Daniel Agger has been to three places in his life. This is a fact, and the only one he trusts himself to tell the truth about. Denmark is a good place if you like stagnancy; England is the place to go to change yourself; but in Spain—
In Spain, you don't need any identity at all.
He is always himself. (And he thinks, and he is probably naive then too, Who else can you be, really?) The thing is, he's unsure, sometimes, just who that is.
(He is Daniel Agger; he is twenty-three years old; he is an artist; he is permanent (permanent permanent permanent), and everything else, everyone else is temporary.)
He blends into the town, the small town, very well, and becomes, after time, like the graffiti on the brick walls he encases himself in, like a piece of art himself—unnoticed, but— Permanent.
He is a fixture in the small rooms of his shop, or his apartment, or outside, on the pavement or sitting at the bottom of the steps, smoking. And people flow in, in a constant stream, during the day.
Daniel likes to think he becomes part of his customers. Sometimes, it's shameful. Sometimes, they're scum and lowlife. Then, there are those who have travelled the world, and they sit in a tattoo parlour on the coast near the Mediterranean and tell the quiet Dane about it. Like he wants to know. (He does.) Others come in and talk about that one guy they shot or that one whore they fucked. Sometimes the descriptions remind him of his sister (tall, blond, graceful), and he tells them to get the fuck out. Now. (And don't ever come back.)
Some come back, and some don't. Some are smeared in blood (and ink) on the papers. Lying on the fucking pavement, and Daniel looks at the work (his work) on their arms, torsos, backs...and sees all the flaws (even when there aren't any).
Sees all the flaws even (especially) when they aren't any, and Fernando comes in July of his third year here.
It starts innocently enough (though Daniel suspects Fernando is never—never innocent). The days are long, and Daniel only steps outside when it's dark, finally. He places a cigarette between his lips, and it's only when he flicks the lighter, he sees him. Fucking streetlight. He looks up at it, and it comes back on a second later, flickering, as if it senses his presence. Fernando is sitting below it, looks up at the dust particles moving haphazardly in the glow of the new light above him. He doesn't move, like Daniel assumed he would upon being exposed (like he would). And Daniel doesn't go back inside, like he'd think he would. Instead, he sits on the bottom of the stairs leading to the small apartment upstairs.
He says one thing then, one thing, because he means it.
"Your father is a good man."
And Fernando nods, and it's all that happens.
He doesn't remember when Fernando goes in, and Fernando doesn't either (he remembers, though, that he was thinking of Madrid, and the lack of dust there—the clarity of it all, and darkness that wasn't meant to hide anything).
When the streetlight lapses again, Daniel finally retreats up the steps.
It happens every night for two weeks. And it started innocently enough, but now— Now, Daniel's had enough.
"Don't you have any friends?" he asks the dark, or the space between them, the wide, open space, or the asphalt, or the sky.
"No. Not anymore."
A smile he can sense. A shake of the head. (The light is his friend, and it flickers, threatens to go out; Daniel is the dark, but there's always been a piercing light too—sharp contrast, differentiation, bands of alternating black and white like an interference pattern (and the light blinks, on and off, on and off), and it's been threatening to go out completely, but now, there is Fernando.)
And two nights after:
"Do you ever go down to the beach? In the daytime?" He says it like he knows him, knows what his life is like, and it's fucking infuriating.
"No. I could if I wanted." As if that makes all the difference.
"Why don't you?"
"Why don't I what?"
"I'm not a tourist." I never am.
"But you were. When you first came. I never was."
"You are now."
A moment passes.
"You don't seem like the type for ink," Daniel says, in a tone that is not as conversational as it should be (would be if he wasn't who he was, if Fernando didn't seem like a threat to that, all of a sudden).
"I wasn't when I lived here. The world changes you."
Daniel wants to say, No, no, it's not supposed to. It can hide you or expose you, but no, not change.
Daniel doesn't know about exposure, but he makes a bold move, says, "Well, if you're interested in something new, you can come in sometime."
Fernando almost grins, like it's something funny, like he thinks he's joking (maybe he was, is; he doesn't know), says, "No. No, thanks."
"You don't trust me?"
"No." That smile again. Daniel feels like hitting something, hitting him, falling into the ocean with him, something, anything.
"I don't dislike you, you know. I don't even know you."
Daniel thinks, then, he's either a fool or still ten-years-old. Wants to tell him, You don't have to know to hate; sometimes, you are hated before you are even born.
Daniel decides to put his cards on the table. No illusions, no pretensions, because that, he dislikes, and that, he is sure of. Another thing he's sure of: He'll be gone after summer; maybe he won't be back for another three, four, five years. He's temporary; it's temporary: his stares, his averted eyes, his pink cheeks when Daniel catches him looking—his eyes, an amalgam of green and brown; his lips, chapped and faded; and his face, scattered with the offending spots. And Daniel's is not, never, despised by him, because he knows the position of each and every one (and it's akin to an identity: they may as well be counting each other's freckles in the dark, on opposite sides of a street, with streetlights flickering at intervals), and knows that it's not, never, perfect—none of it, so the freckles ruin nothing (it's already ruined). But Fernando is like a masterpiece; poetry can accentuate the curl of every eyelash, and his hair is bright in the white light. And he's not perfect, but he easily could be, and that would shatter everything, because Daniel lives in constant ruination, and he always needs an excuse, a sharp contrast, a poignant break in the uniformity, like skin marred by blemishes or ink, a flaw, a perpetual flaw—
"Your hair, it's fake."
Fernando doesn't recoil, or look insulted. In actuality, he smiles, and seems appreciative that he gets any response at all.
Daniel takes another drag.
"You put ink on your skin, and other people's skin, for the same reason I dye my hair. To try to cover up something. Telling the truth doesn't mean anything when you lie to yourself."
Daniel thinks he dislikes Fernando Torres now.
It's Saturday, and it's still bright out; and Fernando says, "Come with me," and Daniel can think of a million reasons not to, but maybe, maybe, that's enough—he could say no if he wanted (and he doesn't realise it, the flaw in the judgement, though he sees the flaws in everything—maybe he's blind to this one (blind to his own)—it's all about the decisions you make, not the ones you could have; it's not about knowing, being able to, but not choosing to—that makes all the difference; the 'almost's are forgotten so easily).
And Daniel goes with him.
But it's dark when they come back.
He points out that he thinks he has sand in his shoes, and Fernando smiles. (He doesn't say: I have sand in my shoes; I have your sand in my shoes; I have you, all over me, and it can't come off. Can't escape it, like you can't escape sunlight (he knows this now) or fire or pyroclastic flows (with air at eight hundred degrees Celsius melting your lungs) or the way your skin is golden in the glow with the freckles caramel and as distinct as the ones I see in the mirror everyday.)
"The sun is not that bad for you, you know, even with the freckles," Fernando teases.
"I know. It's not that... It's—"
"You're not sure how you're supposed to act, how you're supposed to be. No one's telling you what to do, Daniel. There's no one left. There's only—"
And Fernando kisses him then, tasting like oranges and sea salt, and they're no longer separated by a street or a block of darkness (ash clouds; air at eight hundred degrees Celsius), but instead, it envelopes them, the space surrounding them: pavement below, dark air around, sky above (stars dotting the inky blue velvet, but tonight, it seems to lose its lustre in the face of something more beautiful).
And his mouth, his hands, his neck, his back, his chest, they do not burn him. Instead, the fire seems to quench him.
Fernando disappears inside when the lights come on.
And Daniel surrenders his nocturnality this one night.
It starts innocently enough, but Fernando is never innocent, and neither is Daniel.
Instead, now, the tattoo parlour and the music store shut their doors at the same time, and Fernando crosses space, distance (distance no one else has dared tread, not like this, and not in this place—and Daniel's never let them).
They don't talk, not about leaving, not about ink or freckles. Instead, freckles are kissed, and tattoos caressed, and dreams are had about that elusive idea of forever.
Daniel doesn't tell him that he should cut his hair, and take out that awful colour.
And Fernando doesn't tell him he shouldn't shave his head, doesn't say: You're not better than the world, Daniel, because you're part of it. You're not part of the darkness you ache so much to blend into. And you're not a condescending graffiti-covered wall that judges everything and is never judged in return because no one notices, no one sees. Because I see.
(Daniel, he thinks he has everyone fooled. (And he doesn't say it, doesn't admit it, doesn't have to to get any of the satisfaction, because he could if he wanted to, and he thinks that's enough.) He stares at you, and you don't notice it. He condemns you, condemns the world (but is not brave enough to face it, head-on) in secret, scorns your stories, and spits on your pretensions. Because he is permanent, and everyone else is temporary. (He doesn't have suitcases, half-filled, lying on his floor. When he arrives, he unpacks, quickly, and they are not seen anymore—until he leaves—because he needs to belong to somewhere, and wherever he is, he is permanent, for a moment, for this moment. Fernando's have never left his bedroom floor.) Stares, and is not noticed, and takes part of you away. The thing is, Fernando stares right back.)
The fan does not oscillate but instead blows a steady trail of air along Fernando's spine. He shivers, as if from sweat evaporating quickly, heat being lost, radiating, into the dark, into Daniel. Daniel loves the feel of him, in that moment, a living, breathing thing, not a frail statue in sunlight or under false light. He thinks about how empty his flat, his journeys, his homes have felt in comparison (and this is how he thinks of them). Buildings are nothing but shells without legs to trip over and hips to rub against in tiny, tiny doorways, without sounds and movement indicating that there is, after all, life and activity on the planet before you wake up each morning. The pure simplicity of it, the raw physicality. (Of course, when that's gone, it's never, ever the same. And maybe, maybe this is why he's been on this journey. He's forgotten the reasons, the reasons for leaving, for packing his things one morning and being gone the next; he's had reasons for going to but the ones for leaving from slip away easily, too easily. They have to; it's what he hoped to accomplish.)
Fernando, he wakes up right then, and asks the easier of the two questions.
"It's...how the world is. As you move away from the Equator, north or south, it gets colder; as you move towards it, it gets warmer. And there's a balance: there are regions of forest, and desert, and ice, and mountains, volcanoes, all in its place, and nothing's better, really, than anything else. Sometimes, the grey is good too."
He doesn't say, I am a ghost (or a dust particle moving from one place to another in the breeze or in a river—being eroded, transported, deposited—the dust you so dislike) and you are the mountain. You are the volcano, and I am the village you overwhelm.
He has a gun upstairs, locked away, and no one knows about it, and he'd decided to put it downstairs, but never did. But now, he can't sleep, and Fernando's hair (too long too long) is tickling his neck, and his arm is thrown around his waist—and he stares at the drawer on the other side of the room. He's never shot anyone, never been shot. But he's had a gun pointed in his face (once, twice), and he's had the intention (and he's always thought that having the ability to do something is equal to actually doing it). He wonders, for a moment, just one moment (or two), if Fernando, unlikely as it seems, had ever been on the wrong side of one.
Fernando stirs then, and it seems that, even at this ungodly hour, he's awake at once, as if he knows nothing about that place between sleeping like the dead and being awake, being Fernando (and they're two different people, the only two he allows himself to be).
"Say what you need to say."
And Daniel asks him.
And there's no surprise, as if this was a continuation of the dream he was having—where anything was possible. (And with Fernando, anything is possible. This is where the two identities are one and the same.)
"Yes. It was...the first time I came back here, a year after I'd left. When you come back, it's like they never knew you in the first place. The same kids I'd grown up with, hung out on the beach with at midnight drinking and talking about girls..."
"I guess I can't really blame them," he finishes. "Everyone does what they have to do. To survive."
To survive. Daniel's only been worried about existing, for the last three years, the last six years. But now he feels that old anger come back, the one he was desperately trying to suppress (and had always been). Because there was a time that that was everything: surviving. Surviving, surviving, survival—until all the lines were blurred and you weren't sure, exactly, who and what you were fighting (who and what you were fighting for—the reason for that desire to survive).
The next day, after Daniel's last customer goes, and the music store closes, they both flip the signs over at the same time, and Daniel's eyes are enough to beckon him over.
He gestures to the chair, tells him, "Don't worry," and brandishes a pair of barber's scissors.
"You're not a hairdresser," Fernando says. He sits down.
"No. No. But you need a haircut."
Fernando hesitates as he brings the scissors to the back of his head.
"You still don't trust me?"
"I trust you."
(Daniel, he doesn't think he trusts himself. Not in this place, not in the sun, not with this boy in his chair, who's shutting his eyes, and letting him cut blond locks off, letting them fall to the floor, and not even shivering when the cold blade touches his ear, once, twice.)
And Fernando trusts him when he kisses the nape of his neck, lets the scissors fall out of his hand onto the hard floor, lets him fuck him in the chair where dozens of people have added something to their body, something to their lives, something to remember, between one stage and another, one journey and another. But this, it's not about gaining; it's about losing, about artificially coloured hair littering the ground, and it's not about Daniel becoming part of Fernando, but the exact opposite.
Daniel doesn't sweep his floor after. Instead, he sits on it, on cold terrazzo, and doesn't clean up until morning.
The night before he is supposed to leave, he slips into Daniel's bed, feels the tension in his muscles, the desire to pull away, to distance himself, that he does not give in to. He does not give in for the first time in his life.
And Fernando says without words: It's okay to be temporary, it's okay to not know sometimes. (Sometimes, all of it, everything, doesn't mean anything (and then there are times, there are times that nothing can mean everything).)
He says something stupid in the morning (say what you need to say).
"Let's go see a volcano."
"What? Are you crazy?"
"No, I'm serious. Let's go to Italy. See a volcano."
"I have to go. Go back." Fernando looks unsure now, like he's scared, scared of reality, for the first time.
"I just wanted—"
"To know if I'd be back?"
"Daniel. Danny. I'll be back."
"I trust you."
Their fingertips touch for a second, and it's a precise, deliberate collision, and then Daniel gets up in the search for coffee and his morning cigarette.
Fernando looks out the window, down to the pitch and concrete below, thinks that volcanoes and big cities (bright lights) and white beaches (clear water) will never be as beautiful as sunlight that travels one hundred million miles to land on two people on opposite sides of a narrow road.