Iosi Havilio - The novel itself mirrors a dream sequence: neither its locations nor its characters feel entirely there, and little justification is given for some of the narrator’s actions. Even by the end of the novel, we barely know anything about the speaker

Open Door jacket cover high res

Iosi Havilio, Open Door, Trans. by Beth Fowler, And Other Stories, 2011.

When her partner disappears, a young woman drifts towards Open Door, a small town in the Argentinean Pampas named after its psychiatric hospital. She finds herself living with an aging ranch-hand, although a local girl also proves irresistible . . . Iosi Havilio bursts onto the Argentine literary scene after Open Door was highly praised by some of the country's most influential critics and writer, including Beatriz Sarlo and Rodolfo Fogwill. 
With minimalist beauty and exquisite strangeness, Iosi Havilio offers a mesmerising addition to the literature of solitude. - Chloe Aridjis 

Look out for Open Door by the much-praised Iosi Havilio.’ Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
  • ‘Iosi Havilio’s remarkable first novel brings news of an intriguing world’ Martin Schifino, The Independent
  • ‘With minimalist beauty and exquisite strangeness, Iosi Havilio offers a mesmerising addition to the literature of solitude.’ - Chloe Aridjis 

  • ‘Deliberately unshowy, so that plot twists can unfold in the quietest ways.’ Fatema Ahmed, Prospect
  • ‘There is a lot of sex and violence in Open Door, but it is never gratuitous. … You have in your hands a masterpiece.’ Oscar Guardiola-Rivera
  • ‘A moving and highly original novel. A good translation is one that convinces as a work in its own right. That is what we get here.’ Margaret Jull Costa, In Other Words (journal of the British Centre for Literary Translation)
  • ‘Havilio handles the narrator’s listlessness with remarkable dexterity and maintains the reader’s attention throughout … a novel which will flourish under many re-readings.’ Annabella Massey, Cadaverine
  • Open Door really surprised me, it doesn’t obey any of the laws of reading, it feels like it sprang out of nowhere.’ Beatriz Sarlo, Perfil
  • Open Door is not a choral novel but a series of solitary songs sung in intimate keys. It contains a tale to mull over, a story not easy to forget.’ El País
  • Open Door is a confusing, bewildering, riveting book; a paen, of sorts, to both the pursuit of solitude and the futility of that pursuit.’ Eleutherophobia

  • The unnamed narrator of Open Door, a veterinary assistant, seems from the first quite adrift -- willing to go with almost any flow. She lives with a girlfriend, Aída, having moved into her flat soon after getting to know her and "without giving it too much thought". Her account opens with her travelling to relatively distant Open Door -- a mental institution --, to examine a horse, and she reports, for example, that:
         The return journey seems quick, drifting in and out of a sleep that mingles with flashing images of the motorway
           The novel proceeds similarly, lullingly smooth while also flashing a variety of striking scenes and images by, the reader very conscious of being a once-removed observer. Aída disappears, but the narrator barely reacts -- unlike one of Aída's aunts, Beba, who shows much more concern. The narrator continues to drift, finding other places to stay, losing her job (which she in any case more or less forgets about), eventually winding up with the man with the horse (both named Jaime) at Open Door, but also there not finding any real purpose or ambition (and not seeming to mind).
           Typically, eventually:
         Boca and Jaime are always playing truco, they never tire of it. Nor does it incite any great passion, they just play. They shuffle, deal, and speak only when necessary for the game to continue. [...] And me too, on the outside, although I'm not taking part in the game, I'm there, with them, half horny, half lonely, circling around them, and I'm part of it, breathing in time, or in syncopation, accepting that this is how it is, that things have to happen this way, first one, then the other, each one in turn, devising a unique, singular present, which immediately escapes the three of us forever.
           The narrator admits: "I make mistakes: I act too hastily, on impulse, like a child", but she can't help herself. She seems unable to move forward with much -- or almost any -- sense of purpose. Yet it's not just her, it's a reflection of the larger society.
           Open Door, the mental institution, casts a large shadow here too. Established in 1898, the institution began with 25 lunatics; by 2000, she notes, there were 1964 internees, with an average of 65 new ones added each year. Yet the divide between sanity and insanity seems porous here: few act truly nutty, yet all seem damaged and isolated; if society itself has not completely broken down, these characters certainly can not get much of a fix on how it should function properly.
           The narrator's account is an odd mix of confidence and uncertainty: there's little she can pin down, yet her narrative moves steadily, firmly along, and she seems largely untroubled by all the uncertainty in her life; she accepts it as an almost natural condition. Typically, when Aída becomes an issue of sorts again, she notes:
    Every time I bring her to mind, she escapes me. After everything that happened, it's an old and faded story. And more than anything, it's very complicated. Why am I going ?
           But there's little introspection here -- the occasional why about as far as it goes, without any attempt to answer the question.
           Early on, after witnessing what appears to be a suicide attempt, the narrator catches an otherwise empty bus and sits near the driver:
         Intrigued by what he saw reflected in the rear-view mirror, that confusion of lights and shapes, shrinking into the distance, the guy asked me: Did something happen ?
           That's exactly the feel of the entire novel, which always seems to be moving away from what happened, but offers oblique, distorting glimpses of it. Havilio pulls this off remarkably well through the narrator's surprisingly even-keeled tone; though arguably the story is very murky, all this vagueness and the lack of any traditionally presented story-arc isn't irritating. It is a decidedly odd work -- literally off-beat -- but in Havilio's capable hands is nevertheless surprisingly appealing. - M.A.Orthofer

    The first open-door institution for the mentally ill in Argentina was established at the end of the 19th century in an area of countryside some 50 miles north of Buenos Aires. A village grew around it, named after that comparatively novel medical practice: Open Door. Iosi Havilio's remarkable first novel takes its title from the village, though it is only indirectly concerned with its development or the history of psychiatry. Relying on the area for its symbolic associations, he touches on key aspects of the social history of Argentina, exploring themes such as absence, identity and the awkward relationship between town and country.
    Set in a hazy version of the present, the tale is a succession of unresolved mysteries and pointed ellipses. For a start, we know little about the teller, an unnamed woman presumably in her late twenties, who works for a vet and is sent to Open Door to examine an ailing horse. There, she meets its owner, a taciturn older man named Jaime, and learns that "the horse is called Jaime, like him" – which may be the first indication that they do things differently in the country.
    But she feels oddly attracted to the area, and a whole day goes by before she can explain how. Back in Buenos Aires, the woman meets up with her girlfriend, Aída, with whom she is clearly having problems. The following day starts on a promising note, but during an outing Aída unaccountably "disappears", and the protagonist sees someone commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. It is not, as she initially fears, Aída, but the possibility of a similar fate will remain open. The novel refuses both reader and character the comfort of an explanation: the more inexplicable the world appears, the more unfathomable the protagonist's actions becomes. This is a tale of disaffection, in the long tradition that goes back to Camus's The Stranger.
    As she awaits Aída's reappearance, the protagonist calls Jaime about his horse, goes back to Open Door, and eventually moves in with him, leaving the city for the countryside. Yet the tone never drifts into the pastoral. What we get is a disquieting depiction of the surroundings ("The night, moonless, was a dark cell"), and a dazed tale of romantic obsession with a local teenager, Eloísa, described as an "uncouth little brat, beautiful and elemental".
    News of the city keeps coming in the form of requests from a lawyer to identify dead women fitting Aida's description. Jaime "doesn't understand how it can be so difficult to find a body". The sentence has special resonance in a country where thousands disappeared during the last military dictatorship, but Havilio does not labour the connection. Similarly, the idea that the country life resembles life in a lunatic asylum only hovers above the story.
    The novel is a success in large part thanks to its powers of suggestion. Writing in a crisp brand of minimalism – frictionlessly translated by Beth Fowler – Havilio remains both impassive and evocative throughout a book sprinkled with gently pregnant observations: "I flop onto my back in the grass and the sky renders me speechless." At times, he courts the erotic with equal assurance: "Eloísa holds the figs by the base and with her tongue licks the sweet, sticky milk, before opening and devouring them." Now and then, his novel may fall into romanticised strangeness, but it brings news of an intriguing world. - Martín Schifino 

    Iosi Havilio's Open Door is a strange and impressive little novel, and one with the potential to creep up on an unsuspecting reader. The narrator, a veterinarian, attempts to restructure her life after the mysterious disappearance of her girlfriend. A recent house call led her to a sick horse in the rural town of Open Door and, in the absence of her partner Aida, she finds herself inexplicably drawn back to the village. Quietly coping with the nuances of her loss, she senses she belongs with Jaime and his ailing horse in Open Door; she moves from Buenos Aires into Jaime's house, and, eventually, his bed.
    As the novel progresses, Havilio stacks a slew of odd scenes and details atop his narrator's story. Periodically, the narrator returns to the city at the request of a bashful coroner to identify corpses that might be Aida. The narrator sees a number of dead bodies, all of which further weigh on her conscience. This, and many other moments in Open Door feel like they're pulled from David Lynch's playbook: early in the novel, it's apparent that something isn't quite right with the village: "Just in time, I heard a rasping hum, somewhere nearby, but out of sight, as if someone had cleared their throat to begin talking. Like a purr." Later, it's revealed that Open Door was built around one of the nation's first "open door" mental institutions, where patients are free to come and go as they please (the idea is that patients will feel less like inmates with some independence and control over their stay). With this in mind, it becomes tricky to read Open Door without growing suspicious of the mental stability of its players. Jaime and his associates, or the sex-crazed teenager who works at the general store: could they actually be patients on some kind of extended leave?
    And what about the stability of the narrator? Many of her scenes in Open Door are frustratingly insane, but written with the perfect amount of first-person confidence to further build her character's complexity. For instance, in an early scene, she decides she'd rather sleep in an examination room at the veterinary office than further face her girlfriend's absence:
    "At closing time, I repeated the usual routine: I switched off the surgery lights, lowered the blind, put the chain on the door, but I didn't leave…I undressed and lay down on the consulting table. It was a bit narrower and a good ten centimetres shorter than me, but still quite comfortable. I fell asleep immediately."
    Later, she's drawn to Eloisa (the promiscuous girl from the general store) with the same inexplicable conviction that brought her to Open Door. Through Eloisa, the novel takes an erotic turn, but Havilio maintains the same sense of drifting detachment through their relationship that their encounters hardly seem surprising.
    Yet, through all the weirdness of Open Door emerges something much more serious: a tone of crippling loneliness that overpowers the novel's surreality. The narrator's inability to connect with or grow close to people is only masked by the peculiarity of her situation in Open Door. Her relationship with Jaime and Eloisa are sexual but emotionless, and function only to bring her further from the truth that someone she loved was pulled inexplicably from her life.
    It's easy and quite enjoyable to get caught up in all the unsettled scenes of Open Door but it's the narrator's detachment that carries the story into Havilio's finely crafted melancholia. Tonally, this shift is one of the bigger surprises in Open Door. Havilio spends much of the novel signaling portentous ideas, but as the story floats on these themes become too detached to mean anything. This is a difficult, but intentional reversal: Havilio deftly builds a captivating mystery, only to rub of its eerie sheen and reveal the emptiness underneath. -  
    I read Argentinian Iosi Havilio’s Open Door  last week for Spanish Literature Month.  The start of the novel was as hypnotic as anything I have ever read.  After losing her girlfriend in the city, the female protagonist witnesses a suicide jumping from a bridge over a river. It turns out that she was witnessing her girlfriend jumping to her death. Or was she?
    Thereafter, traumatised protagonist retreats to the countryside village of Open Door and takes up with an older man, …. and a younger woman.  The rest of the novel consists mainly of  their liaisons – and a number of visits to the city to identify a series of corpses.   You can tell from my prosaic language that the second two-thirds didn’t live up to the promise of the first, despite some wonderful flowing prose and the tantilising fact that the village and the novel are named after a psychiatric asylum.  In fact, I found myself wondering as to its point.
    Then I read the afterword writen by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera which claims that Open Door lives up to Borges’ challenge.
    Borges contended you couldn’t approach truth,  ultimate meaning or ideal beauty directly because doing so, and being able to experience such things as the face of God, the meaning of the universe, or truth, would turn out to be a nightmare. The experience would be blinding and destructive. …
    It is best to proceed by revealing one layer of appearance after another in the same way as one peels an onion, but without expecting to get to the hard kernel.  Warning: onions do not have a hard kernel. …
    … Havilio proceeds as Borges recommended: he describes effects rather than their causes and works through narrative rather than by naming.
    Except it seems there is a clue on the back of one of the Spanish editions where Havilio names the causes, his monsters …. capitalism and every man for himself.
    Well, knock me sideways.  There I was thinking this was just a sordid little tale in which those with no limits or sense of decency eventually grow up and become responsible adults. Well, put like that I suppose I can see the allegorical application to Havilio’s named monsters.
    Perhaps I should reread this book, because nothing in this novel is quite what it seems as Guardiolo-Rivera, convinced of its masterpiece status , exhorts.  Then again, perhaps I should just acquaint myself with Borges.   I don’t think he’ll be anywhere near as grubby. -

    An undefinable illness permeates the unreal landscape of Iosi Havilio’s debut novel. Named after the small Argentine town just fifty miles outside Buenos Aires, Open Door touches upon a wide variety of subjects and themes, toying with them in a vague and unreliable manner that  quickly becomes a defining characteristic of the unnamed narrator. One of these themes is place, or rather, our mental perception of place. In both real life and in the novel, the town Open Door is based around a psychiatric institution with an open-door policy: inmates are free to come and go as they please. We hear how  
    Instead of being on top of each other, getting worked up, over-excited, here they are free to come and go, to be alone, to work, to walk about; they don’t think about escaping (we only have one breakout per hundred patients), nor rebelling, nor shouting, nor fighting: they are free!’  
    The institution is always lurking in the periphery of the narrator’s mind as she goes about her business between countryside and city; though she comes close, she never seems to fully confront its nature head on.  
    The novel itself mirrors a dream sequence: neither its locations nor its characters feel entirely there, and little justification is given for some of the narrator’s actions. Even by the end of the novel, we barely know anything about the speaker – she starts out as a vet based in Buenos Aires, but seems to willfully surrender her identity as the plot goes on. The opening passage of the novel sets the scene: ‘When the owner of the veterinary surgery told me to go to Open Door to examine a horse, I didn’t argue with her. The idea appealed to me. Open Door. It sounded strange.’ There she meets Jaime, the sick horse, and Jaime, the horse’s unhappy owner (names double up in this novel). Back in Buenos Aires, the narrator’s girlfriend, Aida, inexplicably goes missing and is presumed to have committed suicide. The narrator comes back to Open Door, settles down with Jaime and becomes infatuated with the teenage Eloisa, an ‘uncouth little brat, beautiful and elemental’. Throughout the novel, the narrator remains passive – seemingly bored and apathetic – and almost obstinately provides anticlimax after anticlimax as we are presented with cadavers, love and rediscovered historical memoir. The narrator’s inability to sustain her own interests becomes a subject and a style of the novel itself: Havilio handles this listlessness with remarkable dexterity and maintains the reader’s attention throughout.
    Everyone we meet in Open Door is ill on some level, even the animals. Both Jaimes seem to suffer from the same malady: ‘Equine scans are very expensive and I don’t feel it’s worth it, I think to myself without saying anything. Jaime’s eyes melt into those of the animal, becoming straw-coloured and sickly.’ As Oscar Guardiola-Rivera states in his afterword, sacrifice and substitution resonate throughout this novel: who is giving up what for whom, and what will be exchanged in return? Eloisa is a character who rails against her sickness: she is in no way stable, but she has a vibrancy and an energy which feel unique in this town. Instead of waiting for the inevitable flat cycle of self-sacrifice and exchange, she heads out of Open Door and into Buenos Aires where she finds boyfriends who haven’t grown up breathing the same diseased air as herself – though of course, she can’t ever shake off her childhood environment completely.   
    The narrator never fully reveals what is wrong with her – the reader sees that even she is unable to pin this down. At times, we are given moments loaded with understated emotion:
    ‘It was my birthday yesterday and Jaime gave me a Walkman. I wasn’t going to tell him, but later it occurred to me that perhaps it would improve the relationship [...] We ate our picnic by the lake and I told myself again that, despite everything, he was a good man and if I wanted to I could still fall in love with him.’
    Birthday presents feel almost ridiculously real in unreal Open Door and this scene is all the more affecting for it, as are the sad and sarcastic moments of muted humour: ‘My face is squashed up against his solid, hairy chest. It’s no use, I end up having to make way with my own hand. I guide him. He’s a terrible lover, with no technique.’ 
    This is a novel which will flourish under many re-readings: the ambiguity of the author, the strange relevance of the setting and the loose-ended plot mean that this story can exist in different ways on many different levels. In fact, as Guardiola-Rivera says, you begin to wonder if the entire narrative could just be ‘[the fantasy] of a patient interned in Open Door.’ This is a skillfully crafted novel which, without the intervention of Beth Fowler’s masterful translation, would easily be overlooked by the English-speaking community. Havilio plays with psychological readjustment throughout – ‘I had forgotten that sensation of cosmic plenitude that you get when you walk to your own music’ – and the effect is both melancholy and striking. - Annabella Massey

    The bereaved mother in “An Open Secret” appears mad, though the madness is all around her. In “Open Door” by Iosi Havilio, who was born only in 1974, Argentina resembles an asylum. A young veterinary assistant relates how her female lover went missing. She fears that she may have seen her commit suicide off a bridge in Buenos Aires's old port. Between trips to the morgue to identify corpses, she visits a pampas village named Open Door, after the psychiatric hospital that was founded there in 1898 as an “agricultural work colony”. In the countryside she moves between two partners: an ageing gaucho—whose name is the same as his ailing horse, Jaime—and an amoral, druggie country girl with plaits.
    As sexual encounters unfold in the woman's alienated voice, the characters merge with the village “loonies”. Events, like interchangeable lovers, have equal weight, from a stable fire to the brewing of maté tea, in an ambiguous tale that verges on dark comedy. A suspected UFO turns out to be the spotlit film set for a commercial. In an asylum without walls, there is “nothing to limit the illusion of absolute liberty”; ultimate control is when people no longer feel they are being coerced. With skill and subtlety, the novel hints that a whole society might labour under an illusion of liberty, manipulated by forces outside the frame. -

    Interview with Iosi Havilio   by  Lucy Popescu                                                      

    Iosi Havilio                                                      
    Iosi Havilio was born in Buenos Aires in 1974. Open Door is his first novel. His second novel is Estocolmo (Stockholm, 2010), and he is currently working on a sequel to Open Door. He has become a cult author in Argentina after Open Door was highly praised by the outspoken and influential writer Rodolfo Fogwill and by the most influential Argentine critic, Beatriz Sarlo.
    When her partner disappears, a young veterinary assistant drifts from the city towards Open Door, a small town in the Pampas named after its psychiatric hospital. Embarking on a new life in the country, she finds herself living with an ageing ranch-hand and courted by an official investigating her partner’s disappearance. She might settle down, although a local girl is also irresistible . . .

    Lucy Popescu: What was the inspiration for Open Door?

    Iosi Havilio: There is an anecdote which I like to think of as the starting point of the story. When I was eight years old my father took me on vacation and we went through a small town called Open Door. He told me that nearby was a hospital for the mentally ill where the inmates were free to go about the place. I was frustrated because we did not stop to visit it. Hence, I was prompted to imagine a place where crazy people could walk in and out without restrictions. For many years, I remembered this fantasy of a dark, gothic and miraculous village. In addition, my later readings, experiences and obsessions contributed to my writing of the story.   There was no plan or any clear purpose behind it. The novel is pure invention, much in the same way as the memory of my childhood voyage probably is.

    LP: In his Afterword to the English edition of Open Door, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera writes “Borges contended you couldn’t approach truth, ultimate meaning or ideal beauty directly because doing so, and being able to experience such things as the face of God, the meaning of the universe, or truth, would turn out to be a nightmare. The experience would be blinding and destructive.” Guardiola-Rivera goes on to compare you to Borges – in your ability to subvert reality. There is a nightmare quality to Open Door. In what other ways do you think this statement relates to your novel?

    I believe that mystery is everywhereIH: No, please not Borges.  Guardiola-Rivera is very imaginative as well as generous. Anyhow, I believe that mystery is everywhere. There is a misunderstanding which leads us to look for deep revelations of the soul when analysing important literature. As I see the world, it is a never ending spiral which I observe upwards, from the bottom. Such an experience serves as an entrance and exit to any story.

    LP: There is a tension between city and country in Open Door. Can you say a little more about this?

    IH: People talk a lot about such tensions. They sometimes draw a map of fictions where such differences are expressed, starting from classical literature to today. I believe these to be futile categories, resulting from considering a part instead of the entire text, thereby misinterpreting the real world. Tensions never occur in time nor space, but only in the eyes of the observer. Otherwise, we risk falling into over simplified antagonisms and arrive at faulty language and communication. The worlds exist and that’s it. In fact, for the narrator in Open Door, the city is not fully a city and the country is not fully a country.

    LP: On the back cover of the Spanish edition of Open Door, you mention capitalismo + salvese quien pueda (capitalism + every man for himself). What relevance does this have to your novel?

    IH:  It was my editor in Spain who made the remark. I have an inkling of why he wrote it, but since they are only inklings I prefer to keep them for myself.

    LP: There is a lot of explicit sex in Open Door and scenes that some readers may find off-putting. What were you hoping to achieve in these passages?

    IH: Absolutely nothing else then what they say. I don’t know of any other sex then the explicit one. Paraphrasing Bataille, I would ask: what is more scandalous in a scene of lesbianism under the sky, the pussies or the stars?

    LP: When did you start writing and why?

    IH: I could date it to my adolescence. But as I grow older I am inclined to believe that it was a long time before, even before I could read and write. Indeed, I am convinced that most of my writings need not be put into words.

    LP:  Do you believe in Ricardo’s Piglia’s assertion that “All great literature is political”?
    I believe that the best political literature is the one that doesn’t speak of politics

    IH: Of course, either by action or by omission. In fact I believe that the best political literature is the one that doesn’t speak of politics. Just as the best love stories don’t need to speak about sentiments.

    LP: Who inspires you and why?

    IH: All living things, including books.

    LP: Do you think you are difficult to translate and do you participate in the translating process?

    IH: I had no part whatsoever in the translation and I believe that was a very good thing. I think that the difficulties lie not so much in translating meanings into words as in the task of uncovering the underlying universe. In this sense, I am grateful that Beth Fowler has done a wonderful job in making the novel her own.

    LP: Describe your writing space and your writing routine.

    IH:Impossible. Chaos is my only method.

    LP: What are you reading now?

    IH:  After many previous frustrating experiences, I finally read with great pleasure James Joyce’s Ulysses.  It was great fun. I still hear the music, the breathing and the dissonances.  Also, I went back to Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir and I am reading again Facundo by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. I tried Michel Houellebecq again after a while. The Map and the Territory is amusing and caustic but, in my opinion, it lacks the strength of his earlier books.

    Extract from Open Door by Iosi Havilio, translated by Beth Fowler

    Shortly before seven, I saw her for the last time. She was wearing faded jeans and a black T-shirt, she’d put her hair up in a kind of bun. She seemed happy, normal. Her breath was bitter, from an empty stomach.

    We had gone to La Boca. We were bored, the walk had been a failure. Too many people around, too many noises all at once and nothing much to do.

    At some point Aída went into a bar. She gestured with her hand, she barely moved her lips, she seemed to say I’ll be right back, or something like it. I lit a cigarette. With my back to the street, I caught my reflection in a long and narrow mirror with traditional painted designs around the edge. People passed to and fro and I disappeared and reappeared between them.

    A blond boy stopped in front of me. He had a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He smiled at me and mimed lighting it with an imaginary lighter. I gave him mine. He couldn’t have been skinnier, or dirtier. He was that type of blond whose hair is the only blond thing about him. A tough street kid, tanned skin, full lips, theatrical stare, aged about fourteen or fifteen. He lit his cigarette with the tip of mine and lingered longer than necessary in handing it back. A tough street kid, tanned skin, full lips, theatrical stare He had a scar snaking between the knuckles of one hand. He didn’t take his eyes off me. He looked at me the way some brats do, unintentional and yet intense.

    ‘Fancy a smoke?’ he said bringing his face closer, all his teeth on show. I just looked at him, a bit lost.

    Do you want to or not, the boy pressed me and, because it was Sunday, because I was bored and because Aída still hadn’t come out, I hunched my shoulders as if to say: Why not? The boy jerked his head for me to follow him.

    First I glanced into the bar and amongst the crowd I saw Aída going into the toilets. What had she been doing all this time? It didn’t surprise me, Aída did that sort of thing, disappeared, played hide and seek. The blond boy was waiting for me at the corner.

    We took a diagonal lane and came to a yard that doubled as a basketball court, a few parked cars around the edges. The blond boy guided me to an out-of-sight corner where there were two other boys, even rougher looking and much younger. One was rather chubby with the look of an obedient dog, his face camouflaged in the hood of the tracksuit he was wearing. The third boy was much taller than the other two, wearing denim from head to toe, a proper show-off. Did you get it? the blond boy asked the one in denim, who immediately took a long, fat joint out of his pocket, twice the size of a normal joint. The blond boy lit up, took two deep drags and passed it to me. We smoked, each taking our turn, in perfect harmony. They asked me my name and I asked theirs. They told me that they lived round here and that they played in a band. They wanted to know where I was from. From far away, I replied.

    Drugs don’t always act the same way, it all depends on the person and the circumstances. The lad in denim, who had struck me as the most laid-back of the three, was retreating into himself. The fat one, on the other hand, had taken down his hood and was getting more and more excitable by the minute. The blond boy, like a good leader, didn’t seem to be affected.

    ‘We want you to suck us off,’ the little fatty said out of nowhere, projecting the not-yet-fully-formed voice of an overweight adolescent.

    The blond boy released a smoke-filled laugh. The one in denim turned pale, then red. All the blood rushed to the fat boy’s head, enough for the three of them. And he laughed too, through clenched teeth. As I didn’t say anything, didn’t even move, their nerves finally got the better of them and they passed me the joint again. The round continued without comment. When the joint had finished, we said goodbye with a kiss on the cheek, like good friends.

    Published in English translation by And Other Stories: