Or maybe not………
Found on Calle D’Avinyó yesterday.
Georgia, bent almost horizontal at the waist, one hand clutching plastic bags, and the other held behind her back for balance, makes her shaky arthritic way to my table at the Chippy entrance and plonks herself down.
She flashes me a toothy smile.
I’m thinking to myself, I’m losing my job in two weeks so there is no way in hell I’m buying you anything.
I first got her a drink over a year ago, and since then she checks in with the regularity and persistence of a dog.
An old dog.
A dog which doesn’t reckon it’s about to start wagging it’s tail for food now. Not after a lifetime of not giving a crap. She rejects free food if she doesn’t like it, asks for better chips if her chips are over done, gives money back if it isn’t enough, and never learned ‘por favor’ in her many years here. A thoroughly unlikable and annoying old lady.
After scolding me in Russian for about five minutes and getting scolded back in English for a few minutes, she simmers down. She smiles.
She lets out a few coughs and touches her parched throat.
Someone has left a bottle of water on the table. I move it closer to her. She screws her face up, sticks her yellow tongue out and makes dramatic choking sounds.
What was I thinking, offering her life threatening water. Idiota!
She sits silent for a couple of minutes, and then she coughs again.
I point at the water. She does the choking routine and then points at my beer. I burst out laughing and so does she.
I don’t imagine I’ll be too impressed with water when I’m her age either. Destitute or not.
I pour a splash of my beer into a glass for her. Her shaky hand darts out, grabs the glass and downs it in two. She puts the glass down and smacks her faintly moustachioed lips happily.
She pulls out a pair of fake All Star converse shoes. Since this is the first time she has offered me anything other than used bras which look like they’ve been stolen from the laundry line of a brothel, I accept.
I give her another splash of beer. She knocks this one back just as quickly, impervious to my feeble cries of ‘slow, slow!’
We beam at each other in a happy beer haze.
On the pavement outside, a sexy dark skinned skater boy comes clattering along. His board catches on the pavement and he goes flying.
Georgia and I burst into simultaneous drunken cackles.
She gets up, thanks me for the drink and totters off. Another Barcelona evening well spent.
6:30 a.m. Barcelona city center
Part 1. The Protective Prostitutes
Us (flyering): Come to the Fish n Chip shop ladies. It’s open at 6 am every weekend. Good food and drink!
The girls smile and accept the flyers and we make to move off.
Lillian: Here! Come back! Tell me….tell me some more about the Fish n Chip shop.
Us: Sure, well you can get Fish and Chips, it’s deep fried. And you can get an English breakfast or an American breakfast.
Lillian (quietly): Keep talking to us girls, that man there is waiting to rob you.
Me: Oh thanks for the warning! What’s your name?
Lillian: I’m Lillian, I’m from Mozambique.
Muriel: I’m Muriel, from Kenya
Shady man gives up and walks away.
Me: Nice to meet you ladies, do you work here during the day? I’ll say hello if I pass by.
Lillian: Oh no! We don’t work in the day.
Muriel: Nah, we study in the day.
Me: What do you study?
Lillian: Anything we can. Catalan, Spanish, any free course we find.
Muriel: Yeah, we want to be ready for the day we get our papers. As soon as we get papers, we’re going to find real jobs.
Part 2. The Flirtatious Thieves
Boy: Excuse me señora! Is this yours?
Me: Hey, that’s my wallet!
Boy: Yeah, you must have dropped it back there.
Me: No I didn’t. You stole it!
Me: So, did you find any money in it?
Boy: Er…no, even the phone was crap….
Me (in my best teacherly voice): Now don’t you feel ashamed trying to rob a girl with no money?
Boy (Sheepish grin): I came to give it back to you, and….umm… could I get your phone number?
Me (laughing): No way!
Boy: But why?
Me: Because you’re a robbing bastard, that’s why!
Boy’s mates (laughing at him): You’re a robbing bastard! Ha ha ha!
Boy: Aww cmon, it was too easy. This city is full of thieves. (In his best teacherly voice) You should be more careful!
Read more on Barcelona’s crime at the Thief hunters in Paradise blog.
Why should one little blog be noticed in an ocean of ‘me talking about life’ blogs?
Is it the amazing writing, up to date and relevant news and my ability to spin a new angle on current stories? ‘course not!
It’s my realisation that I have a blog theme song! Hell yeah! Did you ever hear the story of the little Spanish flea?
Death you are so boring.
You’re the bleh in my empty fridge. The joke without an end. The friend of a friend no one likes. Who ends up on your couch. You’re a lousy sneaky little thief. You’re the dog shit on my shoe. You took what wasn’t yours to have and now I’m coming for you.
I’m gonna climb that mountain of life. I’m gonna find that tree of time. I’m gonna bonsai it back around. I’m gonna redo the past.
Second chance will kick your door in. Good luck’l hold you down. If only’l head butt you on the hooter and Recovery’l take you out.
You’re scared. I know. It doesn’t have to be like that. We’ll say no more about it, if you give me back my cat.
He gets to work at 12 noon every day and starts a 12-13 hour shift. Always freshly showered and shaved, in laundered and ironed clothes, and never ever in yesterdays T-shirt.
He greets his colleagues before going in to a cafe and getting himself a coffee. A cortado (literally a cut coffee- half a coffee), easy on the coffee, heavy on the milk, 3 sugars and for the love of god no foam.
Then he sets up his work place- an upturned mayonaise bucket with a bit of cardboard today, a stolen footstool tomorrow. Ensures his shelves are well stocked- the parcel hanging from a string inside the cardboard recycling bin, the little pellets under the bin, 5 little balls wrapped up in cling film and lined up under a parked van and every nook and cranny available inside a phone booth. He stopped using the cafe toilets after the staff started stealing.
Then he sits himself down and waits for his clients.
And they come in a constant stream. Punks and hippys, born and bred in the barrio Catalans, working class Spanish folk, students, immigrants, vagrants, tourists and even the occasional expat. White haired old ladies totter up with their yappy yorkies, slip him a 20 euro note and collect. If they decide to give him a piece of their mind, he stands with his hands folded and head bowed, nodding respectfully until they finish. Cheerful guys in wheelchairs get pushed over by their carer to make the exchange. This takes longer because others come over to say hello and ensure he’s getting a good price.
Half way through the day his girlfriend may come over with a little bag to replenish stocks. She may bring him a Tupperware box with food she cooked for him which he may decide to (unwisely) reject. If he rejects it she calls him a son of a whore and they scream abuse at each other for the best part of an hour. During this time, his friend deals with clients who try to approach him.
He also finds time to watch movies on his netbook while talking on his hands-free device, read a copy of Obama’s biography which he pulled out of the recycling bin, flirt with blinged up ghetto babes, rescue a baby sparrow, play football with neighborhood kids and threaten insane Joe Pesci style violence on anyone foolish enough to try to make a phone call from his phone booth.
The police come by occasionally and search the bins and surrounding areas, or stop and search a periphery player.
But no one has ever seen them search or question the workaholic.
Another day and another evening in the Chip Shop (Barcelona’s one and only….I think).
T and Mark had joined me for a drink after work. It was around 7 pm and the Raval truly comes alive at this time. The day timers haven’t gone to bed yet and the night timers are just blinking their bleary way into the streets. The cat is crawling with hyperactive kids trying to work off the last of their energy before bedtime.
Standing on the pavement outside the chipy is a dark-haired girl in T-shirt and jeans. Her face is crumpled, and her dark almond eyes are spitting anger and pain. Her attention is focused on a young man sitting beside the chip shop. A lover’s spat in all its scary, fascinating glory. After an initial glance, most of us avoid looking at the couple, determined to give them some privacy whether they want it or not.
The argument rages on, or rather she rages on and he sits there and takes it. As a woman, it’s easy for me to
jump come to the conclusion that he has fucked up big time. He has probably just handed her the ‘its not you its me’ line or (he is very young) the lesser acknowledged and blunter ‘I’m shagging someone new’ line. Suddenly, she turns around, raises her arm and smashes an Estrella bottle on the road. Everybody stops what they are doing, it’s definitely an attention grabber. She walks over to the debris, picks up a shard of glass and starts slashing at her arms. Nobody moves for a moment or two, no one really knows what to do. Luckily, one man was thinking on his feet. A Barcelona street cleaner padded out in luminescent yellow rushes over to her. She looks up at him, with much the same look of a person at sea who realises the life boats have spotted him, miserable but expectant. Her look soon changes to confusion as he jostles her out of the way and starts cleaning up the debris. Imagine the life boat rowing past you and then stopping to clean up a bit of litter. She looks down at her arms (which are not bleeding….), she looks at the street cleaner busy about his work. She sort of shakes her head, bemused, no doubt thinking ‘I can’t even have a decent suicide drama without some idiot ruining it’.
In a daze she tries to search his waste-carrier for another piece of glass (the first glass shard obviously wasn’t working properly). Finally a couple of kindly ladies come over from the terrace, pull the glass out of her hand, good-naturedly tut tut over her milky unmarred arms and lead her away for a little sit down and kindness.