catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 18 :: 2004.11.05 — 2004.11.18


An e-mail address for the guy who took our photo at the place around the corner where we went for coffee

While my parents were staying with us in Madrid last week, I was reminded that I love small-town life. My parents come from Sioux Center, Iowa, population 6,500. They are small-town people.

Case in point. A piece of paper was taped up in the lobby of our apartment building a couple weeks ago that said this past week, the week my parents were visiting, a group of electricians would be working in our building to replace all the old wiring.

Monday morning after my parents gave up waiting for us to eat breakfast and decided to go get croissants from the orange bakery just around the corner (it’s the orange bakery because it doesn’t have a name that we know of, just an orange sign), I heard my parents at the door returning from the bakery while I was scraping my toast in the kitchen. My mom said Dad wanted to buy a croissant for the guy working with the wires in our hallway, so they did. They bought him a croissant, but my mom said he wouldn’t take it at first. He thought they were making some mistake. But finally he understood and took the croissant and ate it. My mom asked me if it was okay that they had bought a croissant for the guy in the hallway. “He looked so confused,” she said.

I told my mom it was okay that she had bought a croissant for the man in the hallway. My parents came with me to the mercado

later that morning to help carry groceries, and I found myself wanting to see the mercado through my parents’ eyes, as if each one of the people standing behind piles of ripening tomatoes or ducking under hanging ham legs to sell me my groceries was actually someone whom I could know.

We stopped first at the fruit stand where the Romanian woman works the counter. She usually talks to April. She likes to practice her English with April and tells her she wants more practice speaking English.

I found myself wishing I had the guts to ask her if she would like to come over maybe once a week or something to work on her English. I graduated with a degree to teach English after all.

I tried to make small talk with the cheese man (the guy downstairs who only sells cheese and gives free samples) like my dad used to do almost every day after school when we would stop at People’s Bank.

The day my parents left, we met the guy who my parents had given the croissant to in the hallway. He smiled immediately with a nod of recognition—in the direction of my parents of course. When he saw we were pulling suitcases, he asked if we were leaving. I told him my parents were flying out of the airport. So, as good friends do, he shook hands with my dad and gave my mom a kiss on both cheeks. He gave me a pat on the back and showed us out the door.

We stopped for a coffee before getting on the metro to the airport. I was thinking about small-town people. Small-town people know each other. Somehow my parents seem to create relationships wherever they go.

My mom was fumbling with her camera, her back against the bar leaning backwards trying to get my dad, April, and me in a photo when one of the guys sitting at the bar watching TV noticed and asked if he could take the photo for us.

Chalk another one up for the parents. Somehow they’d managed to bring one more person into the picture before they skipped the country. One for the road, I suppose.

I remember thinking, I wonder if this guy taking the photo comes in here for coffee every morning. Maybe I could come in here more often, and we could become friends.

That was about the last of my thinking about small-town people until this morning on the metro. It was early, and the people on the metro looked like either they were finishing up a very long night out, or they were bitter about going to work so early on a Saturday morning. Everyone except the guy sitting across from us.

I was wearing an old t-shirt, one with some English writing scribbled on the front, and the guy across from us leaned into the middle of the aisle and started trying to read my shirt. He was squinting, his nose all wrinkled up, his open mouth revealing some very unattractive teeth, and he had his pointer finger out in front of himself, scanning each word on my shirt. He was doing a terrible job of trying to pronounce the words in English, so eventually he asked me to translate the shirt for him into Spanish.

This was about the time that I realized this guy was, believe it or not, the man who took our photo at the place where we had stopped for coffee in our neighborhood. It was really him. I knew it. And I told him so.

At that moment, somehow I felt like I had given this man a name, a face, the possibility of becoming someone I knew.

He made me feel great. He remembered my mom, and he remembered taking the photo. We had a brief conversation, and he asked if we could exchange e-mail addresses, which I guess is the next step in trying to be small-town folk in a big city. It’s so easy to lose each other.

So now I have an e-mail address for the guy who took our photo at the place around the corner where we went for coffee. His name is Max. At least that’s my guess based on his e-mail address.

So, we’ll see what happens. Maybe I’ll e-mail Max tomorrow and ask him if he wants to meet on Monday morning at the place around the corner for a coffee. What do you think?

Kelly and his wife April work for Christian Associates International in Madrid, Spain. Visit their web site to learn more.

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