The Chilean Diaries

 

 

 

What are you to do, what are you to do when your father is the most hated man in the country? All because of something he didn’t do. A poster-child of alleged child-snatchers among neo-liberals and their political shadows. The “man who kidnapped his own daughter” (newspapers in Malta don’t have the flair for kitsch titles like those in Britain – no Sun here).

And what, by the stars, do I do when my mother, his cherished ex-wife, doesn’t even turn up for his funeral?

You do what you can, don’t you. You set the record straight. It’s been done before; I’ve seen modern-day saints being stripped of their holiness by brilliant exposés, from Gandhi, to Mother Theresa and Princess Diana. Now, I’d like to strip my father of his notoriety. Add some facts to the maelstrom of hysteria. Put liberals and conservatives who gobble up sensationalist headlines as irrefutable truth in their place, those who make guilty-until-innocent condemnations on men they couldn’t even know.

Why am I doing all this after my father’s death? That’s how he would have wanted it.

So, for the sake of record-setting, name-clearing, maelstrom-abetting; I am publishing my father’s diaries, which he wrote during that beautifully life-defining trip of ours over 30 years ago. Diaries which my father was kind enough to embellish by adding my own diaries of the trip. The diaries of a ten-year-old child have nothing to do with the fat-boned word the ‘truth’, but they are a symbol of a father’s love and pride.

The Chilean Diaries, as he called them, was my father’s way of assuring immortality in his daughter’s heart. Can a man like that, tell me, really be so vilified?

 

 

The Naked Beauty of Patagonia

 

Where is man? Why do I feel so safe in his absence? Among these cities of mountains and spaghetti-junctions of pampas and rivers, I feel calm. The wind blew in my ears like an unseen upset stomach. Louisa was shivering beside me, her North Face coat barely deflecting the winter cold. But I could see the same spark of dewy awe in her eyes.

We hiked through the frigid, naked beauty of the Torres del Paine for a few days, spending our nights in a wooden refugio warmed by stars and gaslight. We drank mate and ate empanadas, burrowing into their warmth more than their sustenance.

Louisa’s whispered words in the quiet, shivering refugio were soft and stuttering like a flag being beaten against its pole. “Daddy, I haven’t seen any animals yet. And we’re leaving tomorrow.”

“There are animals in the sky, Louisa. Come out and look.”

“But it’s f-f-fucking freezing outside.” She shivered through the shame of her first ever swear word. I took her outside anyway.

“Look there’s Scorpius, there’s Sagittarius, the centaur, and…”

“… But they’re not real animals. Stars aren’t real. Not really.”

“Stars are even better than reality, Louisa. They are ghosts in the sky, lights from giant suns reaching us across millions of miles of space; some of them may even be dead, and we don’t even know it. What you’re looking at, Louisa, really looking at, is a time-machine.”

“I get it, I get it; but I’m still not going to be an astronomer when I grow up, daddy, when I grow up I’m going to be – ”

“ – To hell with growing up, Louisa. To hell with the future, just look up and enjoy the now.”

Who was I to tell her that? Even in the wildest place on earth I was still ensnared by the dark burka of the past. We were alike in our faults, and that, somehow made up for it. Two faults do make a right.

 

 

Whale of a Time

 

From Torres del Paine we took a flight to a city called Puerto Montt. It’s a strange city, like really. My daddy said it was built by German immigrants over a hundred years ago. But really, it felt like Lego-land in the Andes. I wasn’t too happy with it. We didn’t fly half-way across the world to go to Lego-land.

But we weren’t in Puerto Montt for Puerto Montt. We were using it as a stepping-stone to Chiloe Island. A place where whales abound. It was a long journey there, and the island was dampened by my excitement: wherever I looked, over lush green fields, porcelain skies and diamond forests, all I could see were whales, whales, whales.

I was a river of fire the whole time we explored Chiloe. I felt like I was in another world. Literally, like, not just because of the landscape, which was like nothing I had ever seen, but because of some of the aliens we met there. Like the Jehovah’s Witness at our hotel who tried to convert us as we ate in the restaurant. My daddy told him he would convert! And then he winked at me. Then he got himself drunk and pretended he was possessed by the devil. The Jehovah’s Witness went flying. It was the funniest night of the whole trip.

After a few days there and not going whale-watching I mustered up the courage to ask my dad: “daddy, when are we going to see the whales?”

“Whales? Louisa, its winter now, the whales don’t come to Chiloe in winter.”

What? You’re joking!

I didn’t say anything to daddy. He seemed to have a lot on his mind. I don’t know why. He wasn’t enjoying himself as he should have been. Maybe it’s something to do with Ma. So I didn’t complain. Besides, whales or no whales, I still had fun.

 

 

The Heart of Araucania

 

The heart-rending city was bleeding mist the day we arrived. Even more than Patagonia and Santiago, Temuco was Chile’s magnet; it has been drawing me to it ever since the trip was conceived. It wasn’t Temuco itself; as a city it was un-exciting and monotone. But it was the pulse of the Mapuche story.

In Temuco, I suspected, I could lay some ghosts to rest.

As Louisa and I walked hand in hand through Diego Portales I began to wonder what people did for a living, what kind of homes they had, and what, if any, meaning they ascribed to their lives. Louisa jumped on my back and forced me into a piggy-back ride and I looked at the buses and markets and shops of Temuco and thought: it’s all just like any city back in Europe!

Temuco was a sea whose tides altered between confusion and familiarity. We went to eat some empanadas near the Mercado Municipal and Louisa pointed out a woman near the counter.

“Why is she wearing a blanket?”

“That’s a poncho and they’re very common in South America.”

“Are they for women?”

“No, men wear them too, why?”

“Well that doesn’t help. I can’t make out if that woman there is a woman!”

I laughed without meaning to. For a moment the wiles of Temuco dissipated and I was once again a lucky man who could laugh at his daughter’s jokes.

“I think she’s a woman.” I whispered.

“Well then she’s pretty – I think!”

She was, I assumed, a Mapuche woman. Fairly young, her hair gathered in a bun, her eyes buried deep into her muscular face, her nose was a broad cliff with two dark chasms. I found myself staring her down but then I forced myself to look away – she’s not a fucking museum exhibit!

But still, I couldn’t help wonder, what must it be like for a people, a whole race, to live like defeated men and women in their own homes: you know what, I envied them. As if defeat was a cosy winter’s night you can just snuggle up into. But I knew it wasn’t the case. My god, this grand continent has seen so much bloodshed! And, hell, which continent hasn’t?

 

 

Karaoke in Temuco

 

“Karaoke? Really!”

“Yes, I asked the hotel receptionist and she told me about a place.”

“Daddy you’re the best!”

“I know, I know – woah easy, you nearly broke my back jumping on me like that! No more empanadas for you, fat-ass!”

“Oohh daddy said a rude word.”

“Yeah, and? When you get to be this tall, you can say them too.”

“That’s not what Ma says!”

“Well Ma’s not here, is she?”

“Daddy you’re naughty!”

My daddy took me to a karaoke bar called La Perrera, which was really sweet, because he knows how much I love to sing. When we got there I went looking for the DJ. I looked near the wooden bar, asked people on the beer-soaked tables, and then I saw a band, with, like, guitars and violins sat in a lonely corner, and I asked them.

But they replied in Spanish so I called my daddy over from the bar. He came holding a glass of Pisco and a Coke for me.

“Louisa, they’re telling me that this is the karaoke. They don’t have a karaoke machine, you just tell them a song, they play it and you sing along.”

“Do you think they’ll know The Greatest?”

“Of Sia? I doubt it, love.”

“Or maybe Love Yourself, it’s Justin Bieber, they must know him.”

“I’ll ask.”

I sat down under a dark light on a table swarming with moths and I waited. My daddy came back but I knew straight away what the answer was by the look on his face.

“I’m sorry love, I didn’t know this is what they meant by karaoke here. Do you want to leave?”

“No, might as well stay. I like watching people sing anyway.” I tried to put on a brave face; no matter how upset I was I didn’t want to upset my daddy even more.

And it didn’t turn out so bad. The first person who went up to sing was that mannish woman we saw earlier that day; and despite it being only 2 degrees Celsius outside, when she sang I felt a warm shiver crawl over my skin.

“Daddy she’s sensational!”

She wasn’t like any singer I’d ever heard. Except maybe Pink when she sang all-angry. This woman had a man’s voice, deep and scratched. But, I don’t know, even though she sang so rough she looked sad. I couldn’t understand what she was singing but, she was almost on the verge of tears the whole time.

“Louisa, you want to sing a song with her?”

“What? Me! How?”

“I’m sure if we asked her to teach you a song you could sing together.”

“But daddy I don’t know Spanish!”

“You know Despacito inside out, don’t you? And besides, I don’t know anyone who can learn a song faster than you can!”

I love that my daddy knows me so well. And although he always says he wants me to be an astronomer, or a journalist like him, he always encourages me to sing – after all, that’s all I want to do when I’m grown up.

From our table I watched my daddy go talk to the singer. When she smiled her face looked less harsh. They talked for a long while, my daddy was laughing – and flirting? What would Ma say? Well, like daddy said, Ma’s not here.

Why didn’t she come with us on this trip? I miss her, but I prefer my daddy when he’s alone. He’s much more fun. When he’s with Ma he’s angry all the time – not at me, just angry. I wish Ma was here, maybe, I don’t know. But my daddy’s da boss, just, I wish he wasn’t so melancholic so much of the time.

The singer came to join us for the night. Her name was Ines and she was a surprisingly smart woman. We spent a long time there. My daddy drank Pisco sours and cocktails with her. They then got into a poetry contest; seeing who could recite the most poems by Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral and others.

My daddy started well:

What was I to do, I, born

when the gods were dead,

and my insufferable youth

spent searching between cracks?

It was my role, and because of it

I felt so desolate.

One bee plus one bee

does not make two bees of light

or two bees of darkness:

it makes a solar system,

a house of topaz,

a dangerous caress.

            But he couldn’t outdo Ines. Damn it! It wasn’t that she had a better memory, but she sang the poems, and somehow, her sad, croaky voice married itself extremely well to Neruda’s words. The memory of her singing that poem from the gut in that dark bar on the other side of the world still sends shivers down my spine, in fact, it must have sent shivers down the spine of all of Chile:

Hunger was not just hunger,

but rather the measure of man.

Cold and wind were also measures.

The proud man racked up a hundred hungers, then fell.

Pedro was buried at the hundredth frost.

The poor house endured a single wind.

And I learned that centimetre and gram,

spoon and tongue, were measures of greed,

and that the harassed man soon fell

in a hole, and knew no more.

Nothing more. That was the setting,

the real gift, the reward, light, life.

A titanic silence fell over the whole bar. No one dared speak. I noticed eight men sat on bar stools, mouth open, the barman over-filling a beer-glass, and one woman sticking chewing-gum under her desk. I knew, in that moment, more than ever before, that I wanted Ines’ power – I wanted to be a singer.

 

 

Injustice and Beauty

 

Under the gaze of Ñielol Hill, the highest point in Temuco, we found Ines’ house. I felt momentarily guilty for bringing Louisa there. It was a dirt-poor neighbourhood for the most part. There were well-kept stray dogs stalking the sunlit streets. The houses were like colourful wooden cabins with thatched roofs and side-gardens guarded by gates as decrepit as the Roman Empire.

We knocked on Ines’ door and she welcomed us in with her typical gusto. Now, I felt better about having Louisa here. Ines lived with her mother, Gabriela. A serious-looking old woman with a gaze like a supernova. The house was small, clean, and dark. Ines offered us mate, which Louisa loved.

Her mother talked to us, in the haunting voice that was the source of Ines’, of Mapuche religion. I’ll never forget her telling us: “last week I saw a woman win the lottery, and I knew we had lost her.” The Mapuche are mistrustful of money. Which is why, Ines explained, they are at odds with ultra-capitalistic modern Chile. “We’re just not understood.” She cried out. “We never were.” Her mother corrected her.

“Ines, you know what Louisa told me last night, when we got back from the hotel? She wants to be a singer just like you.”

Louisa took an embarrassing sip of her mate.

“A singer, me?” Ines’ sudden laugh drowned out the ripples of wind that grazed against the house’s fragile façade. “I’m not a singer, sweet one. I’m just a barmaid with the voice of a volcano. Did you ever hear a volcano erupt, sweet one?”

“Yes. Last night.”

“What a sweet girl!”

“And Louisa wants to ask you something. Go on Louisa.”

“C-c-can you teach me how to sing?”

“Me? Teach!” This time she laughed miserably. Why? “You don’t want to sing like me, Louisa. You’re such a sweet little girl. Your voice must be like a thousand little angels.”

“Why don’t you sing for her Louisa, so she hears you?”

Louisa smiled but her cheeks didn’t move. She shook her head like a cowering dog. “Don’t be shy.”

“But she won’t know the song.”

“So? You didn’t know the song Ines sang yesterday and you still loved it.”

After much cajoling, Louisa broke into song. Reluctantly at first. But then she grew into it. Her confidence dawned. And it was then I envied her for the first time. I was never so determined for anything when I was small. I had no purpose. And yet – I miss my god-damn empty childhood. How can anyone miss what they didn’t like in the first place?

I heard Ines applause. Her applause enhanced Louisa’s flourish and melded together. Louisa’s perfect cheeks blushed but her eyes were a peacock’s tail of pride. Ines hugged my shy daughter. Kissed her forehead and a new friendship was born. This is why people travel. I hope, Louisa, if you’re reading this, that these memories are still in your heart and that maybe, somewhere, you have room for me. If you wish it, I will never die; your heart will be my grave, and then, one distant, dark day – we will die together.

We spent the next few days with Ines and her mother. She showed us around Temuco, showed us its streets, museums and highlighted the poverty the Mapuche lived in. But she didn’t care about poverty. Didn’t care about politics. What she hated more than injustice against her people were the perceived injustices: “people think of Mapuches and they think of a caged animal in a zoo. I fucking hate that!”

And Ines was an animal. But there ain’t no cage fucking big enough. Despite earning a paltry weekly wage, having to support her mother, and having as many opportunities as a Medieval peasant, she is an explosion of life. Every night we went out she drank me under the table. She chain-smokes cigars and I’m sure her lungs would bitch-slap cancer in the ass if it ever dared make an appearance. She sang wherever she went.

I was getting a glimpse of how people lived on the other hemisphere of the world. And it turns out they live the same way I lived as a child. I came from a relatively poor family. We didn’t go to private schools. We bought one car and made it last a lifetime. It was an old Skoda, I remember. Our Sunday outings were to the beach, bingeing on football, and in winter watching the boats sway and creak. My father’s philosophy was switch the lights off when you’re done, and even if you’re not done, make do. And yet, I had as happy a childhood as any child is allowed to expect.

We always had parties. My father, a cook, prepared a poor-man’s banquet. It was fun food. Snails and aljolli sauce. Fried cabbages with mince. Tripe stew. Fried rabbit pieces. Even brain pate spread on Maltese bread. It was exciting. I loved it. I miss it.

So what happened to me? Why did I forsake all of that? Why is it so hard to simply be happy? I had to travel half-way across the world to remember what life means to me. And when Delia and I get divorced, will I be able to give Louisa the childhood I had?

 

 

A Bolt in the Chilean Sky

 

Mapuche. Colo Colo. Mapudungun. Chemamull. Wekufe.

All these magical, hard-to-explain words hovered around me like a swarm of butterflies the whole time we were with Ines and her mother. It was the best time, ever.

I became obsessed with the Mapuche’s traditions, and I tried my best to learn some of their songs. But Ines could see the garbage from the light. “Some of our songs are boring, sweet one!” And she introduced me to the singer she loved most: Violeta Parra.

I’ll never forget singing Gracias a la Vida with Ines’ mother, out on the patio of their house, looking out on Ñielol Hill whilst my daddy and Ines went to attend some protest in Temuco. We heard later that some good people got up to some bad stuff. There was some real violence, like cars being burned and everything – but when my daddy and Ines came back they were laughing and happy.

I haven’t seen my daddy this happy for a long time. Is it because of Ines? Why couldn’t it have been because of Ma?

I began to worry a bit, maybe, when we didn’t return to Santiago when we were supposed to. I didn’t mind staying in Temuco – but it wasn’t like daddy to be so care-free with his plans.

One day, my daddy rented a car and we drove almost to the coast, where the sky was as rippled with clouds as the water, and we walked around Lake Budi. A salt-water lake surrounded by delicious greenery, my daddy and I  – alone – played hide-and-seek in the groves and beaches, and danced slow dances  with our feet in the cold water of the lake. It was a day to forget literally everything except the water!

“Do you like it here in Chile, Louisa?” He asked me nervously as we sat on the lake’s sandy fringe.

“I love it! It’s better than Malta.”

“You mean it?” He smiled, some kind of pressure easing visibly from his face. “What would you say if I told you we could stay here longer?”

“What’d you mean daddy?”

“We stay in Chile for a few more weeks. Live with Ines and her mother. They’d like that, they really love you, mi chica. Besides, we could help them out a bit, you know. What’d you say?”

“What about Ma?”

“Leave your Ma to me.” He winked handsomely, like a prince, but still I swallowed heavily.

“Listen chica,” he put his arm around me and I felt instantly safe. “You don’t start school until September, right? So what do you have to lose? I know you miss home, but – ”

“ – You don’t have to explain anything, daddy. I want to stay. I love it here. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip! Besides, Ines told me she could get me a performance with her at the bar where she works.”

It was lovely out on the lake in the southern hemisphere winter, the beach dry and the sky bright and cool, the waves from the lake sawing the silence in two. That’s how I remember that day. The day my daddy decided to keep us in Chile.

 

 

Fragments of Chilean Happiness

 

Las Muñecas restaurant, Temuco: the atmosphere of sincere cooking mocking the fraudulent ambitions of a mankind that has lost its way. Here I could live, here I could LIVE. Louisa thinks it isn’t pretty but the food sings. Louisa’s happiness: is it just happiness, or meaning, the kind of meaning that kills gods, that is absurd, Sisyphean and life-affirming?

 

Get up! The sun rises for everybody. Remember that Louisa. Even behind such tall, imposing mountains, the sun rises every day. Even on a continent of such monumental bloodbaths. It rises. It fucking rises.

 

Victor Jara was killed in the coup. His songs sing on without him. What if Louisa was killed in a coup? What would happen to her songs? Holy hell… END.

 

I don’t want to be a Westerner carrying the torch of the Mapuche. I’d look like a fucking hippie. Admit it, Ines, I would! It doesn’t suit me. I’m no vegan, no animal-lover, no pot-smoking, astrology-pumping, Bob Marley-fellatioing, herbal tea-bukkake hippie. No chance. “What can you do for us?” I can live with you, isn’t that enough? “Won’t you write about us?” I thought you didn’t want yourself portrayed as martyrs?

 

Ines and Louisa, are you a family or just a desire with a long shadow? From Temuco to Santiago to Valparaiso and back: Chile is the outline, and inside, we are the colour. Chile is the lightning and we are the flash that precedes it. Ines and Louisa: asleep arm in arm on the bus to the Atacama. How many lives could we have lived before we were dumped with what we have?

 

That other great Chilean poet, close relative of Violeta Parra, Nicanor Parra:

Whether we like it or not,

We have only three choices:

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

            I have so long chosen the yesterdays of my adolescence; the days when I dreamed of being the Pablo Neruda of journalism; the days when I failed to be the Pablo Neruda of journalism; those days cast a shadow over all my todays and tomorrows.

And my Louisa: you have chosen tomorrow, the days of when-I-grow-up, the morrows of unknowable joys and tragedies.

But do we ever really choose? I know what I would choose if I were allowed to; Today All the Way. Oh but our natures are born in the time-zones our souls despise. We are allergic to the choices we make. But fuck it!

 

 

Drunken Revelation in the Atacama

 

I’ve never been drunk in my life. I don’t see how I could be: my daddy once gave me some wine to taste and I literally gagged. But, even so, I can see that the town of San Pedro de Atacama would be a good place to get drunk in.

It’s all to do with that mind-numbingly mesmerising night sky!

So when my daddy got drunk there with Ines, a few weeks after our decision to stay on in Chile, I totally got it like.

I remember the first time I saw my daddy drunk he asked me to hold his phone. This time I saw him coming out of the hotel bar into the courtyard. The hotel was tiny, all-white, and had only one floor. At about midnight I went to bed but daddy and Ines kept drinking.

It must have been around 3 in the morning when I heard them singing in the courtyard. It was freezing outside, and the starlight raining on the courtyard made it somehow feel colder. When the singing stopped I looked outside to see what they were doing.

And then I saw my daddy who could do no wrong, a god come down to earth, lowering himself by kissing Ines. And I mean really kissing her. In that moment all my feelings froze up. I couldn’t feel anything. Just the cold coming through the window. I couldn’t look away. And even when my drunken daddy opened his eyes from his kiss-sleep and saw me looking out – I still didn’t budge.

He pulled away from Ines, discarding her like a second-hand doll. He staggered, a shooting star crashing into space, towards the room. I forced myself awake – how can anyone sleep when so wide awake? – and made myself sit on the edge of the bed. Now, suddenly, all the thoughts came hailing in the slopes of my mind. But they went too fast now. I couldn’t catch a single one. Instead I just swiped out at the air as if I was trying to kill a fly.

When my daddy walked in, trying to collect his dignity, he sat beside me on the bed. For a while he was silent. His arm rubbed up against mine and he felt as cold as a glacier. Then came a sigh. It sounded like a dog’s dying breath, my god!

“I’m sorry about what you saw, Louisa.”

I shrugged.

“Don’t say it’s because you were drunk.”

“I won’t, Louisa. You know I never bullshit you. And I’m not going to say I love Ines, either. It’s just, she inspires the hell out of me.”

“What about Ma?”

“Louisa, there’s something you should know. I’ve been meaning to – we’ve been meaning to – tell you for a long time. Your Ma and I – we’re getting divorced.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, but yes. We decided over a year ago. By the time we get home it will probably have been finalised. Well, Louisa, aren’t you going to say something?”

I shrugged.

“It’s something you need to learn, life fucking forces you to learn, Louisa: your parents aren’t perfect. Especially not me. I, I had life all wrong. I thought I wanted this and that, and when I didn’t get it, I went off the rails. I didn’t, I couldn’t see that what I really needed I had already.”

“Daddy, if you want to cry you can.”

Grown-ups cry differently to children. When children cry they don’t say a word. When adults cry they talk even more.

“This trip has really put. Things. In perspective. This is all I’ve ne-fucking-needed. Travel, good company, food, nature – and you. And now, I’m fucking losing you.”

“Am I going to live with Ma?”

“Yes, fuck, yes. I’ll only see you on weekends. I’m so sorry, Louisa. I’m pathetic. Pathetic. Louisa, say something!”

I shrugged.

What could I say? I still had. Thoughts. I don’t know. It was just – just that, like.

“Tell me something, Louisa. Are you enjoying yourself in Chile? Louisa? Alright, listen,” he wiped away his tears and puffed up his shoulders. “Promise me something. When you look back on this trip, remember the piggy-back rides in Santiago, the games in Patagonia, singing in Temuco and our races in the Atacama. Remember all of that. Not this. Please, not this. Louisa, tell me, tell me you will.”

I nodded and he hugged me.

It’s strange, when he touched me I could understand everything I felt. It wasn’t hate, or maybe just a little, no, not even hate: it was pity. I pitied him. My big, strong daddy weeping like a little girl. Like me when I see The Lion King. But, for some reason, I couldn’t tell him what I really felt: I was enjoying my trip in Chile. The piggy-back rides, the games, the singing. I loved it all. But if I told him all that, I would have made him happy. And I think he deserved to wallow in his pity just a little while longer.

Just a little while.

 

 

End of Exile

 

“Louisa, Louisa wake-up.”

“Daddy, it’s the middle of the night.”

“Louisa, we have to go.”

“Go where?”

“Home.”

“What?”

“Are you awake?”

“I think so.”

“Ok, listen, when we decided to stay here, I told your Ma, well, she wasn’t happy, and apparently she called the police. So we need to go to the airport, go back home, before this gets out of hand.”

“Daddy, are you alright?”

“I’m alright. A bit scared. But I don’t regret a damn thing, Louisa. I love you, and I made you happy, right?”

“Yes, yes.”

“And I was happy too. And we helped Ines and her mother, didn’t we? So we made them happy. So we’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary we should be fucking proud!”

On our way to the airport of Santiago I kept thinking about my childhood, my teenage years, my first job, my marriage, when Louisa was born – and all of that felt so distant. Like someone else’s biography, not mine. The past had lost its mummified hold over me. And now, hell, the future, dark, unknowable, bleak, was digging its claws into the marrow of my bones.

“Bless you.”

“Thank you, Louisa.”

“Daddy, you sneeze like a glacier crashing into the ice.”

“Aren’t you an amazing little ghost, Louisa.”

 

*     *     *

 

The diaries stop there. After that, the police came and separated us at the airport. I was sent home accompanied by a Chilean detective, whilst my daddy stayed in a Chilean jail for a few days. When I came back home, I hated my Ma. When she hugged me as if I had just come back from a desert island I wanted to push her away. I wanted my daddy, even then.

Our story soon spread. Back in Malta my Ma contacted the media and made a huge sensation out of it all. My daddy was torn into pieces by the non-stop rumour mill-cum-well-of-knives. My Ma made it seem like he kidnapped me against my will. That he kept me in appalling conditions, that he got drunk and abandoned me the whole time.

Legally, the matter was settled out of court. My daddy paid my Ma a settlement and agreed to only have access to me on public holidays until I turned eighteen. I grew up like an orphan even though both my parents were alive. My Ma stopped working and lived off daddy’s payments and got off by doing carnivalesque interviews on television and re-branded herself a feminist. I hated her for a long time. Her only signs of affection was fobbing me off with Gucci this or Prada that. I loved the handbags, but I still hated her.

When I turned fourteen I began communicating with my daddy in secret on Facebook. I learned he had given up journalism and began working as a chef, just like granddad. He was happy, he said. He still communicated with Ines and he had turned his home to a shrine to Chile… and me. I was the only thing missing from his life. And despite his pride in his simple living, my absence made him… pitiable.

It was during this period that he sent me a copy of The Chilean Diaries online. I could have published them, of course, I wanted to. I wanted his side – our side – of the story to be told. But that would put him in the media spotlight. Something which he had craved ever since he was a teenager. But now he had lost his faith in the media, in the people who revere it, in the masses who condemn the innocent without proof.

He didn’t care about all that. As long as he had my love, my admiration, my daddy was happy. And I was the only one sat by his death-bed as he took his last breath. Just me. And on his last day on earth, riding a wave of sudden lucidity which precedes death, we talked all night about our trip to Chile.

I had never known him happier. In that last fragment of life, with the future extinguished and the past glorified, he could enjoy the last, fleeting breeze of the present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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