A Conversation for Memory
My memory of Johnson the Captain.
Alfredo Started conversation Oct 8, 2002
It is about 1970 and as a loner of twenty years old I already roamed Western Europe for a while and finally I made a passionate plan to go to Israël to serve the army, because of what was told to me about World War two, although I'm not Jewish. In my head it would be the first real destiny of my life.
But hitchhiking isn't that easy if you want to go to the Middle East, not even for me in those days and a free ride on a bote from Spain seemed to me a clever plan of action.
I finally ended up in Valencia en rather fast I'd found the harbour area and at the same afternoon I got to know a vagabond (not wanting to use the word tramp) who spoke rather well English. Day and night he lived in the harbour of Valencia, already for several years. Johnson,was his name.
He had been a captain at several ships and finally stranded here in Valencia where he waited till he had become 65. Here he could live in the mild Mediterranian climate. At the age of 65 he wanted to return to his homeland, Sweden, where he could make a living of his retirement pay.
Soon we became friends and Johnson showed me the whole harbour-area. He told me that because of his captainpapers he was "allowed" to enter ships and that he would take me with him to the ships to arrange some food for us in the kitchen. I remember one of his survivaladvices;"if you get food in one of those kitchens,accept food like chickensoup and not steaks 'cause then you waste your time by only chewing". It sounded like real wisdom and somewhere it was and my confidence was building up for this big seaman.
In the evening of that same day he enthusiasticly came up to me and told me he'd discovered a ship that would departure the next day to Israël and that I could join them. He had arranged all that.
"So let's make a party, Alfredo",he said, "and lets buy some rum. Do buy some for both of us in the store overthere, oké?!".
"Oké,I'll get a big bottle of white Bacardi" I replied and was glad that finally a plan of mine succeeded and I gladly bought white rum of my last peseta's. Yes, this was time for a party and that evening we both sat on the street, leaning against a wall, drinking Bacardi and as the hours passed some of his fellow Spanish outcasts joined us.
Finally all of us fell asleep and the Mediterranian night shielded us.
In the morning I kicked the big body of Johnson awake - whom I found two streets futher away - so that he could introduce me at that ship that would bring me to my promised land.
"I'm sorry, Alfredo, but there is no ship that sails to Israël.None" he confessed.
That was a serious setback and I went to the harbour on my own, but after a few hours we both continued our combined streetlife and in the weeks to come we became real comrades.
I got to know people that lived in ruins on there own, or with wife and children for whom they cared with great love. Sometimes we made plans to earn some money.
Almost every evening - around seven - we all met close to the ruins, including Johnson and me and everybody put something eatable at a sheet iron that lay on a fire they'd made. And there was always sómeone who had arranged a big bottle of very cheap wine.They were all Spaniards who belonged to the poorest of them all.
Despite that, I was welcome to share their food and wine and after a while I sometimes could bring some of my own.
At a rare occasion I slept ín their ruins on the ground, between their beds, but that wasn't such a succes because of their sexual avances in the dead of night. I'd run away to the beach.
Johnson and I became unseparable those weeks, but just because of that I unconciously must have felt there had to be paid off an old score.
Because one night Johnson invited me to join him in a visit to a real fishermans bar which was related to the fish auction. It was a real nightbar that was open from two at night till about seven o'clock.
It was very full and smoky,I remember. Even for me. Inside Johnson and I went our own way, cause he knew many people.
I ordered one glass of wine after another on my account and I was having a good time, whatever I did. At break of dawn I finally sneaked my way out without paying anything, in search for a sleep at the beach of Valencia.
Now it was mý turn to be kicked awake by someone, who appeared to be Johnson of course,"because as long as you don't pay your bill overthere, I'm not allowed to enter that bar anymore", he said with a real angry and desparate face.
But also in thát evening of that same day, we all ate and drank together ,close to the ruins.
After a few weeks I left Valencia unannounced.
Must have been my way of leaving.
Searched my future in the deep South of Spain.
So now it's the time to speak the unspoken;
"Dear Johnson, you were like a father to me and I bear this time of us in Valencia as a beloved memory in my heart.
You most probably are dead for many years, as it is more than 30 years ago, but my memory of you and us will survive.
Alfredo, in the harbour of Amsterdam , 2002
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