We set off toward La Barceloneta. Before we knew it, we were walking along the breakwater with the whole city, shining with silence, spread out at our feet in the reflection from the harbour waters, like the greatest mirage in the universe. We sat on the edge of the jetty to gaze at the sight.
'This city is a sorceress, you know, Daniel? It gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.'
'You sound like Rociito, Fermin.'
'Don't laugh, it's people like her who make this lousy world a place worth visiting.'
'No. We're all whores, sooner or later. I mean good-hearted people. And don't look at me like that. Weddings turn me to jelly.'
We remained there embracing that special silence, gazing at the reflections on the water. After a while dawn tinged the sky with amber, and Barcelona woke up. We heard the distant bells from the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, just emerging from the mist on the other side of the harbour.
'Do you think Carax is still there, somewhere in the city?' I asked.
'Ask me another question.'
'Do you have the rings?'
Fermin smiled. 'Come on, let's go. They're waiting for us, Daniel. Life is waiting for us.'
She wore an ivory-white dress and held the world in her eyes. I barely remember the priest's words or the faces of the guests, full of hope, who filled the church on that March morning. All that remains in my memory is the touch of her lips and, when I half opened my eyes, the secret oath I carried with me and would remember all the days of my life.
DRAMATIS PERSONAE 1966.
Julian Carax concludes The Shadow of the Wind with a brief coda in which he gathers up the threads of his characters' fates in years to come. I've read many books since that distant night in 1945, but Carax's last novel remains my favourite. Today, with three decades behind me, I can't see myself changing my mind.
As I write these words on the counter of my bookshop, my son, Julian, who will be ten tomorrow, watches me with a smile and looks with curiosity at the pile of sheets that grows and grows, convinced, perhaps, that his father has also caught the illness of books and words. Julian has his mother's eyes and intelligence, and I like to think that perhaps he possesses my sense of wonder. My father, who now has some difficulty reading even the book spines, although he won't admit it, is at home, upstairs. I sometimes ask myself whether he's a happy man, a man at peace, whether our company helps him or whether he still lives within his memories and within that sadness that has always followed him. Bea and I manage the bookshop now. I do the accounts and the adding up and Bea does the buying and serves the customers, who prefer her to me. I don't blame them.
Time has made her strong and wise. She hardly ever speaks about the past, although I often catch her marooned in one of her silences, alone with herself. Julian adores his mother. I watch them together, and I know they are linked by an invisible bond that I can barely begin to understand. It is enough for me to feel a part of their island and to know how fortunate I am. The bookshop provides us with enough to live modestly, but I can't imagine myself doing anything else. Our sales lessen year by year. I'm an optimist, and I tell myself that what goes up comes down and what comes down must, one day, go up again. Bea says that the art of reading is slowly dying, that it's an intimate ritual, that a book is a mirror that offers us only what we already carry inside us, that when we read, we do it with all our heart and mind, and great readers are becoming more scarce by the day. Every month we receive offers to turn our bookshop into a store selling televisions, girdles, or rope-soled shoes. They won't get us out of here unless it's feet first.
Fermin and Bernarda walked down the aisle in 1958, and they already have four children, all boys and all blessed with their father's nose and ears. Fermin and I see each other less than we used to, although sometimes we still repeat that walk to the breakwater at dawn, where we solve the world's problems. Fermin left his job at the bookshop years ago, and when Isaac Monfort died, he took over from him as the keeper of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Perhaps one day someone will find all the copies of Julian's books that Nuria hid there. Isaac is buried next to Nuria in Montjuic. I often visit them. There are always fresh flowers on Nuria's grave.
My old friend Tomas Aguilar went off to Germany, where he works as an engineer for a firm' making industrial machinery, inventing wonders I have never been able to understand. Sometimes we get letters from him, always addressed to Bea. He got married a couple of years ago and has a daughter we have never seen. Although he always sends me his regards, I know I lost him forever years ago. I sometimes think that life snatches away our childhood friends for no reason, but I don't always believe it.
The neighbourhood is much the same, and yet there are days when I feel that a certain brightness is tentatively returning to Barcelona, as if between us all we'd driven it out but the city had forgiven us in the end. Don Anacleto left his post in the secondary school, and now he devotes his time exclusively to writing erotic poetry and to his jacket blurbs, which are more grandiose than ever. Don Federico Flavia and Merceditas went off to live together when the watchmaker's mother died. They make a splendid couple, although there is no lack of malicious people who maintain that a leopard cannot change his spots and that, every now and then, Don Federico goes out on a binge, dressed up as a Gypsy queen.
Don Gustavo Barcelo closed his bookshop and sold us his stock. He said he was fed up to the back teeth with the bookseller's trade and was looking forward to embarking on new challenges. The first and last of these was the creation of a publishing company dedicated to the re-release of Julian Carax's works. Volume I, which contained his three novels (recovered from a set of proofs that had ended up in a furniture warehouse belonging to the Cabestany family), sold 342 copies, many tens of thousands behind that year's bestseller, an illustrated hagiography of El Cordobes, the famous bullfighter. Don Gustavo now devotes his time to travelling around Europe accompanied by distinguished ladies and sending postcards of cathedrals.
His niece Clara married the millionaire banker, but their union lasted barely a year. Her list of suitors is still long, though it dwindles year by year, as does her beauty. Now she lives alone in the apartment in Plaza Real, which she leaves less and less often. There was a time when I used to visit her, more because Bea reminded me of her loneliness and her bad fortune than from any desire of my own. With the passing years, I have seen a bitterness grow in her, though she tries to disguise it as irony and detachment. Sometimes I think she is still waiting for that fifteen-year-old Daniel to return to adore her from the shadows. Bea's presence, or that of any other woman, poisons her. The last time I saw her, she was feeling her face for wrinkles. I am told that sometimes she still sees her old music teacher, Adrian Neri, whose symphony is still unfinished and who, it seems, has made a career as a gigolo among the ladies of the Liceo circle, where his bedroom acrobatics have earned him the nickname 'The Magic Flute'.
The years were not kind to the memory of Inspector Fumero. Not even those who hated and feared him seem to remember him anymore. Years ago, in Paseo de Gracia, I came across Lieutenant Palacios, who left the police force and now teaches gymnastics at a school in the Bonanova quarter. He told me there is still a commemorative plaque in honour of Fumero in the basement of Central Police Headquarters in Via Layetana, but a new soft-drinks machine covers it entirely.
As for the Aldaya mansion, it is still there, against all predictions. In the end Senor Aguilar's estate agency managed to sell it. It was completely restored, and the statues of angels were ground down into gravel to cover the car park that takes up what was once the Aldayas' garden. Today it houses an advertising agency dedicated to the creation and promotion of that strange poetry singing the glories of cotton socks, skimmed milk, and sports cars for jet-setting businessmen. I must confess that one day, giving the most unlikely reasons, I turned up there and asked if I could be shown around the house. The old library where I nearly lost my life is now a boardroom decorated with posters eulogizing deodorants and detergents with magical powers. The room where Bea and I conceived Julian is now the bathroom of the chief executive.
That day, when I returned to the bookshop after visiting the old house, I found a parcel bearing a Paris postmark. It contained a book called The Angel of Mist, a novel, by a certain Boris Laurent. I leafed through the pages, inhaling the enchanted scent of promise that comes with all new books, and stopped to read the start of a sentence that caught my eye. I knew immediately who had written it, and I wasn't surprised to return to the first page and find, written in the blue strokes of that pen I had so much adored when I was a child, this dedication: For my friend Daniel, who gave me back my voice and my pen. And for Beatriz, who gave us both back our lives.
A young man, already showing a few grey hairs, walks through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn pours over Rambla de Santa Monica in a wreath of liquid copper.
He holds the hand of a ten-year-old boy whose eyes are intoxicated with the mystery of the promise his father made to him at dawn, the promise of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
'Julian, you mustn't tell anyone what you're about to see today. No one.'
'Not even Mummy?' asks the boy in a whisper.
His father sighs, hiding behind that sad smile that has followed him through life.
'Of course you can tell her,' he answers. 'We have no secrets from her. You can tell her anything.'
Soon afterwards, like figures made of mist, father and son disappear into the crowd of the Ramblas, their steps lost forever in the shadow of the wind.