Sierra de Guadarrama, Madrid, Spain

Elvis and Cos were reaching the top of the hill, everything pale and scattered with dark green. The glint of a river far in the distance. Patches of forests, the occasional building smaller as the distance grew, nothing but hints of civilisation all the way to the distant horizon.

‘You don’t say ah-gape,’ Cos said panting. ‘You say ah-gap-ee.’

‘Ah, right,’ Elvis said.

‘You know what the word agape means, don’t you?’

‘No, Cos man, I don’t. I did wonder though, whether it means anything or it’s just the name of a character in a Japanese… you know, one of those anime movies.’

“It means unconditional love, Godlike love.”

“Wow, what a name for a dog.”

“I think it’s perfect for a dog, actually. It’s what they feel for their owners. It’s like the love for your children…”

“I don’t have children, you know that.”

“I know that, Elvis, and as you also know, I don’t have children either. I was going to add, if I may… like the love our parents feel for us.”

“My parents don’t feel unconditional love for me, man. In fact, it’s terribly conditioned, like so many conditions you wouldn’t believe.”

As if by mutual agreement, the two young men stopped and sat on the boulder at the top of the hill. Cos, the one that knew the word agape, quite out of breath. His friend, Elvis, his breathing almost imperceptible, as if instead of looking at the landscape below just after having climbed a steep high hill, he was at home, on the sofa watching tv. Elvis might not have had the advantage of knowing the pronunciation nor the meaning of the word agape, but he didn’t have the disadvantage of eating pastries and gummies as Cos had. They didn’t bother taking off their light backpacks. They were on a mission that might have required getting on their feet again at any second. Awkwardly bending down and sideways, Cos managed to pull his water flask out from the side pocket of his backpack to drink a few sips. Elvis didn’t bother.

‘It’s not as cold as I thought it would be,’ Cos said, looking around, wanting to divert the conversation from his friend’s allegedly unloving parents; something he had never mentioned before. Cos thought about it for a moment. It had always annoyed him, the fact that Elvis managed to hide the utter confidence in himself under an air of diffidence; now he wondered if it hadn’t been the other way around. Sitting there, staring at the landscape below, Elvis looked like the Buda about to achieve enlightenment. Why, despite the love for his friend, Cos always managed to find a moment in the day when to hate him? He despised himself for the feeling and fervently wished he could shake it off, but he couldn’t. He was too jealous of his thinness and his inner peace. But perhaps the inner peace was just a front after all.

‘No,’ Elvis agreed, ‘But temperatures are gonna go down as the day travels. And tonight…’

‘Yes, I know.’ Cos got up from the boulder. ‘We better get on with it.’

‘Just a sec,’ Elvis said taking his phone out of his back pocket. ‘Let me look in case there’s any news from the search group.’

Cos sighed again. He would have heard a bleep from his phone if there were a message at all and he hadn’t, but, never mind, it was a free country, full of free people with free will that one had no option but to respect if one was to be respected in turn. 

‘No,’ Elvis said predictably. ‘No news at all.’ He got up from the boulder and as he turned around towards the clearing on the hilltop, he saw the dog.

‘It’s—it’s that him?’ he whispered. Cos had seeing him too, he was looking straight at him.

‘Yes,’ he whispered back, his eyes growing big. ‘It looks like him.’ It was bigger than he thought, but still a small dog. Grey with a little white, a mix of fox and Yorkshire terrier, his hair cut short. He was busy smelling something in the lush green grass, shining like emerald under the late afternoon sun.

Elvis slowly took his backpack off and carefully opened the zip, the noise didn’t seem to bother the little dog. He took out the plastic bag with the chorizo sausage he had bought for the dog at the supermarket that morning. He hadn’t been an easy task for him because at home they were all fishetarians, except for Totoro the cat, and he only ate kibble and some fish sometimes. The guy at the butcher’s stall had looked at him in a funny way when he asked for a single chorizo sausage. Elvis then explained: ‘It is to lure a little dog, a yorkie, that came from the city for a day’s outing in the valley with his family ten days ago and got lost; he’s still alive because people keep spotting him here and there, but he’s so frightened he won’t let himself be caught, not even by his own owner, who comes every day all the way from the city to look for him. He’s still in good shape, because the little thing runs like the devil whenever anyone comes near him.’ The butcher was sympathetic and slit the chorizo open for it ‘to smell stronger and put it in a microwave for a few seconds, then it will smell even more and will attract the little devil more easily.’

‘Agape!’ Elvis beckoned in a whisper, opening the plastic bag with the little sausage inside. ‘Agape, sweetheart, here is a chorizo for you, you like chorizo, don’t you?’ 

Neither Elvis nor Cos moved from their spot. They had been told again and again by Maria, the dog’s owner, and the locals that had been searching for the dog for a week not to try to catch him, not even to approach him, and of course, not to run after him. A couple of forest rangers in the area, long-legged beefy guys the pair of them, had already tried that. To no avail. 

The dog looked up at them. He looked clean and fine if a bit thin, his light brown and grey hair trimmed close to the skin even though it was winter.

‘Agape,’ it was Cos’s turn to whisper. ‘Come with us, we know your mummy, Maria? Yes? Maria? Look, we have food, look!

The dog kept staring at them. He had a beautiful face with longer hair above the shiny buttons of his eyes and around the mouth and the black little snout. To Cos, he looked like someone’s grandfather turned into a little dog by a witch. To Elvis, he looked like a felt dog turned into a real one by a fairy godmother. 

Cos took out his phone. They were supposed to take a photo of the dog and send it to the search chat group when they found him, sending along with it the location where the photo had been taken. Cos fumbled with his phone; he was extremely nervous and the sunlight obscuring the phone screen didn’t help. He ended dropping the thing and the dog shot out of the clearing and into the forest. Cos snatched his phone from the grass cursing under his breath.

Both him and Elvis called after the dog. They knew it wouldn’t do any good, but they couldn’t help it. They gave up and looked at each other for clues on what to do next, they wanted to run after Agape, of course, that was instinctively what they wanted to do, but in this case they knew instinct was wrong. By tacit agreement they started walking towards the spot in the woods where the little dog had disappeared. They took turns to call him, not too loud, Elvis with the chorizo still in his hand waving it in the air as he staggered along the uneven terrain among the tall conifers. Damn doggie, he thought, why didn’t he want to go home with his mummy-owner? 

It crossed his mind then, for the first time, that perhaps Agape didn’t want to be rescued, perhaps he was happy in the countryside, the valley, the hills, the hospital in the hills where he could steal some of the food people put out for the cats when the little clawed devils weren’t around, the restaurant in the valley where he could wolf down some of the leftovers around the overflowing rubbish bins at dusk before the foxes came down from the hills in the night. It had been raining a lot in the last months, so the streams carried plenty of water. It wasn’t too cold and there were warm little nooks and crannies among the boulders in the hills and the houses in the valley where the dog could safely curl up and spend the night. What was not to like about a life like that? What was to miss of a life in a flat in the city? Human company and affection? Elvis thought about human company and affection and whether he would miss it if he were to live in the wild. Not much, not for quite a while. His sister’s company? He would somehow miss it, but not for a while, not for the ten days the dog had been running away from humans and other animals, not perhaps for another extra week. 

The problem was the coming cold weather. Any kind of animal could very well die in the Sierra’s weather. Even in the summer, people who had lost their way in the long chain of repetitive hills, some had been found dead from hypothermia in a hot day, after having spent the night. 

‘Elvis,’ Cos called. Elvis stopped in his tracks and looked over at his friend.

‘We have to let the search group know I’ve spotted him,’ Cos said.

‘You mean we.’

‘Yes, we. Sorry for the faux pas.’ 

Elvis sniggered at his friend’s French remark, he could be such a pompous fart; for Elvis using the expression faux pas was a faux pas in itself.

‘More like a Freudian slip, man,’ he thought out-loud. ‘Yes, we should tell them.’

‘We have to stop a moment so that I can at least start the audio or the phone won’t be the only thing to fall on the ground.’

‘Ok,’ Elvis conceded holding his arms in front, palms up. ‘Go ahead then. My turn next time.’

Cos pressed the audio button and started recording his message. Elvis took the chance to wrap the chorizo in the plastic bag and put it back in his backpack. For a moment, he considered eating it. He was starting to find the experience all too confusing. 

‘Ok,’ he heard Cos saying. ‘It’s done. Let’s carry on.’

‘God knows where the dog is by now.’

‘What do you want to do Elvis, eh? Do you want to give up already?’ Cos snapped rather angrily, he didn’t know why.

‘What do mean already? We’ve been doing this for days man, and no, I don’t want to give up. Of course, I don’t, you know that, I love that stupid dog even though I don’t know him for shit.’ He resumed walking in the same direction they were walking before they’d stopped. ‘Even though we don’t even know he wants to be rescued…’

‘Of course he wants to be rescued!’ Cos shouted. He was following Elvis along the narrow trail that had appeared in front of them out of nowhere. ‘He’s just very scared and confused.’

‘Or, or,’ Elvis put his right index up in the air, ‘his real name is Buck and he got the call of the wild and doesn’t want to go back to the so-called civilisation.’

‘Bollocks,’ Cos retorted. ‘We have to think differently. Remember what that animal communicator said: we have to visualise we find him and he let’s us pick him up and be taken to his mama.’

‘Yeah-yeah,’ Elvis waved his hand in annoyed acknowledgement. ‘But what if that’s what we want but not what he wants…’

‘Ah for fucksake Cos, give it a rest!!’

After a long trek in silence, they got to the end of the hilltop, a long ridge with a deep narrow drop to the hills in front.

‘Where is the valley?’ Elvis asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Cos admitted. Where the hell are we, he thought, too proud to say it out-loud.

‘This is ridiculous,’ Elvis complained. ‘We better go back and try again.’

‘No, no, no, I think I know where we are,’ Cos fibbed to himself and his friend. ‘The valley is to the East. That way,’ he pointed to the right. ‘That’s probably were the doggie is going, back to the valley where there’s food and shelter.’

‘You might be right, but I still think we should go back where we started and then we’ll know for sure where the valley is.’

‘I’m good with directions man, I know this is West and this is East…’ he started signalling with his arms. 

‘Yeah, ok, bravo tango, but really man, we don’t want to get lost, it’s already getting dark and cold…’

‘We’re not going to get lost and we’re going to find Buck.’

‘You mean Agape.’

They looked at each other for a moment and burst out laughing.

‘We better have something to eat before we make any decision,’ Cos said.

‘Roger that.’

They sat down on a small boulder and ate their sandwiches. Elvis considered the chorizo one more time, it smelled so good… It took him by surprise how much he missed chorizo. He took out a banana instead.

After their meagre dinner they felt happier and bolder. Yet colder. They put the hoods of their parkas up and tightened them around their faces. Elvis saw the sense in not going back and carrying on the way they thought the dog had gone, even though they couldn’t be sure he had actually gone that way. With Agape, you had to go on faith, and after their meal they two young men were fired up with it. The little doggie was going back home that evening. Both of them visualised the event in their minds, as they had been told to do by the animal communicator. 

‘This is what we want,’ Cos said out-loud, going red in the face with embarrassment, ‘universe. Please, give it to us. Thank you.’ 

Elvis sniggered, but funnily enough, this time he believed it was possible. Better believe than not believe; it cost the same and it gives you a more pleasant feeling, especially when you’re facing a cold evening.

They were lost. It was pitch dark now and they were definitely lost. Cos’s phone had died. Elvis hadn’t but it didn’t matter because there was no signal. 

‘You were right,’ Cos admitted to his friend. ‘We should’ve gone back.’

‘Yeah,’ Elvis said. ‘I was right in the beginning but then I changed my mind.’

‘I’m such an idiot, I should’ve listened to you.’

‘Yeah, I should’ve listened to myself. Too late now.’

‘I was thinking a while back “wouldn’t it be comic if we got lost and they had to look for us while they looked for the dog”.’

‘Do you think they’re gonna look for us?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Just kidding.’

‘I don’t think we should carry on walking.’

‘You’re right on that, I think we should find some kind of shelter and spend the night there.’

They did trudge along for a while longer, using Elvis’s phone torch to guide them until they found a crevice in a huge boulder next to a ridge. They took their backpacks off, threw them in, went on the floor and slid in head first; big Cos first, then Elvis, thin as a wafer. The crevice was just about large enough to hold them both if the literally stuck together. They would keep each other warm, they agreed, too tired to feel embarrassed and too cold not to welcome each others’s body heat. In other circumstances they would’ve found having a massive boulder over their heads frightening, but in these dark below zero reality they were grateful beyond words. Their exhaustion and their newly found warmth relaxed them straight away and made them sleepy, their last thoughts dedicated to their families and, of course, Agape, the dog, wishing to share with all of them their peace and warmth, if not their very humble and very tiny abode. 

‘You think we’ll wake up?’ Cos mumbled. 

‘I hope so… What a way to die,’ Elvis mumbled back. 

‘I’m sorry Elvis.’

‘For what?’

‘I don’t know, but I’m sorry.’

‘Ok… I forgive you, for whatever…’

‘Thank you… I love you.’

‘Ok… I love you too man… And forgive me too… my tres… passes.’

‘Good night,’ Cos said

‘Good luck,’ Elvis said. 

They both succumbed to slumber.

Cos dreamed he was pregnant. He didn’t know men could dream they were pregnant, although he knew anyone could dream anything, and he was surprised in his sleep that he could be dreaming that, as he realised he was dreaming. Then he forgot he was dreaming and felt excitement about being pregnant. As the pregnancy progressed in his dream and the skin on his abdomen stretched beyond what he thought was possible, and his belly became heavier and heavier and fuller fuller with life, he started wondering what it was that he was going to give birth to. He wasn’t sure at all it was going to be a baby, after all he was a man and everyone knows a man cannot give birth to babies. What does a man give birth to?

Elvis felt hot during the night. A lot of the time he wasn’t sleeping deeply, but more like what Totoro did: catnapping is what Elvis did that night. He didn’t purr but he did something far stranger: his body radiated an intense heat that kept him and Cos warm all night. He wonder if he was ill or about to combust into flames. He heard the wind and something that sounded like shattered glass coming down from the sky, which he interpreted as hail. At some point, he was so hot he took his hood off. He felt the warm skin of Cos’s face against his; he also had taken his hood off, the guy who had fobia to creepy crawlies. Realising they were going to make it, he finally relaxed and enjoyed a fitful sleep.

The morning conversations of the little forest birds woke the two friends up. What a racket they made, they both thought. Then they thought about who would first slide out of the hole and into the day. As each of them thought about this, they felt an animal lying on top of them. Cos remembered his dream. This is the baby!, he thought. Slowly and gently he put his hand on it. The skin was abundantly furry and soft, like that of a felt dog he had when he was little, but unlike his toy, this guy smelled bad; it was alive too, because the body moved up and down with breathing, it made a soft noise when Cos’s hand touched it.

‘Jesus,’ Elvis whispered, fighting the urge to slither out of there like a rat snake. ‘What the fuck is this?’

‘Well,’ Cos yawned, not at all worried. ‘It feels like a dog, but smells like a wolf.’

‘A wolf!!’

‘I doubt is a wolf, Elvis, it would be scared shitless of u…’ Suddenly something dawned on him and he quickly grabbed the little animal with his big hands.

‘Agape?’ he said too loudly. The dog barked softly, more like a whimper.

Elvis slid out of the hole with considerable difficulty —How the hell had they managed to get in there the previous night?— He then proceeded to help Cos come out too by pulling at his legs, but he was too heavy for his strength.

‘Give me the dog!’ Elvis suggested.

‘No, no, it’s Ok,’ grunted Cos, mortally afraid of letting go of Agape, of the possibility of him running away and being lost again. ‘I’ll manage.’

He did by flexing and extending his legs and slowly slithering on his back like a massive worm. With the dog firmly in his hands, he stumbled to a standing position. Both young men looked at the dog: it definitely was Agape. They smiled at the dog and at each other.

‘We’ve given birth to a dog,’ Cos said thought out loud.

‘Haha,’ said Elvis, and then they laughed quietly, not to startle the little animal. They stroke him in turns and said loving things to him. He looked exhausted and very thin, but definitely on the side of the living. What at toughie this dog was.

Elvis remembered the chorizo and a tiny bit of water he had left in his water flask and immediately went back into the hole to retrieve his and Cos’s backpacks. He poured the little water left carefully in his cupped hand and offered it to the dog in Cos’s arms: the dog lapped it up in two licks. Then Elvis took the chorizo out and put it close to the dog’s mouth. Despite looking worn out, the dog ate the whole sausage quickly, as if his mouth had a life of his own.

Elvis checked his phone: it had died during the night. The men started walking, not knowing very well which way to go, but not worried anymore, Cos still wanting to keep the dog in his arms. Half an hour into their journey, they heard voices. They were shouting Cos’s and Elvis’s names. The young men looked at each other, waiting for the voices to call Agape’s name too, hurt when they didn’t hear it.

‘We’re here!’ Elvis shouted with a voice big for his size.

Cos didn’t dare shout for fear of frightening Agape, who seemed comfortably asleep in his arms. He wished he had more water and food to give the poor soul. It didn’t matter because shortly after they were found by five members of the Agape Search Group. 

There were expressions of great relief when the searchers learnt the two men were the missing “boys” the police and the fire brigade had been looking for all night. With helicopters and everything. Then all heaven broke loose when they realised the dog they had been looking for was with them. Expressions of delight and tears of joy went on while calls were made: first to the police and the families of the missing “boys” then to the dog’s owner, who wasn’t with them but on her way from the city. Cos finally let go of Agape, carefully handing him over to Celia, the woman who first came up with the idea of a search group a week earlier. She was still crying softly with joy and relief. She had a blanket in her arms and she lovingly wrapped the little dog in it, who seemed to be ok with the change of hands. After ten days of running away from humans, he had finally surrendered back into their care. 

‘What were you doing out here anyway?’ someone stupidly asked.

‘We were looking for… unconditional love,’ Elvis said. 

‘But unconditional love found us,’ Cos added. The two friends looked at each other and cracked up with laughter. 

Vivi, December 30, 2021

©Viviana Guinarte

The magic djembe

Angela sat down at the little round table in the cafe and looked out of the glass front into the busy street. She was doing the Christmas shopping for her two children and one husband, in the big City, away from her mountains, her little house with the wild garden … She thought of Heidi, the children’s story, and smiled sarcastically to herself. In the last seventeen years, she had become a villager. Except she didn’t have much of a village life. No ‘strong ties with the community’, as they say in American legal TV shows. She still retained her fierce cosmopolitan individualism from the time when she lived in this very same big City. In truth, she had always been a rare, separate specimen, even when she was a little kid.

She looked around for a waiter or waitress. There were quite a few milling around, since the cafe was as busy as the streets outside, but they all ignored her, it seemed to her, purposefully. They knew she was there and looking at them. She knew this because she’d been a waitress herself when she was very young and needed to pay her college fees. The stares of the customers used to bore on the back of her head and she couldn’t breathe properly until everybody was served and sipping or munching away happily. That’s one of the secrets of being a good waitress: having eyes in the back of your head. Another one is caring.

If she didn’t have her cup of coffee and piece of toast and butter soon, she’d start to get pissed off. The balance was precarious. The fact of going all the way to the City – the one-and-a-half-hour-long journey on the train – to do the dreaded Christmas shopping on her own. She hated any kind of shopping, but heavy-duty shopping in the City was a nightmare. She avoided shopping malls and, specifically, hypermarkets. She had never been in a war zone, but failing that, those places were the closest to hell on Earth she knew. Last time she visited one she ended up crying and having to leave in a hurry because the bastards had moved everything around since her previous visit a year earlier and she couldn’t find anything. 

The only way Angela could survive shopping malls and hypermarkets was by writing down everything she was going to get, recalling in her mind where everything was from last time (she did her best to avoid new shops), carefully scheduling the order of the day, and not straying an inch from the plan. In between shops, every hour or so, there had to be a compulsory stop for coffee and toast, or coffee and cake, or just coffee.

Out of the Metro the first shop had to be the coffee shop. A waitress looked fleetingly her way and Angela shot her arm up. She hurt her shoulder a bit in the process. How pathetic; her joints were rapidly deteriorating, even though she was only 52. My grandmother’s genes, she thought. The waitress, middle-aged herself, walked to Angela with confident strides through the myriad of tables and customers, the way only an experienced waitress can. Black heavy shoes, black stockings, black skirt above the knee, white shirt, black bow tie, hennaed hair in a bun and little notebook in hand. She smiled at Angela.

‘Sorry we made you wait, it’s crazy today,’ she explained.

‘Yes,’ Angela agreed, smiling back. ‘I can see that, don’t worry; the longer I’m here, the longer I postpone the Christmas shopping.’

The waitress laughed.

‘Yes, I’m with you. If you want, you can stay here until after Christmas.’

They both laughed.

‘Wasn’t it nice when Christmas day was only about the sweets and the songs?’

‘And baby Jesus, don’t forget baby Jesus.’

They laughed again.

‘Oh, yes, of course, poor baby Jesus has been totally forgotten, isn’t it ironic?’ 

‘Yes, and sad. Not that I’m a Christian.’

‘No, neither am I,’ Angela quickly concurred. These days saying you were a Christian was almost the equivalent of what it used to mean saying you were gay. But even though she wasn’t a Christian of any denomination, she felt the need to defend Jesus.

‘Some of the things Jesus said are worth remembering and it’s a shame we corrupt his principles, in his name, too!’ Then she immediately felt embarrassed by her own passionate declaration. She had broken the rules of engagement; this was only supposed to be inconsequential, good-humoured chit-chat. But the waitress took it in her stride.

‘I couldn’t agree with you more,’ she declared. ‘This frenzied consumerism is beyond the pale.’

Waitress! Somebody called from one of the tables. That was the cue for the two women to stop their banter.

‘Right,’ the waitress said signalling the calling customer to wait a sec, then looking at Angela. ‘I’m sorry, what would you like to have?’

‘Coffee, of course,’ she replied smiling. ‘A large cup of black americano, please.’

‘How americano do you want it?’ 

Angela caught the reference straight away: how diluted in boiling water did she want her espresso?

‘Fairly americano; this is my third coffee already, and it’s only ten in the morning.’

‘It’s going to be a long day, huh?’

Angela smiled. She wished this woman were a friend of hers. She seemed in tune with her and she didn’t have many friends these days. She thought for a moment. Actually, the question these days was whether she had any at all.

‘Yes, very long.’ She thought of her shopping list.

‘Anything to eat?’

‘Yes, please, some toast and butter. Just butter, no jam.’

‘Homemade bread or crappy sliced supermarket?’

‘If you put it that way, homemade.’

‘Thank you. I’ll be right back.’ She left with a wink and a smile. 

Before she went to the counter with Angela’s order, she stopped to attend the customer that had called her, an impossibly well-groomed older man, impeccably coiffed at the top, blindly shining Oxford shoes at the bottom. A stratospherically expensive attorney or something of the sort. Angela looked away cringing. Not her type, even if she stretched her imagination beyond recognition. If they tortured her, she still wouldn’t go out with a specimen like that. Never had, never would. It was all hypothetical, anyway, because she had a husband she was madly in love with after twenty years together. 

She smiled to herself thinking of Jon, and the familiar heat between her legs travelled upwards to her chest, warming up all her insides. Thinking of Jon was more effective than eating hot porridge. It always had been. She still wanted her coffee though. Coffee had no substitute. Coffee had made her feel at home when she hadn’t had a home. And even though Jon and the children had changed that and she would always have a home now, she still relied on the hope of coffee to get up in the mornings.

Angela’s eyes then fell on a young couple with two small children sitting at one of the tables by the large Christmas tree next to the mirrors; the area in the grand cafe away from the glass front with the extensive view of the streets and the roundabout with the massive nineteenth century fountain in the middle. The children were playing with chocolate Santas, making them fight one another. They made Angela feel sad and guilty that her children and husband were not here with her today, but they couldn’t afford the whole family trip, the return train tickets for the four of them, the metro, the meals, the inevitable treats for the children. Edmond and Kate were old enough to understand they couldn’t have everything they wanted, but their parents would never grow old enough to accept they couldn’t get their children a lot of what they wanted. So, coming to the City had become painful, as well as expensive. It all seemed to be about spending money. Money they didn’t have. And they didn’t want to have. They had always hated the whole business of keeping the system in business; which was one of the reasons they refused to have a car, one of the reasons they refused to have a regular job. And yet, it was difficult when you had children; you couldn’t avoid betraying some of your principles. You betrayed them for love, guilt, convenience and exhaustion. 

She took out the shopping list from her coat pocket and unfolded it with a deep sigh. It wasn’t long, but it was costly. She had just about enough money to buy all the items on it; provided the prices didn’t differ from the ones Jon and she had seen on-line the evening before. If only they had managed to put the money together in time to buy everything on-line … Then she wouldn’t be here now, spending extra money coming and going, missing her family, worrying about not being able to find something, about getting back home late, about getting depressed alone in the City, feeling like she used to feel when she was young and she didn’t have a family; looking at the warm lights behind the windows and longing to be like the people in those houses, wondering if the hole inside her would ever be filled. And now that she was whole, she hated being away from her loved ones, her children and partner. Not that they didn’t drive her insane with their demands, their incessant conversations that often ended in arguments. She liked being, needed to be, alone sometimes. But not this far away.

She heard a clinking noise and looked up from her shopping list. It was the waitress with her round metal tray carrying Angela’s order.

‘A lot to shop then?’ the waitress asked, putting Angela’s cup of coffee down on the table with expert balance, well away from the paper with the shopping list, just in case. 

‘Not so much, but expensive. You know how it is at Christmas.’

‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ The plate with two large pieces of toast landed swiftly but noiselessly on the other side of the table. Professional waitressing. ‘Have you got any children?’

‘Yes,’ Angela nodded. ‘Two. Boy and a girl. Sixteen and eleven.’

‘Uff,’ was the waitress’s reaction. ‘Like me then. Girl and a boy. Seventeen and thirteen. What a pain, eh?’

‘Sheesh. I often wonder what those two have done with my real children.’

‘Ain’t that the truth. It’s like they say: when they’re babies they’re so cute you want to eat them, and when they grow, you so much wish you had.’

Angela laughed even though she’d heard the joke a few times before. This woman had a natural sense of humour, like a good stand-up comedian. 

‘Now my lad wants a drum kit,’ the waitress declared with the air of someone resigned to life imprisonment. She put a saucer with two little bars of butter wrapped in silver paper down on the table. Then a fork and a knife wrapped in a red napkin; the Christmas variation of the everyday white napkin, … how thoughtful.

‘A drum kit.’

‘Yes, my dear, a whole set of drums and cymbals so he can play at home!’

‘That rings a bell,’ Angela said. 

‘Funny,’ the waitress said laughing.

‘No, it really rings a bell. I had a similar thing with my boy a few years back; he also wanted a drum.’

‘I think they all want a drum at some point or other. I don’t know what to do. For a while he borrowed one from the music school where he goes to do his lyrical hip-hop,’ she raised her eyebrows dramatically. 

‘But he had to give it back, thank God! It’s been peaceful for a while. Well, peaceful, you know what I mean, peacefuller, but now he wants a whole kit for Christmas.’ She feigned sobbing. 

‘Lyrical hip-hop?’

‘Don’t ask!’

‘I won’t. I’ll look it up though.’

‘I wouldn’t if I were you. Anyway, what did you do, did you get your son his drum?’

‘Er, yes, we did actually; for Christmas too, as it happens.’



‘Carmen!’ This time it was a workmate calling Angela’s waitress. Time to stop chatting, again.

‘Sorry, lots of work today,’ Carmen said. ‘Enjoy your coffee and toast; let me know if you need anything else.’


Watching Carmen’s back, Angela sipped her coffee. Piping hot, heavenly smell, the right amount of bitterness, not too toasted. Home again. She looked out of the glass front into the streets with the tall old buildings and the light grey sky. Cars honked. She remembered the words of the writer Maruja Torres: life is like coffee; it always smells better than it tastes.

Cafe Comercial, Madrid, Spain – ©alamy stock photo

She turned her attention to her breakfast again and opened the two little parcels of butter to spread the whole lot over the two large pieces of toast. She thought of Edmond and the drum in his room; his djembe.

When Edmond was ten – or was it eleven? – he was into percussion. At the local music school he was learning to play the piano, but that didn’t seem to be enough percussing for him or, rather, not the right kind, and he started tapping his chest like a self-diagnosing doctor who’d missed his vocation as a musician in a jazz band. Then he went on to striking other parts of his body; every part makes a different sound, of course. His thighs were a favourite, especially when he was sitting down. Studying, watching TV, on a bus ride, on a train journey, on the twice-yearly visit to the pizza place, he would suddenly pick up his pastime, and tap-tap-tap he would go for minutes on end, then he would stop to concentrate on a conversation – talking having always been another of his hobbies – or eat, read, disturb his sister, browse or play on his computer, etc. Sometimes they could hear him, locked in the bathroom, tapping his thighs, … while sitting on the toilet, his parents guessed. Angela often wondered if it helped him with his constipation, but she never dared ask. Some things are better left un-asked.

Jon and she would look at each other and smile. They loved it. Their son was very good at it. He had an incredible sense of timing, a wide range of rhythms, and over the months his ability grew and grew until it became noticeable to people other than his over-appreciative parents. Even strangers stopped and held their breath to listen and smile. 

On the bus coming back home, on a rare occasion when the four of them had gone into the City for one exhibition or other, there was a man in his mid-thirties sitting next to Edmond on the other side of the aisle. Their son began tapping his thighs and clicking his fingers to the frenzied rhythm in his head. Angela thought she recognised the beat, related to a certain melody. Her son had a favourite record at that moment, an early Ella Fitzgerald. The man couldn’t take his eyes off Edmond. The drummer went on determinedly with his swing without the rest of the band. A-tisket A-tasket, I lost my yellow basket. 

Suddenly, the stranger started imitating him, or trying too. Whether Edmond welcomed this unexpected accompaniment or not, was unclear. They just knew it didn’t faze him: he simply carried on as if it weren’t happening. Perhaps he was acting as a jazz musician might, assimilating a fellow musician’s improvisation. After a while the man stopped, pressed the yellow button over his head and got off the bus at the next stop, giving Edmond, who continued percussing, a last bewildered, wordless look.

The following weekend the boy was invited to spend some time with his friend Gabriel, the nine-year-old son of Judith, one of Angela’s best friends. She still had time in those days for a couple of friends. She had to make the time, since her children were too young then to have a social life without mama or papa taking them places. Neighbourhoods teeming with children that came in and out of everybody’s houses and played in the streets at all hours was, regretfully, a thing of the past. It’s not that she minded having friends, of course, it’s just that with the money-making, the home-making, the relationship-making and the parenting, there was little I-making time. And it scared her, the idea that she wouldn’t fulfil her own destiny. ‘Don’t die with your music still in you,’ went the self-help guru’s maxim. She really didn’t want to be prostrated on her crummy hospital death bed having to say to herself: ‘Angela, you’re dying with your music still in you, you moron.’

But she was too old these days to be able to lie to herself. She was a moron. She was a weak woman. She used to make herself believe that she was strong, because, in some respects, she had been. She was psychologically, emotionally and physically very stable. She coped with the various problems, some quite substantial, that life threw at her, with aplomb, even energy, be it with a slight lack of pro-activism, as a well-meaning ex-friend once pointed. It used to be very important for her to believe that she was a strong woman. She despised weak women. But now the truth was out. She was weak. 

She shook her head and drank some more coffee. The idea made her instantly depressed, and she couldn’t afford that, not before she’d even started her shopping, for God’s sake!. She was strong according to Marianismo, but not according to Feminismo. So what? Who cared? Fuck the lot of them! She adored her family and did her humble best to keep them safe, fed, clothed (second hand), relatively comfy, sometimes happy. Sue me, one half of her said to her other half. 

She went back in her mind to her son and his djembe. So, Edmond went to spend that late November Saturday at Judith’s house with her son Gabriel. Come to think of it, Angela didn’t go that time; Judith picked Edmond up in her car in the morning and brought him back in the evening. 

Edmond had a good time at Gabriel’s, as usual, but with a special addition, Judith told Angela, because he had discovered her African drum; specifically, a djembe. He’d seen it before, standing in a corner like a trendy piece of African decoration, but he’d never thought of playing it like an actual musical instrument until that day. He’d asked Judith in his polite child manner if it was OK to use it and she, knowing how respectful Edmond was with things, even his own, had said yes.

‘He took to it like a duck to water!’ Judith explained visibly impressed. ‘It’s incredible. I mean, I know he’s very good with the piano, but the guy’s got rhythm, too.’

Angela proudly agreed and explained to her friend Edmond’s percussional efforts in the previous weeks. She then asked Judith about the djembe. She didn’t even know what a djembe was in those days.

‘A djembe is a drum with a shape like a gigantic goblet,’ her friend explained. ‘Mine is a big one like this.’ She left a space of over half a metre between her hands. 

‘The body is made of wood and the drum head is leather – goat skin. It comes from places like Mali, Senegal… Mine is from Senegal…’

‘Did you buy it on-line?’ 

‘Jesus, no! I bought it in the African Quarter in the City, of course! Little Africa they call it.’ She laughed and Angela laughed with her. She couldn’t imagine anything less Sub-Saharan than their City.

That night Angela told Jon what Judith had told her about Edmond and the djembe. That was it, they decided: that was what they were going to get their son for Christmas. They were very excited: at last a proper present! The first since the pen knife when he was five and the macbook when he was seven. 

No more Lego that year; a djembe. And it had to be the real deal from West Africa. They would have to find out more about it and where to get it. Ah, and they would have to find the money. Judith couldn’t remember how much it had cost her all those years ago, the pre-Euro years. Angela and Jon looked it up on the Internet. Basic djembe drums were around 80 euros, unless they bought a smaller, poorer-quality one, ‘for children’. Jesus, Angela thought, where were they going to get €80 from?

‘Ok,’ said Jon with his habitual optimism when it came to money. ‘I’ll get on to it.’

Little Kate was still easier, and cheaper, to please in those days, poor sweetie. She would’ve been five if Edmond was ten. They wouldn’t get her a pen knife until last Christmas, though. Not because she was a girl. No! It was because she was not as careful with things as her brother. She could be slightly cack-handed, despite being a wonderful artist. Very contradictory. Angela couldn’t remember what they got for her daughter the djembe Christmas, but she was sure it wouldn’t have been dolls, because Kate had never been into dolls. Soft toys? … by the truckload, but not dollies. Wilful, beautiful Kate.

Musical instruments are incredibly precise things. Long before anybody touches them, they have to have the inherent potential to play wonderful music. Very much like people. With a djembe, the timber used for its carving has to be the right one. Lenké, mahogany, rosewood and bush mango are favourite hardwoods for African djembes. The wood block is cut out from one single tree trunk and carved out inside by hand from top to bottom. Needless to say, the whole process requires hard work and tremendous skill. The goatskin used for the drumhead has to be uniform in thickness, unblemished and perfectly shaven. The wood is carved and hollowed in a perfect shape and the skin stretched over its top and kept taught with a careful design of strong cordage, the tension strings, so that the drum shell can exhale its wide array of sounds rather than inhaling them. That’s what it’s all about. That and a good, soulful drummer. 

Eighty euros sounded like a lot in Angela and Jon’s ears, and that loud sound deafened another little voice saying it wasn’t enough for such a humongous amount of skilful work. One doesn’t always have the strength or the generosity to listen to the distant little voices of the five-cents-an hour labourers. Would one stop to listen, one would stop buying things, and then what? The economic system of the big voices would collapse. And one wouldn’t want that, would one?

Angela’s mind went back to the cafe. She sipped more coffee. Wouldn’t one, though?

One more time, Jon and she performed the miracle and managed to raise the money for the djembe, as well as the money for Kate’s present and the train fare into the City. One more time, family and friends came to their rescue, and one more time, they would get their money back, eventually. The same way the bank, the vet, the chemist, the dentist, the health food shop, the handy man, would get their money for their goods or services rendered: eventually. Get it they did, mind, or the support system would collapse, and what would Angela and Jon do then? 

They both went into the City to get the presents that year. It was a Friday morning after having seen their children off on the school bus. Monica, another mum, would take them home after school with her children if Angela and Jon weren’t back in time from the City, which they wouldn’t be, they were sure. They would probably have to stretch the money so that they could have a plate of curry somewhere at lunchtime. That would be a nice reward for all the travelling and troubling. 

They enjoyed their time on their own and away from home as if they had only just met; only more so, because they knew each other. They came out of the main underground railway station in the City. It was a sunny day, warm for early December. They walked all the way to the old quarter, which contained the Latin quarter, which in turned contained the area recently christened ‘Little Africa’. Many worlds containing one another, each smaller than the previous one … like Russian dolls, except these worlds looked totally different, each one belonging to a different nation, culture, background, experience. It made the class system look like child’s play.

They both loved walking through those ancient streets, with recent tacky buildings next to nineteenth, eighteenth, sixteenth, fifteenth century buildings, populated by humans from all over the planet. Walking back in time and around the world. Wonderful, to walk holding hands with Jon, that sexual energy running from him into her. For a few hours not worrying much about anything, except finding the damned drum, and perhaps, in a little corner of their minds, the possibility of being held up and mugged in one of those little world streets. 

None of that happened that day and they got to the square that was the heart of Africa in this European City safe and sound, and with their bank notes still in their wallets. Best to bring cash into this part of the world. 

There were clusters of young black men in every corner of the square. Some of them were clothed in African apparel, but most of them wore simple denim trousers and shirts or T-shirts. There was no need for jackets or coats on that warm midday. Some of the men had their backs against the walls of the old buildings around the square, contemplating life, smoking cigarettes and talking to the guy next to them, all at the same time. There were other people in the square, of course, of both sexes, but they were crossing it. They had other places to go, lots of other things to do, at the same time, no doubt.

Angela and Jon had only one thing to do and one place to go, but they didn’t know much about the thing and didn’t know exactly where the place was. They didn’t want to be mistaken for tourists, appear like overgrown children bewildered by the world about them, but they couldn’t help looking around trying to find the street where the African shop with the djembes was supposed to be. 

Even though they didn’t live in the City, they knew that the square had another look and another kind of urbanites during the night. Drug-buying and -selling was a prosperous business in this area, and even their consumption often took place in the square, as well as in the adjacent alleys. Now it was twelve noon and the people that live by day could pretend for the umpteenth time that it had all been a nightmare. The square was clean, the people in it respectable, the boxes of shiny fruit and veg from the grocery shops out on the pavement, the colourful flower pots out on the balconies, canaries were singing away in their cages, little dogs were being taken for a stroll, female cats walked around at leisure, knowing they wouldn’t be raped by tom cats. For another few hours of sun, life was decent, good even.

That’s why Angela and Jon could fearlessly approach a couple of the young black guys. These two were standing in the middle of the pavement rather than holding the wall with their backs, and therefore visibly doing nothing. The last thing Angela and Jon wanted to do was interrupt anybody’s work. It was hard enough for these people to find any kind of work at all.

‘Excuse me,’ Jon said, throwing in a smile. ‘I wonder if you could help us, we’re looking for a shop around here that sells drums…’

‘Djembes,’ Angela specified smiling too. ‘From Mali.’

‘Or Senegal,’ Jon added.

One of the young men looked befuddled, but the other one smiled back and shot his right index up in the air.

‘I come from Senegal! Oh, yes, yes, there is a shop like this right up the street there,’ he pointed with the same finger. ‘Not far.’

‘Aha,’ Angela and Jon said in unison, looking where the man was pointing.

‘I can show you, I can take you if you want.’

Angela and Jon looked at each other briefly, then at him.

‘Ok,’ they said nodding reassuringly. They were also careful to smile again. 

The sun was shining and there were lots of long-standing locals milling around. Nothing could happen, Angela thought. For God’s sake, she reprimanded herself, he looks like such a nice guy. The police officers standing outside their police car in the next square had probably broken the law more times than this poor man.

Sure enough the shop was in the next building up from the square. It wasn’t very big but it made good use of its space. It was packed to the ceiling with African gear, rows of clothes, pots and other utensils, and, yes, drums, including djembes. Angela and Jon could see their characteristic goblet shape. They were all displayed on the top shelf close to the ceiling. The most expensive items well out of reach of grabby hands. 

The guy that had taken them to the shop was shouting cheerfully, presumably in Wolof -the main language in Senegal- to a woman who looked exactly the part: the proverbial big black African woman, wrapped up in yards of a multi-coloured, multi-patterned fabric, the same material piling up on top of her head. Both Angela and Jon had to make a self-conscious effort to look somewhere else. The wide selection of kaftans exhibited on a long row of hangers was a good spot to concentrate their attention on, while their chaperone continued jabbering to the magnificent woman, who didn’t seem at all impressed by what he had to say. 

Angela soon started pulling at Jon’s sleeve with one hand and pointing at the djembes with the other. She was seeing familiar signs in her partner that told her he was hopelessly infatuated with the garments. They didn’t have money to get one of those; they only had the money for a djembe. Today it was about the djembe. They couldn’t go back home without the djembe. Djembe, djembe, djembe; the word drumming in Angela’s head like the instrument itself, or as if her son was doing his recalcitrant leg slapping behind her back. Jon smiled at her; he knew what she was thinking.

‘Yeah, yeah,’ he laughed. ‘I just want to know how much they cost.’

‘Yeah, yeah,’ she mocked, laughing too. Next to the djembes, suspended from the ceiling, like an African ghost, she eyed a beautifully embroidered gown with a translucent silk overcoat, all in different shades of green. But she didn’t want it. She didn’t need more clothes. She had been wearing the same clothes for years and they still looked good; she was happy like that. Buying new clothes made her feel like a princess who suddenly grows a conscience. 

‘What djembe you want!’ the African woman shouted behind their backs, making them jump. A black man appeared through a door at the back with a step ladder. He put it up next to the djembe area, climbed it and looked at Jon inquiringly. Jon pointed to one of the djembes and looked at Angela. She nodded. The man picked it up unceremoniously and climbed down the steps backwards with no hands. Unfortunately, they wanted to look at a couple more, so the guy had to repeat his dangerous journey twice. 

They felt bad about that, especially because they ended up choosing the first one, as they were sure was often the case. The guy’s smile seemed to signify that. Mind you, Angela reflected, it is difficult to tell what smiles, looks and other body language means in people from other, very different, cultures. For example, Chinese people at the Chinese shop often seemed unhappy, even angry, and she wondered why. Were they unhappy having to live in the E.U.? Were they unhappy working in a shop? Did they all have problems at home? Were they racist? All of the above?

What about white workers at the supermarket? Some of them were nice, but quite a few of them behaved appallingly. Angela didn’t have to wonder why, though. It was clear to her: they didn’t like their jobs – who could blame them -, they were badly paid and didn’t have enough time to put the goods up on the shelves before opening shop, so customers got in their way. Angela wasn’t particularly good at reading people, but being white, she was a bit better at reading whites.

The shop assistant put the drum on the floor and tapped it loudly with his hands to show the customers that the thing worked. He touched the ropes on the drum. He told them it would need tuning occasionally by tightening the ropes, so that the drum head skin was taught. Angela and Jon nodded. They knew this. They also knew it had to be done by someone who knew what they were doing.

They inquired about the wood.

‘Bush mango,’ the guy said. Angela and Jon nodded. The right answer.

They inquired about the drumhead.


‘Seventy euros,’ the woman said softer, now that she saw the customers were serious about buying.

Angela and Jon looked at each other and nodded.

‘Ok,’ Angela said.

The woman appeared vaguely disappointed. Perhaps she had expected them to barter and now she wished she had asked them for more. But if she had asked for more they would have bartered down to seventy, so the result would’ve been the same. They had eighty euros in Angela’s wallet to spend on the djembe and thirty in Jon’s for their Indian or Moroccan meal. Angela took her four twenty-euro notes out and handed them to the magnificent woman, while the other guy was lovingly folding the djembe into bubble wrap and then a large plastic bag. Their guide remained standing next to them; he had grown quiet. Angela got ten euros change and a calling card, Jon the bag with the djembe. There were thank yous, goodbyes and smiles all around before they went out of the shop into the bright light of the sun. 

Angela and Jon sighed in unison. It was done. She still had the ten euro note in her hand. She showed it to Jon significantly. He nodded. She handed the note to the young man who had eased their dealings that day. He accepted it with a huge smile and a string of thank yous.

Come Christmas day, early morning, the djembe stood conspicuously by the Christmas tree. Edmond’s parents had felt bad about the instrument being wrapped up in such a lifeless thing as puffed-up plastic. They felt it needed to breath, so they re-wrapped it solely in brown paper enhanced with some filigree patterns Angela had drawn on it with a silver pen. 

They had their panettone with thick hot chocolate – their traditional breakfast on Christmas day – and when the children were ready to burst with frustration and trepidation, they let them open the presents. Edmond had been eyeing the strange big parcel since he had come into the living room from his bedroom. His parents made lame jokes about what it might be: a huge wine glass? a huge hour glass? It didn’t have the shape of an hourglass, Edmond astutely pointed out, they’re only thin in the middle. A stool? You could do with a stool in your room Edmond, for your piano, when we finally get you one. I’m not sure yet I want a piano, the boy said, glancing at the brown parcel again. He didn’t smile; he looked concerned, as if he thought he was going to get something he didn’t want. He knew by then that Santa Claus were his parents, and parents can make mistakes. Huge mistakes.

  Kate couldn’t cope anymore. She started picking up presents and dealing them like cards. But they opened them one at a time, as it was their house rule. You had to treat presents, and intrinsically the people who had got them for you – in Kate’s case still Santa – with respect and meaningfulness.

Finally, the moment arrived when Edmond opened the djembe. He smiled at it, but he wasn’t over the moon. His parents had noticed that, in general, he wasn’t the expressive, jumping monkey, merry-go-round child he had been until a year earlier. He could be considered, after all, a pre-teen now. He had always been, anyway, mature for his age. Angela and Jon looked at each other.

‘A djembe.’ The boy said out loud, but somehow it sounded like a whisper.

‘That’s right,’ Angela smiled.

‘Yes, a djembe,’ Jon smiled, too. ‘What do you think?’

Edmond smiled at the drum. He tapped it a few times with alternate hands; far more professionally than the guy in the shop. A-tisket A-tasket. Then he brusquely got up, picking up the instrument, one small hand inside the foot, the other small hand around the head, and walked briskly to his room. Angela and Jon put their heads around the narrow hall to see what he was doing. The boy let the djembe down gently inside his room by the door and came back to the living room, sat down on his chair and signalled his sister to fetch him another present.

He looked at his parents with his sharp sea-green eyes.

‘Cool,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’

Angela’s consciousness came back to the cafe. The place was just as busy. There seemed to be more families with children and shopping bags. Her heartache for her own. The sky outside had cleared a little and some blue could be seen in between shreds of pale grey. She had finished her breakfast and she hadn’t brought a book to read. There were shelves along the walls with second-hand books for customers to pick up and read there. She thought of starting a novel. It was tempting, but she had to do her shopping. The terrible truth was she didn’t have any excuses now to postpone her duties any longer.

She spotted Carmen, the waitress, coming in from the counter area and she put up her hand. Carmen was looking straight her, so she didn’t miss it.

‘Everything all right?’ she asked when she arrived at Angela’s table.

‘Yes, it was very good, thank you.’

‘So, tell me about your son and his drum, although I think I can guess: he played it at all hours and drove you insane, didn’t he?’

‘Well, I thought you would be interested to know: he never played it. He put it in a corner of his room and that was that for six years. I dust it occasionally.’

Carmen looked as if Angela were talking in Wolof.

‘So,’ Angela continued. ‘In our experience, if you don’t want your child to make a racket at home with a makeshift drum all you have to do is buy him a proper one. Preferably an 80-euro Senegalese djembe.’

Angela could see that Carmen was struggling to find some words to say. Something appropriate. Something relevant, meaningful or even inspirational. But, as Angela and her husband knew well, there wasn’t much to say. 

Finally, something came out of Carmen’s open mouth. 

‘But, why? Didn’t you ask him why?’

‘No, we didn’t. He was only ten and he probably didn’t know why. It wasn’t a bad drum, we don’t think, so it wasn’t that. We didn’t want him to feel bad about it. You know, about not playing it. It’s not his fault. You can’t force these things. We thought he might pick it up and start playing it one day, who knows.’

‘Are you going to ask him why … ever?’

Angela thought about this.

‘No,’ was her answer. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘But, why? There must be a reason.’

‘I’m not sure. Some things can’t be explained. I think it’s the djembe, actually. I don’t think it wants to be played.’

‘Right.’ Carmen stared at Angela again as if she were speaking in Wolof.

Angela ignored this. She knew how it sounded. She didn’t care. A sad smile broke on her face.

‘Or perhaps my husband and I are afraid of the answer.’ She took her wallet out to pay for her breakfast. For some reason, or nothing to do with reason, she saw with her mind’s eye the blue African dress she had coveted in the djembe shop all those years ago; it had the colour of her son’s eyes.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, girl. Children, huh?’

‘Yes, children.’

‘They are so … baffling.’

‘Yes, they are so … human.’

‘Ha, ha, yes.’ The waitress picked up the bank note from the saucer with the receipt. ‘Thank you. I’ll get you your change.’

‘No, there’s no need, you can keep the change: to help towards your son’s drums.’

‘Are you kidding? I’m not sure I’m going to get them now, after your story!’

‘I thought you wanted him to stop drumming.’

‘Yeah, but …’ This time Carmen had something to say but chose not to voice it. Instead, she asked:

‘And what are you going to get your son this Christmas then?’

Angela breathed in.

‘A Ukelele.’

Vivi, December 7th 2021.

©Viviana Guinarte 2021