One of my neighbour is a dear old lady of 86; born in Seville, she moved to Madrid at the sweet and tender age of 17 (filled with dreams of the big city, imagining she would wear fancy dresses and go to balls) to be with her husband (a man ten years her elder) and work in his shop. She was soon with child; it was but the start of a long line of G…. H…. (I should probably keep their family names a secret). Juan came first then there was Maria-José, the clever one, Diego, the good-looking one, Javier, Conception, Almudena and Luz. Luz’s son Alonso just got married to a Portuguese girl, which is not to her liking and … Are you bored yet? – I am! Wonder how I know all of this? She’s told me! Countless time! Over and over again, as if she wanted me to become her walking memoir.
At first, I was delighted to live in a place where the young and the elderly shared the city equally, where everyone, whether they were couples, families with young children, old ladies and young no-gooders could sit at the same terrace and drink beer. Where else in the world could you see such an array of diversity living happily side by side?
But you see, my sweet old lady is one of a kind. This pro-life, Franco’s memorabilia collector keeps cornering me when I get home. She, not unlike most nans here, grabs you on the staircase; the key is in your hand and you’re but mere meters away from your door, gagging for a cuppa and some trash TV when her mummified hand gets hold of your arms and forces you to listen. She starts, politely at first, chatting about the weather, right before she can get to the core of the conversation: her health. A topic that, though one would think, you could cover it fairly quickly goes on for eternity. There’s the hip and the arthritis, how she almost fell the other day, the doctor who’s a communist, that lump she found, etc… Mine likes to add a plethora of nonsense about how things used to be so much better and how those gays have ruined the neighbourhood and that Franco – Bless his soul – wouldn’t have allowed it. I smile; she’s old, what am I to do? When the conversation finally turns to her retched kids (her words, not mine), I know that I’m in for the long haul. I nod so hard that my neck hurts and even though I have imagined pushing her down the stairs a few times, I stay courteous (you’re British or you’re not).
I find myself regretting the old babushkas back in Moscow that would hurl me down a marble staircase so that they could get in the tube before me, or how they used to bash my head in with a wicker basket because I had dared a smile in public. At least the pain was instant and gone with a flash. They didn’t actually waste any of my time.
My good friend Jorge tells me that in his building, Antonietta, 83, is a dream that gives him recipes on how to make successful paellas and often gives him jamón from her pueblo. I’ll admit it, I’m jealous – why am I the one stuck with a fascist!