Five Minutes

| November 28, 2012 | 7 Comments

Photos are from my daily walks to school.

The woman standing in front of the grocery store chain smokes. She asks people passing for a couple centimos. She never asks me. Why? Today she asks the woman three steps ahead of me, but doesn’t ask me again. I wonder how many cigarettes she smokes daily.

Half a block up, I have to turn right. I make a wide turn because I don’t want to run into the guy with the Burger King cup. He’s there. I wish I could give him money every day. He sits on his knees and turns his smile up to me. He puts the cup down. “Hola,” he says. I return the greeting and he smiles. I always wonder where he goes when it is raining.

Last week I went to drink a coffee to warm up from the rain and read. As I walked in, a man ducked under the eave of the café and asked for my generosity. I turned, closed my umbrella, and entered. Before I left I pocketed a 2 euro coin. I bought a 1 euro sandwich and kept the change tight in my  hand. As I walked out and reached for my umbrella, the man looked at me with kind eyes. “Gracias, guapa, muchisimas gracias.” He thanked me before I handed him the change and the sandwich. Before I even looked at him. How did he know?

There is another woman smoking against a wall, but different from the first. Her shoes declare her status as a successful working woman. I don’t think I could wear heels that severe. I’m impressed. She taps away ash and stares at me. I stare back as long as I can.

After crossing the intersection, the newspaper booth is to my left. I can get the paper for free at school, but I bought a paper from him the day after Obama won the election. I bought a paper from him the day after the biggest strike in Spain. He probably sold a lot of papers that day. I wonder if he can tell I’m not from here.

I need to drop three postcards into the yellow mailbox. An older man with stacks of differently sized envelopes is sorting them before he drops them in. I don’t tell him that his work will be undone once gravity gets them. He holds the slot open for me, gesturing forward with his hand. I smile and say, “gracias.” I drop my words. Someone else will hold them soon.

To my right is the automated parking meter. My first month here, a man asked me to help him because he didn’t know how it worked. I was excited to be asked, like a native Española, so I pretended to know what I was doing. I pushed a big green button and it worked. He thanked me. I thanked the color green for having the connotation I’d always known, even here.

On my left is the school. Construction workers drill away at things I cannot see. Their voices rise above the tools as they joke about somebody I do not know. I wonder if they are happy, or just bored. I walk into the building.

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Category: featured, HTC Abroad

Cecilia Weddell

About the Author ()

Cecilia – or Ceci, but never Sassy – is a managing editor for Culture Shock and a junior majoring in Comparative Literature and minoring in math. She's from El Paso, Texas, which ensures that she occasionally speaks in Spanglish and is always fascinated by precipitation. Ceci likes spoken word poetry, basketball, and bad knock-knock jokes. Follow Ceci on Twitter: @CCWeddell

Comments (7)

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  1. juan marbán says:

    how succesfull feelings could rise when someone beg for help and get it? I like the translation from life.

  2. Jim says:

    It took me a while to figure out why I like this so much. Then it hit me — it’s surreal. Yet real. It feels like a dream, but it’s routine. Perfect. Such is life.

    Question: Does “chain” in the first sentence mean she’s a chain smoker (is it part of the verb?), or is she in front of a store that’s part of a chain of grocery stores?

    • Cecilia Weddell Cecilia Weddell says:

      Hehe, funny question. I meant it to be part of the verb, so I probably should have hyphenated. But the idea of “chain” as an adjective – as in she only smokes in front of chain franchises – is fun to consider too. Although there are not many chains here.

  3. Rhiannon Pabich Rhiannon Pabich says:

    Ceci, you continually amaze me. ” I drop my words. Someone else will hold them soon.” knocked the breath out of me. Please never ever ever stop dropping your words, I love catching them! <3

  4. Sergio says:

    Cinco minutos muy madrileños! Great snapshot of the city, and very enjoyable to read.
    Makes me thing of the man who started begging a few weeks ago by my usual metro stop. He’s on his knees all morning long, which seems unnecessary. I haven’t given him any money, but he always looks at me and says “Hola, ayuda.” I wonder if he is hopeful each day, or just forgets my face.

  5. Hen says:

    So poetic! Making good observations, I see. :)

  6. Ryan Brister Ryan Brister says:

    This is wonderful. I’m a sucker for these sorts of portraits of places and neighborhoods.

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