It probably went years ago. I just never noticed. But, from day one on this planet of Spain, wherever we travelled people stared at us both as if we were some form of extra-terrestrial life. You could even hear whispers in the background: “That’s one, the guy drinking the beer”. “How can that be?” spurted his companion, they look just like us.”
My latent revelation of the circumstances came to light last Thursday at the Torre Cardenas Hospital in Almeria. While waiting for my turn to be called I suddenly looked up and noticed I was the only “foreigner” present in the large room. Even more shocking was to discover no-one was staring at me, studying me, cutting right to the bone of what probably made me tick. You see, that’s the way it was in the first 5-6 years here.
I blew a long sigh of relief. The constant scrutiny and observance was no passing thing. It was a proper in depth examination of your entirety, from the top of your hair to the tips of your lace-up shoes. You knew you would become the highlight of conversation that night back in the unlit cortijos or some bar without music or dance—and the news was important and defining. In the early days and in some remote villages some of the more brazen came forward and almost touched you, nose to nose to complete their understanding of inspection. Their most common criticism concerning us was “they talk funny, like dogs barking”. (I’ve kept that analysis all these years).
Of course, we were examining them too, but with quick side glances and then rapidly turning our head. We were their viewing objects, on stage, in the limelight and it couldn’t be avoided.
Something mentally unusual passes when the person in front of you cannot speak or understand your language. The comments we shared between ourselves concerning our watchful audience weren´t all friendly either. We had just never suffered such a public affront. Quite often we turned our backs on them and felt relieved, but as we were non-personages in their reality, they often shifted seats and standing position to continue their harassing examinations of our beings.
Now, all of this was trivial in fact as our son, the silken-haired flaxen blond boy suffered much more; proper physical abuse. In public markets the elderly ladies to show their affection would pull his hair, pinch his nose and cheeks until he screamed and poke him wherever to see if he had self-defence mechanisms. When he got old enough to speak he would plead with us desperately to leave him home alone. He didn’t like the aggressive circus he was forced to endure.
Even if he was asleep he had to be awoken. The most elderly of the assault team took the lead and would not be put off from her loving pinches, pokes and squeezes. And if he did squeal, her love wasn’t being reciprocated. Of course, for first-timers like ourselves we were horrified by the shenanigans, but nothing stopped them.