She saw him leaning on the wall outside of the Apple store. It was 10 pm. She had just walked back to Plaza del Sol, the chill air breathing in on her. As she walked towards him, passing the statue of Madrid, she could see him more clearly. Dressed in a maroon sweater, blue jeans, and a warm scarf, he looks up as he hears the clicks of her shoes.
As they are a foot away, she watches as his mouth curves up into a smile as he greets her.
This was already her third week in Spain. Days were passing in such a hurry that she couldn’t do anything to stop them. Arriving to Madrid from Barcelona in an arduous train ride, Z was somehow still awake. Reaching Atoche station at 9:30 pm, she had decided to take the metro to her hostel, not knowing that there would be no escalators or elevators to help her bring her huge suitcase to the street of Gran Vie. She managed after several tries to only see the bright lights shining in on her from the mid height Renaissance buildings surrounding her.
It was not until the next day that she realizes that she had come to a city that she could be lost in. Completely unknown to her, and without a companion to guide her, she had to unveil this history herself.
Just before coming to Madrid, L had made a list of places that Z could see. Being a local, he knew all the must see’s, especially where the architecture mattered. She had gotten her first two days planned. Going along with the schedule, she went to the Prado, the Botanical garden, and the Caixa Forum on the first day. Although on the second day, she wandered off. Ending up in an alley with barely any light, except of a small bookstore, she enters in. Pushing the door, she hears a creek of the hinge. There were two women talking in English. This was new. Looking around, she finds a brown wrapper circling each of the books that were displayed. Picking up a Spanish phrase book, the brown wrapper on it read, “Now you can Tinder in Spanish!”. Z smiled to this statement. This was too relatable to not be appreciated.
At the checkout counter, as she is paying, Z comments that this was the first English language bookstore that she had encountered so far in Madrid. This starts a conversation that leads to her being invited to a Chinese chess and whiskey night the following day. This was the first real connection that she had in the city so far. Leaving with a Spanish phrase book and an invite, Z was happy. She was feeling the city take over and all she could do was keep living.
Sunday morning, L was waiting for her at the Plaza del Sol. For some reason, everyone she had encountered so far, wanted to meet up there. When Z found out the story behind it, it made sense why it was special to the people living there. The plaza was at the center of the city, and the city had grown outward from there throughout history. Also, it was radially connected to the Spanish roads, starting from 0.
He was standing by the statue of Madrid. As he sees her, he walks towards her and kisses her on both cheeks. This tradition was still unfamiliar to her.
Wanting coffee, Z askes if they can get breakfast somewhere and so they start walking towards what would be a day filled with endless talks about life, politics, culture, and history of the city. By the end of it, sitting in a café that was originally part of a slaughterhouse, they were still talking about differences in the social and political culture of Spain and United States. But Z felt like there was something unsaid in their talks about the world.
That night, after being dropped off at the Metro station, Z left to meet M. Walking back to Plaza del Sol, he was leaning on the wall by the Apple store. Waiting for her to reach him, he suggests a Jazz bar as soon as they finish up with the pleasantries.
For some reason, all the fear and nervousness that she had kept inside her before, she had let go. She was not afraid of meeting new people, which was only aiding her to experience the culture of the city and to blend in within it.
While walking, they talk about their backgrounds. Getting to know each other for the first time, the conversation starts slow. But once inside the bar, their nerves ease up and they are able to talk freely even with M having to Google translate a few words from Spanish to English.
The whole situation felt normal.
They end up going to his apartment to continue their conversation, and that is where Z realizes the kindness and warmth that was filled within M. It was unfathomable. She had never been on the receiving end of it until now, and it made her feel valued.
Not wanting to let go of the city just yet, Z texts M on her last day there. They meet up at another bar close to her hostel.
For some reason, this moment felt completely natural. It seemed like she had known him for a much longer time and the ease of the conversation was what she would miss the most.
What followed was a simple gesture, that would be unimaginable in Manhattan. He offered to help her bring her suitcase to his apartment, so she could leave from there directly in the morning. Not wanting to burden him, Z asked him a thousand times if that was ok with him and his roommates. Not wanting to hear more of it, they get her giant suitcase back to his apartment while he made fun of her Spanish phrase book.
Waking up at 7:30 in the morning, Z felt like she was in an unreal situation. Dreading to leave, she sat on the bed for a few extra minutes before getting up.
As he dropped her at an intersection towards Avenue of the Americas, all Z could think of was the city and how M had made it a little more special for her.
In years to come, she will cherish these moments of letting go. Letting go of her fears and conquering them one step at a time.