Sat snuggly at my side in the valley of that small sofa, up against the back wall of a Spanish café, she explained to me why we had no choice but to eat the horse. I pretended to consider her advice, but my look was undoubtedly dumb. Jeanne was up against her mother and sister without assistance, as I sat there uselessly twiddling my thumbs. The game dragged on for over an hour, but no-one seemed to mind. Just a family on vacation, enjoying a game of chess, after a long day of sights.
October 27th, ‘18
4 weeks since leaving.
Out of the crisp morning air, and into the metro inferno. My ticket wouldn’t work. Another quarter mile to the service desk. My back already screamed for mercy, and I hadn’t even made it to the bus stop yet.
A tattooed beaut emerged from behind the glass. Her smile helped ease my stress. I took the metro to the bus. An older woman insisted I have her spot. “Spanish people are so nice” I thought. But then, there was that guy at the airport.
Since booking the flight to Malaga 24 hours earlier, I’d finally felt relief. A day away, in the sun, not staring at that screen. I checked my online itinerary a few times, but it was in Spanish, and I was sick of trying to do things on my phone. I had the departure time. Everything seemed fine.
As the bus arrived, I checked the email again. No ticket to be found, I figured I’d just go to the kiosk to check in. It didn’t exist. “Ryanair tickets” the desk at the back read…
* I looked up from my journal in that café called Noviembre, and admired her, again. *
Distracted by the gorgeous girl in front of me. I moved tables (I had my own 4 top) when they walked in. All three smiled. She hasn’t stopped. Her face is cute, but sharp, almost slightly mean, but then again, somehow sweet. Her hair is about shoulder length. It’s brown, with natural, healthy waves. Her skin is flawless, with an authentic tan that seems native to the Mediterranean Sea. Her tattoos are plentiful, yet entirely complimentary. All greyscale, and incredibly neat. Immaculate detail in her face, and on her sleeves. She’s the most beautiful yet. I never want to leave.
*I continued recapping my flight, although cautiously keeping her in sight*
… “Hola” “I just need to check in for my flight” I said. “Okay, that’ll be 60 euro.” He replied. “But haven’t I already been charged?” I inquired. It turns out the check in fee is the same price as the flight. Be aware when flying Ryanair.
Initially I was pissed. No, more hurt than mad. The giant airline corp. taking advantage of the unassuming traveler. The corporate giant crushing the little guy.
But as I settled into my spacious exit row seat, finally releasing the tension from my pack, I abandoned the frustration with it, and slammed the door on the overhead bin. It was over. It was done. No use in stressin’.
Over rustic mountains, we began our approach to Malaga. A surprisingly large airport filled with consumerism. Not what I wanted to see. Luckily, I found the shuttle to the city center with ease. From the coastal market, toward the old town. A new maze.
Past the old fortress city. Through the cobblestone alleyways. I got a bit lost, as always. But I found the place. The long-haired Italian guy named Leonardo welcomed me in. “Welcome to the jungle” the sign in the lobby read.
I got tapas next door. Un...no. Dos Canas, dos tapas, quatro euros. Not bad. Comprised mainly of rice, one with curry, the other red sauce, and both with small portions of meat. I filled up on bread. Then, I took to my new bed. Friday night, with a rooftop deck. I was determined to socialize, but I just couldn’t rest.
I gave up around eight. I got a McDonald’s “American Coffee” instead. After a month of small cafes, the medium sized brew gave me a kick. I returned to the roof, on a mission to interact. Past a group at a table, I walked toward the edge to scout. But before I’d taken my third step, two friendly guys offered me a seat and a beer to drink.
Michael’s originally from Poland, he’s got short blonde hair, and a square shape to his head. His handsome bearded friend is called Rich. He’s from England. Both are now Norwegian citizens.
We talked about travel, then hit the streets for more tapas. Night one in Malaga. Two friends.
October 28th, ‘18
I’d devoured the toast, and my smoothie was down to its last sips. I slammed the journal shut. My recap was finished. I looped the line in my head, while trying to resist staring too hard. “Desculpe. Me ecanta tus tatoos.” My best attempt at a Spanish compliment. “if it goes well”, I thought, “I’ll ask where they got them”.
I gathered my bag and took two steps toward their table. I stumbled through the first line. “I’m sorry?” they said in unison, with no idea what I’d just said. “Your tattoos. I like them. Did you get them nearby?” I blurted out in panic. “Ah, yes. We all got this one yesterday”.
Up close, I could tell the two younger ones were sisters. Jeanne, 23, a skater chick, with bangs, and pink overalls, Chuck Taylor’s, had been hidden by her beautiful older sister, Clemence. They spoke French. From Switzerland.
They showed me that tattoo shop on maps. I thanked them for their help. I left.
Down another historic corridor, toward the parlor, I went. Finally going to get that reminder to keep trying. But the guilt built with each step. “What a hypocrite.” “You’re going to get a tattoo to remind you to experience, and you just walked right out of what could have been!”. Such neglect.
About half a kilometer away, I stopped abruptly in front of another café. I pulled out my notebook and ripped a small piece from the last page. I scribbled down my Instagram and email, then marched back toward Noviembre.
They were waiting for their bill when I arrived. I slipped inside and dropped the paper with a line. “In case you want to go out later.” I said. Their hip mother insisted I sit.
“There’s this food festival we’ll go to after this.” said the skater chick. “You can join us!” “Absolutely.” I replied.
The one called Clem was stunning, but as we walked the same path I’d just gone alone, it was Jeanne that I hit it off with.
I held my camera for comfort, and it sparked a conversation. Hers is nearly the same. It’s a Nikon FG. I use an F3.
She’s a preschool teacher for pay, but with her free time, she skates. She started at 18, kinda late. But she fell in love with it, and she competes. She wears a brace around her wrist for the broken thumb, and a plastic cast around her ankle from that time she shattered her leg. She says she still can’t quite put her left foot straight, yet she still skates. A dedication I so greatly appreciate.
The food fest was a bust, so we walked to the beach instead. We stopped for a drink. She insisted to pay. We laid in the sun. The sea was quiet. Small waves. We skipped rocks into the Gibraltar Straight.
I’m not quite sure how, but from then on, my presence was implied.
From the beach, we returned to the streets. We aimed for the music museum but found tapas instead. In another narrow alleyway, where pink Spanish facades basked in the rays, we dined in the breeze. Jeanne sat next to me. Another implication seemed to be building.
We began with sangria. The booze went to our heads. The tapas were expensive, but they didn’t seem to mind. “We’re Swiss, we’re rich” they joked. I tried to pay. They wouldn’t let me.
In the music museum, I thought of places to make a move with Jeanne. In that theater, behind the curtain. Behind the instruments from the Pacific. But no, I had to resist.
In the interactive room, Clem played guitar. A familiar tune, by “of monsters and men”. Onto an adjacent drum kit, she proceeded to shred. She’s ridiculously impressive.
Jeanne insisted she had no music ability, but that gentle piano melody she played with nerves, said the rest. She’s humble, also talented. I like it.
We popped in another shop. A lack of sleep. That sangria, mid-day. My eyelids began to weigh.
“Mom says it’s okay for you to go rest” Jeanne translated my release. “You can meet us for dinner?” She asked before I left. I agreed.
I tried to sleep, but there was no point. I was restless. I went up to the rooftop bar around 8:30 pm. And as I expected, I found Mike and Rich, my Norwegian friends. I chugged a “san miguel” with them. “Have a good night guys” I said. Then, I set off to find those three swiss chicks.
I scanned the message from Jeanne and saw the name of the restaurant. But I didn’t see them when I peered in. I read again. “They had no seats, we’ve gone down the street.” She’d said. Without service or direction, I somehow spotted them through the entrance.
They were tired, I could tell. But that didn’t prevent them from smiling when I sat. “We can go for a drink after?’” Jeanne suggested as I picked at their leftovers. They insisted.
A few doors over, we sat sipping spritz, on a patch of artificial turf. Around us, the streets buzzed with passersby. We were all exhausted. And everyone’s drinks were finished. Jeanne suggested we order another. “You pick.”
With two goblets of amaretto, a local beverage, we exchanged broken English. “Damn she’s cute.” We’d just spent the entire day together. “What is this!?”
My heart raced, as we got up to leave. Clem and the mom sunk back, leaving Jeanne close enough to pull in for a kiss. But I couldn’t. Not with the audience.
“Breakfast tomorrow?” She asked. “Of course,” I said. I turned back to watch closely as Jeanne and Clem giggled, and disappeared into the sea of yellow lit cobblestone streets. It sure felt like we could have kissed.
I turned the corner and headed for bed. The crowd of people outside the hostel had other plans. “Tyler!” Rich and Mike yelled. I guess they’d changed their minds about staying in.
At a trashy college type bar, I accepted two shots, then dipped. The 19-year-old South African girl may have been attractive, but I had absolutely no interest. I devoured a falafel wrap, then an empanada, then finally, I went to bed.
October 29th, ‘18
I was excited to see them. I needed to catch up on writing. I returned to Noviembre an hour early.
I sipped a cortado, and cracked open the journal, at another empty table. I filled the last page as they filled the seats. Once again, Jeanne sat next to me.
After breakfast, we bounced around a bit. Popping in a few shops, and meandering our way through the eclectic streets. We elevated our strolls to the Alcazabar, an ancient Morish fortress city. Sun and smiles, with vistas of the mountains, and the sea. As the clouds brewed, we entered the Picasso museum. We’d just breached the doorway when it began to rain. Lucky. Although, I wouldn’t have minded running through the wet streets with her. With them.
In that café restroom, our fifth of the day, I rushed, to take a piss. Opting not to wash my hands. Seeking a chance to go for that kiss. We’d just lost a game of chess, an hour-long struggle, that included more quality conversation, and close proximity on that tiny couch. It at times felt like a snuggle.
“Was that brush of the hand on my thigh intentional?”
“Was I a part of this game?”
“Or were we only playing chess?”
I heard the door swing open. My heart pounded out of my chest. “Perfect timing” She said. “It was planned” I confessed. A brief pause. The opportunity passed.
Jeanne pleaded to stay for another cup of tea. It was easy to convince. We talked another hour, and we finally took a group pic. It’s shit, but I love it.
Outside, in the night, we said goodbye. It was brisk. “Stay in touch” they said. “’I’ll come see you someday” I made the promise.
Three big hugs. A brush of cheeks. No kiss. I turned around three times to admire them as they disappeared into the darkness.
Saying goodbye to them was the hardest part of the trip. Far greater than the crush I have on Jeanne. Or the infatuated admiration for Clem. Is the love I have for those moments I shared with them.
This morning the sky is pastel blue, matching the color of my new Spanish shoes, and the air is crisp. In just 3 days in Malaga, a season has changed, and I've borne witness. last night I didn't drink, opting, finally, for rest. I woke at 7 am. I showered and dressed.
Determined to catch up on writing, I hit the streets in search of a cafe. The yellow sunlight brushed the tops of the paint. Gentle reds and soft white. Blues on the buildings, and an infinite blue sky. Europe in the morning. It's quiet, it's slow. No horns or cars, just a few bikes, and a couple passersby.
Looping those same tracks, those ones that characterize this portion of the trip. I thought about just how much I've lived. With one more flight to book, and a few more hostels to expense, I'll likely go home with around 3K, but the money just isn't important. The connections I've made, those, are priceless.