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.