By the time I got my hands on my first Marquez book, everybody I knew had already read them all.
I was halfway through my first year at Uni and was traveling to my hometown after an exam. It had been snowing for days and the city looked brand new for once, though I knew it wouldn’t be for long. Snow is never snow in a big city. It feels like it just ended there by mistake, like a lost piece of luggage in the wrong airport. I was awfully tired, I’d pulled another all nighter and was looking forward to a good sleep on the train. But then there were the books.
I’d bought the new hardcover editions of Love in the Time of Cholera and A Hundred Years of Solitude the day before, from a street vendor who’d opened shop under an overhanging roof on University Street. I never could resist a snow covered book. And there was always such a flow of interesting people on that street, tall, handsome, mysterious students walking back and forth from one faculty building to the next. Buying those books everybody who was anybody was talking about felt only natural, carrying them against my chest through the snowstorm, in plain sight, made me feel sophisticated and like I was finally fitting in somewhere.
It makes me smile now. My relationship with Garcia Marquez was built upon superficial dreams of finding myself an intellectual looking boyfriend, in the middle of a crowded, snow covered street.
Sunk in my seat in the overheated train car, I took Love in the Time of Cholera out of my bag and started reading. Just for a little while, I thought, then I’d let it fall in my lap, the title conveniently visible just in case some well read, attractive young stranger looking for a meaningful relationship happened to walk by. Then I’d finally fall asleep. White, endless fields were running past the windows and it was slowly getting dark. This kid was falling in love with a beautiful girl, in a steamy, decaying port city by the Caribbean Sea.
By the time I got home, I was more than halfway through the book and hadn’t slept at all.
Dad picked me up from the train station. In our small town, a hundred miles closer to the mountains, the night was frozen and the snow looked like it was there to stay. Ladder climbing people were hanging tiny yellow Christmas lights along the street as we drove by. There was pop music and talk of road closures on the radio, and in a faraway cholera infested town, people were falling in love for life.
Is it strange that I remember the how, when and where of every Marquez book I ever read? Does it say things about me, this? That I never can keep track of friends’ birthdays or favourite colours, but I remember that the title was slightly embossed on the A Hundred Years of Solitude dust cover, and it was catching the light in a certain way?
Years later, I read Living to Tell the Tale in between fancy dinners, romantic walks and breakfasts in bed along this man I’d found. I’d dyed my hair a brave strawberry blonde, I’d gotten a job, I finally had an intellectual, mysterious beau of my own, things were good. As I was reading this book, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe and as scary and completely insane as it sounded, what I really wanted to do was to write. Somewhere along the way, perhaps precisely because I’d read Marquez later than everybody else, I’d taken a wrong turn, and here I was now, this person with a story to tell and no means to tell it. Now of course, I wouldn’t be a writer, I told myself, like a proper, responsible grownup. But I could be. If I wanted. I could try, even if I failed. In fact, I could try that, and another thing, like Impressionist finger painting, or learning Japanese, at the same time. I could do more than change the colour of my hair and eat toast in bed. Months later, I left my job, my country and my beloved collection of Marquez books, and moved to London.
When I learned he’d passed away last night, I was folding laundry. My phone blinked with the news from the Guardian app, and I jumped to look at it, forever worried about the Ukraine crisis, flight MH370 and the rise in London property prices.
Marquez died, I told V, phone still in hand above the mountain of unfolded t-shirts, and he must have known it was something big, though I doubt the name sounded even in the least familiar to him.
I read all his books, I said. He came and gave me a hug as I just stood there, because he knows me, and knows there’ll always be things he won’t understand about me. Pain caused by the death of a stranger whose made-up stories I read once when there was nothing good on TV. You’ll find another writer to love, he said, and I said yes, because how could I have explained it to him, when I wasn’t a teller of tales myself, and I had no Marquez books in this country, not even one, to hold tight against my chest and feel like I finally belonged.