Santiago Gamboa


Sleeping Beauty’s Palace

My name is Bella, and I’m dreaming. I dream and dream in my palace whose tall windows overlook the multicoloured roofs of Shibuya. As I dream I talk, about what I see in my mind, I look for these pictures that are also words and sometimes resemble smells and fears. This is what I have inside my head, which is as much as to say, that which is in my heart. My name is Bella or Beja and even Belha, depending on where I am, because the whole wide world is my bed. Who am I? Let’s take it step by step. I’m in Tokyo today, but the first time I lost my virginity – I’ll explain what “the first time” means in a moment – was at a Guns N’ Roses concert in a football stadium car park in Warsaw, in the back of a milk van (smelling of milk). The man’s breath reeked of onions and salami. He was certainly as drunk and probably as high as I was. Nothing particularly strong was involved, nothing that needed injecting. You’re already beginning to get an inkling of who I am: I love men but I hate needles. Oh God! It was a needle that began this long story, a story you probably already know, the weird, inordinate comings and goings that are my life. Let’s see, ahem, how did it all happen? Well, there were good fairies, and a wicked fairy, and, it goes without saying, a curse. On reaching my sixteenth year – so the story goes – I would have pricked my finger on a spindle and slept until a prince awakened me with a kiss. Yes, that’s more or less how it happened. The best part, the nicest part is the prince. But the truth is that I wake up consumed by desire, writhing in anguish, because the flower that is inside me, the thing that all we women share with the Virgin – our destiny is to lose it – is reinstated in my dream. My maidenhead is restored, the membrane grows back, and I find myself lying there again, wide-eyed, awake and agitated. Oh God! The Earth moves when a woman is assailed by the desire I feel, the shock-wave that runs down my spine and embeds itself between my buttocks, so that all I can do is open my eyes, leave the bed where I have lain for endless days and nights, and go out into the world, even as my maidenhead grows miraculously back into place. My last deflowering was, visually speaking, a pretty intense affair because the man of the moment was one of the doctors in the Singapore clinic I woke up in after a twenty-two-week hibernation. I don’t know who or what he was – an anaesthetist, I’d say, given that I felt almost nothing – but he released my body and brought it back to life in a room full of medication, bottles of surgical spirit, bandages and hypodermic needles. There was even a photocopier. The doctor plonked me down on the glass and kept on making photocopies of my bottom squashed against the glass and the shadowy, cylindrical, scalpel-like weapon thrusting away at its formless mass – OK, OK, no more details – as I lost my virginity for, what, the twenty-seventh, the twenty-ninth time? Yes, no more details because I’m dreaming at the moment and certain nuances of reality escape me. Reality is my walled garden, the place where my lovers live, the men who awaken me from my vegetable slumber and denude me of the treasure that always grows back again and which, at the end of the day, is no more valuable than an old coin. While saying this I remembered a man, one of the few who I ever loved. And what was he called, this prince of mine? I’ve forgotten, but for the purposes of this dream I’ll give him a name. Let’s say he was called Lars, and that he was a Danish sailor working amidships on a Baltic cruise ship. Lars gave me the breath that brought me back to life as I slept in a cabin. He took me to his steward’s quarters. Looking through the porthole, he said: “We’re sailing past a purple island. In the middle of a plain a war is being fought. Many soldiers are dying. Their helmets rise into the air and their swords are bloody.” I listened to him while another kind of blood bathed my thighs, the wound of his body inside mine. I panted and panted for this man never to stop, never to pull his sword out of me, for this story of war to last a lifetime. But very soon something happened, a bell rang and Lars had to go to the upper deck to make sure that those useless Nordic sailors didn’t sink the ship. At least, that’s what he said. Leaning out of the porthole, I saw that it gave onto the kitchen and I understood why I could smell oil and frying fish, which is the proper thing to eat on board ship, and why the sea smelt of salt water and fish and plankton and the flotsam of shipwrecks, and I loved Lars even more fiercely as he did battle with the storm. But as I was returning to my cabin I heard shouting and I knew that Lars had fallen overboard, that the waves were carrying him away – oh what sorrow! – and once more I slept to forget. I was saddened by the knowledge that the world is always the same, that nothing ever changes, even when Lars is no more and I am asleep and we are all dead. Life blossoms again like a poisonous plant. When I awake there will be other poets and sailors and milkmen. Some will despair, others will wander through the Shibuya district after being humiliated. Life will go on, preserving its bitter flavour until I open my eyes. When I do, someone will be very happy. Oh yes. Take my word for it. What will my next suitor be like? I’ll make a wish: I’d like him to be middle-aged and a bit more laid-back. I’m tired of young sex fiends who drain me to the last drop. Maybe a man who, even as I speak, is wading through tall reeds and mindless multitudes, striding confidently beneath the neon lights of a ghost town like this one, like Tokyo seen from Shibuya, on his way to my palace where he will utter the sweet words I long to hear. When he has said them I will see his eyes, two spheres brimming over with feeling, and inside them, in his gaze, I will find life, and I will be deflowered anew. As you can see, I don’t ask for much. I just want someone to take me in his arms – something real, something furiously real that gives me some relief when it happens.