“Underneath the orange trees I sit, in the grounds of the biblioteca. Shielded from the midday sun, by the branches of the trees—branches teeming with fruit. Bunches of three or four, clustered together, their bright orange peel mottled brown like the skin of a leopard. No way these oranges would make it onto the shelves of a British supermarket. No way! I’m not even sure they’re oranges. Perhaps they’re tangerines. Satsumas, or clementines, or something else entirely. Perhaps they’re apples. Why not? You can’t be too sure these days. You can’t be too sure of anything.
Underneath the orange trees I sit. I sit alone, but there are other people here. There’s a man, to my left, old and bald, in socks and sandals, with earphones in—the white ones you get with Apple products. I wonder what he’s listening to. Mozart? Or Megadeth? Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, perhaps, translated into Spanish. Over to my right there’s a woman, in a white blouse embroidered with flowers of pink and blue, leafing through papers in a plastic yellow file. Her face is hidden behind the trunk of one of the trees. I wonder what she looks like. I don’t want to know, though. I just want to imagine.
What’s this now? A small child—a toddler—escaped from her parents’ clutches, stands and stares at the fountain a few yards away. She points and smiles, the water dancing and twinkling in the sunlight. More people wander over, take photos on their phones. This toddler, in her pink shorts and little pink sunhat, she’s shown them. She has shown us all. Look, she says—and now I cannot stop. I sit and watch the fountain, spurting and splashing unendingly, the water overflowing and trickling down the sides of the stone bowl. I watch the sparrows come to drink. Dip their heads and tilt them back, and then fly off, chirping. A sign at the base of the fountain says that the water is not for drinking, nor swimming in, and one should not place fish or turtles in the fountain. It seems unlikely that anyone would do that, but I suppose they have to make sure.
It’s peaceful here, underneath the orange trees, like a pocket of tranquillity inside the chaos of the citadel. A place where people can sit and read, or sit and listen, or just sit. Everyone respects the norms here. The unwritten rules. Every so often, though, the peace is broken. Someone enters the grounds from behind me, comes bounding past, whooping and hollering. A guy with a mane of long black hair; his dog—unleashed—jumps into the fountain, and the man yells at the dog but carries on walking and the dog eventually follows him and then they’re gone. Out the other side. There’s always someone wants to disrupt things, bring attention to themselves. That’s okay, though. Perhaps one day I’ll be the crazy guy. Or the old man in the socks and the sandals. Or even the dog. Unleashed. Unbound. Free to roam, and jump into fountains, and chase the sparrows. Go up to strange women and lick their hands…
How long have I been here? Underneath the orange trees. The days go by so slow, and yet this trip will be over before I know it. Soon it’ll be time for me to go… though there’s nowhere I need to be. Just sit a little longer. Why not? This ain’t reality, but it’ll do for now.