Thursday, May 21

by Jonah

I am amazed by the kindness of strangers. It makes me rethink my whole concept of humanity.

I took a risk and lost. Those of you who’ve played cards with me know I love to bluff and am horrible at it (which explains why you know it). I thought it was a sure bet, but I was wrong. I was positive a train would be leaving the Madrid station sometime after I got there. But there wasn’t. There weren’t any trains leaving until the next morning. Worse yet, the station was closing. And the hostels listed in my book shut their doors at ten. It was approaching midnight.

I must look really helpless when I don’t know what to do because that’s when someone always asks if I need help. This time it was a man leaning against a railing, calmly smoking a cigarette. He didn’t speak much English but communicated enough for me to confirm what the train time board blandly stated and that all the hotels in this area were expensive. Still, I didn’t seem to have much choice. Over to the side I noticed a group of Oriental women (one of their bags appeared to have Chinese or Japanese characters on it) preparing to go…somewhere. Their rucksacks gave me hope, and I determined to follow them–that is until they gathered outside a closed room of lockers and stared inside. Abandoning the group that appeared to be as clueless as I was, I walked over to the nearby hotel, gulping at the four stars on its side.

To get to the door, however, I had to pass through four blokes, one of whom welcomed my approach with open arms, one hand holding a half empty glass. I smiled good naturedly as I walked by shaking my head. The three other blokes laughed at him.

The doorman at the hotel spoke English, something I desperately needed to hear, even though what he was saying was the hotel was full. He kindly gave me directions on the metro to the center of town, where he assured me I would be able to find a hostel or pension willing to put me up for the night.

To get to the metro, I had to pass through the gauntlet of guys again. The tall, built, good-looking one in nice clothes opened his arms again, evidently willing to give me another chance. But they let me pass by once more, laughing as my bloke shouted, “Where are you going? “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”” in an inebriated voiced after me.

The truth was I didn’t know where I was going at all. But the Oriental chicks were descending on the escalator ahead of me, and that gave me hope. Safety in numbers, and if we were all headed the same direction, it must be all right.

I began to wonder about that when the metro pulled up, one car full of ecstatic young people. I elected to get on a less crowded car with the group of Oriental girls. At the next stop, however, we were inundated with celebrating youths. I turned to the man in a suit the next seat over and asked, “Football?” He seemed to roll his eyes and nodded, answering me in Spanish. I nodded even though I didn’t understand a word.

A young man with curly hair and the thinnest line of a vertical goatee plopped down between us. He seemed less manic than the rest, who by now were rocking the whole car by jumping up and down, singing. I decided to ask him where the stop I was to get off at was. “Donde?” I asked, showing him what the doorman had written down for me. Fortunately, he spoke English, a rare occurrence in Spain. He informed me that one of the soccer teams in Madrid had just beaten Italy.

“You picked the worst time to come to Madrid,” he said.

“It’s like the Super Bowl,” his friend, a built guy with short hair added, shouting over the noise of everyone else on board. Some of the others, waving purple and white scarves, taunted Curly and his friend. They explained, “There are two teams in Madrid; we like the other one.” The others handed Short Hair a two litre of Orange Fanta, which he offered me. I declined. Curly invited me to join them in their celebration party, but I said I needed to find a place to stay. “You could stay with me–I have a flat,” offered Short Hair, “No, really, it would be no problem…” I told them I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable with that. They laughed. Then the whole group got off at the next stop. “Two more!” they shouted, “Two more stops!”

But the Oriental girls got off at the next station. I figured I could always spend another buck and get back on the metro, but for now I’d follow them. “Are you looking for a hostel?” one asked, turning around on the escalator up. “We missed our train. You come with us?”

The one that seemed to be the leader studied a metro map and then led the way onto another metro line. “Are you sure you know where you’re going?” I asked, but they were. Soon we were on another escalator. A bunch of young people were descending on the other side shouting and waving their scarves at us. “Madrid!” I shouted back at them. They shouted back something in suspicious tones of voices.

Then we were out on the street walking uphill. Cars all around honked their horns happily. The girls came to a certain door and started ringing the buzzer. After ringing for perhaps a minute, someone answered on the intercom. “Do you have any vacancy?” the leaders shouted into the speaker. The door opened, and we started climbing a center flight of stairs.

A young woman met us at a door several fights up and retreated as we advanced in on her. Then an older man with a bald head and potbelly came in. The girls started all talking at once, “Remember me?” “Do you have room?” “There are six of us. Seven of us!” The proprietor and his daughter didn’t seem to speak any English, the Oriental girls spoke limited English and no Spanish, and I stood there trying to figure out if they had room or not. The girls even offered to let me room with them.

But they didn’t need to. The daughter led me to a single room and gave me a towel. “Two thousand,” she said –about fifteen dollars. I gladly handed it over.

“You okay?” several of the Oriental girls asked me as they prepared for bed.

Yeah, I was okay. Just amazed.

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