Possibilities, Steindór Haraldsson

It was his first time in Spain, and everyone kept telling him he wasn’t in Spain.

A twenty-six year old taking a year off university to… to something, he wasn’t quite sure what. The wirey young man was currently in a small village – a suburb,just outside Barcelona. He´d been to see a monastery a friend had told him was “magnificent”. The building had been a let-down and the admission price too high. But the beer was cheap – well, cheaper than he was used to, and cigarettes felt somehow more significant than back home, the smoke more vivid, the moisture in the air making them feel heavier in his hand than usual, and the taste more complex.

His shirt clung to his torso, his hair didn’t seem to untangle in the air, and he was sure his toes were developing an ecosystem of their own in his shoes, but he was somehow okay with it all. What got to him, though, was the August sun of Catalonia, not Spain, he reminded himself, seeing yet another red-and-yellow flag hanging from a balcony.

The sun gave him headaches.

With the sun blaring, the sounds of a town square, centuries old in the distance, and someone playing the piano marvellously by an open window nearby (Beethoven, he thought), as he walked down a narrow street in the medieval part of town… thunder, dark clouds and, wonder of wonders… HAIL! Bigger than he’d ever experienced in his life, here in the warmth of summer in northern Spain. Here in Catalonia.

He tried covering his head with the book he’d been reading, a frayed copy of Hemingway’s For whom the bell tolls (it felt appropriate); he’d found it at a used book stall at a local market the previous day. But to no avail; stinging-cold balls got down the neck of his shirt and tiny icicles shot down his sleeve. Taking refuge in a grotto in a wall enclosing what had once probably been a villa years ago but was now a husk, near ruin, a beautiful memory. He resigned himself to waiting it out.

Watching the waiter from the café across the street hurriedly putting away tables and chairs, he was unaware of someone joining him in the shelter. He pulled a cigarette from the crumpled pack of Marlboro Lights (registered trademark) in his breast pocket and fished out the lighter from his jeans.

“Ei! Pardonam. Tens un piti?” A soft, high female voice said – all he heard was “pity”. Turning, he saw that a short, lean, dark-haired girl, in her early twenties, had taken shelter alongside him. She looked fragile, in a sundress, with the backdrop of hail. She was the most gorgeous being he’d ever seen.

“Sorry, I don’t understand. ¿Habla inglés?”

“Oh, I am sorry, I did not realise,” she said, exaggerating her enunciation, her vowels long. “I asked if you have a cigarette to spare.” Her accent was somewhere between French and Spanish.

Flustered, he handed her one without a word, stretched out the lighter in his hand, turned the wheel and felt a spark of invigorating electricity race through his arm as her hand touched the back of his when she cupped it to prevent the tiny flame from being extinguished.

In what seemed to him a flash, the life he could have with her in a possible future whispered at him from a corner in his mind. Everything from the smell of her cooking, to the creaking of doors in a house on a hill and the laughter of boisterous children by the Mediterranean. He imagined her soft lips brushing his own, could’ve sworn he actually felt the way her hand squeezed his at an outdoor cinema. Sensed her warm body in bed. Then he felt the searing pain of the cigarette burning, forgotten in the mouth.

She looked at him funny, smiled the world’s prettiest smile, “Thank you,” she said – her vowels too long again, and on her way she went.

The storm had passed already.

Copyright the author and first published by Friends of Rowntree Park 2014.

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