He asked you to dance for him, so you did. In that long narrow bar with the DJ booth shaped like a disco ball. On Dean Street or Greek Street or Frith Street. You can’t tell them apart, these labyrinths and basements. You’ve never had so many streets before. Back in Gibraltar there was Calle Real, and a street so small that ran behind it called Irish Town. People talked about going to La Farola or El Rolli, like you couldn’t walk the place end to end in an hour. Like taking the car por un spin wasn’t just riding around in circles. It felt like the town itself was trying to burst free and give itself regions despite its size.
But here was possibility. You met him online and took the train from Wealdstone to Soho. He laughed at you and told you there’s a fast train to Euston, and you defended yourself by telling him you liked it on the brown line, it gave you time to think. Bakerloo, he said, and laughed again. It’s called the Bakerloo. He looks older than his pictures, in his charcoal suit and oxblood shoes. His wallet is McQueen. He told you this and pulled out a black Amex card wedged in with more cards when you got to the first bar. He told you to find somewhere, so you sat in the courtyard as more people drifted in after work. It’s a Monday and everything’s open. It’s the first time since you moved here that the sun is out. But it doesn’t have the same heat that you’re used to. There’s no haze rising out of terracotta at the end of a Mediterranean summer day.
Now you’re here dancing and his card is in your pocket. The bar was empty, he said he liked it here because of that. In Ku Bar all the old men take their little Asian boys to parade them around. You told him it’s just as well you’re not Asian. He laughed. No, you’re not, he said, you’re a nice Spanish chorizo. You told him you weren’t Spanish, and he shrugged. It’s all the same, caliente. He held the last e and shook his shoulders and you saw the beginning of his jowls quiver. He took out his wallet again, handed you his card and asked for a beer. And whatever that shit you drink is. He leaned back into the leather armchair.
You stood at the bar and the man behind it looked up from his phone and smiled at you. You looked over at your date, who looked back at you and adjusted his trousers. You let your sandal fall and rubbed the back of your other leg with your foot. You turned to the barman who asked what you wanted, and you replied una cervecita y un ron con coca cola, and he said ala, eres de España? You replied no, de Gibraltar and he said ah Gibraltar Español. You laughed along with him at the phrase you’ve heard so often before, that casual erasure of your cultural heritage. The idea that somehow the entire lived existence of your ancestors for hundreds of years is not valid, because a red and yellow flag should be flying above the Rock of Gibraltar. Like its entire worth is nationalist glory, and a longing for a past that never existed. It’s not worth the effort, to try and make this pumped-up triangle who has to take his shirt off after 9pm for minimum wage understand you’re all in this together. That you all came over to this country to try and get by, and the worst notions of home shouldn’t come with you over the water. He hands you the card machine. You press no on the tip option, even though it’s not your money.
You take the drinks back to the table and your date puts a hand on your knee. I saw you chatting up the bit of rough behind the bar, is that your type? You say no, I was just talking Spanish to him and he squeezes your knee tighter. Yoh habloh oon pocoh deh asspanol, he says, and you smile and say well done, that’s very impressive. You clink glasses together and his hand gets a little further up your thigh.
He talks at you about his job and his travels, how he learned Spanish in Madrid, he’s been all over the place. Have you been to Gibraltar? Oh yes, he replies, it’s a bit grim isn’t it? No wonder you moved here, not much to do. Yes, you say, I mean it has its charms but you’re right. You have Spanish in you though surely, he insists, and puts his hand into your curls, twisting his fingers around them as he gives a small tug. Such lovely olive skin, such thick, dark hair. He looks at your crotch and laughs, so pleased with himself. I do like hair on a boy, I hope you don’t shave. You’re six drinks in and you say, wait and see. He pulls your hair. You think of all those times some man bought you a drink when you said no, or grabbed your arm and wouldn’t let you leave. You’ve allowed yourself to think it’s all flattering, all valid, all exciting. So despite the sharpness in your scalp, your face comes close to his. He kisses with his tongue so straight and deep in your mouth you almost choke. You put a hand between his legs and feel him harden. Someone passes and tells you to get a room. You look up and in the blur of rum you notice the lights have dimmed, the music is louder, and the bar is now packed.
Dua Lipa on repeat through the speakers transforms to something more familiar to you. You realise it’s Monica Naranjo now, and you turn to look at the bar. The men behind it are new. Then your barman appears from a side door with three drinks on a tray. He sits in the chair beside you and says hola, I thought I’d join you. He smiles. Did you notice the music, la conoces? You reply pues claro, I love her, and he asks you to dance. He walks to the dancefloor, looking back to see if you’re watching him walk. He calls you to him with an outstretched hand. Your date says go ahead, I honestly can’t dance, but go and dance for me.
So, you dance for him, and the barman holds your hand and pulls you in. You think of all those times laying in bed at night sixteen seventeen eighteen years old with a hand down your boxers furiously imagining it as a mouth or two mouths maybe. Everything you saw through an Internet browser, of a world that wasn’t in the streets you felt trapped in, but in the world beyond the border gates, beyond the barbed wire, beyond the shore. You took off on a plane the first chance you got and here you are. Whatever this is. These things that don’t happen to people like you with a minimum wage job and an average body. Dancing with a hot Spanish man with a rich English man watching, his credit card in your pocket. This is what you hoped for, isn’t it? To feel this desirable. Like everyone is looking at you and wanting you. You’d go home with everyone in the bar right now. Just a giant, slick, mass of writhing bodies with you in the middle. Lenguas y manos y pollas all over you. The barman licks your neck and you look over at your date, because maybe you got this all wrong but he’s smiling back at you.
Quieres? The barman asks you and he holds you tighter. You put your hands on his back as his muscles expand and you move them down the impossible firmness all the way down. Sí, you reply, sí, and he grabs you by the hand and walks towards your date with you behind him.
You’re on the street somewhere, moving through squares and building sites and alleyways, holding onto the barman who is holding onto a bottle of champagne and on the other side, your date looking at the both of you with his hands in his pockets like he just made the greatest deal this financial quarter. But then the barman breaks his grip on you and moves towards your date, putting the bottle up to his lips and saying bebe Papito, bebe. Grabbing his hand. You walk on ahead alone and turn to look at them, wrapped up further and further into each other and you notice they’ve stopped, that the barman is whispering into your date’s ear. You go towards them. They turn to look at you and there’s silence. You might as well have been asking them for a smoke or some change.
You say, which way now? Your date tells you just here on the left and you’re in Oxford Street. You stand there and your date says your bus is coming. My bus? Yes, your bus, there’s a night bus back to your home. I think we’re all a bit tired, a bit too much for a Monday, don’t you think? The barman puts the bottle down on the pavement by the bus stop and says yes, I’ve had a long shift. It would have been fun but maybe some other time. I have to go, really. Ya nos veremos otra vez, entonces you reply, and he looks at you like he suddenly lost the capacity for Spanish. You try and hold your date’s hand, but he shoves them in his pockets, and you say thank you, I had a really nice time and he says of course, if you say so, my card please. You ask, your card? He says, yes, my card I gave it to you at the bar. You laugh and say yes of course and pull it out of your pocket and he doesn’t laugh back, he takes it and wipes it down on his trouser leg, before putting it away carefully into his McQueen wallet. He holds out his arm to the street. Here’s your bus, he says. It pulls up at the stop and you turn to say goodbye, but they’ve already left.
You’re on the bus, the doors close. You tap your card and it declines and the bus driver tells you to just get in, you can sort it out when you reach your destination. You climb up the stairs and make your way down the aisle. The bright striplights on everything. A girl asleep across two seats. A man eating McDonalds. Someone on the phone. Rap music through cheap speakers. You think of the place that you thought held you back for so long. You could walk home after a night out along the beach. You could see the lights of Algeciras across the bay, and Morocco further out. You walk to the back of the bus and sit on the left side as it starts to move away. You see them through the window streaked with the grime of someone’s hand. They walk across the street hand in hand and get into a taxi. You open up the app and think of what to say to him, but you’ve already been blocked. The bus heads one way and the taxi the other. It takes two hours to get home.
Jonathan Pizarro is a queer Gibraltarian writer exiled in London. He studied Creative Writing at Brunel University, where he started writing his first novel, entitled ‘Sons of Lot’. He is interested in language and borders, the ruins of colonialism, the memory of home, and monsters. He tweets here.