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Tijmen Klein Gildekamp thought of water, a cold drink, a bath in which he could totally submerge himself, or even better, the sea.
The house he currently occupied was located in the mainly flat landscape, bar the occasional gentle rolling hill, between Seville, Mérida and Badajoz. It was the sun-baked, bone-dry heart of Andalusia that allowed you to spot any travellers from miles away, where piles of stones stood like ruined statues in the empty landscape. The villages in this area were isolated; their church steeples resembled the masts of stranded ships.
The nearest hamlet was barely more than an intersection of roads, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a bad spaghetti western, but it had a small supermarket where he did his shopping. It was the type of shop that displayed black pudding made with rice, oddly shaped loaves of bread, fresh olives and dark heavy wine that clung to your glass when you swirled it around. Everything was typically Spanish, except for the landscape, which formed the perfect backdrop for a spaghetti western. Long ago the trees in this area were cut down to build the ships that sailed to discover America.
He was not anywhere near the main roads. Nobody around here knew him, or almost no one. From time to time, it seemed that his neighbour, a shepherd, would watch him through his binoculars. Once in a while, he spotted a reflection in the sunlight from his opened bedroom window. The neighbour, his landlord, was the only person with whom he had any contact. He, too, had been paid in advance, for one month. He took credits on his life, for as long as it was still possible.
The people in his Dutch home town knew he had disappeared but not why. He had vanished because that was what he wanted, because people were invading his space. Disappearing was the only way to find out what really mattered. During his life so far he had fled twice; this was the second time. The reason was the same: to escape the person he could never be.
He put pen to paper. The only sound in his Spanish house was his scraping pen.
‘Really, you shouldn’t believe everything they say about me. That story ran and ran. But I was named after my father; I inherited his name and his history.’
His father’s history was intertwined with Nijmegen. He, Tijmen, had lived in Arnhem during the second part of his life, on a singel along the main railway track. Yes, a singel or boulevard, far too grand a name for his humble street. His view was limited to a number of high-rise office blocks, a raised railway track and six trees. The passing trains seemed to run almost through his living room, but you could get used to anything.
On winter days when the trees were bare, the illuminated windows showed the office girls above the railway line. From his desk he could just glimpse a bit of the Eusebius spire to the right of the block with the office girls.
To the left of the office blocks stood the telecom tower and for years – he was a bit of a hypochondriac – he had been worried about the adverse effects of its radiation. Eight years ago a benign cancer growth had been cut from his face.
In the evenings a deep silence descended over the street only to be shattered by the rhythm of freight trains passing or the buzzing of a lone pizza courier. At night men urinated against the railings bordering the railway track and in the mornings he regularly spotted new graffiti adorning the pillars which supported the flats.
Each morning, apart from Sundays, at exactly ten o’clock, two blonde women arrived in a black convertible driven by a dark man at the brothel, Natasha Privé, which was located on the street corner. Halfway down the street was the car dealer to whom he had sold his father’s old car. Otherwise the street consisted of small two-up, two-down houses and one block of flats which had six floors. This is where he had lived. On the top floor, from the back, you could just about see the treetops in Sonsbeek Park.
This park provided a space to walk endlessly all alone in rainy weather. From the park through neighbouring Zypendaal, going past the castle surrounded by a pond, you could walk to the Veluwe. He himself had once, in the pouring rain, got as far as Wolfheze on foot.
When the weather was sunny, he had read his paper on the terrace of The Palatijn in Sonsbeek Park. The same terrace where, nine years ago, he had spoken to his father for the very last time. He had died a few days later.
Writers in Arnhem had always lived near the park: Johnny van Doorn and Jan Greshoff lived on opposite sides. The list of names formed a continuing thread: Conny Braam, Johan van der Woude, Jean Dulieu, Hélène Swarth...
The entrance to the park on Apeldoornseweg with its two porters’ lodges had an English flavour. In 1823, Jacob van Lennep noted in his diary:
Incalculable treasures are being spent on this site. Hills are being flattened, valleys filled in, two roads have been added, ponds with water features are being dug, streams are directed, houses are built or altered, orangeries are being overhauled, natural stone hothouses are put up in high places, in short, this place is all about luxuriousness and grandeur.
The singel was the ugliest street in the small neighbourhood squashed against the park. You could find handsome houses around the corner on Apeldoornseweg. Tijmen had lived in the block of flats in just thirty-five square metres of space.
In this place he had really been thrown back on himself. He had felt so alone that he could have pounded the walls like a caged animal. But it was the only way to begin writing, to become the person he wanted to be, to write in a different way than he had ever done before. It was here that he had written his novel and his poetry collection.
It had taken twelve years. Rarely had he kept track of time. Time was a side issue. Every now and then he whiled away an afternoon by visiting the Rembrandt cinema around the corner. He lingered for whole afternoons in the near-empty cinema. He preferred romantic comedies but he kept that to himself.
He wrote at his desk on an ageing computer. In the end he could hardly communicate with anyone, and his attachments could barely be opened.
Over the years the constant shuffling of his feet had created havoc under his desk. It had worn out the carpet and even eaten into the concrete. He sometimes worried that his feet might visit his downstairs neighbours.
He didn’t talk to anyone about his loneliness, not even about the beguiling aspects. Solitude provided the space to write novels; it was an immense void, not to be shattered by anyone.
He had never been afraid of danger. He had experienced more than enough precarious situations. Danger had always been an integral part of his life. It sometimes seemed as if danger made him feel alive. He was positively looking for it; he also courted it through his writing. He had never lied, that was impossible. He only wanted to cast out the chaos.
Just after he had left the army, he spent the next half year doing nothing but reading books. Writing is reading. He had made a resolution to read during office hours. In no time he had become used to reading books during office hours in the same way others spent time in the office. He kept a list of books he had read and with the reading, the writing came too. The writing washed over him.
He had created his own lonely world, and the flat became the place to write. He had locked himself in. There were times he had been worried that his numerous bookcases would cascade onto him. It had taken twelve years to say what he could now write in his diary. Becoming a writer was unavoidable, even though he was all on his own.
For years he concealed everything. Hiding away was best. From time to time it became almost too much. He did his shopping, met friends in a café but, strictly speaking, he was in hiding. And his hiding place was a mess. He concluded that the life of a man on his own is a continual struggle against wine going off and fruit flies.
He had visitors about six times a year. One of his acquaintances, a poet, had maintained that it was impossible to write more than six good poems a year. He was of the same opinion about visitors. He was just about able to handle visitors six times a year and this included the man reading the utilities meter. He even celebrated his birthday away from home. ‘Because my flat is my office,’ he said. But it was simply a case of blind panic.
During the final year he had faced the constant threat of female visitors, readers who wanted to find out where he lived. This was before Angel made her appearance. She was undisturbed by the mess. Well, that is what she said, but thinking about it, she had visited only once. Her flat offered ‘more space’, was her verdict.
The flat on the singel was still his official address. He had paid the rent three months in advance; he hoped everything would be over by then. The whole lot.
That he had lived in Arnhem was an act of betrayal. He had been raised in Nijmegen. You could do terrible things in your life, such as moving from Nijmegen to Arnhem or, of course, the reverse. Likewise footballers didn’t transfer from NEC – pronounced ‘nek’ in Arnhem but ‘n-i-c’ in Nijmegen – to Vitesse. You had to accept the fact that this was not done. His life consisted of contrasts.
His parents had first set eyes upon each other in Nijmegen in the late nineteen-forties. Without this encounter he wouldn’t have existed. Ultimately the only thing that mattered was love, the only thing that remained after everything had collapsed. Yet everything had collapsed. He couldn’t even declare the love of his life. The love that dare not speak its name.
Tijmen wrote in his diary: ‘The twentieth century belonged to my father, but the twenty-first, the twenty-first will belong to me.’
He looked out of the window onto the rolling landscape and thought of his mother, far away in the Netherlands. What would she be doing at the moment? Most likely she would be sitting in her favourite chair by the window which looked out over Meinerswijk.
He took up his pen again.
‘My parents’ marriage ended after nearly half a century with the death of my father during the Eurovision Song Contest. He died on the toilet during the performance of the Greek entry. It had nothing to do with the Eurovision Song Contest, nor the Greek singer, even though she was dressed in just one long shoelace.’
He looked up. Why do I write these things? he wondered.
Because it is important to know about my background, he decided. Even if I don’t have any future.
‘As a matter of fact, we still don’t know the cause of my father’s death but we strongly suspect that my father wasn’t in the best of health. People don’t just die without reason. My mother is quite bothered by the location, the toilet. So she usually omits this detail. She just says: “He died within ten seconds.” She is not of the opinion that her marriage of almost half a century has “ended”. According to my mother she continues to be married.’
To start with, he thought, I have to explain who I am. When people come across my diary it will be handy for them to know who I am. So he began again.
‘My name is Tijmen Klein Gildekamp, I am forty-four years old, I am the son of Tijmen and Hanna Klein Gildekamp and I was born in Nijmegen seventeen years after the end of the war. Measured against eternity, I was born just after the conflict. That’s how it feels to me, I have just missed everything. I too, have been in a war but that was quite a different one.’
He chewed on the end of his pen before he continued: ‘This is my diary. Just in case my secret hideaway gets discovered, this is the only thing that is left to be lost. If I lose this as well, there is nothing left.’
Thick drops of sweat fell from his neck onto his papers. In northern Europe the summer of 2007 was drowned in rain, but in southern Spain it was ferociously hot. In contrast, the house was almost comfortably cool – and yet he had broken out in a sweat.
Tijmen brushed away the drops of sweat, only to smudge the ink into long stripes. Outside, the Spanish sun reigned mercilessly. And he wrote: ‘This is how it began...’
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Number of pages: 215
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What was said about Angel
‘The story is very intriguing ... another interesting aspect is the inclusion of poetry’
‘If you like your novels to be rich in complexity … a thriller with a bit of rhythmic difference … you’ll enjoy Angel’ life between pages blog
‘The book is beautifully written and the tone is wonderfully eloquent.’
‘Every page I turned made me want to find out more about him and his love interest Angel.’ - Joanne Clancy on her blog
‘Jansen op de Haar continues to demonstrate a rare talent of writing succinctly, yet with impact.’ - Stephen Phillips on his blog
‘Frequently alternating narratives spanning history and current day, interspersed with poetic elements and pop culture references, create a rich and moving tapestry of life that is hard to look away from (at times, ‘like a car accident’).’ - Booklover Book Reviews
‘it is compelling, and as the novel goes on it gathers pace’ - Watching The Coast
‘Intriguing, exciting and full of striking scenes’ – Xandra Schutte, publisher
‘An intriguing book. Very well written. Congratulations’ – Anna Penta, editor
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