UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

The Squat

Jaren Feeley

[ringing]

“Hello?” It’s a woman’s voice. She has a Spanish accent.

“Ah, hello! My name is Jaren. I met Adolf on the road. He gave me this phone number. Is this… [voice lowers conspiratorially] …the Squat?

[long pause] “You met Adolf?”

“Yes. We met on the side of a highway in southern France. I told him I was biking to Barcelona, and he was very friendly.”

She lets out a grunt of satisfaction. I hear muffled voices speaking Catalan in the background.

“Uh… would I be able to stay at… uh… the Squat?”

The muffled voices are now rapid and impassioned; some sort consensus is being reached. There is a very long pause, then the defiant female voice returns. “How long you want to stay?”

“Less than a week.”

“Okay. Come tonight. Go to Plaza Catalunya and board the S2. Get off at Les Planes. Follow the carrots on the ground. If you get lost, ask someone where to find Campasquall.”

“Wait, uh… carrots on the ground?”

“And try to bring some groceries to share — and something to drink. Okay? Adéu.”

[click]

I go to pay for my phone call at the counter. The Middle Eastern cashier asks with acid affability why we Americans spend all our money “to make useless war around the world.” As usual, I let a weary sigh and explain that the government doesn’t act on the will of the people. He nods his head, giving me a fake smile for my worthless words. He opens the cash register and drops my payment in. He spends a long time looking at the change. His nodding head decreases in tempo, his smile gone. The moment extends. He pulls out some coins and drops them in my hand. “You Americans vote for Bush — twice. Have a nice day.” I put the change in my pocket and walk to the door. How can I feel guilty? No one is a nation. No one can take responsibility for that man’s pain. The coins jingle in my pocket as I open the door. I walk out.

Outside, everything is blindingly bright. I pause to warm my eyelids. Barcelonan sunshine: This is summertime in the urban pearl of the Med. I left London in the cold rain three months ago and will fly home next week — since Paris, I have been sleeping on beaches, benches, and hills. The stars are better company than those backpack biscuits in the hostels, but one doesn’t have much choice in the city, and the only people responding to my couchsurfing.org requests are coy homosexuals. Bless Adolf. He is probably still pedaling toward Nepal, wind breaking upon his bald, aerodynamic head. I only talked to him for a minute and he offered me a place in his squat with his anarchist friends — though frankly the idea of an anarchist squat house frightens me a little. I picture clogged hash pipes, dogs with balls, moldy walls, and petty theft.

Yet here I am, with bags of apples and oranges and a bottle of cheap wine, boarding the train at Plaza Catalunya. Barcelona is a sprawling seaside city, stretching inland towards high-forested hills that surround the city proper. My train runs towards these hills, climbing slowly as the sun sets. I expected the Squat to be in the city, but the train pushes on further and further, now winding into a dark canyon, leaving Barcelona and the sunshine behind. When I get off at the station, I find myself in a strange little town at the bottom of a gorge with steep forested slopes rising on either side. There are a few houses and a supermarket near the station, but I seem to be in a regional park. It’s almost nighttime. I see no carrots on the ground.

After fifteen minutes of roaming the streets looking for carrots, I act on desperation and ask a random woman on the sidewalk passing by for help. “Excuse me, do you know where to find Campasquall?” Two flashes of surprise cross her face, then she nods knowingly and points up out of the gorge, toward the highest, darkest peak. “Yes,” she says. “Campasquall is there. Just keep going up.”

The plastic bags full of groceries cut into my hands, my travel pack weighs heavy, and in the lonely night I follow every dark street that heads uphill. A bright moon rises, and at last I see it, spray-painted where the road forks, all orange and green and friendly: a carrot. It points the way.

Upwards, upwards — I always find a carrot that leads me upwards. I follow roads that grow narrow, ascend staircases that climb steeply, and turn onto paths that cut behind houses. When I am on the darkest trails, the trees above cut out all light and the leaves below crunch with terrifying loudness. My path borders the backyard fences, where dogs throw themselves against the chain links and erupt the quiet with their howls. My childlike hands grip the groceries tight. I tell myself not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid of being lost, being far from home, being alone. You are lost, you are far from home, and you are alone. This is good. One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of shore for a long time. I feel like a ridiculous little boy walking with my bags of apples and oranges through this Spanish forest, but I couldn’t give a goddamn at this point, because this is exactly how life should be. My pace quickens — I see light up ahead through the trees.

It all happens suddenly. My path breaks out of the forest, moonlight spills down from above, and I find it sitting nobly before me in a hilltop clearing — a big bright friendly house with the front door open and light pouring out the windows. A hammock swings between two trees in the breeze, overlooking the distant lights of Barcelona. I hear laughter coming from within the Squat, and the clinking a glasses, a cheer. Expectations are odious. I smile and step toward my anarchist palace.

Jaren Feeley is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley.