Saturday Features

Tiempo y espacio

You never yearn for home the way you do at the very end of your travel. One thing you learn moving from city to city is that there is always time, but never time enough

- PRANAYA SJB RANA

When you wake, sunlight is streaming through the gaps in the blinds of your room. From the netherworld that is your half-conscious mind, you hear a staccato drumbeat and the sound of trumpets, rising with the sun. It takes you a second before you are able to collect yourself. Then, you remember. It is the first of May and you are in Madrid. There is a parade, one of many, outside.

There is not much in the fridge for breakfast so you head out, hoping that the cafes will not be closed for May Day. You step outside and are immediately assaulted with the fervour that is Calle Mayor in the spring. So close to Plaza Mayor, the centre of Madrid, Calle Mayor has been closed off and is teeming with tourists. Cameras slung over their shoulders and iphones in hand, they march through the streets in pairs and in groups, talking, smiling, basking in the Mediterranean sun. There is a parade, with a band and a devotional posse.

At the corner of Calle Mayor and Calle Milaneses, the café you frequent serves strong coffee (Americano) and pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil). You eye a large, oblong empanada, radiant with stuffing. It is basically a samosa and you are suddenly filled with a yearning for a samosa from the mithai pasal at Narayan Gopal chowk that you stopped at every day after school. But you have no desire to reminisce, so you simply finish your coffee.

You make your way to Plaza Mayor for a cigarette. You enjoy walking around the large square, even with its rampaging golden horde of tourists. You listen to the lilting Spanish in the air and even though you have been here for four months, you can still barely speak the language. When old men come up to talk to you while you are sitting smoking your cigarette, you tell them ‘no hablo Espanyol’ but they don’t seem to mind. Eventually you end up interjecting with a ‘si’ and a ‘vale’ whenever opportune.

Calamari is frying in the numerous restaurants around you and for a second, you consider a bocadillo for lunch but then you recall the last time you had a calamari sandwich. It was dry, as can be expected when a sandwich has no condiments and nothing else except for bread and fried calamari. Once you finish your cigarette, you idle your morning away.

Once the morning turns leisurely into the afternoon, you take a bottle of sidra, a loaf of bread, a hunk of manchego cheese and some jamoniberico down to Park Retiro and sit down on the grass. You watch clouds race in an impossibly blue sky and let the summer sun turn your shoulders browner than they already are. You know there is a section of the park where peacocks roam. You have seen them and they are not shy. You remember feeling more afraid of them than they seemed of you. You watched little kids reach out their hands to the peacocks, dreading that moment when the bird would lunge forward with its beak and peck the child. Fortunately, that did not happen.

You meet with friends and you sit around drinking slowly, talking rapidly and getting up intermittently. You enjoy the sun and your lack of immediate responsibilities. Everything you need to do seems far off into the future and you wish you could stay in this moment forever. You wonder if it is true what they say, that all time is an illusion and the only moment is now.

Eventually, you walk down one of Madrid’s wide avenues, dodging cars, pedestrians and motorbikes. You stop to pet a dog, a slim sleek Greyhound. You’ve noticed that there are many Greyhounds in Madrid, an expensive breed of dog to purchase and to maintain. You wonder about your own dogs back home and wonder if they ever think about you. You feel a twinge of nostalgia for a time when your dogs were little and you would play with them for hours on end, only to leave them alone for a few minutes and come back to find that they had chewed through your phone charger.

You think of going to the Museo Reina Sofiaonce again or perhaps the Atocha train station which houses a small rainforest complete with hundreds of tiny little turtles. You have been to the Reina Sofia at least three times and each time you have spent at least ten minutes looking at the massive canvas that is Picasso’s Guernica. You have tried many times to codify the symbols and assign meaning to every single element in the painting. You have realised that this is an exercise in futility. You have also spent much time with the Dali paintings, which are executed with more artistic flair than the Picasso. Looking at a Dali, you can see how smooth it is, the artisan in him. You are fascinated by both artists but before you can get your fill, it is closing time and you must leave. You have yet to visit the Prado where the infamous Goyas hang.

At 9pm, it is evening and the sun is only beginning to set. There are events all across town today since May Day is a day of celebration. At Plaza dos do Mayo, there is a band playing and the square is filled with young Spaniards drinking. It is the same at Plaza de las Comendadoras, where a band is playing Spanish ska that eventually transitions into Balkan music. There is an impromptu mosh pit and you find yourself getting tossed around the crowd. A drunken Spaniard spills beer all over your leg and while you complain and point at the spreading beer stain, he responds with something in Spanish that you do not catch so you are obliged to smile, say ‘vale’ and let it pass. When you get home late at night, you are sweaty and reek of beer. You know that tomorrow you will wake with an aching body.

In bed, before sleep arrives, you think back on all that has happened since you first came to Europe two years ago. All the cities you’ve lived in and all the places you had never imagined you would journey to. But you cannot help but think it is time for you to go home. In all this time, you have never yearned for home the way you do now, at the very end. You think that maybe home is not a place but a state of mind, maybe even a person. You think of what you are going home to, who you are going home to and that is reason enough for the days to compress and everything to happen all at once. One thing you have learned in your travels, moving from city to city, is that there is always time, but never time enough.

Published: 2018-05-05 08:20:27