The thing was, she didn’t ask for money. She asked for food. Well, technically, she asked for leftovers, scraps. What we had pushed aside. She politely waited in the shadows, almost out of sight, until we seemed to have finished. She stepped forward, apologised for interrupting our meal, and asked if we would allow her to eat the off-cuts and remnants on our plates. She hadn’t eaten for three days.
“No” we replied, adding quickly “but if you’ll sit down awhile you can order what you want and it can go on our bill.” She frowned – it took her a moment to process what was being offered. She perched on the edge of a chair, pulling it slightly away from the table, unwilling to “spoil” our evening. I offered her the menu but she waved it away and asked the waiter for a plate of couscous, glancing at me for permission or confirmation. “Y algo para beber” I added (and something to drink). A bottle of water.
While she waited, we asked her a bit about herself, without wanting to pry. She spoke hesitantly, it appeared as though she didn’t want to bore us. Her Spanish was clear and fluent. She spoke four languages, which anywhere else would make her highly employable, but here in Melilla it’s a common skill. Spanish, Rif-Berber, French and Arabic, hugely impressive to me, working hard to gain a decent level in a second language, but here it is nothing that would help her find work.
She’d had a difficult past, but the future was hers to shape if she just had a chance. Unfortunately that night she could only think in the short-term. Her evident hunger temporarily addressed, her thoughts turned to her next problem. With obvious shame, she plucked up the courage to ask a further favour. Diffidently she explained that the hostal required 5€ or they wouldn’t let her stay.
The irony of the figure was not lost on us and brought a wry smile to our faces. We had crossed the border from Melilla into Morocco earlier that day. There are no official currency-exchange offices, and on the advice of a Guardia Civil friend we had gone into one of the cross-border trading posts where 20€ bought us 220 dirhams. Returning six hours later, our remaining 60 dirhams seemed almost worthless. The friendly trader of the morning with whom we’d chatted awhile had closed. We almost didn’t bother – what luxury to be so thoughtless with money! We could have kept the dirhams – exotic, brightly-coloured notes. At the last moment we dived into a liquor store and queue-jumped a line of Moroccan youngsters visiting Spain for the evening to buy beer and to sit in the park drinking and chilling. The manager grabbed the 60 dirhams and passed over a well-travelled 5€ note which was shoved into a trouser pocket and almost forgotten – unimportant, almost worthless to us, until late that night it paid for a homeless young woman to sleep safely in a hostel.
© Tamara Essex 2014 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
This is exam week, and I’m trying to get over the block that hits me when confronted with a topic to speak about! I learned a lovely phrase to produce when struck dumb … “Tengo la cabeza a las tres y cuarto!” It means that I’ve gone blank and can come up with nothing (should come in handy!).
It’s the teeny little words I trip up on.
“La ropa se seca AL sol” is correct, not “en el sol”. Very English – to dry IN the sun, but wrong in Spanish.
“Es más grande QUE mi casa” is correct, not “DE mi casa”.
Remembering to change Y to E before a vowel, as in “cerca de una sauna E una pastelería”.
“Tuve mucha suerte EN encontrarlo” is correct, not A encontrarlo.
“Te deseo toda la suerte DEL mundo” is correct, not EN EL mundo.
“Mi primer día EN MI escuela” is correct, not A MI escuela.
No rules for these, unfortunately – they just need learning!