Paranoia in Girona
When they arrested Puigdemont, the former leader of the Catalan independence movement, I was getting sick in a hostel in Girona. I couldn’t sleep. My sinuses hurt, and I was terrified. In the middle of the night, I’d woken up to find a shadowy figure standing at the foot of my bed, staring at me in the gloom.
They must have sensed me wake up. The shadow moved, and I heard the creak of a wooden frame as it climbed into bed. I lay awake until dawn. When I got up, the room was empty. The evening before, there’d only been one other person in the dorm, a sweet, German girl. But she’d left in the early hours to catch a flight.
I went out on to the balcony with a watery filter coffee, and looked out onto the city. There would be protests. In the room behind me, the news flashed scenes of road blockades, Catalan flags, and angry rioters hurling projectiles at the police. I had the taste of a cold in the back of my throat. My limbs ached. A door swung open and I was joined by a bald, round-headed man of about fifty wearing a full Lycra cycling outfit.
“Spanish?” he asked, with wild, bulging eyes.
I took a step back. He was very close.
“Yes, I said, but I grew up in London.”
He started to fumble with a sentence in broken Spanish.
“You speak English?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” he wagged his head up and down.
“What happen?” He sounded Italian.
“What do you mean?”
“The problems,” he said. “Do I need to leave? Will there be more problems?”
He was sweating.
“No, no,” I said. “There will probably be a demonstration, but it will be fine.”
“I am supposed to cycling to Portugal, but now I not, because of the problems. They will close the roads? There will be violence?”
He inched even closer to me until the wrought-iron railing jabbed me in the small of the back.
“No,” I said. “No violence. I promise it will be fine.”
He wasn’t listening to me.
“I will have to go home now.”
“Where are you from?” I asked, trying to distract him.
“Italy,” he said incidentally. Then: “I must to go now.”
“Okay,” I said. “But don’t worry.”
He disappeared and I finished my coffee.
As I walked to my dorm, he was talking to the receptionist. She was explaining, in a very calm and measured tone, that everything was fine, that there would be no violence, and that all the shops and roads would be open as usual.
Sitting on the edge of my bed, I packed my bags. I had a flight to catch. By the end of the day, I too would be in a foreign country, alone, with no knowledge of the local language. I started to empathise with the cyclist. Then I heard him shouting.
“There will be violence!” His voice had risen to a hysterical squeak. “The German girl, she left in the early, because of the problems!”
I closed the door, zipped up my bag, and lay down to get a few minutes rest.
The door swung open and woke me with a start. There was a figure looming at the foot of my bed again. My pulse quickened. I saw my nocturnal visitor take shape. It was him. Full Lycra. Except now he was wearing a bicycle helmet. He stared at me, raised his hand and screamed:
“Ciao!” Then ran out of the room.
Crowds poured from alleyways, converging in squares as I walked through Girona to the bus station. They moved towards the sound of loud-speakers and clamouring. Though I hadn’t been worried before, I was suddenly gripped with an irrational fear. Could ski-masked rioters appear at any moment? Had political unrest boiled over to pre-civil war levels? Was I, as a non-Catalan, about to get a Molotov cocktail in the face from an indignant independista?
The reality was less sinister. There were families, children, pensioners; normal people with yellow ribbons pinned on their lapels, a show of solidarity for political prisoners. But I couldn’t shake the paranoia. A fever was flaring up in my body.
I got to the station two minutes after the airport bus had pulled out. The next one wouldn’t leave for almost an hour. I spent it on the floor, febrile and sweaty, clutching my bags tight. My defences were stripped from me. Problems, I thought, and eyed every passer-by with furtive, suspicious eyes.