The Meeting Place

Gayle Macdonald

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It’s August: three in the morning. Hot, sticky, no breeze, the air is still except for the jumping beat of base, drums and guitar belting out familiar and not so familiar tunes from the makeshift stage directly in from of me. It’s lively, loud and yet quiet. It’s the last night of the summer feria and  I’m sitting on one of the benches dotted around the village square.

The village square, the place where it all happens. Tonight she is decked out in her finest: fairy lights decorate the rose bushes at each of the four entrances, neon lights illuminate the buildings behind the stage and her centre is full of music and movement.  I’m in a quiet corner and I’m alone – sort of. Next to me is an old man, slumped over his half-empty bottle of beer, snoring, asleep, drunk.   We are beside the drinking fountain and I can hear the gentle trickle of water as it splashes onto the ground along with the empty bottles, broken glasses and remains of food from the nearby waffle stand – no thirsty mouths to stem the flow at the moment.

I want to move somewhere else but I can’t. I’m guarding my husband’s photography bag while he and my eldest are working hard to capture the atmosphere of the evening, I say evening, to my English mind it is way past my bedtime but for the hardened locals and the sunburnt tourists, it’s still early. They’re right – this will go on until long after the sun rises.

I catch glimpses of the bigger, more ornate fountain in the middle of the square its presence revealing itself in between the couples twirling past in time to the music and young children running past with their excitement, ice creams, and fizzy pop. Michael Jackson the locals call it, the fountain that is, because when it was first erected about a hundred years ago, it was black. Now it’s white.

The entire village, her friends, relatives, and visitors are here. Many are twisting and spinning to the music in groups, as couples. Many more are sitting at the tables and chairs all around the square which spill onto the road, enjoying a few drinks and tapas. There is also the  huge makeshift bar that runs all round one corner of the square propping up the younger generation, the families, the couples, the groups, not quite ready to dance but taking in the atmosphere as their kids run around and their grandparents do the two-step, whole generations, all in one place, the perfect meeting place.

I was there earlier, at one of the tables, we caught up with some visiting friends from England, had a couple of beers and when their food came, declined the invitation to stay and moved on. We paused at the bar having been invited to have a G&T by our friend, the plumber.  After our almost neat aperitif (The Spanish have no concept of singles or doubles – they just pour and hope for the best) I had a dance with one of the teachers from the local primary school. I say dance, neither of us were very good but I needed to move about a bit and try to work of some of the alcohol. I got told off, actually by an elderly lady – the butcher’s mother, because I had my flip flops in my hand. I hate shoes, especially in the summer, my feet sweat and slip so I feel it’s safer and more comfortable to be without.

The local band is in full flow and kids are weaving in and out of the supports underneath the stage. I don’t like it, I’m afraid something will fail and the whole thing will come crashing down on top of them. 
I’m tired and bored now so I smoke. I don’t really want to because I’ve smoked too much this evening already but I need something to do, and I want to look like I’m enjoying myself but I’m sick of it now, I don’t like the taste and the way it makes me feel. All of a sudden I feel rather drunk.

I look for my kids and my husband but I haven’t seen them in a while. Instead, I can see a couple of students, the summer help in the bar opposite, running back and forth, taking orders, carrying, fetching, looking worn out and stressed. They’re working their butts off for less than 4 Euros an hour.  I know this from experience. I can smell the tapas, the pizzas, the burgers, the fries, the waffles, that delicious barbecue smell you can almost taste and I’m hungry too.

I’m no longer part of the party but sitting on the sideline, watching, waiting. The square is filled with people but I haven’t spoken to anyone in over an hour except to tell my son to be careful and watch what he’s doing as he rushes past with his friends or to ask my husband how he’s getting on as he pops back for a swig of beer and to light a cigarette. I am alone with my neighbour on the bench who is still snoring into his empty bottle.

My eldest son and husband are approaching, they’re laughing, sweating, discussing their photos. “I’m done,” my husband says and starts to gather his things. At last. “How’d you get on?” I ask. “Dunno,” he says – as always. I know he likes to wait until all the images are uploaded until he can tell whether it has been a success or not, but I know it has, it always is.

I leave my bench mate and we weave through the crowd looking for our youngest and pick him up on the edge of the square. We say goodbye to a few friends and head off, leaving the square to enjoy her last night of fun, entertainment, friendship, and laughter. Tomorrow she will be back to normal, deserted, quiet, basking in the heat of the midday sun, giving shelter to the stray dogs who lie next to Michael and receive cool splashes of water on their panting bellies. She will provide a resting place for the elderly gentlemen who have been ushered out of the house so as not to get under their wives feet. She will entertain a few teenagers as they occupy her benches to check their phones and discuss last night’s events. She will quietly echo the last remaining beats of the night before. The perfect meeting place.


Photo Credit: Lan Macdonald,  IRMAC Photography