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Volume 11

Prequel - January 2013


Written by
Madeeha Ansari

Madeeha Ansari has some thing(s) to do with development, primary schools and story-time. She blogs at writespacetime.wordpress.com.


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there is a guitar


There is a guitar leaning against a wall in her room. When she shuts her eyes in bed at night, she imagines herself picking it up. There is music in her head and at that exact moment, it is the easiest thing in the world to pluck it out.

Her fingers slide over the frets, the strings digging into the tips. She presses harder, thinking of the calluses of endurance and mastery. They cut into her flesh, and she presses harder until a little piece of skin is torn. She looks at her hand, and touches the fingers lightly with her thumb. They look purple and feel raw and strong and supple.


A refrain plays over and over, as someone’s fingers fly over a Spanish guitar. It belongs, perhaps, to a street in Madrid where an old man sits late at night. His shoes are laced tight and one foot moves in time. The tourists have leaked out of the four corners of Plaza Mayor, and no one will pass his way until the drunken boys begin staggering home. Still he sits on his two wooden crates, jaw jutting out in concentration, foot moving in unceasing time.

A girl stands ten paces away, so she cannot be seen. This melody that fills the sky could not be conscious of being heard, or else it would not be so clear and pure. It is not melancholy for it is not slow, but full of resolute energy. Rising high, plunging low, cutting the air with swift, dangerous strokes. Telling the story of a wild heart, in a pitch that could only be Spanish.

She leans against the wall of a lemon coloured house and tries to listen hard enough to remember.

If a passerby were to stop while a girl was leaning against a yellow wall, it would not do to speak. The dusty moon would make her eyes seem clear, her silence would inspire confidence. He might tell her things that no one else knew.

One thinks of what could happen, if she could let it. He would sit quietly on the pavement and listen with her.

And what then?

They would wait till it grew light, and the morning crept stealthily in. The old man would sniff hard and stretch the fingers of his leathery hands, then lift himself off the crates, and if he saw the drama of youth he would smile a smile with a missing tooth.

They would awaken to the smell of frying batter, and she would lead him down a side street where they do not charge the tourist price. The girl with the black hair from the counter would be setting the tables in place and turning the chairs the right way up.

It would be warm inside, and he would have to make a choice. It would not do to move to a small place where she would be glancing at the door. Then, she would simply laugh and pay and leave, walking fast towards a busy day.

But if he would look to her, she would take the steaming cups of coffee out to where the chairs faced the street. Looking at the city setting up shop, she would hold the cup close to her nose and talk about the things she wanted to see. And he would be surprised, and let her. And then?

He might tell her what it was like when he was a little boy in an independent world. His past was different from hers – it was clear from the way he walked. His future would be different from hers – she knew it from the way he talked.

If they stayed there long enough, he would begin to talk in an earnest voice, looking at her as if she might be something other than a girl tapping her feet on the street.

And there is always so much to say, until of course there isn’t.

How simple it is, to put an end to thought. There comes a time when there are no more ambitions to share.

The weather is good and I am ordinary.

With this revelation, she would look hard at a coffee stain on the table. He would swallow and smile and nod, then leave her sitting there and walk down the winding, cobbled street. And enter a house with thin walls and a beautiful prostitute, who would cradle his head and echo the things he whispered, the way he wanted.

We have nothing in common.

She would hear it in her head, like the abruptness of a goodbye. And yet if she saw a yellow house, she would lean against it and hope that he would venture out. Just once, so she knew it was all right, he didn’t mind. That he would smile at her again the next time; ask her why she didn’t feel cold.

She would wait and watch as people dropped coins in a tin can for an accordion playing a merry tune. And if a gallant stranger asked her to dance, she would smile and twirl without saying a word. And draft a hundred letters to someone who could have been a friend.

And really, what then?

One day, he would walk the pavement once more and she would come forward to stand expectantly before him. Being kind, he might smile politely to almost say yes. Then he would leave her a week behind while she lay awake and still, unable to empty her mind of a Spanish refrain.

It would not do to encourage the fascination of the unknown. When the old man stretches his fingers after playing the story of his life, a young girl starts walking towards Calle de Cartegena. Safe, anonymous, and absorbed in enjoying the silent syllables rolling off her tongue. Calle, Calle, Calle, Carta-he-na.


The guitar stands in its quiet corner and she realises, after a while, that she is still awake. Her fingers curl on the pillow, soft and whole – she has never known enough to play.




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