Untitled articles of my year in León: Part Two
In this second installment of his untitled articles of his year in León series, Pecky Dolores gives us a glimpse of the afternoon he arrived at the bus station of León for the first time, and how, with his muy poco Spanish, he immediately made friends with two kind-hearted locals.
My conversational Spanish was at its minimum. I took crash courses at the university and had a few formal ones before I came to Spain. After all, the scholarship was intended for me to learn the language. There was a placement test on our first day of school in the Centro de Idiomas en la Universidad de León and I was considered under level B1. But before that placement occurred, something that I thought only happened in the movies, happened to me.
I arrived at the city’s only bus station late in the afternoon. I remember telling myself, “What now?” All I knew was that I had to go to the university dorms where I previously reserved an accommodation via email. I knew the address and all but still, I felt lost. It felt like I landed blindfolded somewhere from a parachute. I was assessing my surroundings. I was carrying two sets of heavy baggage and a backpack. Plus, I had the weariness of twenty-one hours of air travel, another two hours spent in Madrid to briefly meet and greet the other fellow Filipino scholars and immediately headed to Méndez Álvaro Bus Station and another four to five hours of bus ride to finally arrive in León.
“What now?”, I asked myself.
I didn’t have any maps and I remember just sitting on the bus station benches for a while, just like in the movies. I wasn’t paralyzed out of tiredness. On the contrary, I was filled with energizing awe. I finally made it to the place I was invited to study as a scholar and I wasn’t just going to venture blindly and let my feet eventually take me there. I was simply taking a break, a breath of air. I knew that eventually, I just had to get up and go. I knew that with my then muy poco Spanish, the most effective way to go to the university dorms in my condition was to hail a taxi. There was no way I would be dragging all my things there, despite the adventurous mood. No way. I got up and was about to ask for directions to the taxi line.
And just like in the movies, my path would meet with Eli and Taquio’s.
I wouldn’t recall what I exactly said. I probably would have uttered words like “¿dónde?”, “dormitorio”, “universitario”, “taxi”. I wish I remember how it all materialized second by second and word for word. All I know is that minutes later, Taquio, the man with a weathered face and coarse hands, shook my hand and took my things and put them in the back of their car. Eli, the short and round woman with equally weathered face, was his wife.
They were in the bus station picking up another woman whose name I don’t recall now and also arrived later from somewhere else. This “another” woman was the one who spoke better English and told me not to be scared and that they would take me to the university dorms. How cool was that!
Their car was clean but there was a faint smell of soil. I had no concept of the size of the city and I didn’t know how long it was going to take to arrive at my destination. It was a short ride; I was quiet in the back seat and they were conversing. They probably were talking about the trip. I was feeling amazed that locals took me in and helped me just like in the movies. I imagined myself like those tourists in Lonely Planet guide programs or like the typical adventurous American hotshot in Europe in a Hollywood movie, and that in a few days, I, too would be sporting berets, smoking a pipe and wearing wool vests, managing a flock of obedient sheep and will be asked to pick some grapes to make wine. Oh well, some things just happen in the movies.
They would pull over somewhere and I looked out the window and saw what looked like residential buildings in front of me and I thought to myself, “These are the university dorms?”. They didn’t look so university-ish at all! Effectively, no, they weren’t. It was Eli and Taquio’s home. The other woman whose name I can’t recall now and who was sitting with me in the back seat told me to leave my things in the car and that I was getting invited to have a spot of early dinner before they would finally take me to the university dorms.
Their house was lovely. It didn’t feel real. I didn’t think something like this would happen to me; that almost thirty hours after I gave my goodbyes to my family at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, I would have this last detour before arriving at my destination. I couldn’t remember all the details.
The other woman would translate to me that Eli and Taquio are “humble” people (son gente humilde, as they say in Spanish), that they worked the land (trabajan la tierra). That explained the hint of smell of soil in the car, I thought. That the food that we were having on that table where from their own orchard. My minimal Spanish understood that. It was a lovely evening despite my limited conversation.
Before they drove me to the dorms, Eli took a huge plastic bag and filled it with tomatoes, bell peppers and the like. Taquio wrote down on a piece of paper their home phone number. I would call them a few days later and thank them again. I would have given them my mobile phone number. And a few years later, when I was already living in Madrid, I would receive a call one afternoon. It was Eli, asking me how I was. We would lose touch over the years. Are they still alive? I hope the pandemic has spared them. Do they still remember me?
Those were the few things I remember from that afternoon and I would give everything to go back to that time, now that I could fully engage in a conversation in Spanish. I wouldn’t be so quiet. I would be verbal with my gratitude. But then again, if I knew the language back then, I probably wouldn’t have met them after all. I would’ve known how to find my way and my first afternoon in León wouldn’t have been just like in the movies.
To be continued.