SMALL STATIONS PRESS Publications
EUROPE EXPRESS

EUROPE EXPRESS by Andrea Maceiras

Nico is a computer programmer from Coruña in Galicia. On a business trip to the city of Bergen in Norway, he visits the quays of Bryggen, a place he has been to before. He buys a couple of postcards from a shop there and, much to his surprise, discovers that one of them has captured the moment when he and his friends visited Bergen on an Interrail trip after leaving school ten years earlier. There they all are: Óscar in his Deportivo football shirt with Bea; Nico with the slightly pretentious Mía, poring over a map; the Italian exchange student, Piero, a few feet behind them. But where is Nico’s girlfriend, Aroa, and his best friend from school, Xacobe, the other two members of the group? Nico is shocked to find that they are in a corner of the postcard away from the others and are kissing. He resolves to unearth all the mystery surrounding that trip and the bitter month of September that immediately followed, when a tragedy occurred, a tragedy that split the group apart and from which no one has recovered. He will invite all his friends to a school reunion and, by gauging their reactions to the postcard, finally learn the truth of what happened.

1 NICO (THE PRESENT)

Only when I got to the hotel and observed the postcard under the magnifying glass was I fully aware of everything. Of the fact that what’s happening is the greatest coincidence or most unbelievable stroke of destiny in my life and necessarily has to mean something. I can’t stop gazing at this postcard, although, every time I look, a new shiver runs down my spine. I visited this city when I was still a teenager, but how could I ever have imagined I’d be here again ten years later? And how could I ever have thought I’d find them again, my old school friends, in a postcard? That summer we spent travelling around Europe was amazing, but it all ended in tragedy. At that time, winter entered our lives and never left. We barely kept in touch.

This was the reason that coming back to the small Norwegian city of Bergen was an attractive proposition from the start. As soon as I finished the work that had brought me to this place, I decided to go for a walk along the snowy quays of Bryggen, which was still the same as I remembered it: the same orange and maroon houses, old fish warehouses that have now been turned into local businesses aimed at tourism. I entered one of those souvenir shops and bought a few postcards, as I tend to do when I’m travelling. I’ve collected postcards for several years now: both those I buy in cities I visit, and those that friends send me. I love these images of places I’ll probably never visit again, which have been frozen in time.

It was when I came out of the shop that I realized there was something strange in one of the postcards. There was nothing that unusual about the photograph itself: it showed the quays of Bryggen, the place where I was, on a summer’s afternoon, when the wharf was crowded with tourists. But, in amongst the hordes of people, I spotted a blue and white T-shirt that drew my attention. It was very similar to one I knew quite well but, to begin with, I refused to believe in such an extraordinary coincidence.

I quickly walked back to the hotel and asked the receptionist for a magnifying glass. I then went up to my bedroom, sat on the bed and carefully examined the postcard. Those blue and white stripes reminded me of the Deportivo football shirt my friend Óscar wore for a large part of our journey ten years before. Feeling nostalgic on account of the passage of time, I lingered over this figure. Its resemblance to Óscar was quite astonishing. They shared the same indifferent posture, the same way of walking with their hands in their pockets… However strange it may sound, I was sure it was him. Next to him, I spotted a girl dressed in a long, green skirt. The image was far too familiar not to recognize it at once: this could be none other than my friend Beatriz. I recalled that skirt very well, a birthday present we’d bought her a few weeks before setting out. That was the last party we ever celebrated together.

‘Impossible!’ I shouted out loud.

At a short distance from Óscar and Bea, I caught sight of my own figure. The magnifying glass trembled in my hands, but there could be no doubt: this was me, ten years earlier. I decided to investigate further. Next to me was a small girl pointing at a map, as if we were working out which way to go. She had bare shoulders and skimpy shorts that revealed her wonderfully tanned legs. I could see it quite clearly: this had to be Mía. A few steps behind her, I recognized the slicked-back hair of Piero, although I could scarcely make out his face. There was one chance in ten million that something like this could happen, and yet there it was, happening to me: while my friends and I had been wandering around the quays of Bryggen, somebody had taken a photograph, which had then been turned into a postcard. I felt utterly stunned.

All the memories of that Interrail trip came flooding into my mind. It had been a beautiful experience, travelling all over Europe by train, almost without planning it, deciding the route as we went along. Seven boys and girls who had just finished secondary and were finding out what real freedom was. Of course, none of us could have realized that summer would change our lives forever. How could we have predicted that this marvellous month of August would be followed by such a bitter September? None of us could have known. This was the reason my group of friends broke up in that way, but it’s not for me to judge them. I couldn’t attend to anybody else because I was barely capable of looking after myself. All I can remember of that September ten years ago is the absolute lack of sensations. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or say a word… All I could feel was the enormous pain in my soul.

I go over to the window of my room, trying to order my thoughts, and gaze at my reflection in the glass. I have changed a lot since I was at school: back then, I was just a boy with a huge passion for video games. Nobody thought I would turn into a respected computer programmer, a professor at Coruña University and a guest lecturer at some of the most prestigious centres in the world.

None of that matters right now. I focus my attention back on the postcard. I have located four of the seven friends – Óscar, Bea, Mía and Piero – and myself, Nico. But where are the other two? They’re precisely the ones I loved best, but I can’t find them anywhere. Didn’t they appear in the photograph? I scrutinize every single detail in a desperate attempt to spot them and suddenly, in a corner away from all the other people, I recognize Xacobe’s fair hair and, next to him, Aroa’s delicate silhouette. The magnifying glass falls to the ground, but I don’t even register the noise.

I am abruptly transported to that place, inside the postcard, a few feet away from them. He is wearing a white shirt and jeans, she has on an orange, flowery dress. That is just how I remember her: the same golden skin, the same dark hair cascading to her waist. I can’t make out the grey of her eyes, but they’re so etched in my memory it’s easy for me to imagine them. With Xacobe, it’s different. His image is blurred in my mind. I feel a sense of unease when I realize I can’t recall the features of his face so well. And yet, what’s happening? What are they up to? I stretch out my hand to touch them, to warn them that I’m there and can see everything, but regret my decision at the last moment, afraid of intruding on their intimacy. I take a few steps back, too stunned to react, and fall backwards onto the hotel bed.

How is it that Xacobe and Aroa are kissing like that?

Night falls. The window reveals a pitch-black sky. I am startled by the sound of my mobile. I see on the screen that it’s Aroa and let it ring. Aroa is the only person from that group I’ve kept in contact with – she is, in fact, my girlfriend. I’ve never ignored her calls, never disregarded a single one of her words, gestures or wishes. What’s going on? Can something seen in a postcard of ten years ago alter my life? My throat is dry, my hands are trembling. There’s no getting away from it. Despite the time that’s gone by, it hurts to think that my best friend was kissing Aroa behind my back, and neither of them dared to share this secret with me. I never imagined something like that. I’m so amazed I can’t react. But, when the telephone stops ringing, I realize I’ve come to a decision.

I have to stop being so naive. It’s not true I never suspected anything. In fact, I’ve been asking myself questions for the last ten years, and I think it’s time to start finding some answers.

 

Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    EUROPE EXPRESS by Andrea Maceiras, the fourteenth title in the series Galician Wave devoted to the best of Galician young adult fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-090-8

    Publication Date: 18 October 2018

    Language: English

    Paperback: 200 pages

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm