Today is a lovely day,
Where the sprightly green of e.e. cummings
With drops of gold and red
From God’s paintbrush.
The thick summer air
Turns crisp with apples,
Wind, and insects.
And the sun--oh, the sun!--
Is an entire orchestra as it sets
And beckons brilliant constellations.
It was a special night, not because of what happened but because it was. After a day of suffering inside a hot house like the rest of the town’s population, Friend #1 invited me for an afternoon coffee. When the 8:00 bus didn’t come, I started walking.
Meanwhile, Friend #2 spotted me along the boulevard and made her husband stop the car so she could dash across the crosswalk for an overdue chat.
Friend #1 opted to meet me in the park, laden with bghrir and harcha just because they’re my favorites. While we waited for other friends to join us, she complained that she had too many friends. Indeed, it took a good part of the evening just to meet up with everyone.
They talked. I mostly let the conversation swirl around me as I enjoyed the night coolness.
Then Friend #1 quietly told Friend #3 something about me. I tuned in at the sound of my name. “What did I do?”
She laughed. “I should give you another name, so you won’t know when we’re talking about you!”
“Shame on you. Don’t say that!” said Friend #3.
“I can say that to her because we’re friends.”
Although it was after 11, I stopped by the North African grocer on my way home. The clerk barely looked up from the phone teetered against the licorice containers on the high counter.
“It’s Barcelona,” he explained when I finally caught his eye. “Are you بارصاوية?” (Barsawia, or a way to ask “Are you a Barcelona soccer fan?”)
“No. Not at all. I am me.” But I smiled as I set my avocado and hot pepper on his produce scale. At the next break, he grabbed the cilantro from the fridge and gave me my total bill. But he forgot to give me the change.
As I finished the walk home in the dark, I heard someone’s shade rattle. Up or down I couldn’t tell. Mine always goes up at night to usher the fresh air inside. The neighbor’s cats crouched to flee before me, but didn’t. Their alert tails pressed the tile sidewalk.
These are the nights I’ll miss. Last summer was full of them. But this summer–tomorrow–I’m leaving for the States. My summer will be a different kind of full, but I know there will be special days–the kind that are not special because of what happened but special because they happened.
“My family wants to meet you. And my husband’s family too.”
My friend had told me this long before we left on our trip. “I’m not from Bollywood. I’m just your friend.”
“I know, I know.”
Despite her “knowing,” the family treated my roommate and me like queens. But as the week wore on, their attentiveness to our every perceived need wore off. We were grateful.
We could actually scrub our own clothes, help mop the floors, and vacuum the salon rug. They let us cut up vegetables for couscous. And I made a hot kettle of Indian chai just because my friend likes it.
My friend wasn’t about to let my crazy side go unnoticed. She had known me too long. That’s why at breakfast one morning, she said, “Trish, do your camel noise!”
I wasn’t about to MRRRRAAAW in front of an assembly of people I barely knew. (And I couldn’t remember why I ever had reason to MRRRRAAAW in front of my friend in the first place.) I talked my way out of it.
We visited various nearby cities, glutting ourselves on grilled seafood (including caviar, which was a thoughtful touch if not a tasty one), taking a boat ride, eating too-sweet ice cream in the welcome shade of an ice cream truck, and haggling prices while shopping. We spent an entire evening in my favorite city, staring at the ocean and smelling the fresh sea creatures in the fishing port. My roommate and I nudged each other as we passed a table full of snake-like eels, a sting ray, and a shark.
Another evening, we picnicked on the beach and came home to play games and chat until we had laughed ourselves to tears.
I wanted to hold on to some of those moments. I tried to savor them while they lasted, but when I look back, their ghostly flavor still lingers in my mind, proof that I never finished tasting them.
During that final supper under the grape arbor, they made me balance on a stool on top of the table to cut down a cluster of ripe grapes.
They scolded us for quoting the proverb that guests and fish stink after 3 days. “But,” a brother said kindly. “After 3 days, you’re not guests anymore; you’re family.”
I was bustling down the quiet morning street toward the bus stop when it hit me. Today was Saturday. And I had looked at the weekday bus schedule. The Dalías bus had gone ½ hour ago.
At 10:30, the day was already looking bleak.
My roommate joined me and we hopped on the next bus. We would make the most of the extra hour and a half by exploring a town that was halfway in between Immigrantville and Dalías. The next bus came close to 13:00. I browsed my map and we found a green spot labeled “Parque forestal.”
“Ooo. Let’s go there!”
So we set off like disgruntled tramps in our hiking clothes. The sun was intense. The map was deceptive. There was a park all right: a dry field of puny trees, dead grass, and greenhouses. There wasn’t even any shade. Of course.
It was 11:30 and the day was only getting bleaker. But at this point, we began to chuckle. And we chuckled our way into El Corte Inglés, past the prim and proper salespeople, to the café on the tippity top floor.
(This was after we did a diligent search and ended up at the downward bound escalator. “Of course,” Roomie said. But we chuckled.)
We feigned confidence as we took our seats in the classy café. The server poured my Aquarius into a goblet as I subtly tried to air out the sweat stain on the back of my grungy T-shirt.
We made it to our bus on time and carefully selected our seat. Then we looked up. “Of course,” said Roomie. And we chuckled. We had carefully selected the seat with a missing “stop” button.
But finally, we were on our way to Dalías!
We didn’t have much experience with taking the bus there and arrived long before we thought we should. Roomie noticed that businesses were starting to mention the town name. I checked my trusty map and lunged forward to push the “stop” button on the seat ahead of us.
We strolled around Dalías, trying to not look too out of place. But as we wandered down a skinny street with a hand’s breadth of sidewalk, I leaned into a window grate to accommodate a passing car. It was probably the only jagged window grate in the entire town.
Rip. And my sleeve was left with a gaping hole. After the initial surprise, we chuckled. “Of course.”
We found the hiking trail on my trusty map and our casual wandering soon turned into panting and rolling sweat. Uphill we went, winding through greenhouses and barking dogs and the thick scent of livestock. (Who goes hiking in Spanish July anyway?)
Although it was hot, the scenery was beautiful. And somewhere beyond all of that, there was a restaurant. At least we hoped so. Partway through the hike, as we stared at a dead end, Roomie asked, “How old were the reviews for this restaurant?” She was picturing one of the crumbling buildings along the side of the trail to be the former “Restaurante el Arroyo.”
Despite our pessimism, we made it. Even without dying of sunstroke, being devoured by rabid dogs, or falling down a ravine. We sat across the table from each other, laughing at each others’ red faces.
“Water please. Cold!”
“You know, there’s air conditioning up there.” The server pointed to an upper room. We dashed upstairs without a second thought as he went to retrieve cold water for the red-faced Americans.
After lunch, I parked myself under the perfect tree beside a cool spring of water and pulled out my Kindle. This was the “of course” that I had planned the day around. The other “of course”s were just there to make this one sweeter.
One of these days summer will come. I’m not talking about the heat; I’m talking about the time. Summer is the season I have been holding out for in the crazy March, April, May, saying, “During summer, I will finally get to this or that.” I had a list of goals: learn how to sew better, develop materials for an English curriculum, refresh my Arabic, houseclean, and other noble goals like that.
It’s July, but I’m still waiting, thinking that summer and its abundance of time must begin soon.
In the meantime, life is full. Full of time with friends. Visits. Meeting new babies, both here and via WhatsApp. Appointments. Meetings. And even a chance to be a witness for my friend’s paperwork-only wedding at the mosque.
Maybe I need to redefine “summer.” Instead of labeling it as “extra time,” I should just label it as “life.” “Life” is a more realistic expectation anyway.
Life and smelly summer laundry.
The sun’s fury didn’t really matter from the front row of the bus. I plugged in ear buds and listened to Los Miserables. (No, that’s not a spelling error; I really am attempting to listen to Hugo in Spanish.)
But I kept drifting into that almost dream state where thoughts don’t make sense and I happily embrace the sleep I know is coming. But then a truck and trailer tried to pull into our lane. The bus driver honked, swerved, and muttered something under his breath. That was the end of my nap.
But it didn’t matter, because tired or no, I was on my way to Sevilla.
As the Andalusian landscape whizzed by, I enjoyed the rolling olives groves, the plains of ripened wheat, the fields of yellow sunflowers, and the occasional glimpse of stubborn snow on mountain peaks.
My first impression of Sevilla? The realization that there are two bus stations and I was at one and my friend at the other.
Finally reunited, we dropped the luggage in the car and strolled through the Plaza de España, despite the scorching afternoon sun.
The next morning, we visited Las Setas de la Encarnación (The Mushrooms of the Incarnation… whose name sounds infinitely nobler in Spanish), a giant structure that provides a lookout of the city. Honestly, the modern bulk seemed a little out of place in the old city; yet, there was something intriguing about climbing a mushroom. And the view was fantastic.
Strolling toward the cathedral, we happily made pit stops to enjoy the lovely city streets and even watch a bit of street flamenco.
At the Cathedral of Sevilla, not only did we behold the grandeur of the outside walls, but were able to walk around inside and observe the ongoing mass.
We stopped for coffee in the Jewish quarter before taking a picnic lunch to the beautiful María Luisa Park. Regretfully (in retrospect), we barely made it beyond the first row of luscious trees. We were tired and hungry.
We strolled home along the Guadalquivir and topped off the evening by attempting a picnic in the Jardín Americano, a park from the 1992 Expo. Not a good idea. If ever a park could give vibes… We backtracked when the only people slinking around looked like they were not the picnicking sort.
Instead, we sat on concrete boulders along the river’s lip and dipped our toes in the water. We talked until long after the sun had gone down.
The next day was a picnic in the Alamillo Park (see a “picnic in the park” theme?) and time to soak in more of Sevilla’s scenery.
We also met up with friends to experience real flamenco. Photos weren’t allowed, but they wouldn’t have captured the experience anyway. Not the guitarist nor the vocalist. Photos wouldn’t capture the way the dancer’s eyes glittered concentration beneath the changing lights. Or how his face gleamed with the sweat of maintaining perfect control of his feet in time to the music, even while at times keeping his upper body motionless. The whirring fans did little to cool the room packed with eager spectators. Our tippy wooden bench always seemed to fit one more and why not?
On our final morning, we awoke to banging and drilling in the apartment below. We packed up and did a bit more strolling of the streets. Our last adventure was the unexpected and charming Parcería Cafe.
I thought I was ready to head back to Immigrantville, but as the bus pulled out of the station, I admit that there were tears stinging the backs of my eyes.
It is starting to smell like summer outside. At street level, it’s sun-baked tile and rotting garbage. The air feels closer somehow and every scent is intensified. Even the nothing smells stronger.
Cars roar by with music pulsating through open windows. I even get a “howareyou?” from a car that stops as I cross the street.
Fireworks pop off and on all day long. I have long since stopped trying to see them. A sea breeze billows the curtain in the window. It feels almost fresh and cool when it’s not carrying the sun. In the distance, is the sleepy, tranquil sea.
Along with the first signs of summer comes Ramadan. It’s now week two. Ready or not, it’s here to stay. And I’m answering a lot of “Do you fast?” questions and trying not to eat or drink while I’m with friends. But I sampled an olive at the market the other day and didn’t remember until I was tossing away the pit that I was right beside the North African produce stand. (However, those were some of the best olives I have found yet and I don’t regret that I walked away with a container of them swimming in their brine.)
I am trying to convince myself that it’s too early to pull out the window fan. My summer wardrobe is already hanging in my closet. If I get out the fans, there will be no cooling technique to pull out of my pocket when the real heat comes. It’s only May, after all.
It is evening as I descend from the bus stop to the beach. Red-faced, dripping families are ascending after their rigorous seaside adventure. Is it too much to hope for a quiet evening, alone with God and the waves?
I get closer until I can smell the salty water. Brightly colored towels hang from the balconies of a beachfront hotel.
Despite those who have left, there are people everywhere. I am not the only one who thought of enjoying the post-sunshine beach. Laughter punctuates the dull roar of voices.
I slip off my shoes and enter the chaos. The thick sand is rough against my bare feet. Each step half-buries my foot. I find the quietest spot available, spread out my towel, and shake my head at an African vendor who is trying to make a sale.
The waves froth over the rocks. A jet-ski roars past, spinning to dance in its own wake. A boat skims along, a child in an inner tube bouncing and shrieking behind. Another boat passes, this one with less drama.
The sun disappears and the air is almost cool. But the sand still sticks to my sweaty arm as I reach down to adjust my towel.
I soak in the moment. Just as it is.
The night thickens and so does the salty scent of the waves. And finally, I pick up my things and start the uphill plod. I can’t hear the waves anymore. A bustling restaurant is playing Caribbean music while customers sit in wicker chairs shaped like hard-boiled eggs.
That fades too. And it’s just me and a few other panting stragglers going uphill toward home.
The night was a failure. Even after a day of prayer and fasting.
No one noticed that my heart was beating in time with the Father’s. No one noticed that my soul was alive and refreshed.
People were out breathing in the cool night after the long, scorching day. Last week on my nightly strolls, I had met several women. Under the cover of dusk, we had sat on park benches and talked while children played around us.
But tonight there was nothing invigorating.
A stop at the local store made me wonder where the line between friendly and amorous should be drawn. And why was I always the one to draw the line?
And then there was that woman again. The shriveled Gypsy for whom I had once bought bread and eggs and now every time she saw me she snagged me with a long, anguished tale and a request for a couple of euros. How could I communicate love? Bread, eggs, and euros were not going to alleviate her poverty of soul. Her granddaughters averted their blushing faces.
And that was all. No one else seemed open to conversation. Alone and discouraged, I finished my route and turned toward home.
That’s when truth started to sink it, settling between the churning waves of injured pride and self-pity.
God doesn’t owe me results. He doesn’t owe me deep, blossoming friendships and engaging conversations. If I cultivate a certain level of spiritual maturity, He doesn’t owe me the world on a silver platter.
My service is not qualified by my carnally-defined successes but by my faithfulness. Am I loving (and consequently serving) God with all of my heart? My soul? My strength? My mind?
Years and years ago, my Sunday school teacher gave me a quote that I have kept tucked inside of my Bible ever since. “There is no more powerful force for rebuking all evil things, whether of conduct or of opinion, than that of the quiet, strong, persistent life of a man or woman who goes on from day to day doing the duties of the day well, cheerfully, and with joy.”
As I walked those final blocks home, my sense of entitlement slipped away. “What if?” I wondered. “What if in my day to day journey, I start counting each blossoming friendship and engaging conversation as a blessing rather than my entitlement? What if I named each interaction as a gift rather than my payment for growing in Christ?”
The neighbor man waved and smiled. “Good evening.”
I waved back. “Good evening.” And it was.