Love, in English(3)

By: Karina Halle

Well, my brother Josh believed me, as he always did, and my dad thought it was fine as long as I was careful. It was my sister Mercy and my mother who thought it was another harebrained and totally irresponsible scheme of mine that would never ever happen and I was better off hunkered down in an observation station deep in the BC Rockies, charting the heavens.

In hindsight, I should have made a few bets with them and won some travel money. After all, London wasn’t cheap and if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be heading to Madrid tomorrow and embarking on a program that would take care of all my expenses until July 1st, I’d be shit out of luck in the money department. Working at a coffee shop part-time while I studied only let me save up so much. Fucking hipsters were terrible tippers.

There was a niggling feeling in the back of my head about the next month. I couldn’t tell if it was fear, excitement or nerves. Or all three combined. In some ways, the program “Casa de las Palabras” sounded too good to be true; I would be spending a month in an exclusive resort at the base of a mountain just a few hours outside of Madrid. During that month I would have all my food and lodging and excursion expenses taken care of. The catch? I have to speak English with a bunch of Spaniards. Not teach—just speak. Apparently that’s the beauty of the program. The “students” are usually business men and women who have a basic understanding of the language and just need to brush up on their conversational skills. My job as one of the twenty English-speakers was to be paired with different people throughout the day and just…talk. The only rule was there was no Spanish allowed for the entire time.

Which was fine with me since I didn’t know a word of Spanish. I just hoped that wouldn’t be a problem once I arrived in Madrid.

I watched the boats putter up and down the Thames, lost in my thoughts and dreams and the possibilities that the next month held. I didn’t even know what I wanted or expected. I just wanted the next month to give me something new.

I let out a small laugh. Well, I did just have sex with a Portuguese guy in a dorm room in London. In terms of new, I was already on my way.

“Metro. I need to take the metro. You know, the train, goes underground?” I made a digging motion like I was stuck in an awful game of charades, a game I’d been playing since I stepped out of the Madrid airport.

The man stared at me blankly.

This just in: A lot of Spaniards don’t speak English.

I gave up and waved at him, smiling even though I was frustrated. It wasn’t his fault I was so ill-prepared.

He said something to me, sorry, I think, and with a shrug he turned and left. I brushed my hair off of my sticky forehead and sighed, trying to look like I didn’t need help while taking in my surroundings at the same time.

You see, I thought I’d written down the instructions on how to get to the Las Palabras office on my notepad on my phone but it turns out I wrote down all the songs I wanted to download before the plane ride instead. Now I was totally lost, somewhere in Madrid, with only an address and sweat stains. My god it was fucking hot here. At least I had good music.

I wasn’t normally this shy but I hated asking for directions in general and I’d never been in the situation of being around people and totally unable to communicate with them. There was a whole city bustling around me in the sunshine, heading in and out of the metro, and yet I felt completely invisible.

I sighed and adjusted the heavy backpack on my shoulders before fishing out my phone again. It was time for me to bite the bullet and Google Map the shit out of this place, insanely high data roaming charges be damned.

Turns out the Casa de las Palabras office was on the other side of the city and that meant more sweaty negotiating while I tried to ride various Metro lines, one of which was packed to the doors, with me pressed against the wall and an old man groping my ass. I turned to snarl at him but he merely looked away like he was innocent.

By the time I got to my stop and back out into the blinding sunshine, my first impressions of Madrid were tanking and one glance at the clock tied my stomach in knots. Thank god I could actually spot the blue and white sign of Palabras close by. I hurried across the square, hoping, swearing internally, that I wasn’t too late. Here was another problem with my planning (and my cheapness)—I was supposed to check in with the company and just hop on the bus. I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel room if I didn’t have to. Little did I know the plane leaving Gatwick would be a late, which, when combined with the fact that I didn’t have directions and I didn’t speak Spanish, put a major damper on my plans.

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