I forced the surprise away from my face and grinned. “You found me!” I continued to save my number to Bryan’s phone as Julian informed me of what edibles he’d found while wandering the Mercado de San Miguel. I looked up at Bryan whom was the first Spaniard of color I’d ever met outside of my family. “Gracias a ti, Bryan.” I thanked him for the oysters and for the disco invitation. “Julian, it looks like we have a place to dance later!” I really didnt want to invite him , but also I didnt want him to feel left out. The look on his face seemed half amused. And in that moment, I wondered how often he actually hung out with those three decades his junior.
I led him to a nearby counter where the tapas featured mounds of spiralized fish atop toasted bread. “Fish noodles?”
“Yea… it was messy to eat, but tastey.”
“I’ll take your word for it. So you like to dance?”
“I dooooo! I’m so excited for later!” My hips swiveled to the distant sound of horns. An artist was rapping rhythmically and could have easily passed for Daddy Yankee. I sent my hands waving in circles near my waist and noticed my glass was becoming empty once again. “Another round?” Sure, any excuse to shamelessly visit with Enrique again and of course claim my 4th glass of his velvety port. The handsome bartender watched the pair of us and seem to find it amusing that the Aussie was now paying for my drinks and tapas. None of it mattered to me. My confidence was lifted by the height of my hair, the glow of my skin, the quirk of my charm and surely, the sway in my hips as I sipped from my full goblet. I swished from left to right toward the familiar column from earlier. Julian followed.
His Spanish was far worse than mine so I assumed he was just as happy as I to find an English speaker. It wasnt long before we began talking about home, our families and our passions. I mentioned that I was a writer and had an interest to begin focusing on social issues throughout the African diaspora. “What kind of issues?”
“Where does one even begin? Police brutality, neo-slavery via mass incarceration, lack of representation in the media, unequal pay, unequal education…. I mean, thats just to scratch the surface because there’s a whole other broader topic when it comes to colorism.”
“Americans are so obsessed with race. Its all you guys talk and care about. No one else thinks like that.”
The night seem to come to a crashing haunt. It wasnt our first time disagreeing, but it was my first time feeling that he lived on another planet. Here stood a man, as kind as he was charming, completely unaware of his own privilege and ignorance.
After a few moments of awkward sips and attempts to avoid eye contact, he told me I reminded him of this woman he’d been madly in love with, many years ago, while working out of Japan. “Big hair, wild woman,” he began. There was definitely an internal eye-roll if this woman was an example of some black girl fetish. My guard was all the way up at this point. “She was fierce! We traveled the world together. A whirlwind, truly! She had my heart and she knew it too. I’ve had many lovers all over, but none like her. There even came a point where I didnt want to return home to Sydney. My son ended up finding out about her and threatened to expose my affair to my wife…”
“WIIIFE??!” Wait, I didnt say that in my head, did I?? The remaining haze of being wrapped up in conversation with my new friend dissipated within the span of a single syllable word, revealing the liveliness bustling around us. I didnt realize how thick the crowd had gotten and how uncomfortably close together we were now standing. There was no chemistry between us so it wasnt that I was jealous, it was that it triggered the memories of infidelity of my very recent past. Julian’s story was about a fiery international flame when it was really just years of lying and cheating on his family in another part of the world. I wanted to run away! I despised loyalty of any kind.
“Yes. My wife and I have been dating other people for years but it wasnt until Faye was discovered that I found out she was shagging my best mate in Sydney.”
“OH MY GOD!” Nope, still talking out loud, Anaïs.
“Yea, it was mad. Faye ended it with me as we were no longer a secret. Sort of took the mystic away.” He paused and I began to see him no longer as privileged stranger, but a wealthy man without love in his life and no understanding of how to obtain it. “I loved her more than she did me.”
I felt sick. “So where is she now?” I asked innocently.
“As far as I’m concerned, standing right in front of me.” I paused to read the situation and went in for the nervous laugh. “How lucky am I to be spending the weekend here in your company and enjoying my stay in the nicest hotel in Madrid. I chose it specifically for its white marble balconies.” As I straightened up from my chuckle to face him, he was closer to me than ever. We clinked our glasses and in that moment, I’d realized not soon enough, that Julian did not want to go dancing tonight. “Ok, but whom are you in love with now? Faye may have been your big love, but surely you have found love again.” As I tried to keep the conversation focused on him, I desperately began to move towards the pastry bar. I needed bread, pronto!
“…..Then, once we talked about it, it was fine….. Uh, how much for the lot? …..Thanks. We ended up vacationing in the countryside of Italy that summer, on this incredible vineyard! Have you been to Italy?”
“No, not yet.” Setting my port to the counter, I stuffed the almond croissants in my mouth and smiled in feigned amusement of his story.
“Ohhh you have to! The house was just enormous and it was only the four of us mates. It was one of the best orgies I’ve ever had!” My heart nearly stopped instantaneously, but I held it together and kept chewing. I would not, COULD NOT be another raunchy story on this Australian man’s lips! I gestured toward the opposing end of the building with my glass and kept moving. “I mean, it really did wonders for my wife and I, but it still fizzled between us again shortly after. Obviously, its really about the kids at this point.”
We wound up back where I had begun my night, where the sweet old Italian man had advised me to mingle and make tapas. I leaned my elbows on the wooden bartop. “Well, I think thats it for me. I’m not a drinker so I’ve definitely outdone myself tonight!”
“No, no, no. I’m calling uber.” Three hours in the Mercado and then just like that I vanished onto cobblestone streets, my uber carrying me off to freedom. I chuckled to myself in the backseat as I enjoyed the now familiar sights of the city under the glow of the moon. Every building was expertly lit by spotlights, bringing further attention to the detailed architecture. I barely remembered entering the old elevator in my building, then most likely, fumbling with the foreign keys, tip toeing through the Spaniard flat, disrobing and finally crawling into bed. What I do recall and was so grateful for was the sun pouring into the room I paid for with Molé, the host’s cat purring to wake me. I reached for my cell phone to see the disappointed texts from Bryan and his friends. Darn, I did want to go dancing. Molé’s warm soft fur brushed passed my fingers just before he hopped onto my stomach. Seeing my eyes finally opened and paying him some attention, he flaunted his toosh in my direction to show off his most prized possession. “Ugh, Molé!” I pushed his little heiny playfully away from my view. “Men!”