As I blow more snot and wipe the hot wet surface of my cheeks I hear Maybelle in the kitchen. She comes from Singapore, she is small, well tanned and somewhere in her mid sixties. She’s lived here four weeks and speaks terrible Spanish.
“Otcho saymanas,” she says in a high pitched Asian accent.
And now the only thing that bursts from my mouth out this wooden window is laughter. I can’t help it.
“Si, ocho semanas,” repeats Encarni, the wild haired Spanish woman with a curvy spine and an opinion on everything. God love her, for speaking so patiently with May, correcting her bad grammar and her horrendous pronunciation.
And God love May, for up and moving to Spain from her only ever home of Singapore, with the sole intention of leaning Spanish.
“If you want to learn it, you really just have to be surrounded by it,” she told me one day, as if my question itself of Why she had traversed Asia and Europe to learn a Latin language was more outlandish than the reason she’d done so.
Carmen de Las Fuentes
c/ Isabel de la Real, 11
We are a crazy mix inhabiting this convent-turned-residential house, restored from the 18th century original building. There’s American me, Sarah the kiwi, a British girl whose accent impedes any chance of her seeming humble, the Canadian Swede called Ky whom I’ve seen thrice and heard speak once and a half; there’s Adrianna and Andrea the young Spanish girls who do everything together and therefore are impossible to distinguish and there's Antony, the English as England white haired English teacher who for some reason insists on speaking to me in Spanish as he pulls pickles and onions from a jar in the kitchen, his store bought sandwich steaming in the microwave.
And then there is Mercedes. Somehow my favorite, yet least liked. She is the house mom, per se, she washes the sheets when residents leave and prepares contracts with newcomers. She’s no more than 5 feet tall, has heavy dark hair to her bum and scolds anyone and everyone for leaving things out of place. Her face is old and her brown eyes are big. Obviously was beautiful once, but now a sour mood and an aura of exhaustion kill any beauty she may have had. Mercedes opens a liter of cheap beer at lunch and finishes it by dinner. I often mimic her deep low voice and matter-of-fact way of speaking to make Sarah laugh. But the truth is that Mercedes infuriates me. I look at her and all I see is a flame burnt out, a blackened flower, an inside turned to stone. What has happened to her? What things has she seen? She came from Ecuador nearly 20 years ago and shows no fondness for her old homeland nor for the new. No food, films, music, or conversation seem to ignite a flicker of emotion. The only time I saw her half smile was when Sarah and I told her we were lesbians and therefore should get the couple discount given to new renters.
Roof Top Procession
Mercedes is the first person I think of when I climb off the terrace and onto the shaky shingled roof. My mind’s eye sees her standing at the window, glaring at me with her cat eyes and asking, in monotone, what the hell I think I am doing on the roof at sunset. Luckily she wasn’t home on Sunday. On Sundays she visits her sister and on Sunday I spent all afternoon on the roof.
I climbed from terrace to roof to watch an unexpected religious procession. I heard its music first, then smelled the incense that always accompanies. Heavy drums. Musty air. I dash to the roof to see from where it comes, to find out where it's headed. Young uniformed men move up the street, carrying a bleeding Jesus on a cross. A marching band proceeds it and neighbors gather behind.
The church next door is called Aurora and from my rooftop view I can see as the wooden doors under the stone arch open and the marching band slowly enters the church’s courtyard while well dressed Spanish families gather, mobiles clicking pictures of the Jesus figure and the young men hoisting his throne, young children tug on their parents’ pants and others ring small bells in their small hands.
The distant snow capped Sierra, glossed in pink sunlight, watches us all. The Alhambra is tinted golden, and small green and red flags wave on its fortress's top. Evening swallows swoop black against the sky, which changes now from blue to gold to orange.
Children in the crowd look up to find a girl, roof perched in house clothes, watching them from up high. The band’s drummers’ sticks drones out behind the sound of the bells, which pierce and clang in the tall white tower. In the tall white tower they turn, around and around. Until they stop.
Again the world is quiet. The birdless sky falls into one shade of blue. Boys remove their sailor style caps, cameras return to their cases, the Jesus throne has been moved inside the building. Uniformed bearers are now de-robed and congregate with their proud parents and restless younger siblings. Sunday sets and the weekend closes. And I’ve won one more day on the rooftop, safe from Mercedes scolding, and once again reconnected with a moment.