“He hit me in the face… and he broke my nose. That didn’t hurt so much, but all of the blood really scared me. He said I had a horrible face. And that my tits were saggy. Trying to make me feel bad about myself! And I knew I was done, I would leave him.”
I looked down at my coffee trying to find a response floating around in the black liquid, but all I could do was nod my head.
“You see, he hasn’t seen his daughter in 10 years, and when I tried to press charges against him after he hit me, the police would not do it. His family is rich and powerful and the police would not do it. They wouldn’t protect me.”
I still couldn’t find the right words to respond with, so instead I continued to nod and listen. Sometimes a person just needs to be heard.
“And now he is contacting me, he wants his share of the apartment. His name is on the contract, but… the bastard. He has given me nothing in 10 years and now he wants money from me??” She walked over to the fridge and rummaged around the drawers. “Oh look! this meat was half off! Can you believe it? It’s good quality Basque meat, local, and I got it for half off because the sell by date was about to expire.”
“Oh, that’s a good deal.”
She continued looking through the chilled produce, triumphantly pulling out a Styrofoam dish of various mushrooms. “Oh my god, I forgot about these! I’ll make a salad. Do you like mushrooms?”
“Uh, not really, well they have to be prepared right.”
I watched as she expertly cut each mushroom up into tiny pieces, all while holding it in her hands. She would drop a few pieces into the bowl then toss a few into her mouth. “Do you see that poster? Do you like them?” She nodded with her head to a large black and white poster above the cluttered kitchen table.
“I love Laurel and Hardy. I love Chaplin too. Did you know they were lovers?”
“Laurel and Hardy. Yeah, of course they were. That’s what I grew up watching on t.v. Those were the only programs available in Poland when I was a girl, so everyone there knows about the American comedians.”
“Honestly, I never really liked them much, they were always so mean to each other and violent…” I saw her eyes widen and mouth partially open. “But I mean, they are great, they are a really great part of comedic history…” I trailed off.
Quickly I changed the subject, “Could I get some more coffee? Thanks.” We drank our coffee in silence for a few moments, until her husband barged into the kitchen and rooted around a drawer for a second then walked over to the fridge, nearly knocking my conversation partner over. He would have walked through her if he could, like a ghost. I watched her- eyes closed, not moving, until he left the room.
She continued to cut the mushrooms. “My husband and I are not good any more. He doesn’t talk, only yells. He doesn’t touch me. I want to be wanted… you understand?”
“I do.” I replied. I did.
I asked bluntly, “So, will you leave him?”
“I don’t know. Here in Spain you have to pay lots of money to divorce and we don’t have the money, it’s not an option for us right now. But he really does love his children.” She let out a slow and dismal sigh as the high-pitched voices of her 3 younger children could be heard through the closed door.
As we prepared to leave, she was sitting on the floor nursing one child while another youngster lay in her lap. “I think what you are doing is wonderful, showing your daughter the world, traveling with her…”
“Thank you” I said, as I shifted the weight of my backpack to the other shoulder.
She looked up at me, her face scrunched in momentary contemplation or worry, “Just be careful out there. Really careful.”
“Yeah.” I smiled and nodded, and thought, you too.