Life in a handbag / A face on the metro

por Alicia Pérez Gil


English translation below

Si vas a tener una clase de inglés a las seis de la tarde un lunes, mejor que sea creativa. Mi profesora, Claire Mapletoft, y yo hemos decidido que mi gramática y mi vocabulario mejorarán si leo y escribo. Así que escribo mis cosas y leo las suyas. Textos de entre 500 y 1000 palabras sobre un tema dado. Estos son los relatos cortos correspondientes a las dos primeras semanas. Seguiremos informando.

Si te apetece saber cómo contribuir económicamente a que sigamos escribiendo, pincha aquí

Estoy trabajando en las versiones en español también.

If you are having an English class at six on a Monday evening, you´d better make it creative. My teacher, Claire Mapletoft, and me have decided to improve my grammar and vocabulary by writing and reading so I write my stuff and read hers. Short texts between 500 and 1000 words. Below you will find examples from the first two weeks.

I am also working on the Spanish versions


A face on the metro

Alicia Pérez

That time of the year has already passed. March heads towards spring, the cold gets worse as if it knew warm weather will take its place soon and the night shortens as the day grows longer. As per people, we do the exact same thing day after day: we wake up early, take the tube and go to work.

A tube train is somehow the natural habitat to all kinds of human beings. It doesn´t matter how long you spend looking good in the morning. You get made up girls or men with fancy hairdos sitting next to shabby women or school kids wearing their uniforms. There is one thing, though, that makes them all fall under the same umbrella: they have what I call an early morning face. A face that proves they’d rather be anywhere else. Most of them would choose their bed, of course, but there are more interesting places they wish they´d be: a beach, in other person´s bed. Dead, some of them.

Not today.

As weird as it is, there are no morning faces today on this train. None at all. I have pinched myself to make sure I am awake, and I am. I can see a red mark on my hand and I hear the train clatter too. As I am standing up, I have to hold the bar tight not to fall down when the driver breaks at every stop. He is a tough driver.

There are also fellow passengers, but no faces.

This is why it is so important that you understand February is over. This is not a bunch of people coming back from a late fancy dress party. This is people dressed as animals for no reason.

People dressed as animals at six in the morning.

In the tube.

There is an eagle. A brown eagle with a tall hat. Somehow it reminds me of those posters: “Uncle Sam Wants you”. It must be because the hat is red and yellow. I have been trying to see the skin behind the mask, but the make up is so good that there is no skin to be seen. Two huge penguins stand by me. I saw, when they got in the train, that one was male and the other one was female. The male one wears a bright red bowtie. The female one carries a handbag all splattered with glitter. Their beaks serve as support to a pair of sunglasses that both of them wear.

Everybody wears bright clothes as opposed to the office outfits and the school uniforms. Bright hurts my eyes. The only thing I can do to keep calm is looking at my own reflection on the window, but I don´t want to. I am somehow sure that all of them are staring at me. Stupid as it might seem, I am the different one here.

The next time the train stops I trip and have to lean on the arm of one of the animals in order not to fall down. I receive a baleful look and a grin and I want to just disappear. But there are at least ten more stations until I get to the office, so I take a deep breath and I stand straight.

No huge beany toy is going to scare me away.

I finally look at my reflection. The lack of colour makes everything more bearable.  A monkey with a vest, his head covered with a paper bag, is staring at me. Just as I thought. I am so fed up with the whole situation that I step forward and grab the bag, I pull it, I tear it to shreds.

I then wish I hadn´t done so.

The monkey´s face… well, the muscles, the tendons, the veins, all the components are there, but that is not a face. There is no face without skin.

The other animals look at me, horrified. They step back and that simple gesture makes me feel an extraordinary power I have never felt before.

I go around pulling masks: the eagle, the penguins, the horns of a cow, a shark’s jaw. All I have to do is tell the truth and they all come down into pieces.

—You are the slaves of the Devil —I scream.

—Your end is coming.

—Your rotten souls have a special place waiting for them in hell —I add.

Remains of fur, glitter, fake feathers and sequins fill my hands up like blood from a horrid crime, but I don´t feel like a murderer. On the contrary, I perceive myself as an Angel of God bringing the truth to the world.

In the next station I leave the empty carriage and enter another one.

The furry animals have already seen what´s happened before and try to run away.

They can´t.

—I am an Angel of God! —I shout.

And then two demons come in my direction, but I have no fear as God protects me from evil. God wouldn’t abandon one of His kin. Not one He has sent in a mission. Not me.

The demons come boldly, unconscious of what is awaiting them, not knowing the extent of my power. I raise my hand and draw the signal of the Cross in the air.

One of them grabs my hand.

He twists it to my back.

The other one helps him pushing me out of the train.

Everything trembles around the three of us: the animals disappear, the colours fade away and my face changes. No angel looks at me from the windows that move faster and faster as the metro gains speed. No demons hold me.

Instead I see two uniformed men and a beggar.

Nothing extraordinary. Just a face on the metro.


Life in a Handbag

Claire Mapletoft

She never puts the tops back on her lipsticks. Coins and receipts collect in corners that are filled with the dregs of crisp packets. She flings me onto sofas, bedroom floors, cafe chairs and under piles of coats at parties. Sometimes I think she laughs too loudly, especially when everything else is quiet.

There is a pocket, and into this pocket, she slides a mobile phone. The lining is frayed, and the corner is beginning to loosen. This is the most used pocket of all. Her hand dips in and out, like that of a pudgy child grasping for more sweets, placing and replacing until I think that she must use all her energy on this one task alone.

I have been lost for some time now. I know exactly where I am, and I imagine if they found me, they would also find her. It´s not that it´s quiet, it´s that the space between the noise and the quiet is growing more and more pronounced. In the beginning, there was a cacophony of sound and movement almost continuously. A heavy tread, furniture being moved, shouting and once, a scream. Now, I only hear a man´s voice, drawling down the telephone, cheers from the TV and beer cans falling into the rubbish bin. Some days, I don´t hear anything at all.

I haven´t been moved yet. It´s almost as if they have forgotten me, but by my presence, I only confirm an absence. It is better that they don´t move me at all.

There are others like me in this room. A small, red one made of plastic that is the colour of the blood in your heart. A black briefcase, as solid the set of shoulders in cold weather, scuffed at the edges. The paper inside has begun to yellow and curl. There is a teenager´s backpack too, a Union Jack magnified and duplicated, a pen poking out from a front pocket. They lie in a corner, thrown there haphazardly, their owners so long forgotten that no care has been taken to conceal them. They know that nobody is looking for them anymore. I presume that is where my final resting place will be, bar any unexpected turn of events between now and then.

I know who put me here. The latest, because of course there have been others before him. His first appearance surprised me, he was a little too put-together, a little too fine. The ones before had been rougher, tickling her and poking her until her giggles turned into pleas. Not this one. He arrived on time, left before 8am in the morning, and always called to say goodnight. He drove a fast car, and I would stay wedged between her feet in the footwell, her toes tensing as he accelerated into the night.

I saw the inside of his house only once. It was neat, organised, clinical. The minutiae of daily life swept into corners, collected and deposited away. It was not where I am now. This is somewhere different, rank, mildewed and decaying. I can smell the years that have collected here, as they lace their fingers with the musk of hidden spaces. I imagine that the bins have not been emptied in some time.

At times, in the melancholy of the morning hours, I wonder how we arrived here, her and I. Perhaps it was always to be this way. Late night rendezvouses, coy smiles down telephones, tongues on necks and breathlessness. If only she had closed her mouth more.

The day we came here, I no longer carried diaries, notebooks or letters. Only a perfume, lipstick, some notes and a hairbrush. There was no sign of her at all. She had clasped me between her feet, only picking me up when we pulled to a halt and I heard her exclaim..´but where is this? What is this place?´

After that, she left me on the sofa and the next hands that held me were his, carrying me into this room, down stairs, across concrete and finally placing me here, with the tenderness of a new father. His hands were dirty, stained and they smelt like an undergrowth, hewn with wet leaves.

I expect that she will not come for me. Wherever she is now, I remain forgotten. A perfume, a lipstick, some notes and a hairbrush. To pass the time, I make an inventory of myself. A perfume, a lipstick, some notes and a hairbrush. A perfume, a lipstick, some notes and a hairbrush.