Barcelona – Part Two
continued from part one
Sleeping a dramatic situation off makes all the difference in the world. Sometimes bad things happen. Some days suck. But tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities, new meaning, and a different future on the horizon.
I must’ve been really tired because I felt very well rested when I woke. Obviously, what I had needed to do was get sleep. I quickly got dressed and ready, and then my mother and I went down to the kitchen of our pensión for breakfast. I explained to her what happened and expressed that I wanted to go to the police station in order to try and find my iPhone. She disagreed and said my iPhone was probably lost forever, but I was holding onto a hero of hope and possibility and wanted to look for it anyway. Never say never, I thought.
We finished breakfast and headed out onto the streets of Barcelona. I had been mugged somewhere after being picked up in the subway near La Rambla, so we took a cab there hoping to find the nearest police station. We found, with our experience with cabdrivers, that hardly any of them spoke any English at all.
I would ask them, “Hablo Español?” to which they would often reply:
Then I would ask, “Parlez-vous Français?” to which the reply was again, “No!”
I’d sigh and say all frustrated, “Hablo Catalan?” and of course, the driver would say,
“Shit!” I’d say to my mom. She’d just shrug, not knowing what to do. It was time to pull out the last resorts!
“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”
The driver’s reply, of course, was, “Ja. Ich spreche sehr güt Deutsch!”
Yes, my college-level German that I hadn’t touched since 2006 due to living in Los Angeles got us to La Rambla that day faster than any cabbie had before him. I guess I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t exactly drop us off in front of a police station. I hadn’t really eaten much at breakfast and all I could think about was wanting to eat something American. Anything to remind me of being back home and away from Spain.
Barcelona delivered. There out of the abyss that was La Rambla, I smelled that sweet smell that any American can always recognize. The smell of the golden arches: McDonald’s! It’s crazy how something as simple as eating at McDonald’s can make you feel like you’re at home and give you some comfort when you’re in a foreign land, no matter how awful the food there is for you.
We tried asking a few people where the nearest cop house was located. A few natives, with their limited English, told us it was two blocks away. My mom started complaining even before we started walking, but I promised her that it wouldn’t be too far. We made it to the police station, which was actually eight blocks away, in a little under thirty minutes because of my mother being handicapped and not being able to walk very fast. However it was not an official station—just the check-in station—and they told us the other station was another four blocks away.
Then my mother really started complaining, and there was no cab in sight. I was becoming angry with how slow she was going, and she was really starting to irritate me. I started walking far ahead of her, trying to make her catch up with me. The winding narrow street that we were on more closely resembled an alleyway in this upper edge of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic: the oldest part of the city. It was getting dark, and I noticed a lot of people who looked like they were Moroccans creeping around and looking suspicious around my mother.
I yelled to my mum, “Mom, hurry up! You’re going to get pick-pocketed or mugged!”
She wouldn’t listen but just kept crawling along. I finally reached the police station, while she had sat down on a fountain three blocks away. I walked back to her and pointed out where I was going so she would be able to find it. I then walked back the three blocks and entered through the front doors. This particular police palace resembled a cop house that could be in the heart of the Bronx: bulletproof everything!
I had to stand in line to even talk to anybody. That line turned out to be forty-five minutes long—me just standing there while my mother sat outside in the dusk of night. I reached the counter and was ready to tell them my story when they informed me that I had to stand in line for the English-speaking desk, which had an even longer line in front of it.
After another thirty-five minutes, I finally reached the representative that spoke the Queen’s tongue and was able to explain what happened. This man, who happened to be gay, informed me of my options: I could either try contacting my service provider on my phone back in America and/or I could file an official police report there in Barcelona. The latter option would take another two-and-a-half hours of processing and would involve getting an official officer down to take down my mugger’s physical description.
At that point, I realized just how selfish I was being. I’d left my mom outside for a good hour-and-a-half and hadn’t thought about her welfare and how much I made her walk, nor how safe she was out there. I left that police station knowing I had to accept the inevitable: The phone was gone for good. My poor mom was sitting outside waiting for me and looked up when I walked out of the police station. She could tell by the look on my face that I had not been successful. I could tell by the look on her face that she was tired, hungry, and fucking over it. I was fucking over it, too.
“Let’s get the hell outta here and get something real to eat,” I said.
“I think that’s a good idea,” my mother replied.
She often knows when to play the good diplomat with me. And I thanked her for that. Instead of bitching about me dragging her to Egypt and back, she held her tongue and just agreed with me.
Sometime before midnight—just like typical Barcelonians—we made it to a restaurant close to our hotel for dinner. We both had napped, and; therefore we were in much better moods. I’ll always remember that night at the restaurant for two reasons: My mother and I were trying our damnedest to stay positive and have something good come out of the day. Plus, I’ll never forget that the featured entree of the night at this four-star restaurant was pigeon.
I was hell-bent on making the best out of a crap situation. I knew I HAD to go out that night, determined to get wasted, and in the immortal words of Judy Garland, “Get happy.” I always say when life hands you limes, make a vodka soda and drink it down like a thirsty bitch! I did just that! I showered after dinner and headed out of that pensión on a goddamned mission to succeed in turning my frown upside down. I danced the night away. And the healing began.
The next day, my mom and I toured the city on one of those bus tours. When we had finished, we decided to walk to a nearby restaurant for food. We left the front door of our hotel and began strolling down Gran Via, the widest and busiest of Barcelona’s streets. My mother walks much slower than I do, so I began speeding ahead to window shop.
I’d passed my mom to peer in the window of a closed shop but had only walked beyond her maybe half a block or so. I don’t even remember what caught my attention in that window, but I knew it held my interest and made me nearly forget about my mom traipsing behind.
I saw her cross the street out of the corner of my eye and step up to the curb. The sidewalks in BCN are paved rounded flat and ramped to street level at intersections to allow for wheelchair and stroller access. Mama Deb, as it turns out, didn’t see the reduced edge of the curb and barely missed the corner.
To both our dismay, she lost her balance and fell backward off the corner, onto her butt, and completely wiped out in the street. It was like I barely saw out of my peripheral vision what had happened, but couldn’t even mentally process that she had collapsed until I saw her on the ground, not moving. My mouth dropped ,and I was frozen in shock and dismay. My mother had eaten shit then and there on the streets of Barcelona, and I had been powerless to stop it.
I don’t know why I didn’t immediately run to her to help her. I was so dumbfounded that I didn’t know what to do. All I could think of was the worst knowing that this city hadn’t been as accommodating as we had wished for. This place that had knocked me off my feet with a swift blow to the face, had kicked my mother down unmercifully. When I snapped back into the reality of what happened and started running the half block back to her, I yelled out to her:
My cries of fear were muffled, though. Not by the traffic zipping down Gran Via, but by a sudden grouping of people that had gathered around my fallen mother. Running back to her seemed like an eternity, and the thought of these people swarming my mother and robbing her blind as she lay there wounded did cross my mind as I sprinted toward her.
Sometimes people and places do things that shock the hell out of you. I caught up to my mom and suddenly realized that the ten or fifteen perfect strangers that encircled her had rushed to help my mother, not harm her!
Two moped drivers had stopped upon seeing the carnage. A taxi stopped to see if he was needed to take her to the hospital. Three people had knelt down to hold her hand and make sure she was conscious. An older woman had grabbed mom’s purse and was clutching it hard, determined to make sure it was returned to its rightful owner. A younger gentleman grabbed my mom’s cane while some other lady handed back her shoes. Two other gentlemen grabbed my mom by her arms to pull her up, while the woman with mom’s purse put a hand on her back for support as she was lifted to her feet. They were asking her, in English, if she was all right and if she had hit her head.
In a nutshell, my mom had gone down in flames, and my world stopped for a brief few seconds. But the people of Barcelona—perfect strangers—had rushed to her aid to guarantee her safety! None of these people knew each other. None of these people knew my mom or me, yet couldn’t stand idly by and let my poor mother suffer, even for an instant. Just complete strangers whose compassion had lead them to heroically and selflessly make sure that another human being was out of harm’s way.
Tears filled my eyes. I had been so discouraged by what had happened to me that I had forgotten one of the key points of being human. There are things that just aren’t that important compared to the priceless value of human life. Yes, I lost my phone with everything on it. But had I lost my life? Was I permanently damaged, other than my own humility, over the incident? No. No, I wasn’t. Was my mother fine? Yes, she was. Possessions can seem like everything at the time, but people and relationships are what truly matter.
It was in that moment that I was so fucking grateful once again to be in Barcelona. I had really seen BCN’s true colors in that moment within that group of strangers aiding my mother. Colors of faith, colors of humanity, and colors of an appreciation for the human spirit. Barcelona, it seems, had taken us into her arms and protected us like the lioness that she truly is.
You see, it is my “Anne Frankian” belief that people are inherently good inside. Even the most crotchety person can smile at a baby giggling or a puppy playing. Even the harshest person can lend a hand in time of dire need. Finally, a city can truly, really be there for you when you least expect it.
Looking back on our trip, I question whether or not what happened was meant to happen. My mother, as it turned out, was bruised and shaken, but not to be counted out. She had fallen on her butt which had padded her and prevented her from breaking anything. Although a little embarrassed, she would walk away from the entire event almost completely unharmed.
When I ended up fully upgrading to a new iPhone several months later and plugged my new phone into my computer to sync all the information, it opened up files that I had forgotten I had uploaded the day before my assault in Spain! These were folders that had been previously unobtainable to me post-Barcelona. These pictures, writings, data and more—to my complete disbelief—equated to about 85 percent of the information, music, and notes that I had once thought I’d lost after my mugging! As it turns out, I hadn’t lost nearly as much as I thought I had.
In actuality, I gained a lot from my experience in Barcelona. I learned not to be so selfish and to realize that not everyone can keep up with me in the same way I cannot keep up with everyone. I learned the value of humanity over possessions and a gratitude for the human spirit. I learned that just because you get knocked down, it doesn’t mean the end of the world. What it really means is that your strength is being tested. How one handles the adversity thrown at them is a sign of that person’s inner strength. I was reminded of how much I love my mom and why I enjoyed being around her. But most of all, I remembered the old adage of not judging a book by its cover. Sometimes a city, place, or person needs a layer of skin stripped from it to reveal their full truth.
I could have been mugged in any city in any country in the world. My mother could have fallen in any other city in the world. These things, however, happened to us in the city by the sea: Barcelona, España. Like the matriarch of a family sacred, she put a bandage on our scraped knees, kissed us on the forehead, and sent us on our way.
I truly wish the best for the guy who assaulted me. I know the economic situation there in Spain has gotten worse, and I know it’s very difficult to make money as an African immigrant in Europe. Maybe my iPhone helped him get on his feet. Whatever he did with it, I hope karma didn’t bite him too hard and that my phone helped him with his struggles.
If you asked me if I would ever go back to Barcelona again, my answer—without even thinking—immediately and most definitely would be, “Yes! In a heartbeat.” It’s a fiercely amazing city with excellent people and a pulse unrivaled anywhere else in the world.
My question for you would most certainly be, “When do we leave?”
previous: Barcelona – Part One
more by KOELEN ANDREWS
photograph by Ermin Celikovic