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—not Cece, not Sassy) is a senior and co-Editor-in-Chief of Culture Shock. She is a Comparative Literature major and a math minor. Her time is spent speaking in and thinking about Spanglish, reading poetry, running (both with and without a basketball), and doing her best to smash the patriarchy. Tweet knock-knock jokes at her: @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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