The bus pulled off the highway and into the station marking the halfway point between Madrid and Granada. Stepping down from the bus a slight wind swirled the dust, the sunlight glaring off of the cars parked nearby making the whitewashed adobe walls seem blinding. The truck stop, some shabby hotels and an old deserted petrol station were all I could see among the rolling Andalusian hills.
I scrounged in my pocket and pulled out a handful of change. My fist full with strange unfamiliar coins of varying weights and sizes. Pesetas, francs, pence, guilders, deutchmarks, the sum of my travels so far. Separating the pesetas from the rest I stepped into the truck stop café surveying my options. Smoke hung curled and seemed motionless, the inside of the café had an air of perpetual haziness and I felt like my eyes would never adjust.
I listened to the clink of glasses and chatter of the old men with their cervezas and cigarettes. The menu on the wall was incomprehensible, names of Spanish dishes made even stranger by the missing letters on the board. I walked instead to the vending machines safe in the knowledge that the prepackaged snacks, full of chemicals and preservatives snug in their shiny, crinkly wrappers were less of a risk than a cho zo con ques y mant quill bocadillo.
Sitting awkwardly on a rickety wooden bench I leaned back against the wall and felt the heat from the building warming my back. The wind picked up again sending a chill under my sweatshirt and reminding me that it was still fall. Getting up and sticking my hands in my pockets for warmth I walked across the dirt parking lot and up towards the road. I wandered as far as the deserted petrol station and stood there looking at it. The paint peeling and chipping, the pumps all rusting and dirt and trash piled around the building. I thought of what it must have been like years before, trucks pulling in, the drivers tanned and disheveled with loads of olives or wine bound for San Sebastian or Barcelona.
Remembering what the bus driver said about being left behind if you weren’t back on the bus in twenty minutes I turned from the station and walked back to where the bus was waiting. The other passengers were starting to board so I took one last look at the hillside, let the wind chill me once more and then stepped up and walked back to my seat.
As the bus pulled back onto the roadway I leaned my head against the window. We picked up speed and the olive trees seemed to melt, they dotted the hillsides and sides of the roads, becoming blurs as we moved along faster. My mind drifted to the last time I took this ride, to that last time I was in Spain. The huge crowd in Plaza Mayor at the Festival of San Isidro, the gypsy band and my dancing around spilling my drink and not caring. My feet hitting the cobblestones of the plaza in rhythm to the drums and wavering rapid fire Spanish singing. Walking along near Plaza de los Tristes and looking up to see the Alhambra lit up on the hillside against a perfectly clear sky, the moon bright.
The streets where I was living were a maze of small alleys, twisting and turning sometimes emptying you into a small plaza. They always came up unexpectedly, the plazas, and I hardly ran into the same one twice. They were like little jewels, little jewels with small old fountains and benches, the rough and uneven stones underfoot.
I wish I could freeze those moments, the good ones. The slivers of time when that sense of wonder hits you combined with the reality that it’s not a dream and you fill up inside with the closest thing to feeling like a kid again, it’s like Christmas morning and you feel magical, your skin tingles and breath shortens and it’s just you and that moment and nothing else exists. I wish I could freeze that feeling, bottle it or press it between the pages of a book so I can bring it out years later and feel that same sense of being there, all there.
It’s staring at the Alhambra in the moonlight on a chilly November evening, drinking a cold beer in the sun while sitting in a plaza older than my country, on a bench, head tilted back and eyes half closed. Sometimes it’s something so simple as eating a candy bar at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere.