The location was one of the few shaded squares in the city, a stone’s throw from Plaça Catalunya and the nightlife of Barri Gòtic and El Born. On the other side of a one-way street, sandwiched between a bank and an Irish Bar, a large wooden door announced the address on the crumbled piece of paper in Alejandro’s pocket.
He pulled it out to make sure he was at the right place. The gray building was constructed at the end of the 19th century, but hearkened back to the Middle Ages. The ground floor was shaded by the overhang of the two outside windows, which curved out like glass and steel turrets, with balconies for parapets in between. The iron crenellations on top of the convex roofs served as the railings for the third floor’s patios while a row of arched windows, with a shared balcony, marked the attic.
Alejandro hadn’t had the best of luck when it came to meeting women in Barcelona. Maybe an impressive residence in a prime location would change that? He hoped so. Just like he hoped—he was the first, and last, person to visit the flat as he pressed the button, 2-1, on the plastic intercom.
A crackle and a muffled, “Sí?” blew dust off the speaker’s vents .
“It’s Alex,” he said, preferring the shortened, Anglicized version of his name to the Spanish, “Ale” [Áleh], which was what girls named Alejandra also went by.
Another crackle and long buzz summoned Alex inside. He pushed the brass handle shaped like a limp hand with an apple in its finger tips to open the heavy door. Carved ivory colored frescoes ran down the middle of gray walls and his eyes did the splits, causing him to trip over the floor beam of a polished wood and stained-glass divider.
Alex stumbled into a lobby adorned in more dark wood brightened by the light from a hanging chandelier. A stone staircase to his right curled behind a woven-metal elevator shaft, which served as the building’s spine. He looked through the window of a booth made from the same wood as found in the lobby. No doorman waited with a visitor’s list, just dust and shadows.
Alex pulled the metal exterior elevator door and kept it open with his shoulder as he pushed through two red wooden doors that swung into a space not much bigger than a coffin. The sturdy exterior door sprung shut of its own accord, but the flimsy interior ones remained open until Alex pulled them past his hips, bringing the doors to a close in front of his nose.
He pressed a protruding round button for the second floor. Tight spaces always started ten-times smaller than they really were while shrinking by the nanosecond. He closed his eyes and held his breath to the sound of the rickety wooden box being lifted by a struggling chain. The rolling green countryside of his homeland formed in his mind with enough lucidity that Alex tasted the fur of the famed Asturian mountain cattle with the drizzle.
The trip back home ended when the elevator jerked to an abrupt stop, shaking the floor, ceiling and walls. After a long exhale, Alex saw red wooden doors again. He pulled them past his waist before twisting his body to push the springy exterior door open with his hip.
“Make sure all the doors are closed.”
It was the same deep monotone from earlier until the last word, which boomed louder than the metal door closing. Alex turned from the elevator to face a hunched man, with an island of black hair on the top of a barren crown.
“Hey, I’m Alex. This is a fantastic building.”
“Maybe not fantastic,” his potential flatmate deadpanned, “more unusual.”
Alex thought he could count the number of straggly hairs on the twitching lip before him. “Don’t think I got your name.”
“Sergi,” he said, unlocking a red leather door.