I can still feel the dry heat on my skin as I walk up the paseo to the town. I see toothless old men grin and nod their heads from the benches that line the walkway; they tap their canes in the pleasure of my acknowledging smile. I see old couples—the women still dressed in the black of mourning, not choosing to care that their husbands are eyeing up every young woman that passes by.
I see “El Trapero” —the town tramp—standing by the collision bars on the street corner. He waits there for the bank customers to come out and give him some change. He sings to himself and his breath weaves around the one tooth he has left. He mutters and turns to shuffle away; dirty, ragged clothes flapping by his thighs.
I sit in the dining room, eating thin steak and fries while the TV stutters its way through gaudy advertising and a bullfight. I stand in the cool pantry, gazing into the three-foot-tall vat of olive oil from the family farm. I press my hungry fingers into the fresh bread rolls the bread man just delivered. I watch during breakfast as Belen dips half a packet of galettas (flat cookies), one at a time, into her chocolate milk. I sit with the extended family and eat paella in the front yard, with the smell of chicken and seafood sweating on grains of saffron rice.
I drive in the open country of Jaen, a wild place untamed by construction, cacti and dry dust swirling into the blue sky as the tires churn. I stand in the market place, lusting over the reds and purples and greens of fresh fruit and vegetables. I climb the steep hill to the doctor’s house as two boys freewheel by on one bicycle. I eat and sleep and speak and think in Spanish.
At the end of that year, I wait in the railway station with friends, hugging each one in turn until I finally step onto the train and wave until they seem like a spiral of smoke on a twig.
When I think back, I can still feel that dry heat on my skin.
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