illustrations by ana carolina maciel
“¡Sigue, sigue!” a pedestrian shouted, laughing, as I chased after the bus that wasn’t going to stop.
I gave up after only a few yards, breathing heavily from the stress of having missed it more than the physical exertion of chasing it. I needed a taxi now or I’d be dangerously close to missing my flight. I don’t like to be dangerously close to anything, but I also knew a cab would be 40 euros at a minimum, ten times the cost of the airport bus.
“Joder,” I thought to myself. “As if I’m not broke enough.” It doesn’t help that I’ve only met one taxista ever that I wasn’t afraid of. I’ve forgotten his name now but he was Greek and his name reflected it. I want to say it was Milo followed by a 15-letter, vowel-heavy last name. He’d given me his card, wanted the return trip business. I liked him, wanted to give it to him, but again was too frugal. I’d figured out the bus system on Crete and foregone taxi service.
I walked the few steps to the nearest in a line of taxis that waited, shark-like, for idiots running late. Idiots like me.
“Al aeropuerto,” I said, shamefaced.
“Claro,” the man was old enough to be my father, but didn’t smile like one.
I rolled my eyes, climbing into the back. He better not try to talk to me. Please don’t. Don’t talk to me. I pulled my ear buds out of my bag, jammed them into my ears before they were even plugged into anything. But just like with the bus, I was too late.
“¿De donde eres?” He asks, dropping the ‘s’ sound from the end like everyone in Sevilla. It’s an accent I’ve tried endlessly to replicate over several months but the faces people pull in response prove my inability.
“América; Estados Unidos.” Probably should’ve said Canada. That’s what people always tell you to do. But there’s a meter in the cab and I figure he can’t cheat me based on my nationality if I’m watching the price climb. I look down at my phone, make sure he’s following the quickest route to the airport. Because of course he could still cheat me.
“Ahh,” he says with a grin. This is what I get more often than not. People don’t want to tell me my country sucks. They want to tell me the opposite. There’s a perverse fascination with the U.S. They want to hate it because it’s so easy to hate but it’s like a train wreck and they can’t hardly look away. We’re the real housewives show of the world.
“¿De donde? Nueva York?” I get this one a lot too so I manage not to smile. People are often convinced they know all about the US so they ask me whether I’m from New York or California. Occasionally someone mentions Florida. But that’s it. The whole country. At first I’d try to explain. In between New York and California, in the middle of the country.
But I generally got blank stares. There’s something between them? There’s more America than New York and California? So instead of explaining, “Sí, de Nueva York.”
He nods knowingly, self-assured at his ability to guess my home. Over Cruzcampos later, he’ll brag to someone about how he can distinguish different American accents, recognize where they’re from. Let him.
I look down at my phone, typing away furiously like I’m important and busy. 99% of people I care about are asleep right now but maybe he’ll buy it and leave me alone. He doesn’t.
He says something then that I can’t make out. Not like he’s saying a word that I don’t know but like he’s just making a noise. It doesn’t sound like Spanish. It doesn’t sound like any language. I look up quizzically and he’s meeting my eyes in the rear view mirror. He looks proud like a dog that’s caught something furry and small. He’s covered an adorable animal with blood and brain matter and wants my approval but I just shake my head slightly the way you do when you’re so confused you don’t even know what question to ask.
He repeats the noise. Definitely not Spanish. Not real Spanish at least, some words are technically Spanish but hide it. When they’re stolen from another language in their entirety and don’t adapt properly. But this doesn’t even sound like that. His accent has changed. I continue my blank stare, narrowing my eyes even further as though squinting improves my hearing.
“Como la música, ¿no?” Like what music? What are you saying? I want to scream at him because he’s making no sense and I didn’t even want to talk in the first place and I just want to be at the airport already. He says it again more slowly. I make out a hard g sound. It’s different than ours but that’s what it is unmistakably. And there’s an r somewhere. Other than that, I’m at a loss.
He’s getting exasperated with my silence. He was so proud a moment ago and, like a puta, I’m refusing to validate him. I wonder if I’ve wandered into a machismo-fueled nightmare. The cab smells like stale sweat so it’s the perfect setting.
But I’m overreacting. He spells it. Hay. Air-Ray. Ooh. Ooh. Bay. Eee gree-ay-gah. It takes me a moment. I’m not an audial learner and it’s hard for me to make sense of a word I’m only hearing spelled.
Then suddenly I’m laughing. He smiles broadly, not because I’m laughing but because my laughter is my recognition and he’s finally gotten what he wanted. And because I’m laughing, my body relaxes. And I know suddenly that I’ll make my flight and that even if I don’t, I’ll be okay. Money’s just money. It’s not the end of the world.
I laugh just long enough that he has to join. It’d be uncomfortable if he didn’t and he knows I’m laughing with him or at him. I’m not even sure which is more correct. We lock eyes again in the rear view mirror – it’s a wonder cabbies aren’t crashing constantly the way they do that – as I stop laughing. I say simply “Sí, sí.”
But after the lack of recognition and the laughter, he wants to learn the proper pronunciation. If you only know one word of a language, you have to at least be able to say it right. We’re pulling up to the airport as we go back and forth. I say it, he repeats. I tell him it’s better even when it’s not, then I say it again. He repeats.
I’m still smiling as I pass through airport security. I’ve met a cabbie who caters to tourists and only knows one English word: groovy.
Ann Schlotzhauer is a Kansas City native and graduate of the University of Tulsa. She currently resides in Florida with a small, gray cat. Her poetry, fiction, and photography can be found in East Jasmine Review, Foliate Oak, Alluvian, Sheila-Na-Gig, Junto, The Wire’s Dream, Cardinal Sins, and more.