Lost Luggage Extract

Lost Luggage is an astonishing literary artefact. Marvellous.” El Mundo

Christof, Christophe, Christopher and Cristòfol are four brothers – sons of the same father and four very different mothers, yet none of them knows of the others’ existence. They live in Frankfurt, Paris, London and Barcelona and they unwittingly share the fact that their father, Gabriel Delacruz – a truck driver – abandoned them when they were little and they never heard from him again.  Years later, when they discover that Gabriel has been declared a missing person, they attempt to reconstruct his life to resolve their doubts about the past.

In this extract, the four Christophers recall their father’s stories of his time in the children’s home, The House of Charity, with his best friend Bundó… 

Imperfect Orphans

On his more expansive days, Dad would let himself go and regale our mothers with some of his other memories of the House of Charity. Most were stories of the rebel child, orphanage escapades that tended to end up with a couple of smacks on the bottom or a spoonful of castor oil. Our mothers listened with some compassion and, if any shadow of doubt crossed their faces, he’d say, “So you don’t believe me, eh? Just ask Bundó. He was there too.”

When Bundó and Petroli came by to collect Dad on their way out of town again (sometimes, depending on their timetables, they stayed for breakfast or dinner), our mothers made the most of the occasion to question Dad’s comrade-in-arms. They asked him whether he’d ever managed to see the nun’s wooden leg, or to give them his version of their adventures when they escaped from the orphanage by getting out through an empty cistern in the school grounds, after which they spent hours and hours moving around the sewers of Barcelona until they ended up at the air-raid shelter in carrer Fraternitat. Could anyone really believe, our mothers asked, that dozens of people were still living underground, in hiding since the war, and that they’d turned blind like moles because they never saw the light of day? As he listened to them, Bundó used to smile, glancing at Dad out of the corner of his eye, perhaps because he didn’t fully understand the language, but later he’d vouch for the veracity of these stories with an almost scientific air, like a Doctor Watson verifying the exploits of his Sherlock.

It might have been because he arrived at the House of Charity some months after Gabriel that Bundó always saw our father as a sort of big brother. His full name was Serafí Bundó Ventosa. He came from a village in the Penedès region and you could say he was an imperfect orphan. The Franco regime executed his father the day he was born. One of life’s not so coincidental coincidences. Accused of high treason against the fatherland and attempting to cross the border and therefore condemned to death, he had been awaiting execution in Modelo Prison for seven months, and it happened on that very day at dawn. (In his darker moods, Bundó used to say that his first howl in the world coincided precisely with his father’s last, before the firing squad.) The nuns at the El Vendrell maternity hospital hid the news from his mother for a week so that her milk wouldn’t dry up but, obliged by the authorities, they had to tell her in the end. With her son in her arms, the girl learned of the death of her husband and didn’t cry at all. She just rocked the child, non-stop, showing great composure. Some months earlier, during a visit to the prison, she and her husband had tried to console each another by choosing a name for the baby. It was a way of planning some kind of future together, however unlikely that was. In the hospital she thought again and decided to call him Serafí, after his father.

Then she went mad.

After a few days, now back at home, she started to talk to the baby as she would to an adult. Her unhinged brain convinced her that the baby was the reincarnation of her murdered husband, as if life moved in cycles. “Come on, Serafí, eat up because you’ve got to leave at sunrise to work in the vineyard,” she told him as she put him to her breast at midnight. Then she’d tuck him up in his cot and leave everything all laid out next to it: his clothes for the next day, tools, rope-soled sandals, the hoe and the fertiliser sprayer.

Her parents had died young and, since there was no family to look after her, the doctors didn’t think twice about locking her up in the Pere Mata lunatic asylum in Reus where she wasted away and died ten years later. Meanwhile, Bundó set out on the path followed by all orphans from poor families, from the infirmary to the House of Charity. The memory of his mother was a speck on his subconscious, an out-of-focus face that appeared and hit him like a bolt of lightning in moments of extreme sadness (but this could have been a false memory).

As we’ve said, we four look upon Bundó as our father’s brother. In those years, life in the orphanages helped to forge unbreakable bonds and irrational phobias. The children arrived helpless and, in order to survive, they invented clandestine societies and swore secret pacts. The factors favouring childish friendships were instinctive and arbitrary. I like you, I don’t like you. Out of some random attachment, then, which not even Gabriel and Bundó were able to explain, they were as good as brothers from Bundó’s very first day in the House of Charity. Carn i ungla. Comme les doigts de la main. Wie Pech und Schwefel. From the photos we still have, and thanks to our mothers’ memories – and Petroli’s too – we know that Bundó was solidly built and a salt-of-the-earth type. He wasn’t fat because he got enough exercise with all the loading and unloading of furniture, but he enjoyed his food and his pants were always too tight. For him, the siesta was sacred, whether it was on a bed in some hostel or in the Pegaso. From early childhood, he’d developed a less taciturn and more lackadaisical character than Gabriel’s, more given to adventure and less calculating and, in that, they certainly complemented one another.

As they grew and matured, though they found it hard, the two friends learned to respect each other’s space when necessary. They’d been living together almost all their lives, first within the same four walls, and then over the four wheels of the truck. They were now starting to understand that a person’s private life takes place in other rooms that aren’t shared. Moreover, in amorous matters, they turned out to have almost opposite tastes. Over the years, our father came to have four wives in four countries, a family crescendo that was suddenly interrupted (as we shall explain). Bundó, however, preferred fleeting relations and, during those years, he frequented thirty, forty, fifty women, always in different roadside brothels in France, Germany and Spain, until one day when he put an end to this frenetic activity and focused on one girl he couldn’t get out of his head (yes, we’ll be filling you in on that too).

Then again, it shouldn’t be surprising that this dabbler’s spirit – sorry, mothers – developed in both of them as adolescents. The bond between Gabriel and Bundó throughout their orphanage childhood – each one helping the other to win the respect of the older children, for example, or covering for one another when the nuns accused them of some misdemeanour – bore succulent fruit when they were about thirteen, with the onset of puberty.

“It’s your turn this week,” Bundó would say.

“Yes, I know. I’ll give it to you tomorrow night. I’ll write it during maths revision. Who do you want to be with this time?”

“I don’t mind. I think it’s better not to know. Or, okay, let’s say Sophia Loren.”


“Sophia Loren, or whatever her name is, the one we saw in those stills from the film that’s on at the Tívoli. That Italian with tits like watermelons. Don’t tell me you don’t remember her… Okay, if you don’t… you know what… you can do Carmen Sevilla. Or the two of them together. That’d be a good laugh. Yes, do that. But don’t get carried away because when you get carried away your handwriting’s terrible and then I can’t understand anything.”

Gabriel was one of those people who wrote slowly, making sure the lines came out straight but he didn’t protest at this slur because he knew from his own experience that good penmanship was essential. One badly written word, one bit of scribble and you fatally lost the thrust of the story. The trust between the two friends had developed into a pact that helped stimulate their imaginations – and a little bit more than that. Each week they exchanged an erotic story in which they were the stars. Two sides of a page torn out of a notebook sufficed. Gabriel had his feet on the ground and wanted the stories that Bundó wrote for him to feature the girls in the House of Charity. Since the boys and girls weren’t allowed to mix, they were in separate parts of the building and they rarely caught a glimpse of each other but this enforced segregation proved very exciting. He asked for names that were easy to remember so he could feel closer to them. Bundó, in contrast, was more of a dreamer and preferred film stars and exotic backdrops. Over time, each boy refined the preferences of his one and only reader.

In the beginning Gabriel complained that Bundó’s stories were too descriptive and not very exciting. He didn’t give a damn whether the blonde, blue-eyed, very white-skinned girl had a missal, a hankie with her initials embroidered on it and a framed picture of her dead parents all set out on a crocheted doily on her bedside table. He was dying to know what was going on under the sheets of that bed. When it was Gabriel’s turn, the first story he wrote for Bundó was very long, jumbled, overloaded in detail but short on flesh, and the hero was a guy called Serafín. Bundó read it locked in the toilet, trembling with an unfamiliar kind of excitement. The sexual powers rather crudely attributed to him in the text turned him on immediately but, even so, Bundó didn’t recognise himself. It might have been because one of the teachers at the House of Charity was also called Serafín, which made it hard for him to identify with the character. The next morning he asked his scribe to call the hero Bundó in future, just the surname would do. Gabriel complied and Bundó felt he was so well portrayed and so well shielded by that surname that he eliminated Serafí from his life thereafter (although the nuns, of course, called him Serafín and, in the odd case of misplaced maternal instinct, the diminutive Serafinín).

After four or five attempts, the stories began to make progress. They really got into it. Though they always spoke Catalan together, they wrote in Spanish because they thought it was a more grown-up, more perverse language. They exchanged them furtively and the risk of being discovered, even by the other kids in the orphanage, invested the whole thing with a forbidden air of mortal sin – as the priest who taught them religion called it – which made them feel more depraved, more like men. Thus transformed, in the isolation of the toilets or in bed, inside a tent improvised with a sheet, it was easier for them to get inside the hero’s character.

A few minutes later, after drinking the amazing potion he’d concocted all by himself in the chemistry class, pulling a fast one on the teacher Don Marcelino, Bundó looked in the bathroom mirror and confirmed that his reflection wasn’t there. He’d done it! He was invisible and his plan was going to work! He couldn’t see it, but he could feel that his dick was getting hard just at the thought of the pleasures in store for him. […] Passing through the revolving door and now inside the Hotel Ritz, it was very easy for him to follow the beautiful Norwegian girl from Siam, the daughter of a very rich Rajah, to her room. He was very impatient so he tried touching her up in the lift, feeling her big round boobs through her clothes and she was smiling because he was tickling her and, thinking she was alone because Bundó was invisible, as you know, she stuck her finger up under her skirt. […] Everything was looking good for Bundó but when he went into the room with her, sticking close to her body so as not to arouse suspicion, he discovered that the Rajah’s daughter’s mother and sister, who was even more beautiful and pervy than she was, were inside waiting for her, both of them naked after having a bath together and good and ready for the fun and games they say Orientals like so much. Bundó, still invisible to human eyes, moved over to the cute and randy little bottom bum of the mother and lovingly groped it…

Well, that’s just a taste of it. At the end of the story, Bundó’s potion wears off and the three Asian beauties discover him, but they’re so enraptured that they choose not to betray him and to keep him as their private stud for ever and ever. For Bundó, this was one of Gabriel’s more successful stories.

Sometimes, catching him in class with a dreamy expression, the teacher would yell, “Bundó, you’ve got your head in the clouds,” trying to shake him from his reverie.

“Sorry, sir,” he’d answer at once, trying to look awake but thinking to himself, “No, I’m not in the clouds, sir. I’m in a palace in Siam and I’m never going to leave it.”

Gabriel was shyer and more prone to feelings of guilt than Bundó. Sometimes, when he was well into it, jerking off, holding a wad of paper in his left hand as his right hand laboured up and down, the phantom of Sister Mercedes appeared. She was the youngest nun and she berated him with a pained expression on her face, serious but not angry. He tried to close his eyes to make her go away but, when he finally came, those precious seconds of pleasure were cut short by a wave of guilt. One particularly difficult day, Gabriel confided in Bundó, who promised to sort out the problem. The next day, at revision time, sitting in the House of Charity library, he wrote a special story. The climax is as follows:

Sister Mercedes, dressed in her black habit, heard some tell-tale moans coming from the bathroom. She went inside and opened all the cubicle doors with her master key, one by one, and, there, behind the last door, was Gabriel jerking off. He had his eyes closed and, all of a sudden, almost at the greatest moment of pleasure, he opened them and saw Sister Mercedes standing there in front of him. He got a terrible shock but then she went “Sssshh”, to indicate they shouldn’t make any noise. Gabriel’s only response was to hold out his arms and carefully lift up her black habit. Underneath it he discovered a suspender belt and some little pink panties like the Paralelo cabaret artists wear and, a bit higher up, some bare titties that were the most incredible ones he’d ever seen in his whole life. Sister Mercedes took him by the hand and led him to her room where she revealed to him her best-kept secret: she led a double life, and at night-time she was on the game in calle Conde del Asalto…

An astounded Gabriel read the story that night and, as the sequence of lewd acts unfolded before his eyes, he got more and more excited and more and more terrified about what might happen if the nuns discovered him. The next day at lunchtime he went up behind Bundó and grabbed him by the neck.

“Have you gone mad, or what?” he whispered in his ear. His friend smiled smugly. “I’m going to burn your story. I’m going to do it this afternoon, as soon as I can.”

But night fell and Gabriel, still tormented and very jittery, locked himself in the toilet again and reread the story. He didn’t burn it after all. Proof of that is the fact that we can still read it. How many times, consumed by feelings of criminality and guilt, would the adolescent have given a last-minute reprieve to those two pages, the match already burning in his hand? One puff. The flame goes out. Relief.

In the end, Gabriel kept the story throughout his years at the House of Charity. It was his special treasure, the crown jewel of his collection. Since she was still young, Sister Mercedes was fortunately assigned to different tasks for the congregation and didn’t mix much with the orphanage children. Fortunately, we say, because every time he had to talk to her, Gabriel started gabbling and went as red as a tomato. She noticed and tried to help the terribly timid boy, showing affection with gentle caresses, but the cure was worse than the disease. There was a time when Gabriel turned to the story so often that he was convinced that the nun was his partner in crime and that the two of them had secretly fallen in love. When he learned about the effects these quixotic fantasies were having upon his friend, Bundó brought him down to earth by writing new stories that were set in places a long way from the orphanage, in much less salubrious surroundings: in the shantytown of Somorrostro, in the Sant Sebastià public baths, or in a Gypsy shack at the foot of Montjuïc.

We calculate that the pornographic chapter of their friendship lasted almost a year and a half. Each one wrote about forty stories, although, by the end, many of the characters cropped up again and plots were rehashed. The pages were showing the wear and tear of use and abuse. However crazy it may seem, both Gabriel and Bundó had decided that the best way to camouflage their stories was to tuck them into their Religious Instruction notebooks. Accordingly, the erotic tales always bore titles that wouldn’t arouse the suspicions of any nun who might discover them, for example “Flowers of the Virgin of May”, “The Calvary of Father Salustio”, or “The Mystery of the Nails of Christ”.

When they began to work with the removal company, life in the outside world slowly replaced words and fantasy with the much more prosaic reality of ravenous sex. Nonetheless, we Christophers are convinced that their erotic library coloured their relations with flesh-and-blood women. In any case, as they were rattling around Europe in the truck years later, the tricks of memory made them relive more than once that intimate bond between religion and sex, a mutual transaction, as if they were two sides of the same coin. Like most truckers, Gabriel, Bundó and Petroli had decorated the inside of the cabin with calendars of naked pin-ups. They were calendars from 1967, 1968 and 1969, a New Year gift from service stations in Germany and France, with a gallery of fecund Valkyries and coy sex-kittens posing on Pirelli tyres or draped over the shining bonnet of a car that was always red. The three friends had seen them so often that they were at home with the presence of their paper harem. Homeward bound and approaching the border post at La Jonquera, however, they had to turn the calendars round and display the pictures they’d stuck on the back to disguise them. Devout scenes featuring His Holiness Paul VI or the Virgin of Montserrat then guided them along the straight-and-narrow of the badly cambered roads of Franco’s Spain.

Lost Luggage is published by Short Books on 4th of April 2013