February 2008

She takes a puff of the cigarette she bought a few minutes ago, exhales and a gush of smoke flows in my direction, diluting the space between us. This bar is dingy, but decorated with a bit of jazz and a colorful wall of art, a shelf of alcohol. Mercedes orders two coffees with milk. While we wait, she talks about her job, teaching theater to young kids and teens. She says the children surprise her with their talents and that they are easier to work because they are forward, open and honest. Today she is wearing a black hat, pink lipstick and boots. We walk up hill to a quiet, clam part of the town where there are small pubs and little stores, antiques and second-hands. This is her favorite barrio because of its narrow streets and tranquil atmosphere. Mercedes says that I understand her very well and that my Spanish isn’t bad. I tell her that I would like to know more Spaniards. She says that I can go out with her friends one night.
“My friends get drunk all the time,” she adds, laughing.
“The better. I like drinking,” I smile as I reassure her.
We talk about cinema, Almodovar, Julio Medem. She pulls out a film magazine so I can decide what we should see one day. Mercedes wants to study in London but is worried about her English. I tell her not to worry, that she is doing fine and will learn in no time.
She takes me to the metro and then we part. The city is gloomy, cold, and yet still full of vibe. The madrilenos are still rushing to get around, and I am now a part of all. I am now a part of the evening rush, the nocturnal sky, the crowded sidewalks, the bricked buildings, the gust that comes after the metro trains, the maddening smoke that the man next to me exhales. I am alone, yet again, writing, but I feel guarded, secure, like they have accepted me as the strange creature that bears the same physique and yet is lost for words. I now order my coffee with more confidence. I walk faster and rarely stop to look. And I want to get to know them. I want to ask them. I want to remember them.
This is the life in the heart of Madrid, where you can stay up until 6, while it’s still dark, the streets still tainted by cigars and beer bottles, shattered glass and garbage. You can stop for Churros after a night of clubbing and drinking at 5 am. Then you can catch the train at 6 when it opens again and walk home, watching Spaniards make out in the corners, still drunk, still wasted. You can be a part of everything and experience what you will never experience again the same way. You can blend in, learn a new route and go on forward…

Read more