The José María Stories
José María 1
The Friends Of José María 2
José María Writes A Story 3
José María Becomes A Barman 4
José María Makes A Mistake 5
José María Goes To The Opera 6
José María Visits el Oriente Medio 7
The Dog of José María 8
There are eight José María stories. The excerpt below introduces José María. I hope you enjoy meeting him.
José María 1
In the little room there is a large sofa, a wall covered in bookshelves, a suitcase, and little else. On the arm of the big sofa is a neat pile of worn-looking clothes; the room has no wardrobe for clothes. It has no desk or table, no television and no chairs other than the big sofa. In the corner is a sleeping bag, a remnant of the days before the sofa arrived, and guest accommodation now. Not that there ever are any guests here. It is rather a small space for entertaining, only twenty-five metres square. But to José María, it is a pied a terre, a refuge, a place to store stuff, and a place to sleep. He doesn’t call it ‘home’.
Along one wall can be seen the pipes and service fittings for a potential kitchen, but José María hasn’t got around to putting in a kitchen. He never eats in the little apartment anyway. He likes to take his meals at his local café down on the street. They know him by name there. At least, he introduced himself when he first started eating there, but they forgot his real name, and started calling him José María. He found that he liked being José María, so he never bothered to correct them. Once he took a business associate to the cafe for lunch, someone who knew his real name. But the business associate didn’t care what name José María went by, as long as he paid the lunch bill.
It may be that some would call José María eccentric, but his mother loves him the way he is. It was she who pestered him to buy the big sofa to sleep on. For the first two months he had been quite happy sleeping in his sleeping bag. He had bought the little apartment reluctantly, too, and only because there was a tax break for property purchases. The last day to claim the tax break had been November 15th. He signed the purchase papers at 6 pm on November 15th.
When José María left his old rented apartment – which was the same size, and just across the hall – he had to spend one whole day cleaning it. As a general rule, he does not clean at all. But when he moved out, he had to spend many hours brushing and polishing and sweeping and washing, getting rid of the grime of years of occupation. After he had spent a whole day doing the cleaning, the management sent a cleaning woman along anyway, as was their procedure. Then she too spent many hours cleaning, and exclaimed about how hard the cleaning job was in José María’s ex-apartment. He was very surprised at this, and his prejudice against cleaning as a waste of time was reinforced by this incident.
Now that José María is in his own new apartment, he still does not clean. But he is a neat person, and the small apartment is not especially untidy. He has never seen a rat or a cockroach in the apartment, so he doesn’t believe there is any problem. It’s just a little dusty, perhaps. Since José María will not tell even his mother the address of the small apartment, this doesn’t matter.
José María is a man who knows his own mind. He does not do things if he thinks they are stupid, even if everyone else does them. In this category are things such as shaving, correcting people who call him by the wrong name, cleaning, sleeping in a bed, watching television when there are books to be read, buying new clothes, and getting married. On this last point, José María is very firm.
His books he loves. The only special treatment in his apartment has been lavished on his books. They sit tidily on their specially-built shelves, waiting expectantly for José María to have time to read them. He is usually rather pressed for time, but when he can, he takes down a book and becomes absorbed. The books he reads are a strange and eclectic mixture. He likes to read history, cultural studies, travel, good fiction, and poetry, especially if it is Jorge Luis Borges. He also likes to read philosophy and political commentary. He reads in several languages. He remembers what he has read. He is a very erudite person, if a little eccentric.
In addition to his books and his mother, José María has other things that he loves. These include his small nephew, his home country, swimming (especially in the sea), hiking (especially alone), and red wine (especially Rioja). José María is a man who marches to his own drum. He has strong political views, but he wisely keeps them to himself, as they are a little extreme. He likes it when life throws odd things his way, like a girl on a hiking trail carrying a didgeridoo, or an old woman who gives directions by saying “go past the iron shoes and turn at the well with no water”. Such things give José María much pleasure. If there are two ways to do something, José María will, if he can, choose the way that is least likely. This too gives him much pleasure.
Each day José María leaves his small apartment and takes his breakfast at the café, usually rather late in the morning, and reads the newspaper. “Buenos días, José María!” the waiters say to him. He smiles back, and the corners of his mouth curl up with secret pleasure behind his beard, but the waiters don’t know about that. He chooses his newspaper carefully, but the newspapers all have biases with which he disagrees, so he reads with a slightly annoyed feeling. With any luck, he will be cheered up by some bad news for the government. When things go badly for the government, with whom José María disagrees on all matters, then José María is happy. He then travels in his small car to his small office in the city. There he works very hard for about an hour, before breaking for lunch.
Lunch is an important meal, and if José María eats with a business associate or an important client, they may not come back to the office until four or five o’clock in the afternoon. Then José María must work very hard indeed, because he will have many dozens of emails to answer, and papers to draft, and phone calls to make. Sometimes he is still in his office working hard until one or two in the morning. Very occasionally, he does not sleep all night, when there are important and urgent matters to be dealt with. His clients are sometimes mildly surprised to receive emails from him at two a.m., but most of them know José María by now, and understand that he marches to a different drum.
José María is very busy most of the week. But sometimes he has time to go out to dinner with a pretty woman. Then he enjoys drinking Rioja, and laughing, and looking at the pretty woman’s cleavage. The prettier the better, as far as he is concerned. He is a man who loves women – well, for half an hour. But José María is very sceptical about ‘falling in Love’. He does not believe in it. So no pretty women are invited back to the small apartment. Which is probably a good thing for all concerned, given that he doesn’t believe in cleaning, either.
José María is a man who is happy with his own company. There are many nuances to his personality, which no one really appreciates, not even his mother. He likes to spend his weekends taking long hikes in his home country. He once walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail for a month, with only his own company and that of other pilgrims whom he met occasionally along the way. Although he injured his knee, and had to walk through the snow without any warm clothing, José María enjoyed this. He likes adventures and likes complaining about them afterwards. He also likes to be alone with his own thoughts, and to be free to make his own decisions about what he will do next, or not do next.
There are several things that José María does not like. These include liars, authority figures (especially policemen), crowds, boring people, WASPs, going bald, and working. He also does not believe in accumulating things. His little apartment is rather ascetic, he still uses the first wallet he ever owned, and he does not own many clothes. Many of those he does own he has had for years. You might notice a little fraying at the cuffs of a shirt, or a worn old sweatshirt slipped on when the weather turns cool. These José María will have owned and worn for maybe ten or fifteen years. He usually acquires new clothes only because he travels away from home and forgets things – a warm sweater, a tie. He does have a respectable business suit, because even eccentrics have to compromise sometimes.
Despite his predilection for solitude, and a sometimes grumpy reaction to crowds and governments and people who are in charge generally, José María has a large circle of friends. His friends are not people he has known for only a short while. No, to become a friend of José María, it is necessary to have known him for at least five years, to be somehow interesting or odd, and to not bother him too much. Once you have become a friend of José María, you will be happy in that role, because he is a very amusing person with whom to drink wine. You will find that he likes to talk a lot about sex, or politics, or history, or religion. He has an ear for poetry and an eye for aesthetic detail. He notices beautiful things. He is also very eloquent on the subject of people: why they are annoying, why they are hypocrites, why women always have the last word, why Protestants are uptight, and similar important insights. It can be very educational to share a bottle of Rioja with José María.
In particular, José María likes people who are, he says, ‘natural’. He does not think that you should apologise if you are not sorry, or be polite when you would really prefer to complain. And most of all, you should not bother with guilt. That is for Protestants, and is a waste of time.
He is a charming companion for his lady friends, most of whom would like to sleep with him. He is very gallant with women. He treats them with respect, courtesy and an egalitarian attitude, he appreciates their cleavage, and in addition he always insists on paying the bill. Afterwards, he will complain that women are very expensive, but still his nature insists that the man should pay the bill. He is a paradoxical character.
José María is also a very strong man. He does not work out at the gym, or run, or box, or play team sports. He prefers the solitary cleansing of a dip in the ocean. Sometimes he swims at night, and if possible he prefers to swim nak’d. Usually he finds a way. He is also strong from the many long solitary hikes he takes, and the mountains he has climbed. This means that he can carry heavy loads and impress women, and he seizes any opportunity to do that. It is manly to be strong, and José María is a very masculine person.
One day, José María’s life changed forever.