International Writers Magazine:Cadiz
hours on a plane, six hours on a hard airport bench, two days of
group road trips interspersed with unexpected, inexplicable vomiting,
eight hours on and off a bus through the scorched heartland of Castilla-La
Mancha, and we were finally---finally---at our destination: the
Puerto de Cádiz.
road to my first home-stay experience had been long and somewhat
unpleasant. Only the fact that I was on foreign soil and suddenly
responsible for a homesick, petulant younger sister couldve
distracted me from all of the other storm clouds trying to water-log
my buoyant, summer hopes.
There is no time
for moping on the side of the metaphorical highway, however, especially
if its international, entirely unfamiliar, and you have somewhere
to be at 7pm. Someone should have informed Julianne of this fact, but
she seemed determined to make herself miserable, and it phased her not
a bit if her discontent affected me. Misery loves company, after all,
and in her slightly biased mind, I was to blame for her presence on
the bus seat next to me. Quite the homebody, my sister had never in
her life been more than 4 days without one of her parents, and we were
dangerously close to that benchmark. Homesickness was a given, and,
lest she fall short of everyones expectations, Juli had decided
to kick mere melancholy up a couple notches to acidic hostility. I was
at fault, and I was going to pay. Not even Spain could escape the cutting
ice of her resentment.
When she wasnt hurling English expletives at the mystifying hotel
shower faucet, the heat, the seeming lack of cleanliness, and the uncompassionate
back of my head, my sister hid behind denial. As we rolled through gently
undulating rows of olive trees, wind-whittled rock formations, and the
occasional picturesque mountain, she had glared straight ahead at the
seat in front of her, trying to block Europe out with her iPod. Nevertheless,
agitation had been visibly penetrating every vulnerable crack in her
emotional barricades, taking up residence between her brows. Ever since
our over-heated group had re-boarded the low-riding bus at Córdoba,
this same anxiety had descended upon everyone like an invisible, poisonous
gas. Worry and exhaustion had paralyzed our otherwise boisterous group
for the remaining leg of the trip through Andalucía. After three
days of social bonding and tourist activities, concern for our impending
separation had brought us all to the same conclusion: vacation was over.
Real lifecomplicated by language and cultural
barriers---loomed before us like the legendary molinas, those quixotic
windmill-monsters that had raged at us from hilltops only hours before.
Reminding us that we were far from that bucolic, molina territory, seagulls
cawed and twirled among the palm trees lining the port. Lip between
my teeth, I mentally cursed seven years of Spanish teachers as our names
were called from the list and I could summon up nothing more than a
feeble Hola by way of greeting.
We cumbersomely maneuvered our way through the labyrinth of luggage
and fatigued bodies to our overly-energetic host-mother and her stoic,
white-haired husband. Exchanging the traditional kisses of greeting,
I listened, wide-eyed, as Carmen launched into an impromptu, one-sided
conversation. I say one-sided (and that may or may not be an exaggeration,
but lets not split hairs) because she barely paused to draw breath,
although Im sure I dont know what I would have said if she
had. All of my remaining energy was monopolized with keeping me vertical
to the ground---that is to say, propped against my suitcase at a socially
acceptable angle. Endurance calling it a day, I wanted nothing more
than to collapse anywhere, to not think in Spanish---or English---for
a solid 10 hours of blissful unconsciousness.
We managed to maintain two more hours of polite nodding, glazed façades
of interest incoherently watching as Carmen puttered around the flat,
making us a dinner that was far more than my entire family could have
eaten. Julianne, unsurprisingly, was refusing to talk. I scraped the
walls of my depleted cerebral cavities for a sentence indicating that
we might be about to die, and Carmen finally relinquished us to the
safe-haven of our room. But not before giving us a very detailed tour
of the 3-by-3 foot bathroom (dont even talk to me about meters),
and providing us with some slightly musty towels out of the gargantuan
armoire that dominated the space between our beds. Seniority gave me
the bathroom first. On principle, I do not subscribe to this hierarchical
method of decision-making, but taking into account that my sister had
contributed absolutely nothing positive to the horrendous day, I could
easily ignore any qualms of guilt that dared to show themselves.
water was warm. Thats all I remember about the actual shower
part, thats all that mattered. As I slid the curtain aside,
I peered around the steamy bathroom. It had that used, slightly-dirty
look about it that all old houses have no matter how well or frequently
theyre cleaned. I didnt want to know what was living
in the corners. Craving some kind of barrier between my slightly
questionable surroundings and my naked, vulnerable skin, I whipped
my towel off the shelf and gave it an experimental shake. From its
folds leapt a creature the likes of which I had never seen except
in documentaries, its brownish-red oval body taking up far too much
room in a tub that was suddenly far too small. Its antlers (antennae,
you say? I beg to differ) waved menacingly at me, and I could just
feel those thick, hairy legs scurrying up my naked calf. I still
swear to this day, I heard him squeal as he flew from his cozy towel
home, and I challenge anyone to defy me on that point.
Too terrified to
scream myself, I bounded with the grace of a deer onto the slippery
floor, pulled new pajamas onto wet, trembling limbs, and fled down the
hall to find my host mother, fueled by the adrenaline of my terror.
Ironically, one of the only Spanish insect-words I knew was cucaracha,
but despite my lexical acumen, Carmen stared, uncomprehending. After
several rounds of disbelieving ¡No!, followed by terrified
¡Sí! she finally hobbled to the bathroom and
saw with her own eyes the mythically-proportioned creature of my sputterings.
Needless to say, her exclamation, ¡Es un elefante!
did nothing to help my already-fragile mental state. I vaguely remember
hearing her slay the monster with the only weapon at her immediate disposal:
the tiny kitten-heel off her own foot. Mentally cringing, I wondered
how it was physically possible to kill such a large creature with such
a small piece of footwear, trying not to envision the epic battle of
woman vs. nature.
I did not even want to look at Julianne. Despite my state of horror,
a part of me loathed the cockroachs presence more because of the
affect it would have on her. She now had a fairly legitimate reason
to complain, and I could hardly tell her to chill out through my own
chattering teeth and trembling lips. I was shocked, therefore,
to see her silently, impatiently pick up her towel and storm past me,
out the door, into the bathroom. I marveled. She had to be fully aware
that she would be bathing in the scene of the slaughter, among traces
of cucaracha entrails. Her composure, however, whether a reaction to
seeing me break down or a result of her complete exhaustion, remained
unshaken. Despite my irritation with her (still far from dissipated),
I grudgingly granted her performance a little bit of credit.
As I listened to the water run, I eyed our room suspiciously, assessing
the thousands of possible cockroach abodes, my gaze always returning
with severe distrust to the monolithic armoire. After a record-short
shower, Juli rejoined me and a thorough sweep of the danger zone ensued.
When a second elefante---easily 3 inches long---crawled as if in challenge
up the wall from behind my pillow, I knew beyond all doubt that my 10
hours of blissful unconsciousness were out of the question. Carmens
mortified (and quite unsatisfactory) explanation was that because the
temperature had risen lately, los elefantes must have flown in through
the windows looking for coolness.
Oh, well if thats all
The instant our madre was out of our room, Julianne slammed the window
shut and dialed our parents in a panic. Their words of comfort? Dont
worry, cockroaches only come out in the dark, so just turn off the lights
and get some sleep, girls. First day of school tomorrow!
I gaped at such abounding wisdom, making a mental note to never turn
the lights off again.
Ok, look, its not the end of the world, my dad said.
No, but even if it were, theyd still be here! I moaned,
my delirious mind calling up images of nuclear blasts, trillions of
cockroaches scuttling out of the mushroom cloud perfectly unscathed.
We reluctantly settled down into our beds (after pulling them six inches
away from the walls and inspecting every thread of the sheets), and
I wondered despairingly if I would actually get any sleep. I wasnt
betting on it.
Two weeks later, strolling alongside the Playa Victoria, Cadizs
main beach, we soaked in the festive notes of a happily-rocking accordion
player, and squinted with practiced ease against the suns final,
farewell caresses. The atmosphere seemed more intense at this time of
day; the world was contentedly yawning while simultaneously sharpening
focus. In a way, the dramatic-yet-somniferous lighting was forcing us
to see our surroundings more clearly, just as our European dislocation
had forced us to adjust the lens on ourselves. As an older sister, I
had watched my younger one with a critical eye, enjoying both the torture
and the privilege of witnessing a part of her growth. The fear of the
unknown, of the inability to communicate was no longer immobilizing
for her, merely a challenge. As for myself, the cockroaches that
I saw every day, while not pleasant, had somewhat altered my priorities.
Never in my pet-free life would I have predicted that Id become
accustomed to cohabitating with vermin (not to mention three cats and
a sheep dog). Somehow I managed to sleep well every night, to
focus in class, to make plans without cell phones, to take full advantage
of a beach I had once eyed skeptically from behind pale, landlubber
Juli and I turned without a word off the main road, away from the light,
onto a tiny lane. We had never been on this particular calle before,
but our internal compasses were confident with two weeks of experience,
the prospect of getting lost more exciting than worrisome.
sunsets indigo fingers tickled our backs and stretched our
shadows towards our destinations faster than we could ever go. Concentrating
on my own elongated shape and the beach-bag strap pulling its way
through my collarbone, I barely noticed that the accordion tones
of La bamba had changed. We stopped. Our incredulous
gazes locked, and then giggles erupted from our lips, bouncing off
the walls of the empty alley. Shaking my head, I linked arms with
my sister and turned us back towards our impatiently waiting shadows.
As we futilely endeavored to catch up with them, bubbles of laughter
floated in our wake, bobbing among the familiar notes of La
Kelley May 2008
CEK1234 at aol.com
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