A junior at Wellesley College, jet-lagged in an airport in Madrid, but not too jet-lagged to touch up her black kohl eyeliner against a dirty ladies’ washroom mirror. She adjusted her round bosom, made sure it was sufficiently exposed in a tight black tank top, untied long hair, excited to explore the country of her ancestry for the next year. She was greeted by a group of strangers — curious young men and women — gathered around a tour bus, forcing their Spanish in simple, introductory sentences. She could care less: she was immediately struck by his broad shoulders, strong arms, tanned scruffy face, hazel eyes filled with pain, messy short hair, orange t-shirt reeking of alcohol and sweat, untied dirty sneakers, baggy frayed jeans dragging on the ground.
A blur of history, art and monuments washed down with Sangria. Dry landscapes of endless olive trees… tall green mountains and rain forest… Madrid, Avila, Salamanca, Segovia, Toledo, Santander… A pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela… Catholicism, with sights and sounds and tastes of Judaism and Islam. Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Her nights became longer, her heels taller, her skirts shorter, her jeans tighter, her hair wavier, her red lipstick brighter. And she couldn’t control her glances, no matter how hard she’d try. A drunken elevator ride at 4 am, it took impressive self-control to summon her floor, not His.
Though she spoke the language better than he did, he understood Spain better. He introduced her to Garcia Lorca, Buñuel, Dalí, Almodóvar while giving her rough back massages on a stranger’s bed. He showed her his sketches; horrific images produced by a tortured, beautiful mind. She’d long for him when he’d oversleep, poisoned by cigarettes and alcohol and who knows what else.
The hot tingle of his stare compelled her to grab his rough hand one day on a bus to somewhere. No idea where, but they held each others’ hands, eyes closed in silence until they got to their unmemorable destination.