Language proves no barrier in this heartwarming short story by Mari Wallace.
I was determined to learn Spanish for my family
IHAVE read and reread Karl’s e-mail about 20 times. Hola, Mum. Great news. Maria and I have decided to tie the knot! The other good news is that the company has agreed to my returning to the London office in six months’ time.
I’ve loved being here in Chile – after all, that’s where I met Maria – but it will be wonderful to bring my bride-to-be back to the UK to meet you and settle down in my homeland.
To have my only child back here after two years of working abroad, with the bonus of a wife – well, what could be nicer? Maybe there would be grandchildren . . . But one step at a time.
I’ve always been proud of Karl. He was only eight when Ron died, so it was just the two of us for all those years of school, university, then his first job.
Early on Karl showed an aptitude not only for maths but also for languages. An accountant who was fluent in Spanish and French was always employable.
But I have to say that my heart sank when he told me he was going to work in Santiago for two years.
Enough about that. He’s coming home!
Karl hasn’t told me a great deal about my future daughter-in-law except that she’s bright and very pretty – which I could certainly see in the photo he e-mailed me.
When I’d read his e-mail for the 21st time I came to a decision: to study Spanish. Then, when I greeted Maria, I could do so in her own language. That way, she’d know straight away that I welcomed her.
I spent a few hours on the internet, trawling around to find a suitable class. As I only worked two days a week as a receptionist at the dental surgery, I could enrol in a daytime class.
Vive Espanol! stood out from the rest. Just the right times and dates, and reasonable fees. Decision made.
“Bienvenidos!” Señora Aguilar greeted the group assembled for the first class.
I was nervous. I’d been to Spain a few times but had never studied the language. Would I be up to the challenge? Would I look stupid?
I remembered my first time in Alicante. I’d run into a couple from England who had insisted, “All you have to do is speak English to them really loud and they’ll get the idea.”
“Now I want each of you to tell me why you want to learn Spanish,” the señora said.
One by one we introduced ourselves by saying “Me llamo” and then our name. It was fascinating to hear my classmates’ very different reasons for being there.
Among them was Lily, whose husband had booked a fabulous twentyfifth-anniversary trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Carmen wanted to research her family’s Spanish ancestry. Rita was going to flamenco classes.
Joanna’s situation almost mirrored my own – to bond with her stepdaughter who was studying Spanish in school.
There was only one man in this group of about a dozen females. His name was Alan.
“My wife had early onset Alzheimer’s,” he told us in a voice so quiet you had to strain to hear him. “I’ve read that studying a second language can help prevent, or at least delay, Alzheimer’s.”
He smiled shyly.
“I’ve always liked the sound of Spanish – quite musical, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m here to give it a go.”
He looked up at Señora Aguilar for confirmation.
“I’m sure if we all help each other, it will be a good experience for everyone,” she said, nodding encouragingly.
As the weeks went by I worked hard both in class and with the homework. My goal was to master as much Spanish as possible before Karl’s return with Maria.
Señora Aguilar, who by this time had told us to call her Pilar, taught us how to greet each other, tell the time, talk about the weather, and count up to 1,000.
When we asked each other how we were –
“Como estas?” – the responses ranged from “Muy bien” to my favourite, “Fatal”. That doesn’t mean you’re at death’s door – it just means you’re miserable.
We learned the days of the week, the months of the year, how to ask for and give directions. We did role-play exercises on booking a hotel room, a table in a restaurant; how to order food.
Sometimes, after class, several of us would go to a nearby café. We shared personal stories and got to know each other in this relaxed environment.
My contributions to the conversation tended to be all about Karl and Maria – who were, of course, my main focus.
Everyone was polite, but I was sure they were bored to tears
with hearing about my son’s return and the impending wedding. Although Alan joined us, he was the least forthcoming. It had only been about eighteen months since his wife had died, whereas I’d had twenty years to move on.
As we left the café one rainy day, Alan produced his umbrella to shelter me. His question, when we reached my car, came as a great surprise.
“Jenny, would you like to go out for a meal with me some time?”
I was completely taken aback, but also flattered.
“Sure,” I replied, giving him my mobile number.
He rang two days later and we made a date.
“I found a restaurant that I hope you’ll like,” he said.
To my delight it was Spanish, and he’d cleverly booked the Friday night when there was entertainment – a trio of flamenco dancers.
On arrival, we immediately entered into the spirit of the place by trying to speak Spanish to the waiters and forcing ourselves to read only the Spanish side of the menu while laughing at our attempts.
“I’ve enjoyed our evening very much,” Alan said as we bid each other goodnight. “I’d very much like to see you again.”
That’s how it started. We would go out for dinner – to the Spanish restaurant or the cinema or local concerts.
Alan began to come round regularly to my place for some home cooking. Admitting to being a failure in the kitchen, he was enthusiastic and appreciative of whatever I made. It was a joy to have someone to cook for again.
The day I’d been looking forward to for six months finally arrived. When the doorbell rang I leaped to open the door to Maria and my beloved son.
Karl and I hugged and hugged. Then I turned to Maria and spoke with all the confidence I could muster.
“Bienvenida, mi nuera para ser.”
Pilar had assured me this was how to say, “Welcome, my daughter-in-law-to-be”.
I was relieved when a big smile spread across Maria’s lovely face. She’d understood me!
“I’m absolutely delighted to meet you at long last, my mother-in-law,” she responded in perfect English. “By the way, your Spanish is wonderful.”
Typical! My son had neglected to tell me that Maria had been educated at an international school and was fluent in English as well as her native Spanish, French and Portuguese.
“I feel guilty,” Karl said, “that you went to all that trouble to learn Spanish when you really didn’t need to. But I was so impressed that you’d done it. I’m proud of you, Mum,” he added, beaming.
Karl had also neglected to tell me that Maria was already mi nuera, my daughter-in-law – as they’d got married a week before leaving Chile.
“It was just a quiet ceremony for her parents and close friends,” Karl said. “But we’re going to make it up to you, Mum, by having a really big party here. You can invite everyone from your
Spanish class, if you like.”
“There’s only one person from my Spanish class I’d like to invite, Karl,” I said, smiling mischievously at my son. “I’d like to introduce you and Maria to Alan.”
Right on cue, out stepped Alan from his “hideaway” in the kitchen.
“Encantado,” he said, offering his hand to a gob-smacked Karl.
“Encantado,” he repeated, kissing Maria on both cheeks.
Bearing in mind that Maria spoke perfect English, you might argue that my studying Spanish was really a waste of time. But, of course, it’s proved to be far from that.
In fact, Alan and I have set the date. And we’re going to the Costa del Sol in sunny Spain for our honeymoon.