Written by Francisca Castillo Martín
Translated from the book La Gabardina y Otros Cuentos Chinos (The Gabardine and Other Chinese Tales)
He hung up the phone and lighted his fag. He didn't take a blind bit of notice of the 11 o'clock news. He had a bad dinner and his sleep was even worse, and the next day he woke up with a splitting headache. He went to the shower and tried to remember the dream he had had. He thought he was such a fool for wasting time like that, but suddenly a sharp image flashed through his mind. He turned on the tap and, relieved, felt the cold drops of water running down his body. He closed his eyes and pressed his back against one of the big, grey wall tiles. He realized at that particular time that the heat of the flames was consuming him, making him scream and shake spasmodically on the floor. During a brief split second, he saw his family coming towards him, alarmed at his screams. He was blinded by a strong light, a penetrating heat was around him, a vapour of death was closing in. Wherever he looked, he could only see terrifying, shaking columns of fire and smoke - massive and threatening - about to consume him.
He opened his eyes and recognised the grey bathroom tiles, the shower tray, the tap, the basin and the rusty cage where his last bird's longing for freedom had died with it, a specimen of macaw as apathetic and gloomy as his owner. He felt the bitter cold and thought, "I'm dead." Then he reproached himself for imagining such complete nonsense. He was a man with a poor self-esteem. In fact, he hated himself so much that he would have wanted to break the mirror rather than see his own reflection.
He contemplated the dark rings under his eyes, the depressing flabby corners of his lips, the premature wrinkles on his face and the greying hair. Listlessly, he began the ritual morning shave. He dressed among sighs, knotted his tie and picked up the folder packed with crumpled papers that he had under the carpet. Suddenly he realised it was his birthday, but he couldn't remember his age. He felt as old as Methuselah, even older than that, he felt eternally old and decrepit.
He made some coffee and turned on the TV. Sitting in front of the box, with the bitter froth of the coffee on his lips, he was absorbed watching the 9 o'clock news. Suddenly, an item of breaking news was read:
"TODAY, 3O, TUESDAY, A SERIOUS ACCIDENT HAS HAPPENED ON ROAD 288, CLOSE TO BOGOTÁ. ONE PERSON HAS DIED AND FOUR PEOPLE ARE INJURED. THE INCIDENT OCCURRED AT 9:45, WHEN A MAN NAMED P.M., AGED 39, WAS ON HIS WAY TO WORK. HIS FAMILY, WHO HAD GONE TO THE OFFICE WHERE P.M. WORKED AS AN ADVISOR TO WISH HIM A HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WERE SHOCKED TO SEE HOW P.M. CRASHED INTO A LOCAL BREAKDOWN LORRY. THE CAR TURNED INTO A FIREBALL AND BY THE TIME THE RELATIVES ARRIVED AT THE SCENE OF THE ACCIDENT TO RESCUE HIM, IT WAS TOO LATE.
Amused by the news, he wondered how it was possible that somebody died on his birthday. He switched off the TV and the living room lights. He put on a jumper, pulled down his hat and pulled the door to on his way out.
He took the lift. He lighted a fag. He felt the trouble that his empty stomach was giving him day in, day out; in the last few years, the ulcer had been playing up. He contemplated for the last time his ordinary face on the dented wall of the lift that was descending slowly, and then heaved a sigh which revealed the infinite apathy that he felt about the world and its people.
The car park was deserted; you could only hear the whirr of the central heating motor. The humidity made him shiver. After opening the car door, he got a whiff of the bittersweet pine air freshener. He turned the wheel and started the engine. He went out by the back gate, leaving a trail of grey smoke behind him. Once on the main road 288, he remembered that today it was his 39th birthday. He looked at his digital watch. It was 9:45 in the morning. He caught sight of the office building at the end of the street, and the local breakdown lorry at work in front of the entrance gate. He noticed how his family was waving at him, saying hello. Suddenly, the whole situation dawned on him. He coldly resolved that nothing on earth would make him stop his car.