It only took me one visit to Puerta del Sol, Spain’s Kilometro 0, Madrid’s touristy, clamorous hub, to start referring to it as the Belly of the Beast. Everybody in Madrid sooner or later has to fight their way through Sol’s lottery card hawkers and dazed tourists seeking SIM cards for their cell phones and knock-off handbag vendors always with a weather eye out for la policía. Sol’s the gathering place for the city’s schemers, scammers, and ne’er do wells — long story short, when you’re in Sol, best hang on to your wallet.
Sol is also home to the Apple Store, where today I had to leave my laptop. On the way there, as I walked up out of the Metro and into Sol proper, I was offered a pamphlet by a man wearing an orange traffic safety vest; thinking it was information about the upcoming closure of the Metro line that gets me from home to Spanish school, I took it. No — El Camino de Cristo, as it turned out. I handed it back, intending to say no thanks, I don’t need this, but what came out of my mouth could be translated better as “I don’t like it,” which is just, well, dumb.
Inside the Apple Store I made it through my conversation with the tech entirely in Spanish. O, kind Spanish people, thank you for always telling me I speak well the Spanish even though we both know this is a kind lie.
Sans computer (Diagnosis: new logic board needed), I walked back out into the chaos of Sol and without meaning to met the eye of a tiny elderly-seeming but oddly ageless woman holding stalks of rosemary in her hands.
She darted; I dodged. But not quick enough. Without me quite realizing how it had happened, I was now holding a spring of rosemary, trying to hand it back, and being told there was no cost for whatever was going on, all at the same time.
Sucker! Rube! She’d hooked me like a fish on a line and was off and running. I was going to get a phone call from far away.
This made me actually start laughing: of course I was going to get a phone call from far away — it had never before been so obvious I was a foreigner, otherwise I would have dodged better and gotten away.
Love and the heart; I should kiss the rosemary; her name was Rosa. It was too late now. I was well and truly trapped. When she asked, I opened my hand — the life line, the love line. I would be separated soon from one of my children. It was not a bad thing, it would be a happiness. I would lose something dear to me.
And then, swiftly, smoothly, she pushed a tiny green ball of … something… into my hand. Nope, she wouldn’t take it back. I owed her 10 euros.
The truth is, I never carry money anymore, other than a few coins for the buskers in the Metro. I showed the empty wallet and then, appreciating her skill, dumped what change I had, about 4 euros, into her hand. The look she gave me dripped disdain.
It’s supposed to be a way you get your pockets picked — in the distraction, but my bag was slung bandolier-fashion across my chest and I’d had my hand on its zipper the whole time. She walked one way; I walked the other.
And the green pill? Was I supposed to eat it? Give it to someone? My Spanish had not been up to the task, besides she’d been talking awfully fast by that point. As I walked away, I dropped it on the ground, feeling like I might have a huge “kick me” sign taped to my back.
I admit it: the whole walk home, I kept wondering if I’d seen through the ruse or been taken in by it. Had she actually managed to get something from me without me realizing it?
The Husband, of course, is always pragmatic. Every mother will be separated from her child, he pointed out when I told him what happened.
Yes, but. .. I actually will be separated soon, from my oldest. Time’s going so fast, she said plaintively last night.
And it turns out I actually have lost something dear to me. Replacing the laptop’s logic board will wipe the hard drive I hadn’t bothered to back up in at least 6 months.