Thursday 15 December 2016
As luck would have it, we arrive 10 minutes earlier than the time we arranged to meet up with Sofia and Erik. Elsa spots me and smiles. I smile back. As we wait, we sit down on one of the benches in the Plaza de los Sitios. Knowing her preference for being different, I follow her example and sit on the back of the bench with my feet on the seat.
It’s cold. We’re protected from the worst of it by our coats, but she’s still constantly re-wrapping her scarf around her neck.
I stop watching her and turn my attention to stare down Joaquín Costa Street in the distance to see if they’re coming. I can sense Elsa looking at me.
I can’t help thinking about the conversation I had with my mother the day before.
It was seven in the evening. In the middle of the department store, she told me:
I was so surprised that I stared at her with my eyes wide open – so much so that she too looked startled.
We’d been in the Children’s Clothes department for around a quarter of an hour while she looked for a pair of trousers for me. It was the worst time of the year to buy anything that was necessary. We found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of people who were there simply because it was close to Christmas. If only they knew how much I wanted to get away from all the stereotypes and customs! Anyway, even though I wanted to escape, it had become impossible when my mother had told me earlier that evening that I had nothing to wear for the following day.
She had told me 30 seconds after showing me the bleach stains on the jeans that I had been wearing that day in class. She wasn’t interested in my detailed explanation about how the bottle of sodium hypochlorite had fallen accidentally in the Chemistry lab. She simply looked at me and told me that I didn’t have any more trousers.
“Why are you thanking me?” I asked, looking at her.
For a second, there was a flush of excitement or even, joy on her face when she spoke. Since the death of my father, she had sunk into a state of loneliness and sadness, which made my brother and me try to animate her. So I had to prolong the moment for as long as possible.
“For coming with me.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied as I continued watching her happy expression.
“Look around you.”
And so I did. The store was packed with people, as it always was at that time of year. By the look on my face, she must have realised that I didn’t understand what she was talking about.
“Thank you for letting me accompany you,” she said. “While you were looking for trousers, I noticed that no other young man had come with his mother. Almost all of them were with a friend or in a group.”
I hadn’t even noticed. But as I studied the scene more closely, I realised that she was right. I remembered that it was almost a year since I had not wanted her along. It was true. But for some reason I couldn’t remember, I had asked her please to come with me. I must have told her that I needed her opinion as a woman. Why did I tell her that? I still had no idea. The problem was that I didn’t know what to say after that.
My mother looked at me closely for a moment. I enjoyed this look of happiness radiating from her.
“Are you OK?” she asked suddenly. “Are you feeling alright?”
I nodded as I looked at a navy blue pair of trousers in my size.
“Is it about what happened to your teacher?” my mother continued.
I had talked about it with her and my brother the night before at dinner. I think I had included the detail about the blood. I must have been too descriptive because my little brother told me the following morning that he was too afraid to sleep.
“No,” I answered.
I could sense her eyes pinned on me. I turned and looked at her.
“Is it because of a girl?”
What was she doing now? I thought. A mother wasn’t supposed to be asking her 16-year old son that. That’s private. What’s more, she wasn’t supposed to know about it. I hadn’t given her the slightest reason to suspect it. That was my business and mine alone.
But as I hadn’t answered her immediately, she carried on:
“Don’t worry. It’s normal. What is important is that you tell her as soon as possible so that you can get to know each other better…”
She fell silent for a moment. I took advantage of her silence to move to another display area and began to look at some jeans, hoping that the moment would pass. I hated that she was interfering in my personal life, but I loved her a lot and with everything she had been through, I felt incapable of doing anything that would make her suffer (or so I thought). She moved closer to where I was standing and continued:
“Furthermore, that black girl is very pretty and she seems a very good person.”
I could not stand it any longer and I jumped.
“MAMA! The black girl that you are talking about,” I continued to raise my voice, “has a name. Her name is Elsa and I share a desk with her in class. As you say, she is very nice and a good friend. And nothing more! DON’T INTERFERE IN MY PERSONAL LIFE AGAIN!”
I knew at once that I would never regret anything so much as I did my action, then.
The little spark of happiness that I had detected minutes before vanished. She turned pale. She looked straight ahead. She did not want to know how many people on the floor in the department shop at the moment had heard a 16-year old boy shout at his mother. She simply looked at me, and with one of the saddest looks that I had ever seen on my mother, except for the day they told her that her husband had died in a car accident, she told me:
“Sorry. I will not do it again.”
That night, over dinner, even with my brother present, I couldn’t stop apologising. Even though she repeated that it did not matter and that all was forgotten many times, I have never seen that spark again. It would be a burden that I would have to carry a long time.
I don’t know what made me feel worse: what she thought about my taste in girls or that I had a relationship with a girl who wasn’t my type.
And here I am, sitting with her on the bench. I have to admit that she’s a great person and a real looker. She’s the kind of girl who I would recommend to my best friend to go out with. But my heart has been captured many months ago, at a point of no return, far from Elsa.
“Look, here they come!”
Elsa’s words bring me back to the present. Following her finger, pointing in the direction of the Church of Santa Engracia, I see Sofia and Erik approaching in the distance.
Erik has his arm draped around Sofia’s shoulders.
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Writer: Glen Lapson © 2016
English translator: Rose Cartledge
Publisher: Fundacion ECUUP
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