I was with friends outside a Barcelona cafe when I noticed him. They all seemed to know him, but he was more with the group rather than a part of it. He sat at the fringes, not really talking with anyone. This should have served as a warning, but it only registered afterwards. When the other’s dwindled away I got talking to Rodolfo.
I was relieved that he spoke excellent English. I had a headache from trying to speak Spanish.
“Would you like to go for a walk? I know all the cultural and historical points of interest.”
In my naivety that he was just a hospitable local I traipsed gormlessly after him.
He was an expert amateur historian and an enthralling story teller. He said he had several interviews with walking tours but had never been offered a job.
“Are you hungry Andrew?”
“Yeah. I’ll need to eat soon.”
He invited me to his flat for lunch. I was enjoying our sojourn through the Barrio Gotic until Rodolfo sought a level of intimacy I couldn’t reciprocate. He said he had something important to tell me. I sensed that it wasn’t a local historical reference. He grabbed me by the shoulders and stared in to my eyes to convey the solemnity of what he was about to say.
“Andrew, meeting you has been one of the happiest days of my life. From tonight, I am going to write about our new friendship in my diary.”
Now I knew why people kept their distance at the café and why he didn’t get those guide jobs. I no longer had the appetite for a meal at Rodolfo’s flat, but out of pity I found myself heading there, even though I now wondered how safe it was to be in his company. As we walked on, interspersed with continuing declarations of our eternal friendship, Rodolfo informed me of the contents of his diaries, which seemed to consist largely of the indelible memories of his dysfunctional life and a litany of festering resentments towards supposed friends that had abandoned him and how he would get revenge.
When we arrived at his flat I wanted to flee, but instead I entered, in order to avoid the awkwardness of telling someone that you don’t want to go in to their house because you think there is a risk they might murder you just to have your carcass around for company. I’d have rather risked death than dying of the embarrassment of pointing out someone’s lunacy to them when they seemed oblivious to it. As if the meal couldn’t have gotten any weirder, Rodolfo informed me that if his Father came home that I was not to try and make conversation with him as they hadn’t spoken for ten years. I ate half the luch out of politeness, despite being worried it might be drugged and that I could awaken chained to a radiator with Rodolfo reading extracts from his diary on how fulfilling he found our friendship.
By the time I left, I had worked out that Rodolfo wasn’t dangerous, just so damaged that he didn’t know how to traverse the boundaries of a healthy friendship. He wanted my mobile number. I lied and told him that as I was only in Spain a few weeks I couldn’t remember it off the top of my head and that I had left my phone at home. He scribbled his number down for me and thrust it in to my hand. He stared at me intently with the pleading eyes of a deprived child and asked me to swear that I would ring him later. I could tell that a part of him knew I’d never call. The others never did. By now my heart was breaking for him. At the door he embraced me the way you might with a close friend or relative you wouldn’t see for a long time, or ever again. He was perceptive if nothing else. When I got home I was saddened thinking of him and the countless nights he must have sat in silence awaiting calls that never would be made with only the broken promises of strangers to keep him company.