The digested read: The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

Faber & Faber £12.99

The most notable event of the summer of 1950 was the arrival in Miraflores of two flamboyant Chilean sisters. I was just 15 and fell in love with the older one, Lily, like a calf. We were inseparable; we held hands, though she teased me with her kisses. "Never on the lips, Ricardito." Then she disappeared without saying goodbye. The rumour was that she wasn't an exotic Chilean; she was a Peruvian from the slums. Yet I never forgot her.

In the early 1960s, Paris was experiencing the fervour of the Cuban revolution and there were many Peruvians there who were heavily involved in South American politics and provided pages of historical background. I was not one of them, but I did escort three revolutionaries to their hotel. I didn't recognise Comrade Arlette at first, but once I had described her body in gynaecological detail, I realised it was Lily.

"I'm working as a translator and interpreter now," I boasted.

"That's a rather obvious metaphor for someone who lives his life through others," she observed.

"I've been in love with you for 10 years," I swooned.

"Well, you're a complete idiot then," she said, "but if you want to go down on me, be my guest."

The next two weeks were the happiest of my life. Then she left for Cuba and I didn't hear from her for years, until I bumped into her in the Marais.

"I'm still in love with you," I pleaded.

"Well, you're still an idiot," she smiled. "I have now married a French man and I am called Mme Arnoux. But you can still go down on me if you want."

That day was the happiest of my life, but she quickly disappeared again. Later my work took me to London, a city vibrating to the sounds of Mick Jagger and Cliff Richard, where I continued to live vicariously through my friend Juan Barreto. Imagine my amazement when I discovered that the wife of one of his clients was Mme Arnoux.

"Keep your mouth shut," she snarled. "I cleaned out that fool Arnoux. I am now Mrs Richardson, a pillar of English society."

"You are a bad girl, but I'm still crazy about you."

"Then you can go down on me from time to time in a Russell Square hotel."

They were the happiest months of my life. Then she disappeared again and I drifted aimlessly until my work took me to Japan. Who should I meet there? None other than my darling, bad girl!

"I am now called Kuriko and am with Mr Fukuda. I'll meet you in your hotel."

For the first time, the bad girl made the advances, taking me in her mouth. I thought I was in heaven. But then I spied Fukuda pleasuring himself behind the curtains and fled.

I stayed in France for many years. My friends told me I should avoid the bad girl, but predictably she turned up again, saying she'd been tortured in Nigeria. She was lying - she had been vaginally abused by Fukuda. I mortgaged my flat to pay for her therapy and she even taught a mute to speak. I had never been so happy. She was still there when I came back from a trip to in Peru, where I improbably met her father. This was true love.

Now I was over 50 and living with Marcella in Madrid. Marcella? Yes, Lily had left me again. "I am like ze wind," she had purred. "I can be tied to no one." Marcella took care of me until she too left me. I didn't mind much, because no sooner had she gone than Lily reappeared.

"I am now ready to love you," she cooed. "I have cancer of the vagina and will be dead in months."

"I love you too, bad girl. At least you've given me a good story of my own to write."

"That's a matter of opinion," thought everyone else.

The digested read, digested: Lost in translation.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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