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The naval barracks’ gym is filled to the brim. Numerous colleagues, rocking tight fitting, camouflage T-shirts, are restraining themselves from bursting out into masturbation upon seeing their reflection in the mirror. He chuckles, excitement is visible in his eyes. He always experiences this childlike happiness on his birthday. He has turned twenty-three and has big plans for the night.
Reggaeton is beating my eardrums, as per usual. The gym is fairly empty. Everyone is minding their own business. I’m feeling tranquil whilst lifting up these weights. I look at the clock, nearly done. No plans today for birthday number thirty-three, just work.
A freshly baked pie with his name on it, heaps of congratulations and a ton of heavy physical labour. The youngster walks to the back of the ship to dodge the crowds for a second - grateful for a scarce moment of solitude. He rearranges his Navy uniform and checks the dozens of missed calls and multitude of messages. He stretches and overlooks the harbour, ready for alcohol and questionable decisions.
I put a plate with rice and vegetables in the microwave and answer the messages from the few true friends I have. It’s a quiet day, for Latin American standards. Words are written down, words are scraped. A couple more hours of remixing the alphabet, before I’m heading out to grab a coffee and some dinner afterwards.
An oversized T-shirt with a giant brand name, tapered fit jeans, his freshest pair of trainers and a slicked back undercut. Prepared to shine, determined to get shitfaced. He arrives at his destination and opens the gates to purgatory. Tequila, long islands, beer and champagne: marvelous.
A black button down shirt, tapered fit jeans, Chelsea boots and a slicked back undercut. I’m taking it easy. After having had dinner I arrive at a party some acquaintance invited me to. I contemplate getting a drink.
He drinks champagne from the bottle, his favourite. He’s surrounded by familiar faces wearing masks of intoxication. His girlfriend presses her lips on his. She’s covered in gift wrap paper. She takes him by the hand and winks. There’s a birthday present waiting for him in the bathroom stall.
I look around me: a bunch of unknown faces, all intoxicated. I walk up to the bar and order a bottle of champagne, my favourite poison. The waitress winks at me and hands me a piece of paper with her name on it and the hour she finishes her shift. I take the hint and go to the bathroom to freshen up.
A sip of champagne and a splash of water in the face to awaken. I look into the mirror. My sight gets blurry. My widow’s peaks become golden locks, the frown in my forehead turns into a never-ending smile and the bags under my eyes vanish, all that remains are eyes full of mischief. I see him looking back at me.
“How are you?” he asks.
I rub my eyes. “Honestly? I’m tired and today I miss being you.”
“Not yet. But I’m on the right path,” I answer. “At least, I think I am. How about you, are you happy?”
He downs more champagne. “Not a single worry in the world.”
I smirk, I vaguely remember that. “I’m so glad to hear that, young friend.”
He stares into my eyes. For a second he ditches the seemingly permanent smile. “How long do I have left? Before the minor major accident, before the downfall?”
I feel a lump in my throat. He breathes out slowly and looks away, avoiding tears. He never learnt how to cry. I still haven’t.
If we are ten years apart in age, it’s June 2013 and he just turned twenty-three. “You’ve got less than two and a half years left.”
A teardrop trickles down his cheek.
“Can you do me a favour, though?” I ask.
“Sure, man. Anything.”
“Can you make the most out of every day up until everything changes?” My voice cracks. “Those memories will become more valuable than you can imagine.”
He nods. “Promised.”
“Good,” I reply. I’m standing mesmerized by his smile that I somehow seemed to have forgotten.
He closes his eyes for a second, trying to keep his composure. “Can you do me a favour as well?”
“Sure, man,” I respond. “Anything.”
“Can you hold on and promise to meet me here again next year?”
I bite my lip, pause and take a deep breath. I nod. “Promised.”
He smiles, I think I do too.
The one tear gets wiped away. I try to look at him seriously, but our eyes aren’t fooling anyone. The mischievousness can be seen from miles away.
“To hell with it,” he mumbles. There’s a waitress waiting and another bottle to be bought. Tonight I’ll honour my younger self.
Painkillers, champagne and all of which one might disapprove.
We raise our bottle. “Let’s wreak some havoc, you lonely bastard.” We say simultaneously.
The past is gone, the future is non-existent. The current moment is the present.
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