A week after arriving in Alcorcón, I turned twenty-two.
I still was settling in, so I didn’t have anybody to celebrate with, but it was still kind of cool to walk around town that day knowing that it was my birthday and that nobody had any idea.
Eventually, I decided that my birthday shouldn’t pass by completely unnoticed, so I went back to the pub with the nice waiters to grab a celebratory birthday coffee.
The Andalusian waitress, let’s call her Mari, was alternating between smoking a cigarette and working the patio. She greeted me with a friendly “Hola, guapa! Sit wherever you’d like!” Then, turning towards the bar, she yelled in her rapid, barely-comprehensible (to my ears) accent, “I need a café con leche for the girl! And don’t forget a glass of water!”
I smiled. The last time I was at the pub, I had gotten a glass of water with my coffee so that I could stealthily take my meds. I guess Mari had assumed that having a coffee and a water was just my thing, and even though I didn’t need the water this time, it was touching that she had remembered!
I wanted to say, “You remember me!”, but I hesitated. I knew all the words, I knew the grammar, but putting it all together… It wasn’t difficult, but I doubted myself! What if I had gotten it totally wrong? What if it didn’t make sense? Or, worst of all, what if I said it right, but my accent was so thick that she couldn’t understand?
So, instead of trying a new sentence, I just smiled and said “Thank you.”
A few minutes later, Mari brought the coffee to my table and I screwed up my courage and gestured for her to come closer. “What’s up?” she said, leaning in.
“Um,” I said, suddenly nervous about speaking. “Today’s my birthday.”
“Ay!” she yelled, excited, and kissed both my cheeks. “Congratulations! How old are you?”
“Uh, take a guess,” I said, not sure if I had phrased that right.
“You want me to guess?” she said. “Alright, um, twenty-three? No, that’s too old, isn’t it?”
“Twenty-two,” I said, grinning
“So young!” she said. “Jovencita! And you’re here in Spain all by yourself? Totally alone?” I nodded and she swore, using a phrase that I will not repeat here. “Brave girl.”
She went back over to the bar and, leaning inside, said something to the waiter working the bar — the nice waiter who gave me all that food on my first day — and they both returned to my table.
“Helen!” the waiter (let’s call him Ruben) said, hitting the ‘H’ way too hard. “It’s your birthday? Congratulations! Do you want a shot?” He mimed taking a drink, in case I hadn’t understood.
“Uh,” I said. I hoped that they didn’t think I had told them about my birthday just to get something for free, but I didn’t know how to express that. “Um… Yeah, sure! Thank you!”
Ruben returned a few minutes later, balancing three shot glasses, filled with creamy liquor, on a silver tray. Mari joined him, and they clinked their little shot glasses against mine. “Felicidades!” Mari said.
“No, congratulations,” Ruben said in English, correcting her. His accent was so thick that it sounded like he had never needed to speak English before this very moment.
“Happy bird day to joo,” Mari told me in English, one-upping Ruben, and we all drank.
After I finished my coffee, I said goodbye to Mari and Ruben, returned to my newly-rented piso, and spent the rest of the night relaxing, thinking that maybe I had made myself some Spanish waiter friends.