What he liked about the city was that it had stayed the same forever, despite the passing of time. From the construction of its vaulted streets, its citizens had been adding sculptures and reliefs to the facades to change it completely. After, during a burst of contention, they conserved it like a treasure. Everything around him changed, but Perla Blanca stayed the same. It was pleasant to walk down at any time.
Álvaro smiled as he walked down one of the covered streets. Above, much further over his head, it was raining. The cold hung around the open streets; it mixed with his favourite jacket and entered the courtyard of a block of buildings.
When he crossed the doorstep, a ray of light shone on him. He covered his eyes with a hand and made his way through the green courtyard. In the middle of the small park, the sun lit the fruit of an apple tree. Álvaro reached over and grabbed a few apples. It was a clear day and the dry grass invited him to get swept away by this early autumn afternoon. He ate one of the apples and kept the other one in his pocket. He had things to do.
The building he had to visit was on the other side of the street. The rain and wind worsened. Álvaro was thankful for his jacket, a gift from his good friend Enri, who he was about to visit. Over the doorway there was a metal sign which had lost its shine over the years. Number 100, North Avenue.
It was an old doorway, from the first buildings which were constructed. The wooden stairs were blackened, and the steps worn in the middle after bearing the weight of so many footsteps. There, in the apartment on the first floor, was where Enri lived.
As always at that time, every Friday, Enri would invite him over for coffee. They were the same age and had met not too long ago in the games room of a café. Normally they liked talking about the public and private lives of politicians, but that afternoon Enri had other problems.
On top of the living room table there were some letters. They were old and yellowed. By their side, a screwdriver which, according to what his friend had told him, had been used to gain access to them.
“It’s incredible. After so many years,” he said thoughtfully looking at the chime clock on the wall.
“And how did you find them?”asked Álvaro distractedly.
Enri turned and stared at him.
“You know what you told me last week?” He leaned on the table and towards him as if he were about to reveal a big secret. “That a friend of yours had lost a silver bookmark and he was looking for it for ages. In the end the cat had flung it behind the living room clock.”
“Vaguely,” he answered as he sprinkled a spoonful of sugar into his cup.
“You must remember,” Enri got up and went to his bedroom. When he came back he brought a small cameo. “I told you I couldn’t find my mother’s portrait. In the end it was in my jacket pocket,” he smiled as he stooped over and cleaned the glass, “but first I looked behind the clock,” he said pointing. “The wooden backing was damaged, and I thought I might polish it. So I grabbed the screwdriver and took it off. And,” he opened his eyes and inhaled, “there were my father’s letters.”
They read the letters over and over again and discussed them. It was a small treasure, a time capsule. For Enri it was the voice of somebody who couldn’t be there. But more importantly, it was a sign for everybody.
“What he saw…what he told me…,” he continued. “With this I could really do something. Something big. I can change things.” his voice was transcendent, like the moment he felt he was living.
“And do you have the guts to do that?”
The young Enri thought for an instant, although Álvaro felt it had been a long time since he had made a decision.
“I’ll stick with it to the end.”
From his jacket’s pocket, Álvaro took out an apple he had picked that afternoon, and dropped it on the table. Enri picked it up and looked at him with a grin which went from ear to ear.
“I almost forgot to give it to you,” confessed Álvaro.
The crispy flesh broke between Enri’s teeth and he chewed on the first mouthful greedily.
“Thanks,” he said between gulps, “I haven’t spotted these apples around the city for ages. There are no more trees. I don’t know where you’re always finding them.”
“I know my way around,” he answered, “you have to know when to look for them.”
Álvaro bid farewell to Enri and promised he’d pay him another visit the following Friday. He wrapped himself up in his jacket, the same one which Enri had given him. He told him it suited him perfectly and Álvaro thanked him once again for the present.
Outside on the street, the strongest winter chill swept the streets. It was chucking it down with rain and neither the archways nor the doorways had space to shelter. Álvaro looked up at the window where he had left his friend. After he looked around and saw nobody was coming.
With a leap he grabbed onto a pipe and started climbing up to the window. He had been a thief in his youth, and closely knew every nook and cranny in the facades of this city. In a few seconds he reached the window of the room where he had just had a coffee with Enri. But he wasn’t there. Or almost.
A woman came out of the kitchen. Visibly pregnant, she dragged her feet along towards the living room as she carried a tray balancing a cup of broth. When Alvaro wrapped his knuckles against the glass, she almost fell to the floor.
She left the cup on the table and rushed over to open the window. Álvaro jumped back to his feet on the same hardwood floor he had treaded before.
“You’re crazy!” said the woman as she hugged him. “What if they see you here?”
Álvaro took the woman’s face between his palms and kissed her. Later he knelt and kissed her bulging stomach.
“I miss you so much, Risca.”
“Come,” she said taking him by the hands, “Take a seat with me.”
They both sat on the small sofa in the living room. Outside it was the beginning of a sunny summer, and you could hear people as they passed by distractingly.
“You’re soaking,” she said touching his jacket. “Where have you been?”
“Here, always here,” he said before kissing her again.
He took off his jacket and remembered something. From his inner pocket he took out a bunch of letters he had written that very morning. He looked at the living room clock and went towards it, turned it to one side and asked Risca for a screwdriver. With her help he took off the backing, leaving a few marks on the wood. Then he hid the letters there and put the clock back how it was before.
Risca and Álvaro stood for a long time without saying anything.
“I’m not going to see you again, right?” she asked.
“Those letters are for him”, he said stroking Risca’s belly.
“He’ll find them?” she said without holding back the tears.
Álvaro felt bad and started to cry.
“Will he be like you?” asked Risca as she hugged him.
“He’ll do everything right.”
The young couple kissed and, letting her go, Álvaro left through the apartment door. The stairs of Number 100, North Avenue were new. They had just installed them a few months before. The wood was polished and shiny. The steps had still taken few footsteps and they were flat.
When he turned on the landing to head to the main door, a racket filled the staircase. Police officers poured in towards him, when one of them, who seemed to be of a higher ranking, appeared to recognise him.
“Álvaro Delvalle,” he said severely, “by higher order you are required to leave with us immediately.”
Avoiding them, Álvaro kept on going down towards the entrance calmly. With his careful descent, he felt the strength of the steps. The higher ranking official approached, but Álvaro took a step forward, and the steps lost their light colour and looked worn.
The staircase was collapsed, the wood blackened and there was nobody in front of him.
He walked out the door and it was still raining outside. It was winter and people walked by hurriedly. Before going out he wrapped himself up in his favourite jacket, the same one his son had given him.