(MatadorU Assignment 2.1)
Lana shifts next to me and opens her phone. “10AM”. Quickly she snaps it shut, an implication that it is too early to rise. She’s right. It’s Saturday morning in Madrid and we’re nursing wicked hangovers.
Four hours later she decides is an acceptable time to get moving, even if we are slow. My limbs feel sluggish. We alternate between showers and the computer, trying to sort out the day’s plans. I sit staring listlessly at my gmail account, deleting junk mail as she mumbles on her mobile in Spanish to our friends.
We leave her piso, walking out into the crisp sunshine and my insides lurch a bit in protest against any movement more vigorous than rolling over in bed. I swear, for the millioneth time in my life, not to ever mix alcohol again. We trudge past the protests in Sol, waxy blue tents concave in the wind and yellowed signs that have developed a weariness to them over the past two weeks.
Turning down a side street, we spy a free table on the terrace of a corner bar, and angle ourselves to face the TV inside. Tonight is the European Championship: Barcelona vs. Manchester. We order beer. Hair of the dog, they say. I take three icy gulps and relax as it seems to wash away my haziness.
The bitterness of the lager is still lingering on my tongue when the bartender brings out three shots, one for each of us. A creamy shot is the last thing my stomach wants, but protocol mandates that I do not reject his offering. He then brings us a plate of shrimp for our tapas. Fancy.
We have three left on the plate, and neither Lana nor I have touched them in about ten minutes. Their eyes are staring at me, and I can’t seem to get past those whiskers. Do they really need to be that long? I see a beggar walking toward our table in the frenetic, jerky style of a drug user. Not that I’m an expert on drug users. She looks at me with a mischievous glint in her eye and asks for a shrimp. I offer one, intending to give them all to her, when she gives me a cocky smile and grabs two. Without asking.
“Do you want the third one as well?” I ask in Spanish, but I don’t think she gets my sarcasm. I hate when sarcasm is wasted. It feels like throwing away a perfectly good sandwich. She takes them all. Then asks for a napkin. Very well. I suppose shrimp are messy. I hand her one. She asks for another. I give it to her. She asks for another.
Apprehension courses through my body and I tighten my grip on the handbag in my lap. I’ve felt this before.
It was a hard moment in my life. I had been traveling for months in South America, alone. I had met and fallen in love with an Englishman, and just a few days earlier, we had said goodbye, having no idea of when we would see each other again. Three days later, I had to say goodbye to my best friend and travel partner as he carried on to New Zealand. I was a devastated and vulnerable mess.
I was sitting at an outdoor café with friends, my bag on the floor by my feet. It was a typical Mendoza day – clear and fresh and full of reasons to live there permanently. An old woman with wrinkled, leathery skin came to one side of our table and stood there silently. We waited for the inevitable extended open hand, wanting money. It never came, and after about three long minutes, she eventually left.
The bill arrived and I reached down for my bag. It was gone. My money and credit cards gone, but most importantly, my camera and journal – my most treasured items – had been taken as well. I looked around at the familiar faces sitting by me, but all I could see was who wasn’t there, the men I had loved and relied on. It was a suffocating feeling that hit me at once. I couldn’t breathe. There was nothing holding me together anymore. I crumpled.
I pull myself out of the dull ache this memory evokes and look back at the woman holding the shrimp, condescension pouring out of her.
My anger rises as she asks for a fourth napkin. “No.” I say. “That’s enough.”
She stalks off, stuffing the shrimp in her mouth with the head, eyes, and shell still on. She doesn’t even say thank you.