I hoisted my backpack onto my back, seams flinching. My plane left in two hours, I would barely make it.
I checked my pockets. Ear buds, check. Purse and passport, check. I descended the steps into the dark station below and swiped my pink metro ticket for the last time.
Plaza Colón. My station. It had become home in the past months. Ay, those Spanish nights in Puerta del Sol. Tapas, jarras de sangria, dancing until the metro opened at dawn. Sigh.
I slid my hand into my pocket. My purse was gone.
But it was just there!
Had I been robbed? On my last day? Was the thief right here in front of me? What could I do?
My Señora’s son taught me a phrase for this moment: Me cago in la leche. Translation: I shit in the milk.
Boy, I had really pooped in the saucer this time.
As I began to craft my words and conjugate the verbs, I thought about Maria, giggling at my Spanish and patiently correcting.
Back in September, I had taken a job to afford life in Europe. I looked up an ad, floundered my way through a phone interview, and found myself the nanny/English tutor for an adorable Spanish/Chinese girl named Maria.
I picked her up from school in her flouncy skirt and sleek pigtails, took her to violin or piano lessons, made her a snack, helped with homework, and taught her English along the way. En realidad, Maria taught me more Spanish than I taught her English, but she loved our secret trips to the book shop and my sympathy for her overscheduled life. What would Maria say?
I walked to the center of the station platform. Ehem. In Spanish, I beseeched the crowd:
Someone stole my purse. You can keep the money, but I need my passport, my flight home to the U.S. takes off in two hours. Please.
Everyone looked around blankly, searching for the silent robber. Or wondering what this blond American girl, sweating from all her luggage, could possibly be saying.
There was no point in going to the airport without a passport. Where would I go now? Would my Señora take me back? How safe was Parque Retiro at night?
I walked, shoulders aching from five months crammed in my pack.
As I passed through the silver turnstile, I caught a glimpse of color. Black, with bright rainbow stripes. There, on the silver handle, hanging by its wrist loop, was my purse.
I had not been robbed! I could go home! People were mostly good after all!
I reentered the subway platform to await my train, sheepishly avoiding eye contact. Humbled in the underbelly of Madrid; a place I will never forget.
I wrote this piece to enter a travel writing contest. Wish me luck! I’d also love feedback re: narrative posts. Salud! –Haute Scout