never believed that one day I would stand here. And even less with someone who managed to love me.”
I feel a dampness on my cheeks. I hug Alazne from the side, and cup the other side of her head to stroke her hair. She doesn’t turn.
“I wanted not only to die, Asier,” she whispers, “but to never have existed. To be erased from the minds of everyone… That not a single person in this indifferent world would have known that I ever was. Now I wish for you to always remember me, to know that I was here, and that we got to love each other.”
I close my eyes and press my lips against her forehead. I bask in the warmth emanating from her body, I smell her scent that I recognize only as hers. She shivers against my skin while she cries silently. Neither of us speaks for a while.
Alazne puts her hand on my chest, and we pull away from the embrace. She wipes her eyes and sniffles.
“Let’s return here some years from now,” she says, “and experience how the world changes when we do.”