The Sun Still Rises
Laura Bailo © 2019
All Rights Reserved
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
Erik had lost count of how many times his dad had asked. “Dad, I’m sure. You go and enjoy yourself.”
“You could enjoy it, too, if you just forgot about everything else for a while.”
He had always been worried about him. Erik was pretty sure his dad thought he didn’t know how to have fun. Not having a lot of friends didn’t mean he didn’t get to enjoy himself. His idea of fun was simply different from his father’s.
“Come on, Dad, you know I would only drag you down. I don’t like crowded places, and you can’t even walk in Pamplona during the festival.”
“How could you know that?” His father sounded surprised Erik actually knew something about his destination.
“You’ve been going there every year for the last—what? Twenty years? And you think I’ve never watched the running of the bulls, trying to see you? I’m not that heartless, Dad.”
“I didn’t say you were. You’ve never seemed interested in any of it, so I didn’t imagine you’d have done that. But I’m glad to know you love your old man enough to care and watch just in case he gets trampled by a bull.”
That would have offended Erik had his dad not been smiling while he said it.
“Yes, yes, I do love you, which is why I want you to go alone and have fun without me tagging along. You deserve that.” And he was serious, as this was the only time of year his dad let himself forget the problems that troubled him at work during the rest of it.
“Thank you, son. There’s no convincing you, I guess. I’m going to go pack. Remember you promised to drive me to the airport.”
Erik couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “Yes, like I do every year. Don’t worry; I’ll be ready. You know I will.”
“I know, I know.” And with two pats to Erik’s shoulder, his dad left to pack his white and red clothes.
Erik decided he should head to bed. The flight left at a ridiculously early hour, which meant he should go to sleep early if he wanted to be awake enough to drive. After his dad left, he’d have a week all to himself, and he was planning on taking advantage of it, writing nonstop. Not what his dad would consider fun, but putting words on paper was what made Erik happy, and he had a deadline coming up for his next book.
One year and three days later…
Erik gave up trying to fold the map and threw it on the passenger seat. At least he wasn’t completely lost. The guy in the car rental office had told him he only needed to follow the GPS instructions and he would be there in five hours. But the same guy forgot to include the GPS charger, and two hours into the trip the battery of the damn thing had run out, leaving him stranded. He was on a highway, so he kept driving until he found a rest stop.
According to the map, he was somewhere near a city called Burgos, so at least he’d been going in the right direction. Without any more stops, he should be in Pamplona in two hours. First, he needed some coffee. He’d slept on the plane, but the time difference was starting to take its toll on him. He stopped in the first rest area he saw and ordered a latte and some kind of prosciutto and tomato sandwich, feeling thankful the waiter spoke English.
Once he’d eaten his breakfast—lunch? He had no idea what time it was back home—he made a quick stop at the restroom and returned to the car.
Two hours and fifteen minutes later, he finally spotted the city limits sign that let him know he was entering Pamplona. He’d actually had a nice time driving, and he’d been amazed by the scenery. There were a lot of mountains and green fields; it was all so different from what he was used to seeing in his hometown of Phoenix.
He asked for directions, and after a lot of gesturing and too little speaking in stilted English, an old man explained how to get to the car rental office. Erik was shocked he managed to find it without having to ask again, and after returning the car and picking up his backpack, he asked the employee at the counter what he needed to do to get to the city center.
“Oh, that’s easy. See that green post out there?” He pointed out the door. Erik looked and nodded. “Just go over there and wait for a bus to stop. Doesn’t matter which number; these days the last stop is the same for every one of them, and that’s the closest to the city center you can get.”
Erik thanked him and was headed for the door when he heard the guy’s voice again.
“I almost forgot! Do you have coins or a five-euro bill? They won’t accept anything higher than that.”
Erik was surprised because back home you couldn’t pay the driver in cash and needed to buy the ticket before hopping on the bus. He thanked the employee again and went to wait near the post.
He only had to wait five minutes for one of the buses to appear. It was already packed. He’d have guessed it would be mostly empty since he seemed to be on the outskirts of the town. After what seemed like an eternity trying to get the correct amount of money from the coins he had, he gave up and shoved his hand at the driver for him to pick them out. He hoped the driver wouldn’t think he was rude, but he laughed and took the coins. It seemed the spirit of the festival had infected everyone.
There was quite a crowd, so he stood hanging on to a yellow pole and put his backpack between his feet. Observing people had always been one of his favorite ways to pass time, more so after he’d become a writer—sometimes the needed spark came by sitting in a coffee shop and paying attention—and he could indulge in it now.
He couldn’t see a prominent age group. Everyone from babies to grandparents seemed prepared to enjoy themselves. All of them were dressed the same: white trousers and shirts and red handkerchiefs. Some of them also had red sashes around their waists. Erik remembered his father taking care of his clothes and the desperation on his face when he realized he wouldn’t be able to wear them again.
They are sitting in the doctor’s office, Erik and his dad, waiting for news. At this point, there is no good news. It will be only bad or worse. And from the look on the doctor’s face when he comes in, the latter is the most probable outcome. He can’t listen to him saying the words, can’t stand to hear how long his father has left to live. Erik refuses to look at the doctor, centering his attention on his dad instead, wondering how he can avoid screaming or raging, how he seems so…just so calm.
Erik should know better. Once they’re back home, his dad doesn’t make it one step inside before breaking down, and even then he appears sedate, crying silently. But Erik knows him, and he understands how much he is hurting; he inherited his stoic personality from his father, after all. There isn’t anything he can say or do to make it better, so he hugs him tight and lets his dad cling to him while he cries. His memory takes him to all the times his father had done it for Erik as a child, and he promises himself he will do right by him now that he needs someone to lean on.
They get into a routine after that. They don’t mention the inevitable, but it hovers there, on the edge of their minds, all the time. Two weeks later, his dad asks Erik to look for his San Fermín clothes; they are in the attic, and he doesn’t trust those stairs anymore, not now that he is so weak. So Erik goes searching for them and finds them, along with all the festival memorabilia his dad has collected. Thinking about it may lift his spirits a bit, so Erik takes them to him and listens to him talk about the bull running, the fireworks, and the people he’s met there. For a little while, a smile returns to his face, but afterward, Erik sees the desperation in his eyes, the sadness, and the realization that he won’t get to put on those clothes again, and it breaks Erik’s heart.
A woman shook Erik and told him something in Spanish he couldn’t understand, bringing him out of his memory. He glanced around and saw the bus was empty, and the driver was staring at him and pointing at the door. He got the message and hurried off the bus. Apparently, he was in the city center. Now he simply needed to figure out where to go from here. The truth was that Erik didn’t have any idea what he would do once he made it to Pamplona. He’d bailed from his house because he missed his dad so much he couldn’t take it anymore. It was stupid because his dad had never been home at that time of year anyway, but Erik was missing him more than ever.
He looked around him, though he didn’t know what for. Who went to an unknown city—hell, an unknown country—without even studying a map first? Apparently, he did. He felt so ridiculous right then; he hadn’t even learned the language. The only Spanish words he knew were a few courtesies he’d learned from some of his neighbors: hola, adiós, gracias, por favor, and that was the extent of his knowledge. He guessed he wouldn’t get far with those here.
He was on some kind of promenade, not that he could see much of it. A wooden stage took up most of the area in front of him, and at the other end of the street, two metal structures had been erected. They reminded him of those fair booths where you earned prizes by shooting at things. A lot of people seemed to be moving in that direction, so he followed them. Now he could see statues on both sides of the promenade. All of them were of men, and he had no idea who they represented. To his left sat an old church with people going in and out of it.
He got to the fair-like structures, and he was confused. In one of them, people were selling what looked like small pieces of paper, while in the other, people were collecting prizes with them. That was it? What was the purpose? One of the walls showed a logo composed of four red hearts making a clover shape. It said Cáritas. With a logo like that, Erik guessed this was probably some kind of charity endeavor. God, he really wished he’d studied some Spanish.
A statue stood at the end of the walk with a lot of young people sitting around it. Some of them had to speak English, right? He’d decided to just jump in and hope for the best when he noticed two people, one young—probably in his twenties—and one a little bit older—early forties, maybe—sitting in chairs to the side, wearing orange vests that looked kind of official. He hoped they could tell him where he needed to go.
They were chatting when he approached, but as soon as his shadow fell over them, they both looked up at him.
“¿Podemos ayudarte?” That was the older one, and Erik thought he was asking if he needed any help.
He crossed his fingers mentally and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Spanish.”
At that, the one who had spoken glanced at the other man as if to say Hey, this one is yours. The younger man smiled at Erik, his lovely blue eyes crinkling on the sides, and said, “Don’t worry. We can help you in English too.”
Coming from any other person, Erik might have thought he was mocking him, but the guy looked sincere, so Erik decided to trust his instincts.
“Thank you. I’m actually not sure where I’m supposed to go. I’m looking for someplace where I can get information.”
“What kind of information do you need? If it’s only directions, we can do that quite easily now.”
“I was hoping for general information about the city—maps, places to sleep, to eat, activities…things like that.” Erik felt silly. He should have looked all that up before leaving home, but the trip had been so impulsive he hadn’t even thought of it.
“Right. Then your best bet would be the tourism office. It’s easy to get there from here. See that street?” He pointed to a narrow passage completely shadowed by the buildings on either side, and Erik nodded. “You have to walk until you reach the end and, once there, turn right. You’ll arrive at a square, and if you look left, you’ll see the tourism office in front of you. They’ll be able to help you there.”
Erik thanked him and left to follow his instructions. The street was as narrow as it had seemed from afar, and it was packed with people drinking, smoking, or simply chatting. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. Navigating was difficult; he had to sidestep groups of people as well as tables and chairs from the bars that lined it.
What kind of city had five bars in the space of two blocks? How did they earn any money aside from the festival? It didn’t make any sense to Erik, but he hadn’t come here to start a business, so he kept walking. He passed an open street, which led to a square with some kind of kiosk where a band was playing music.
All the noise and the people started to get on Erik’s nerves, leaving him a bit unsettled. Thankfully, the street emptied out farther down and walking became easier. It must have had something to do with the fact that there weren’t any bars there, only normal stores.
Anyway, Erik was grateful for the respite. He finally got to the end of the street and stopped to take a deep breath. Just ahead was the way he needed to go, but he was still feeling a bit overwhelmed, what with the noise and all the people beyond it. He looked around for someplace to sit, and when he found it, he put his elbows on his knees and focused on breathing.
It might not have been the best idea, coming here when the city was so crowded, but he’d been feeling his father’s absence so keenly he had to do something. Somehow his father’s memory had become entwined with the festival, so Erik had found himself with a full backpack, and he’d embarked on a plane to Spain before taking the time to think it through.
When his anxiety was manageable once more, meaning his heart was no longer trying to break out of his rib cage, he got up to walk again. He really needed to get some information, or he’d be sleeping on the street that night. And having seen the state of the streets, he shuddered from the thought.
He arrived at the square the young guy in the orange vest had mentioned, looked left as he had been instructed, and saw a trailer with the word Navarra written on it. He approached the counter, thinking about what he was going to ask, and came face-to-face with the most striking person he had ever seen—and lost all his well-thought-out words.