Wednesday, August 01, 2007

En la tierra dura.

In stark contrast to all past experiences, my last days in Granada passed slowly, each seemingly more prolonged and uneventful than the last. Such was it that on the morning of our departure, I was shocked by the distinct abruptness of its arrival. The faces of those who had become so familiar began to disappear slowly in the weeks preceding, but their memory lingered with such tenacity that their presence was hardly missed when we would gather around the table at Escuelas as we always did. Our refusal to forget them was so determined, in fact, that in our infrequent pauses in conversation, we could almost still hear their laughter echoing through the street. It was in this state of mind that we left the city, torn between our reluctance to move on from the memories we had made and experiences we'd shared under the shadow of the Alhambra, yet eager to reach our next destination. We drove away from your apartment with dry eyes, knowing already that our time to cry had not yet arrived, allowing our thirst for new adventures and the bitterness of our nostalgia mix in our mouths. And as we approached the city limits, you slipped your hand in mine and held it tightly, undoubtedly aware of the profound sadness stunning me into melancholic silence. Your eyes caught mine in the rear view mirror and I knew, without uttering a single word, that you felt in this moment exactly as I did.

We arrived in Extremadura after a seemingly uneventful drive from the foot of the Sierra Nevada to the expanse of fields of sunflowers and olive trees surrounding the village. I hung my hand from the window, letting the wind play between my fingers, intoxicated by the smell of the sun-scorched red earth which filled the air and feeling as though we had somehow traveled at a velocity which ensured that my heart had not been able to keep up. This feeling ebbed away slowly, however, as we exited the vast emptiness of the freeway and passed slowly through the outskirts and into the heart of Almendralejo, where your mother's kind eyes and father's open arms welcomed us with a touching familiarity and warmth. We passed our first afternoon there in a traditional manner, which would become routine in the coming days, but never suggest the slightest tinge of mundanity. Gathered in the kitchen we seemed to lose ourselves in the effervescent conversation and innumerous exquisite dishes prepared by your mother's loving hands. Any shyness or reserve I may have felt upon arriving dissolved within the first few minutes there, lost somewhere in the sweetness of her chiding and caresses and your brother's smile radiating at me from across the table. We retired to your bedroom to sleep the siesta, but despite the suffocating and stagnant heat, were unable to pass more than a few minutes in separate beds. As had long before become custom, I abandoned the bundle of sheets at my feet and climbed next to you to sleep with my head on your chest and the melody of your short and measured breaths in my ear. Our proximity only seemed to accentuate the heat, making it almost unbearable at times, but despite our own discomfort we lay there like children, tangled in a slumberous and unyielding embrace that would characterize the entirety of the coming days.

In hindsight, probably nothing could have prepared me for all that would transpire during my short but unnervingly intense stay in the village. Every day seemed to bring with it a swirl of emotions and experiences both new, old, and some strange mix of the two. The incessant presence of your family in the house, for instance, the melody of speech patterns and manner of interaction which I had not witnessed since the childhood visits to my grandmother's house, where love and hate, anger and joy, would blend together in the contradiction of gestures and tones that would climax and silence in a way which must have seemed hopelessly inexplicable to the outside eye and ear. Our rare and fleeting moments alone also perplexed me, such that I could no longer completely understand them, nor was certain that I had the desire to. We continued, essentially, as we always had, discussing politics, art, beauty and social revolution as only our youth and naiveté would allow us to, dancing and bursting into song at random intervals in a similarly identical fashion, but something about the context of this interaction began to change and neither of us seemed able to impede it. The transition, almost imperceptible to us at first, became evermore apparent as the hours and days passed by, the comfort of our familiarity growing slowly into a newly discovered intrigue and hesitation which both terrified and perplexed us until the temptation simply became too great.

We lost ourselves under a flawless sky of cobalt blue one afternoon when the entirety of the world seemed to sleep around us, our kisses of friendship and whispered words of affection escalating into passionate and insatiable desperation, blurring our perception of love into an exquisite abandon. These encounters continued, uninterrupted, deep into the endless nights and morning which followed, the taste of our kisses mixing with the salt of the tears we cried, lamenting the inevitability of our separation. At times we could do little more to remedy our sadness than cling to one another helplessly, the silence between us broken only by our lips murmuring nearly inaudible 'i-love-yous'.

If those around us could see this change in our demeanor, they never betrayed it. We passed our afternoons as we normally would, taking your cousin to the park to watch her brown curls blow in the wind as she ran and played in childish disregard, taking trips to nearby cities and visiting the local wineries and vineyards with your mother. In the evenings we would all gather on the balcony to take advantage of the breeze blowing in from the countryside, our only relief from the relentless sun which shone down on us with a fury I had never before known. We spoke of love, loss and suffering, concepts of family and urban life. Your father would scoff openly at our declarations, dismissing us with seasoned skepticism as children and romantics, but not without a sparkle of pride in his deep, sad brown eyes. Your brother, unfailingly, would grace us with his infectious smile and a laugh that would resonate throughout the house, only heightening our sense of togetherness and intimacy. I cherished all of these moments equally, trying to record every detail of them in my memory, knowing that they were numbered and that no future visit to this place would ever be as distinct as this one.

My last morning arrived as we knew it would, bringing with it the first drop in temperature for weeks. The dry and dusty African winds which had been blowing in steadily since the beginning of summer had shifted and arrived now from the north, carrying the smell of the flower fields of Cáseres and a remembrance of home which I could almost taste. I packed my bags carefully as you sat on your bed and watched me, your eyes speaking volumes but your lips remaining silent. The recollection of the past months had culminated into these final few hours and there was simply nothing left to say, nothing that could change the fact that the beautiful dream we had shared was coming to an end and that we were completely helpless to stop it. We all gathered one last time on the balcony to exchange goodbyes and promises to write, call, visit as often and as long as possible, and then drove away from the house slowly, just as we had in Granada, to the bus station on the edge of town. We stood on the platform together, still dumbfounded and unable to grasp the situation entirely. You wrapped me in your arms one final time and held me tightly, kissing my face and cheeks and singing to me softly, as if to quell your own grief as much as mine.

When the bus arrived your mother appeared behind us and pulled me gently from your embrace to wrap me in hers, kissing me profusely and wishing me a safe journey. I thanked her one more time and placed my hand on her cheek, then was pushed into the small mob of boarding passengers. I reached for your hand but felt only your fingertips slip quickly through mine, and for just a moment, felt my heart seize in panic as your face disappeared in the crowd. In that moment, I realized that there was still so much left unsaid, so many things that I simply hadn't been able to find the words for. The unmistakable sting of tears sprang to my eyes, then as suddenly as you had vanished, you reappeared. You pulled me to you and uttered a single question. "Me querrás para siempre?" you asked. "Si, te querré para siempre.", I responded. And you were gone once again.

As the bus rolled away from the station, I watched you stand with your mother and cousin on the platform. I pressed my hand against the window and let a single tear spill onto my cheek. I felt neither the need to wipe it away, nor the desire to hide it from the woman sitting next to me. Instead, I let it sit there, glistening in the sun and reminding me of the promise I had just made you.

Si, te querré para siempre.

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