We were at my father's house in Bonalba. We'd gone to bed really late, having spent the evening watching a bad movie, playing with Andy, and eating pumpkin seeds like there was no tomorrow. In the middle of the night, a loud pounding began from somewhere within the house. I was in one bedroom, a room with just one window that faced west, and my father was in a bedroom in a separate wing, his window facing south. I heard him open his bedroom door, then the hallway door, and then approach my room, where my wife was fast asleep next to me. It must've been about five o'clock in the morning.
My father, thinking we were the ones making all the racket, began banging on the door and yelling for us to shut up. He was about as mad as I'd ever heard him, screaming so much that I could barely make out what he was saying. I don't know what he thought we were up to. We'd fallen on the bed like logs a few hours earlier and hadn't moved since. I didn't pay much attention to either my father or the pounding, and after a while the noise stopped and my father went back to his room. Moments later, the pounding started again. I got up to see where it was coming from.
Toward the rear of the house, near an old tank that held our water reserves, I saw a man with a sledgehammer making a hole in the wall, apparently trying to connect some pipes. He looked about 45 years old, had a strong build, whitish hair, and bronzed skin from years under the sun. It was obvious that he had been working like this all his life. Now that I think about it, we were probably relatives. I thought his features resembled mine. Then again, everyone from Alicante looks somehow familiar to me. For all I knew, I'd never seen this man before in my life.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that the man was making a hole in the actual tank. Every now and then we had to transport some of the water in the tank up to the roof using buckets. The roof held another smaller tank that distributed the water through the house's plumbing system. The roof tank was really just an open box made of cement and asbestos. The big tank on the ground was made of brick and cement, painted white, and extended over a large surface of the patio, though it stood less than a meter tall at its highest point. It was on top of this patio tank where every summer we dried almonds from our almond trees and also esparto leaves that my grandpa José would later use to make twine.
The man with the sledgehammer greeted me by nodding his head and smiling broadly but without ever stopping his work. He seemed to know me since forever. He told me that he was trying to connect some pipes to the tank so that he could install a sink that my father wanted on the patio. It sounded like an absurd idea to me, putting a sink in the middle of a patio, but I wasn't in the mood to argue, and it wasn't even dawn yet, so I went back to my room thinking about the plan for the next day, which was to go to the beach and eat paella at Casa Julio.
Over the next several days, this same man returned to the house, always before dawn, to continue with the sink project. From the beginning, I could see that he was doing a chapuza, a real sloppy job, and that the sink was going to end up tilted. I told my father this, but he didn't seem to care. To try and fix things up, my father told the man to finish the sink and then build a bathroom around it, with walls and everything. I couldn't believe it! Not only was my father going to pay this guy for a job that he clearly couldn't do right, but now he was giving him permission to do even more chapuzas. From where I stood, I saw no need for either a bathroom or a sink. But I stayed silent because when all was said and done, I was just a visitor in this house.
So, in the days that followed, I remained merely an observer. I watched the man build a segment of wall that seemed like it would become part of a whole bathroom, but that for the moment just supported the sink. It was completely irregular and it wasn't parallel to the existing construction, that is, the side of the tank, and I could plainly see there was a gap between the two walls, a gap that would fill up with garbage and bugs, doing no good for the construction. He extended this piece of wall up to a height of seven feet, and then he married that new wall with the old one in the worst possible way, his goal being to make this the back wall of the bathroom.
The next day, he installed the bathtub right under the new but still tilted sink. Yet another disaster. How did he think we're going to wash our hands? By first stepping in the bathtub? Finally I decided to have a few words with my father, who still seemed unwilling to face the disaster of a bathroom that we were going to end up with if this man kept going. He told me that the man was a second cousin, or something like that, and he couldn't just tell him to go away, that he had to use kid gloves and continue on with the farce. My father's solution was to put in another sink, now that it was evident that the one that was already in place would never be functional. Perhaps the bathtub could be saved, maybe by using it as a shower.
But the man still couldn't do it right. He put the second sink exactly in front of the door, so that when you opened the door, the sink was blocking the way. You could barely get into the room because of it. At that moment, it occurred to me that the man seemed to be building the bathroom around himself, without ever leaving it. What an idea.
And, in fact, that's exactly what he was doing as he built more walls. Without moving from the center of the room, he was adding all the different elements, and with his hands, as though he was modeling, he added layers on like a sandwich. The second wall went up like the first one, which is to say that he constructed just enough to hold up the sink and then he extended it with his hands, again like he was modeling, until the second wall reached the first one. Of course the meeting point of the two was completely crooked and ridiculous. But that didn't seem to worry him. He just kept going, rapidly moving his big hands, adding more and more material until the light from the outside just dwindled down to nothing. I couldn't understand why he wasn't using a flat tool instead of just the palm of his hands.
And there was something else that mystified me: it was the way he related, or really the way he failed to relate, to how the outside wall connected to the wall's inner structure. Some parts of the inner structure were still exposed here and there, and he wasn't using it. As he built the wall, touching it with his hands, I could see that he was just making random and tenuous contact with the inner support. It reminded me of the Crypt for the Colonia G(ell of Gaudi because these walls, which weren't even vertical, had a curved outside and they came to a point like the tip of a knife.
He was concentrating on the surface, working with his hands, and with his face very close to the wall, like he was myopic and forgot to put on his glasses. That's probably why he didn't care what was going on inside while he was working outside, and vice versa. And that also contributed to this sense I had that the shape that resulted had nothing to do with the interior.
My father agreed with my complaints but he didn't accept my suggestion to tear down what his distant cousin had done and let me start again from scratch. The opposite occurred, in fact. I don't know how he did this, but after finishing the bathroom, the man convinced my father of the need to build a connecting room, what was supposed to be a kitchen, plus another room that was going to be a bedroom. In total, three rooms, with two windows and one outside door. It was going to be like a small apartment for guests, or something like that. The construction wasn't going to be very big. In total, it wouldn't be more than 200 square feet, occupying almost the whole space of the patio. I continued to be perplexed by everything. Why was he building this? Why take over the patio like that? Why not, at the very least, follow the surfaces of the exisiting walls of the house?
In retrospect, I now see that he was building an Apartment. But at the time, it seemed like he was just building without direction, that there was no plan, that it was just a sink, then a wall, then a bathtub, and so on. It was as if I was only seeing fragments. And that there was something being hidden from me, that my father wasn't telling me everything, that he had some secret agreement with his cousin that he wasn't going to tell me, ever.
At this point, I gave up. The next day I left on a trip, and though I didn't know it at the time, it was a trip that would change the course of my life.