An introverted teen meets his guide and roommate on his first night in a foreign land.
I flick my fingers in the corners of my eyes and manage to free a few clumps of dry dirt. A couple of round men in bright yellow suits are on the television shouting “Rebajas!” and throwing oranges, bananas, tomatoes, and avocados at a cheering audience.
“Spanish TV is so weird, Dude. I don't get it.” My new roommate flashes a crooked smile full of perfectly straight, white teeth. He drops into the sofa next to me and props his burly, tanned legs on the coffee table in front of us. “How was your flight?”
“Uh--long.” I grab the remote and turn down the TV's volume.
“Too many layovers. Took forever.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here, bud. It will be nice to finally have another live body in the house. I’m Thomas, by the way.” He stretches out an arm that is even more muscular than his legs. I extend my hand ready to shake his, but he pulls away. “Gotta be faster than that, dude.”
I shift in the sofa to expand my personal space. Thomas smells like sea water and garlic, and the odor causes my stomach to growl. Thomas kicks off his sandals and begins to brush sand from between his toes.
“Spent the day at the beach. Not one of the touristy beaches down south, but the one here in town. Melenara; locals go there. Got in a few good soccer games. I think you’ll like it here.”
I nod but can't think of anything to say, so I turn up the volume on the television. A woman in a long black dress with red ruffles is singing. Flamenco, I think. Her voice almost sounds like she's crying, and I think it has some Moorish influence.
“She's singing about her dead husband,” Thomas says. “He was gored during a bullfight a long time ago. She's never gotten over his death.”
“That's, um—interesting,” I say.
“She's full of sad songs. A lot strange obsession with death around here.”
The program doesn't hold my interest, so I click the off button and begin tapping a rhythm with the remote against my knee. I'm horrible at sustaining conversations.
“I'm sorry about sleeping with the TV on,” I say. “I don't usually do that.”
“No sweat, bro.”
We sit for several minutes. Surely I can think of something interesting to say. My flight was long, but uneventful; nothing worth sharing there.
“The TV was actually on when I got here,” I finally say.
“No problem, man,” Thomas laughs. “I sometimes sleep with it on, too. This place gets a little freaky at night. Especially when you think you are alone.”
“Nothing big. Strange noises and junk; you know, old house sounds. And these houses are definitely old.”
I nod my head and try to act nonchalant, but unexplained late-night noises have always haunted me. Any little bump, squeak, or rattle that interrupts my sleeping turns into a monster or psychopath coming to rip me away from the safety of my home. When I was younger, I refused to sleep in my own room until Mom bought me a special MP3 alarm clock that played soothing music to block out all of those terrifying noises until I fell asleep. I packed that clock in one of my suitcases; I hope it works here.
Thomas digs a clump of dried dirt from his left big toenail. After several awkward minutes he begins slapping a pretty amazing counter-beat to my rhythm on his legs and starts whistling a catchy melody. I've heard the song before, but I'm not sure where. It's an old-fashioned song, maybe something from the fifties or sixties, and it seems an odd selection for a surfer dude.
“You must be a pretty sick musician,” I say.
“I saw your guitar. I hope you don’t mind that I was in your bedroom.”
“Nah, that’s chill,” he says.
We pause again. I look at Thomas's muscular arms and then at my own spindly arms. I'm a pathetic science nerd, and I feel more pitiful than usual next to his imposing physique. I want to ask him what his secrets are for building massive muscles, but I pass. I don't want him worrying about living with a freak for the next two weeks. I begin bouncing my right leg like I tend to do when I think too much.
Some muffled voices from the second floor invade our silence. It sounds like a couple arguing. Doors slam, and something heavy rolls across the floor above us. The woman begins to weep.
“They happen much?” I ask.
“Um—yeah. Almost every night.”
I accelerate my leg bounce rhythm until I notice Thomas looking at my knee with one raised eyebrow. I slow the rhythm of my bouncing leg until I eventually stop. The crying from upstairs ends at the same moment.
“So,” I have to come up with something to break this awkwardness. “Does our landlord hate all Americans, or is it just me?”
“Carlos?” Thomas laughs. “Don't worry him. All college students here act that way. It's some sort of rule. If you ask me, they're all jealous.”
“Of the American way. Who wouldn't be jealous?”
Mom warned me about The Ugly American before I left. We expect everyone to speak English in the United States, so why wouldn't others expect us to speak their languages in their own countries? We come across as the ultimate hypocrites because of our absurd expectations. I don't want people thinking I have a superiority complex just because of where I was born.
“Carlos isn't really that bad. He and his girlfriend broke up recently, and he's been in a very bad mood ever since. You'll warm up to him soon enough.”
“Hey, why don’t we blow this joint and explore the town?” Thomas asks.
“Now?” I protest.
“How 'bout it?”
"It must be one o’clock in the morning.” I stretch my arms and try to suppress a yawn.
“This is Spain, my man, and the night is young.” Thomas jumps from the sofa, slips his sandals back on his feet, pulls me by both arms and pushes me toward our front door. Thomas turns and blocks the exit. “I just need to set one rule before we leave. All lights and electronics are to be turned off whenever we leave. Deal?”
There's more where that came from!