My Friends My Age, Kids Really Chapter 14

 

          Finally, word came that my luggage had arrived and I went to collect it at the main rail station. In a huge building I walked through giant rooms full of piles of luggage and my hopes collapsed thinking it could not be possible for my things to be found here. My guitar, a Martin D-28, had been shipped in a soft case – no protection. We walked through the endless long aisles with luggage on both sides and over to a pile that was distinctly mine. It was all there and in good shape. The guitar was unblemished which I now consider a miracle.  

          My guitar gave me something to work with other than just hanging out. I began to make a few friends of my own and to talk with a little Spanish girl on the other side of the counter in the “El Principe”. She was around my age, just a little younger. Her name was Emilia Cruz. She worked the afternoon/evening shift with Pedro who was also our age. The three of us started talking and enjoying each other.

          I would say to her,

           “Hola guapa,” which means “Hi good looking,” and she would say,

           “Hola guapo!” She had spirit and was very bright but poor and involved in supporting the family. Her father had died in the Civil War and every Sunday she and her mother visited the grave. Felipe, an older waiter at the café, lived in the same apartment complex as Emilia on the outskirts of Madrid. He kept an eye on her and brought her home at night.

          Our friend Pedro was a good young guy full of energy and humor. The three of us recognized our common youth and stage of life even though our lives were very different. There were vast cultural differences, which I should have appreciated because of my experiences in Mexico two years earlier.

          Emilia was not free to just “go out” with me or “date” me. Even for her to move in that direction required major decisions and risks. I understand that now, but I don’t think I gave it much thought at the time. My interest was in re-enacting “Romeo and Juliet” in real life and adding a happy ending. These are difficult intentions to criticize. Yet someone so cavalier, playing with the human heart and refusing to weigh the consequences, is dangerous, even cruel. I focused on her and little by little the tide began to turn.

          She couldn’t see me on her own. We would meet in the El Retiro Park on Sunday morning before she had to go with her mother to her father’s grave. Pedro would be there as a chaperone and friend. We genuinely liked each other. El Retiro is in the heart of Madrid. The Prado and many other great institutions are located on the edge of the El Retiro. It is a big, elegant park with lakes and places to sit and picnic. There are cafés and boats to hire on the lakes.

          In the early mornings of that May in 1964, with a chill still in the air but with the promise of a hot day to come, I would fire up my Triumph and cruise over to the lake where we would meet and hire a boat and row around together. Even though I was not perfect in the language, it didn’t seem to matter. Most of what is important is said in other ways, body language, eyes and tone of voice, a million signs that are older than language and more trusted.

          Both Emilia and Pedro were giving me some exposure to their lives and watching how I reacted. One time I met Emilia by herself and she had a baby with her, her cousin’s child. She got on the back of the motorcycle with the baby and we drove across town through heavy traffic to her cousin’s apartment. Before we got there, she got off so that no one would see. It seemed to me she wanted to get a sense of how I was with the baby. At one point she had me hold him. And by getting on that motorcycle with the child she showed her confidence in me and her own courage. She was like a bird, thin and quick. I doubt if she weighed a hundred pounds. She had a beautiful smile and an easy, wonderful-sounding laugh we heard often.

 

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