It is a cool, drizzly day in Madrid. The sounds of the city, jack hammers, saws, sirens, the occasional hoot from a pedestrian, they all seem to be muffled by the low clouds and the misty air that has invaded the normal aridity. The coffee shops and bakeries are the best places to be on a day like this, with the blowing steam of an espresso machine, and the clinking of cups and the screeching of bar stools and the sustained murmur of the human voice. When the unobstructed sun is high in the sky, the inhabitants of the city have a more skittish look about them, in their eyes, as if there is a sense of urgency that time should not be wasted when in the midst of such warm, happy air. Now, under the clouds, there is an unspoken, collective consciousness of the triviality of making too much of the situation; few will admit it, but really it is a day off, a time to make unrealistic plans, reflect, or at the very least, not pay as much attention to the work at hand.
* * *
There was a woman in a bakery sitting on a hard chair. She liked that there was Billie Holiday playing from the pink iPod and speakers in the corner. She wore a light brown scarf around her neck that she found in the bargain bin at the top floor of El Corte Inglés, and she wondered if it would be the last day of the year that she would get to wear it. The man she was with, a scruffy middle-aged man who rolled his own cigarettes, sat across from her at the small table. He was talking on a cell phone. She stirred her coffee with a spoon. He always sat with his legs crossed, like a woman, and it annoyed her. She looked up at him as he talked on the phone. He was always on the phone and always talking too loud, and she thought about those annoying tourists and how they shriek and laugh to each other, shuffling their city maps as they wander around the banal parts of the city like lost, abandoned dogs. When she woke this morning, she felt cold and tired again.
“Do you want to go the place with the horses today?” she asked.
He looked up at her, with the phone still attached to his ear, and frowned and shook his head.
He shook his finger and said, “Quiet.”
She watched as he plugged his other ear and looked down.
The man who worked at the café often found himself staring at her and he saw that she was always frowning and biting her nails. He had given her an imaginary name and decided that he loved her for the mere reason that she took her coffee without sugar or milk. He also sometimes felt that he was in a foreign country when the café was full of sun-burned tourists laughing with each other in the euphoria of travel.
After she finished her coffee, he brought her another. She thanked him and he walked away.
She wanted to go on a trip. She wanted to be surprised. She wanted a dog and a flat with a terrace that overlooked La Plaza del 2 de Mayo. She sipped on her coffee and put it back down on the saucer. She glanced at her watch and felt a small shot of panic as she realized that the day was already half over.
Then she smiled to herself and started to count the small drops of rain as they slid down the window next to her. At least she had a lot of money.