Vive Es­panol!

Lan­guage proves no bar­rier in this heart­warm­ing short story by Mari Wal­lace.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

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.”

Duh!

“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.

Vive Es­panol!

The End.

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