The sun is shining brightly, yet it is only a few minutes past 9 AM. I feel the sweat running down my back.
Our small group enters the narrow street that resembles a corridor, just beyond the Plaza de España. Everyone else is pairing off; and of the nine of us, I am the lone wolf. I do not walk as fast as the others in this group, which is perhaps why I am usually last, and alone. Kelly is with Jimmy. They are both from Texas and they both attend the U of T, so I am sure they would have a lot to talk about. LaTosha is beside Anne-Sofie – our French delight. They are roommates and are frequently together. Tammy, the “mariposa socíal” or social butterfly that she has dubbed herself is beside Joel – they are my friends from down South. They both attend a private university in Georgia that no one besides them has heard of – Oglethorpe University.
Behind them is Simon, from the French Switzerland, and he and Mathew seem to be engrossed in a very serious topic. They are probably talking about sports. They are both wearing shorts and tennis shoes and white Tee shirts. Matthew is from the “land of the langostas” – or Lobsterland as he says – Maine. Matthew and Simon are also roommates, and I do not know if this means that they exchange memos to color-coordinate on some days as I have noticed that they do sometimes, like today. I look at Kelly and Jimmy again who are at the front of the group. Jimmy is the tallest and I see him easily. Kelly is a petite blonde girl, and much of what I can see of her from where I am is her pure white blouse, the back of her navy blue shorts and the elephant bracelet on her tiny wrist.
I did not like Kelly when I first met her. I thought she was one of those Valley girl types who flashed wide white smiles in class and asked personal questions but never waited for an answer. We were on the same plane from Houston to Madrid and from Madrid to Cádiz, but how was I to know then that we were attending the same Study Abroad program, even sharing the same Spanish parents for three weeks? We were both introduced to the same middle-aged Spanish couple and their pre-teen son after we were picked up from the airport together by the MundoLengua representative. At first when Antonio, our Spanish host dad came forward to kiss my cheek as I later discovered was the custom here, I almost stepped back hardly expecting it. But when I saw Isabel his wife kiss Kelly from the corner of my eye, I realized what was going on. That was two weeks ago, and now, here we are, many beach days and Chiringuitos later, headed to Granada.
Before long, we arrive at the bus station. It is not much to behold. There are several luxurious buses parked outside a small enclosed space. The ticketing office is a small stuffy room in which a fan spins very slowly. The air conditioner must be broken. In one corner of the room a snack shack is present. The words “Café y Bocadillos” are on a sign that is faded and that resembles the leaning tower of Pisa. Through a glass case, an assortment of soft drinks is neatly arranged: Fanta, Coca-cola, 7UP, and some other brands that are not familiar to me. On the other side of the room, there is a plexi-glass partition and on the other side of this sits a woman. Above her head is a sign, this time it has the word “Boletos” written in bright red ink. Farther back, behind the chair she is sitting on is a white board with various destinations and prices written boldly in back ink. Seville…15 Euros, Malaga…25 Euros, Granada…30 Euros.
The woman at the counter has dirty blond hair, her lips are painted red and her shirt is two sizes too small. For clarity and ease sake, after we researched the prices online, we decided ahead that instead of everyone buying their own ticket, one person would do the buying, and after two weeks with these people, they have decided that I am the responsible one. I should not say “these people,” – I will say they are my friends, my amigos. Yesterday, while we were at Náhu, Tammy decided that we should call ourselves the “famigos” – in other words, amigos that are more like family. On our first day of class, all nine of us hung out after class at a bar near school for a drink. I did not want to go with them but I was compelled to because Kelly had our only house key, and I did not want to get lost on my first day too. I am very bad with directions. And so every day after class we went from one bar to the other. At first, I did my homework while they drank and they talked, then I started drinking bottled water. Now I drink diet Coca-cola, or Coca-Cola light as they say in Spain. I also talk now too sometimes, and they always listen.
I join the ticketing line while my travel companions mill around the small room. Jimmy, Kelly and Anne-Sofie go outside to smoke before long. In five minutes, it is my turn.
“Nine tickets to Granada please,” I tell her in my hesitant Spanish.
“Nine?” she repeats, as she now looks up at me.
“Yes, my friends and I are going to Granada for the weekend” I tell her.
“That will be two hundred and seventy Euros,” she says, without any more eye contact.
“Gracias” I say, and trying hard to enunciate my lisp correctly.
Soon we are all seated at the back of the Granda-bound luxury bus. We are the first to board, armed with a variety of snacks we got from the snack shop. Everyone is seated with someone, except me. I am at the window seat. I like the window seat. I feel confined in tight spaces; but when I look outside the window, I feel that I am free. And I have been in confided spaces for a long time – at home, at work, at school. But now I am, finally free, in Spain.
“Wake up” I feel a tap on my arm
“We are here” Simon’s French accent beckons me from my dreamless sleep.
A blast of hot air greets me as I alight form the bus. There are many people all around us now, and like us, tourist-looking.
“Let’s go inside and see if we can find a place to stay for the night” Jimmy announces loudly, to be heard above the din. He is our unspoken leader. The inside of the terminal is not like the one in Cádiz. It looks more like an open air market, combined with a gigantic mall. It is a large space with many small rooms, offices and numerous shops. There are several eateries, vendors selling clothes, selling trinkets, selling books on tables, some call out to people to buy their things. The air is almost chilly, and I like it. The smell of roasted meat, freshly made pastries and coffee fills the air. I am hungry. Announcements in rapid Spanish followed by English are heard above the constant hum of voices. I am still at the back of the group, but I am reassured by the back of Jimmy’s head. Soon he has stopped at an information kiosk, and I see that he is speaking with a very energetic person.
“How many are in your party?” I hear him ask Jimmy in English when I catch up to our group at the kiosk, who have now formed a semi-circle around this man.
“We are nine,” he tells him.
“I have the perfect deal for you” he is talking with his hands almost all of the time he speaks.
“I have a house for you, right next to the Alhambra for just three hundred Euros a night,” he continues
“For one night?” is Jimmy’s response
“Very large and very spacious” he is now rubbing his hands briskly and his smile reveals a gold tooth.
“No, that is way too much” Jimmy says without even so much as a sideward glace at any of us. He is right anyway; at that price, we will have no money left over for sightseeing, or eating, or for anything else. They now haggle and I look at Jared’s face, he is very serious, and very handsome. Tammy, who I did not realize had left the group rejoins us with a girl in what appears to be girl in a girl scout’s uniform.
“You’re never going to believe this y’all” she says. Her southern accent comes out every now and then.
“I found a great hostel and it is just perfect,” she continues.
“We each have to pay only twenty Euros a piece for the two days” her voice is excited and she is smiling. The girl in the scout’s uniform is now passing out a blue and white brochure with the words “El Judio” boldly printed.
“So, what is the catch?” I ask, as I pore over the descriptions of this hostel’s great amenities. I am wary of too-good deals. Before long, whether I am skeptical or not, we have all decided to spend the weekend at this Jewish hostel.
After we get directions, we set off to find this place. What am I doing here with these people, and no one in the world who loves me knows where to find me? I wonder. But I have never been this excited before. After slightly over an hour of walking, sweating and taking pictures of graffiti on the walls, we find our home. It is a large house with a great white door. We take a narrow stairwell with cool air up to the second story. We are led into a dark, still cool room with a long narrow row of beds that reminds me of my boarding school. There are seven little beds with white sheets and a while pillow each, all arranged in a single row, with a bedside lamp on a bedside table next to each one.
“There is a king-sized bed in the Master bedroom” the proprietor tells us in Queen’s English.
“I call shotgun!” Jimmy’s formerly stern voice is playful now.
We leave the bedroom and are led into the garden. It has thousands of flowers – daisies, sunflowers, tulips, roses and others that I cannot recognize. The mixture of smells is strange, nearly overpowering. I like it.
It is evening when I open my eyes. Everyone is in the garden when I go downstairs to join them. I have not seen the moon as beautiful as it is now, and I cannot recall seeing so many stars in the sky before. Everything is beautiful. I am the only one in pajamas in our group, and even though it is night, the air is heavy and humid and hot. It is perfect weather for sex, I think, but what do I know about the subject? On the table, surrounded by a row of chairs, are half-full bottles of wine, Jack Daniels, wine coolers and many bottles of beer. There is a pond on the far end of the garden. Along the edges of the pond are light bulbs, ceramic frogs and fishes spitting out never-ending streams of water. Kelly, bless her, is sitting in her large green seat like goldilocks in Papa Bear’s chair.
“Have a drink Elsa,” Jimmy commands abruptly.
“Thank you, I am okay” I answer him, showing him my can of diet Coca-Cola.
“Oh, I almost forgot” he says as he blows out some smoke from his cigarette.
“Come to me” Simon commands Tammy.
“No” she says petulantly. She is the only one apart from our small circle just now. She is sitting on the edge of the pond. I think she likes him. Soon Simon goes to the pond and they are wrapped up in each other.
“We need more liquor,” says Matthew now.
“I agree” answers Joel’s Southern drawl.
“Who’s coming?” someone asks.
“I’ll go,” says LaTosha’s squeaky voice.
“I thought you had dozed off there girl,” Matthew tells her.
“I’ll come too” I say and surprise even me. At home, I am usually in bed by 10pm. It is almost midnight now.
We are out again soon, although our group of nine has shrunk to five. The lovebirds have stayed behind.
The streets of Granada are well lit and all the shops are still open, even the ice-cream parlors. It reminds me of Las Vegas somehow, although without the grime. We walk through the city, in what seems to me only a few minutes, but my watch says it is now a quarter until 2am. We end up at a Makossa-playing West African club. I am dancing with LaTosha and Kelly, who has a drink in her hand. Matthew and Simon are outside somewhere. Our liquor hunt turned into a Ganja-hunt, that is why we are at this club now – someone told us we could find some there. Matthew smokes Ganja.
Thirty minutes after we arrive at the club, and the cravings have been cured, we set out for home, with no liquor. We forgot to buy more.
“Oh look! Shawarma” LaTosha says as we pass a shop.
“What is it?” Kelly asks. She is very drunk now.
“Only the best sandwich ever,” I say half-aloud, remembering the last time I ate Shawarma.
We have bought some Shawarma and we all eat as we walk back to El Judio. Kelly’s sandwich is a great mess and is falling to pieces almost in her bare hands.
“You’re right, this is the best sandwich ever,” she now shouts aloud as she abruptly stops.
“Men, Kelly, you are white-girl wasted” Joel says and laughs. He seems a bit drunk too.
“White-girl wasted…hahaha…teeheehee….”she ends with an almost hysterical laugh at herself perhaps. Soon, she entwines one of her arms around mine.
“Kelly, you are too loud girl, people are sleeping,” I whisper to her, putting my arm across her shoulder as we continue walking.
“Too loud” she whispers and giggles, though her voice echoes through the alley.
“I love you Elsa…you are the best roomie ever” she says suddenly and kisses my cheek.
“I love you too Kelly,” I say after a small pause.
I do indeed love that girl.
Esther lives in San Francisco. She loves to travel and ride her bike on the beach.