So it was a Saturday and I was doing my shopping alone. It all took place in Barcelona, where people are supposedly always happy and touched by a spell which makes them radiate warmth. I, being the special, out-of-the-ordinary girl I am, was not feeling that happy on that particular Saturday. You might wonder why (even though it is most probable that you don’t give a shit) and the thing is I couldn’t explain it to you if I tried. I just get a bit anti-social at times and feel torn between surrounding myself with people and hiding from them, which you have to admit is quite a struggle to have and quite a tear to suffer.
But let us get to the story at hand (which, mind you, is the first I’ve written in ages and is a tribute to a writer I have never read but found out had died several years back after commiting suicide. He’s David Foster Wallace and I intend to read him. There was a lovely animation done online with an interview of him and his conviction that striving for perfection always hinders creativity. That’s why this imperfect story is perfect for his tribute).
I had gone shopping in a new location, perhaps because it was the only activity I could think of, in my anti-social yet longing for excitement state, which could spice things up a notch, or a quarter of a notch. This new location was close to the metro stop Girona, on the yellow line. If that means nothing to you, it’s because you’ve obviously never lived in Barcelona and do not know about the ghost-like stop called Girona, where almost nobody gets off. Except for me and some other weirdos on that Saturday afternoon.
Carrying a 3 kilogram bag of oranges (it was very well priced, mind you, and well worth breaking my back) I was delighted to see that I had a seat on the metro and took it gratefully, oranges nestled in their net between my legs. And I looked around me, as I often do when on a metro, believing myself invisible and stealing glances at the people nearby. Barcelona is lovely for that indeed, for there are hundreds of faces of every colour and emotion, every height and tongue and so the chances of eavesdropping on something thought-provoking are infinite.
Sitting opposite me, with her head wresting on her tightly clenched fist, was a young girl of not more than 24. Now most of the young girls I see are younger than me, which often makes me the opposite of happy, despite my knowing how ridiculous it is to worry about age when you’re merely 25 (and more than a half, which basically means you’re 26 which in turn means you’re closer to 30 than you are to 20 which makes you panic). Anyway.
Her trousers were decorated with little silver shapes and her other arm was holding a very colourful bag with cartoons on it. You could see the original shape of her eyebrows because she was dark-haired and the skin could not hide the small hairs that were waiting to reappear. There was a heavy-set guy next to her, twice her size both vertically and horizontally, and I wondered if they were together, since one of his knees was really close to her and such proximity is avoided on metros between strangers. If they were together, they were definitely not having a good day, because she was facing away from him, her mouth tense, the corners curled downwards, in an *I’m just about to cry but I am controlling it because I can’t be seen like this* pout. Her eyebrows now looked even worse than before, because they too were tense, half frown half plea, as if she was having an internal dialogue which you must admit we all have at some point and then realize our face is moving to the words we are going through silently.
I thought about what was going on with her and decided to do something uncharacteristic of me: approach a total stranger. Three more stops till I got off and I had a plan already figured out. You see, I had a secret weapon which could make any normal human being happy when they were sad: chocolate! And I was willing to share (might have been cause I had already eaten the rest of that chocolate before leaving just one individually wrapped yoghurt-strawberry bar, like the ones Kinder makes, only this one was a cheaper kind, sold by the Schlecker stores.) I took it out of my backpack and held it in my hand, looking at her, trying to figure ou if this was worth the awkwardness I felt was to come. What if she refused my offer? What if she thought I was crazy and the chocolate bar was poisoned? Who takes candy/chocolate bars from strangers nowadays? And just as I was about to get off at my stop I decided that no negative outcome could be that bad and nothing could compare to the chance that she might be so perplexed by this tiny offer of support and consequently step out of her tight circle of pain and self-absorbed anger.
And she was indeed perplexed. I had little time to finalize the transaction, so I had to show her what I wanted. “Smile”, I said, making a move with my index finger and my thumb as if to magically move the corners of my mouth into a smile. And then, thinking she might have been Spanish, I added “Te he visto triste”, which hopefully is the correct translation of “I saw you (were) sad.” She took my offering and I got off the metro, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the guy next to her looking after me, a huge smile on his face.
And I knew that my day had been worth it, because even if I personally had found no reason to smile for myself, I had managed to make someone else a little less miserable, and that, in its turn, made me smile. Because when you can’t find something to take from a world so wonderful, and you know it’s just a passing mood, you can at least give, and have someone take it from you.