A Better Bench

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The square in front of Sea Point Hostel is a big stretch of flat grey stone tiles that ends at the beach which goes a bit, then dips quick, hiding the place where Barcelona touches the Mediterranean. People walk in all directions drawing an imaginary mess of paths. A few tables stuffed full with lingering groups remain scattered far from each other. It’s closing time and as each group gets up the waiter comes quickly and takes their table away. The sun is setting and long shadows cast the grey ground dark, but things with height stay golden and the calm sea, still bright, moves left against the warm shaded sand.


I sit on a bench here reading through my Spanish phrasebook and pleased with words being familiar from high school. Two young girls who had smiled at me before come and sit at the far end of my long bench. They are clean and neatly dressed, college aged. One is bigger than me with a pretty face and the other is cute, but more my size. The bigger one says hi and the smaller one smiles. I say hi as well, grin and put my face back into my book. I could hear them talking before and could tell they were American. I want to talk to someone in Spanish, but I can’t so I keep reading and the let the awkward space between us settle.

A young guy comes by, looks briefly at me when passing my legs crossed at the ankles, then faces the girls.

“Hey, What are you up to?” he asks them.

He’s wearing jeans, a white t-shirt and his hair is short and fixed after a shower that washed the beach away. His skin is red from the sun.

“Just hanging out” says the big one. She’s the talker. “How about you?”

“Just drinkin’ some beers,” he says.

He holds an open can in his right and a plastic laced group of five hang low but away from his body in his left arm, which is bent and giving the cans some height as if they were dripping wet or as if his biceps were tight from a long set of curls.

“You want one?” he asks, taking a seat between the girls and me and extending his still bent arm towards them.

A man with a bright orange guitar sits down at a bench some ten yards away.

“No thanks, we just finished a bunch of Sangria,” says the talker.

They go on and laugh some about the drinking they’ve done here.

“Where you from?” he asks them.

“America” the talker says. The smaller one is watching and smiling.

“Well, yea I know, but whereabouts?”

”How did you know we were American?” asks the talker.

“Yea?” the other one speaks up.

“I could hear your voices. You’re not English!”

“True…but we could be Canadian” says the talker.

“True” he says.

They talk about their homes. The girls are from Wisconsin and he is from Colorado.

A man with bongos joins the older man now playing his orange guitar. I watch them over my phrasebook, but keep my ears to the conversation near me.

“Colorado is cool” the talker says.

“Yea it’s cool.” His voice is dumb sounding.

They talk about their travels before and after here.

“I love Barcelona,” says the talker.

“It’s so awesome,” says the guy. “I hated Paris though.”

“Oh yea, we hated Paris too,” says the talker, the smaller one nodding with her.

“It sucked so bad. I got out of there in four days,” he says.

“We only stayed two days, it was so shitty. When we were in London, we hated it too, but now we love it,” she went on.

“It rained every day we were there,” the smaller one says.

“Yea, if it weren’t for the weather, we would love it,” says the other.

The Colorado guy lights a cigarette. Another kid walks past me, freshly cleaned as well, and stands there feet spread with his hands in his pockets. Puffing out his first cloud of smoke, the Colorado guy plucks a beer off the case between us and lifting it, his arm still characteristically kinked and matching his voice, he hands it to his friend, introducing him to the girls.

The guitarist across the way is singing in Spanish now and the bongos follow him.

Sliding towards me, the Colorado guy makes room for his friend. I move my bag for them and he looks at me, but says nothing. I try to tell him with my eyes not to worry; that I’m not a threat and I didn’t want to talk to them anyway, but he doesn’t see it.

They talk more about the things they love and the things they hate. I think about the times I talked about those things and how I don’t hate anything now and when I catch myself saying I hate something by mistake, I get excited to have found another chance to practice finding something to love in everything, which I’ve found to be so much better and a happier way to live.

The sun is set now and everything has lost its color except for the pink sky and the orange guitar. The heat is rushing off to the sea and making a wind that carries the Colorado guys’ smoke into my breath. I tuck my phrasebook into my bag and stand up. With my back turned to them I wonder if the space between the girls and I has settled enough that their ‘hello’ need not be followed by my ‘goodbye’. I decide it has and walk on and away without looking back.

The only empty seat in the square is at the end of the other bench where the musicians are. I approach, lean to sit and dip my grinning chin to the man with the orange guitar. He accentuates the rhythmic bobbing of his head and I know I am welcome.

More musicians arrive. Another guitarist, a man with a bigger drum and one with a wooden block and cowbell stroll up and join in. A few more are singing as well. The bench is full now and a crowd has gathered around us to clap with the beat and between songs. The other bench is a large group too. They are talking and enjoying the rhythm of the music and loving Barcelona. Everyone around me is speaking and singing in Spanish. I still can’t talk to them, but it’s a better bench.

There always seems to be a point in time in a new country that I feel like I’ve really arrived. With the plucking of the nylon stringed guitars going faster and faster, words being sung so smoothly in Spanish and girls with their belies out and arms reaching towards a now deep blue sky, I know I’m in Spain.

3 Thoughts on “A Better Bench”

  1. U Tim Says:

    Ernest,
    The imagery was very good. I can totally see the whole thing unfold. I can hear the music, smell the cigarette smoke and sort of visualize the Americans. I would love to see some photos of Barcelona. This is your best writing so far. I do pick up on your intolerance for their immaturity – stupid, shallow, American kids. Go Ernest, Go!

  2. Jeff Says:

    Sounds quite nice! I got pretty sick of the ‘4 W talk’… “whats your name? where you from? where you been? where you going?” …and the excessive drinking which seems to accompany traveling. Never understood why as you are paying quite a bit to travel around and it would be nice to remember it! 🙂

  3. kevin Says:

    Outstanding story. When you were talking about the talker at first…calling her the big one…right when i thought someone might get offended by it…you switched and made her the talker…i would love to read a story where the name of the person keeps changing. Thanks for the update and the pictures placed in my thoughts.

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