LIFE GOES ON AT 63 ST ANNE STREET
John Atkins, the angel, loved Veronica, the unclothed one, who loved Don, the prince, who loved only himself, on account of his unavoidable good looks. Don had a sad lover named Martha (my dear), who miraculously appeared whenever Veronica was not at home. Martha suffered because it was obvious that Don would not marry her. She had already been with several other men and besides that she was not so beautiful as Veronica, who was only sixteen. Everyone in the house was under twenty except Derek and I (both 29). John Atkins suffered because of Veronica who suffered because of the indifference of Don, who suffered because he didn't know how not to be indifferent, since he was so good looking. And even though Don wanted to try, there was no need to make the slightest effort to have the world at his feet. Martha suffered because – for her – her life would always be very sad and difficult, for already she carried in her face the mark of all the sufferings of the world.
One day Don caught the flu very badly and retired to bed.He became even more good looking when he was ill and everyone went to visit him and to adore him in his room, a tiny little room – no more than a cupboard – on the top floor of the house. Veronica made soup for him and loved all this work though not knowing what she could do to alleviate her beloved’s flu. I suffered for the suffering of everyone. They all complained in one way or another, but everyone laughed at their own sufferings. Stuff of ‘new season’ people. Even so, joy reigned in that home.
Derek used to bring home some of the ‘skinhead’ girls who frequented the ‘heavy bar’ of the town, the little bar in Saint Anne Street. And in front of everyone he would lay down with the girl on his mattress and next he’d unsheathe the knife he carried at his waist and with the knife he would slowly lift the skirt of the skin-head girl of the day, making his theatre of sadism.The girls that Derek brought in were completely the opposite of the girls in the community. Like all skin-heads, Derek's girls had a total disregard for the human race and only the ‘heavy bar’ could satisfy them. When Derek began the theatre of his knife lifting her skirt, all the members of the community left the room and found other corners of the house, where they made comments regarding Derek, ex-West Coast Hell's Angels. Whilst all this was going on, Roy and Tara would go out for a walk while they waited for the end of Derek's sexual service, seeing as they were Derek’s inseparable friends.
One day Derek reached twenty-nine years of age and received a mountain of presents. I gave him my chain with the little hand holding a hammer that Zé Vicente had given me on the day of my departure, when I left Brazil, months ago. Zé Vicente had told me – moreover – that the little chain had been given to him by someone he didn’t know, one night at the Galeria Metrópole, in São Paulo, when he used to go there for a smoke.
There are or there were days when I missed Zé Vicente terribly and on those days I used to go out, going – in preference – to Bruce's favourite spot where I sat on the severed trunk of the tree. And having about me the three other trees, leafy and protecting, I would cry, to clean myself out. On one of those days I wrote a poem on the top of the severed tree stump:
I came with the key
But you already had a knife in your hand.
I could see everything
But you insisted on being blind.
All they ever taught you was to cut bread, trees and life
And that's why I came with the key
But something went astray
Because already you were waiting with a knife in your hand.
Derek was thrilled with my gift and never again took the little chain off from around his neck. Derek was covered with tattoos (like all Hell's Angels) and Roy had two false teeth in his mouth, right in the front of his smile, and when he was preoccupied with the delay caused by one of Derek's sexual encounters, he (Roy) was nervous, impatiently moving his two false teeth with his tongue. The girls, downstairs in the living room, were like "Hmm, how disgusting!” – as a joke. One day Derek had already been locked in his room for six hours with a skin-head girl, whilst Roy and everyone else were waiting impatiently in the living room. The youngsters were crazy for that dreadful sexual encounter to finish quickly so that they could go up into the bedroom to listen to music on Bruce's record player. But from Roy’s face I could see that there was some other type of concern on his mind.
There was a loud knock on the front door. Penny went to answer it. They were the Hell's Angels-Drago who were after Derek, because of some arrangement that Derek had made and that no-one in the house knew anything about. Roy went out to the front of the house to explain to the Hell's Angels-Drago that Derek was busy with a girl upstairs. The Hell's Angels-Drago didn’t want to know. They got really heavy with Roy. The youngsters in the community locked themselves inside the house, terrified, because the fight was nothing to do with them. John Atkins went to warn Derek (shut in the bedroom) of what was going on in the street. In no time Derek came down the stairs with a knife in one hand and an iron chain on the other, plus Tara behind (Tara had also been locked in the room with him and the skin-head girl until now). Then it was too much for us to stay inside the house and we all left to see the fight on a corner further down the street. We didn't know what to do. Andrew Lovelock, ‘the nobleman’, was having a ‘bad trip’ and lamented inconsolably that the house at 63 Saint Anne Street was no longer the same as it used to be. A little further on down the Hell's Angels were fighting with the greatest violence, which involved everything: knife, chain, club, iron bar, and the interventions of Tara (the dog). The spectacle was horrific and too violent for people from the community of peace & love and nobody wanted to stay watching the scene. We went back inside the house, devastated. A few minutes later Roy, Derek and Tara came back. Roy was all smeared with blood. The girls in the community washed him (with warm cloths) and took care of Roy's wounds. Derek, without the slightest scratch, went back through the living room as rapidly as he’d come down, without saying a word, and went up the stairs in the direction of the bedroom. He stayed there for another two hours with the skin-head girl. By that time everyone had long since given up on listening to music in the bedroom.
Andrew Lovelock, ‘the nobleman’, left the following day. He moved to London in order to get a job and form a band. Andrew Lovelock played the drums. Before he left he gave me his London address. There was something in the expression in the depths of Andrew Lovelock’s eyes that made me think of him as another self. But this, in one way or another, happened with all the inhabitants of the house in Saint Anne Street. I think it was love that made me see things in that light.
On the fourth day of the week that David Hayward had allowed me to stay as a guest in the house, Derek said to me in front of everyone: “You can stay here for as long as you wish". I was embarrassed. With Derek in the house no-one else would have any peace there at 63, Saint Anne Street. Everyone feared a violent rematch from the Hell's Angels-Drago. Vengeance. But there was no more fighting and the matter was more or less forgotten, although much commented upon by everyone in the days following the incident.
The people in the community were almost all broke and we only ate one meal a day. Nobody liked meat but also nobody was macrobiotic. They were vegetarians. They ate vegetables and cereals. A great deal of tea was drunk. By then I was already making tea. I often got everything wrong when measuring out the sugar. One night I put two spoonfuls of sugar in Don the Prince's cup, and he noticed the difference. Don only liked one spoonful of sugar in his tea. After that, despite my best efforts, I continued to get the sugar wrong for the others but I never messed up on Don’s, who tasted the tea and approved with his eyes my exact measurements.
The passions and the loves continued just the same. John Atkins suffered on account of Veronica who suffered on account of Don who suffered on account of himself, the others and Martha who, when she appeared, came to show everyone her suffering. And everyone laughed and smiled. David Hayward showed up only a few hours a day or at night and pondered, always. The good and responsible David said that I could stay there in the house for my whole life if I wanted to. Roger Elliot was a great friend and whenever he appeared and disappeared, and reappeared, he looked at me with love and sympathy, asking how I was doing, and giving me one of his incredible little sweets. At each of his appearances Roger Elliot would offer us a different kind of sweet. In fact everyone liked everyone and I felt their love for me, as if I had always been one of them. And I felt really fine in this house and in the midst of these beautiful children. On Saturdays the house became completely overcrowded. All of their friends appeared. And sitting on the floor, on the stairs, in the windows, on the window-sills, on the chairs, on pillows, sofas and armchairs and even on tables, everybody stopped there, or else were in a continuous coming and going, smoking, drinking tea, listening to music on Bruce's old record player. Nobody looked physically the same as anyone else. Each one was one, an individual, respected for what he had as an individual, whilst each one was a show, in himself, for the others. There was no rivalry, there was no envy, there was no jealousy, there were no ‘crickets’, no hang-ups, amongst friends. If there was any ‘cricket’ (‘grilho’) it was so minimal that I, used to the huge crickets (‘grilhoes’) from my past, I didn't notice such insignificant ones (‘grilhinhos’). Certainly there was much disorder in terms of cleaning the houseand and things like that, but it was never possible to keep the house in good order anyway with so many people around. I watched all of them and their surroundings as if I were an invisible being in a world that was real yet (for me) was quite fantastic. And I dreamed of the possibility of seeing the whole world like that, in that climate of love & peace, despite the hardships of winter. At the same time the whole thing seemed to me like theatre, an endless spectacle. I laughed a lot and I’ve never seen people with so many good vibrations in my life. In that house hardly anybody slept. And nobody stopped in corners talking on the sly, everyone loved to talk and no-one missed the subject or failed to listen well. Bruce used to write poetry in his room and he was often alone up there. And me, I often went up there to keep him company. We talked a lot and one day I nearly cried when he said to me: "I've learned from you, in one week, more than I've learned in the whole of my life."
It was actually me who was learning a lot at that house full of good examples. As my English was not yet so good in these things, I saw and heard more than I spoke. And I saw clearly the love of one for another, of some for the others. They'd all been born and brought up in Salisbury. The only foreigners were myself and Derek. But they didn't treat us like foreigners. We were ‘de casa’.
Many times I had to go out on my own so I could cry. I've never cried so much in my life. I was almost ashamed of myself for shedding so many tears. There was no mistrust in the house, no one screwed anyone up. Even Derek's eccentricities were accepted because above all they knew how to understand Derek. It was as if everyone applauded everyone else's performances. It was a state of permanent ‘boots in the air’, in spite of autumn having already announced the near arrival of winter. The house was poor, poverty-stricken, there was no luxury at all. But there were inner riches. There was love, more than anything else.
But, for all this, I was often affected by a strange and terrible fear. This used to happen when I went out for a walk. I saw the streets, the other people, the city and I thought that I was mad, that this was all a dream, that in reality none of it was true. Terrible memories from my past life came down into my head, memories of all the horrors, the violence, the doubt, the addictions, the corruption, the meanness, of everything ugly and repulsive that I had already seen and lived. It seemed to me that all these horrible memories, even though they were past, were alive within me, suffocating, wanting to come out into the open and horrify those who had not the slightest idea of them. And so I was afraid of these, my inner monsters, and just as I would never even harm a simple cockroach, I also didn't want to turn myself into an assassin by killing my inner monsters, even though they themselves were damaging me. Many times it was too much for me to be playing the part of the good guy, ‘simpatico’ and harmless, a saint, all the time.
I wanted to be like them, the members of that community, but in truth I had already gone too far, I had already entered worlds so strange that they might not even have dreamed of them. They were unsuspectingly and unconcernedly clean and without any dark mystery, whilst I was full of filthy things in my soul, in what I understood as my soul. I had already fallen into so many sordid temptations that I now felt obliged to carry the burden of guilt, and its consequences. I didn’t come to terms with the fact that once I had been innocent and I had lost my innocence on accountof my own innocence itself. One day – about two years before – a friend of mine whom I loved threw this in my face: "You too are no longer innocent, you are already a ‘malicioso’.” When he said that to me I didn’t know what he was talking about. I only came to understand it deeply now, here in Salisbury. And awareness is not easy. In fact nothing is easy any more in this life, absolutely nothing. What matters is that I was in a prison, and this prison was myself that I built for myself. But either way I am forced to admit that I’m alive. A prisoner, but alive. There are two forces breaking me up from inside. There’s a war going on inside me. I'm very afraid that the side which I turn to will give away the points and give up the struggle. Me, I was born from love, in my life I was happy whilst – with difficulty or not – I had love as a greater force within me, outside of me, within my arm's reach.
I still don't know how to love these people, knowing as I do know that if my dark side was revealed to them they would run from me, terrified. That's what I should do now, reveal all my darkness to them and see what happens. Perhaps they would even save me, take me by the hand, maybe not. The truth is that if I remain enchanted with them because they don’t doubt each other, I myself am still full of doubt, including the doubt of whether they would accept me or not, knowing me as I really am. As I have already said, each person in the community is a person in their own right, an individual, a unique style, although, because of an invisible thread – of innocence – they may be joined and protected by each other. Their innocence makes as if they accept me as one of them. But the truth is that within me I know I am not one of them. But I want to be. Help me, Dona Amnesia.
Of all of them, the one who most makes me want to ‘tell all’ is Bruce. I still can't say very well quite why. Maybe it’s because of that china mug with his name on it, that I found on the floor on the very first day, when the man of the keys, Roger Elliot, brought me to the house. Maybe it's because when Bruce himself and I were introduced to each other he asked me if I was a ‘revolutionary’, because I came from South America and wore that olive green jacket from an American soldier in the Vietnam War, with the bullet hole, the bloodstain, and particularly the mark of sperm from the Young Man in Edinburgh, that sexual afternoon at the Princess's Gardens in Edinburgh, Scotland. Perhaps it’s because of that, that I feel like telling all to Bruce. But at the same time as all this happened and happens I look at Bruce and he inspires confidence in me. And at the same time my suspicious side tells me that Bruce is not so trustworthy at all. And this distrust of Bruce fills me with poison.
I don't know what to do, for the time being. I don’t know if I should go away, and leave in their pure and innocent memory the passage of a character from fairy tales, a ‘revolutionary’ who passed through here, just as a poster of Che Guevara himself adorns the wall of the room where Bruce sleeps and listens to his records on the old record player, the Incredible String Band records which speak of everything, of Hitler, of Jesus, of Richard the Lion Heart, of Queen Cleopatra, of Moses and of many others, as if they were just characters from fairy tales, people who exist and existed only in stories and legends from childhood, in the way of "be careful my boy, or a bogeyman will come along and catch you, if you don't do this, if you don't do that". Che Guevara himself, on the poster there on the wall in Bruce's room, it seems to me seen through the eyes of Salisbury, through the eyes of the community, almost a character from legend, a Robin Hood from the unknown side of the world, a movie hero, a gallant adventurer. And so? Is that all there is to it? Doesn’t someone else’s holiday count? Perhaps all this is really of no interest. Perhaps it's like they say (to console you), "Whatever has happened, has happened". Perhaps I should accept this kind of consolation and wipe a sponge across the blackboard of my conscience and my memory and forget everything and start a new life and a new learning here, start a new cycle, as the mystics say, start from zero and learn everything anew, in another way. But what about the contents? What I already have inside me? Where can I empty the dustbin without polluting the place where it’s been dumped, that is, the Earth?
Isn't the Earth already polluted enough? If so, perhaps, now, my little litter bin won't pollute it so much. Or will it be that if I can ‘tell all’ to Bruce I won’t pollute his innocent head? So many questions, so many answers. The answers to my questions I already know. They are inside me, in this world, in this Earth, that I bring within me. For every answer I have several questions and I have several questions for every answer. How to reply and how to ask without committing a disaster? How to get out of this?
The other day Bruce's father came to visit him in the community. His father is a painter, an artist, a young and tranquil gentleman. Bruce introduced us, we talked a little and then I went out, leaving Bruce speaking to his father alone. Later Bruce told me that his father had liked me and had encouraged his son to continue as my friend because I am a "good fellow". And now? And now José? How does the great poet from Minas Gerais ask such questions? And now, Zé Vicente? You who are a ‘Mineiro’, you help me to get out of this. You help your friend since – as you yourself once said – your friend has already taught you to be free.