I opened the door, perhaps rather impatiently. He, or rather they, were waiting expectantly. They weren’t American. (Duh, it was Spain, amirite?) Suddenly, I felt rather apprehensive, remembering that perhaps I should start off with Spanish instead of English. The question “And what do you want?” may have escaped my lips. To this day, I have to resist the urge to smack myself on the forehead when I remember the remark. I wanted to say sorry, but I figured it would just be better if I kept my mouth shut altogether. So I did.
Luckily, the two seemed to take no offense. The slightly taller, bolder one introduced himself and his companion.
“Hi, I’m Mario and this is Chema,” he said in Spanish. He said some other things, which I didn’t quite catch and asked for a friend of his from last year. I clumsily replied in Spanish, but he understood. It just so happened that that very night there were plans to celebrate a birthday in a nearby Italian restaurant, the kind with lots of hard-to-pronounce wines, breadsticks, and a dozen types of pizza, all delicious. The girl he knew from last year invited him and his friend along. We met up at 9…this is Spain, after all.
That night, I was caught between two separate conversations, almost two separate worlds, one carried out in halting Spanish and the other entirely in English. I found myself jumping in and out of the conversation. The one thing I do remember telling Mario is that his course of studies seemed insane, and that no normal person would willingly undertake it. He laughed, and it was the first time I heard the sound I would come to love above all others.
A basketball game was arranged for 5 PM the next day at Salas Bajas, a recreational park down by the Tormes River. In late fall afternoons, it is filled with raucous university students playing soccer, hardcore runners in top-of-the-line gear, and the sound of basketballs hitting the pavement. The game was like being back in middle school: we chose teams. Somehow I ended up with Chema, a scrawny but powerful player who ran up and down the court with lightning speed. Mario and he were, quite clearly, better than all the rest of us. Some of us could barely dribble. Amid shouts of “Tira” and “Pasa” we played for over an hour.
Afterwards, sweaty and exhausted, we decided to go get kebabs. (If you don’t know what these are, I’m sorry.) Mario passed, saying he desperately needed a shower, but that he’d like to hang out later. I whipped out another boy’s phone, having failed to bring mine, and dutifully noted down his number. At the time, I didn’t realize how overtly flirtatious the action might have seemed.
To be continued…