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Euskara Badikigu

“Tiene fuego?”

She could not have known how long the coals on which she blew had been

dormant. A breath in, a warm blowing out, and with the suddenness of memory, embers

Jared believed cold as rocks, roared back to life. It was a simple question, common, and

yet as she steadied the match in his hand with her own, Jared could not speak. His

limited Spanish failed him. He knew, though, the answer he would have given, had the

words not sunk like stones in his throat.

“Tiene fuego?”

Do you have fire?

Yes, I have much fire.

Jared thought of that first cigarette with an obsession boarding on lunacy. It

marked the start, the precise moment at which Jared felt his life begin anew. Barcelona,

Plaça de Rei, Mesón del Café, February 13th, 2002: Jared’s 30th birthday. Even the

light of the setting sun through the smoke-tinted window was distinct in his imagination.

It was a brassy orange, tinted with grey, that lent an unblemished smoothness to her

face. Gabriella wore a billowy white blouse, pleated tan skirt, half a dozen beaded ankle

bracelets and Moroccan sandals. Her voice reminded him of women he’d known in

college that drank too much and yelled too often. Only the huskiness in Gabriella’s voice

was derived from long walks in the Pyrenees mountains. An image of her thick black
hair curling round her face as she descended a rocky escarpment was as close to the

truth of her as he had.

“Are you enjoying your stay in Barcelona, Big Mac?” Gabriella asked after

blowing her cigarette smoke out over his head.

“It’s Jared, and yes I am.”

“Do you speak Spanish, Jared?”

“Un pococito. A little bit.”

“It must be difficult to tour Spain without knowing Spanish.”

“At times. I could use a guide,” Jared suggested. He did so with what he thought

his most winning smile.

“We all could. Be safe.”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

Gabriella smiled inwardly as she focused her green eyes directly into his. Jared

sensed she was summing him up. He wanted her to know he was unique, someone of

strength and honor that she would be proud to have as a lover and friend. There was

mystery and passion to be discovered if only she would bother to look. He was not like

the Americans that travelled the world only to sit in hotel lobbies swilling scotch after 18

holes on the local golf course discussing the merits of regional cuisine. Fanny packs

were not a part of his wardrobe. He didn’t drink 32-oz sodas, wear brightly colored t-

shirts, or brag about the economic might of his country.

Before he could relay this mix of thoughts, however, Gabriella was gone. She

took her friend by the arm and walked out of the Mesón del Café. The wooden door

swung shut with a slap, the bell clanged, and the two of them passed by the front
window down the purple-hued alley. Jared was humiliated. For weeks he’d walked

around Barcelona yearning for something tremendous to happen, an event or chance

encounter that would awaken him from the slumber into which he’d fallen. In America

he’d spent hour after hour daydreaming of Spain. Tucked away in his cubicle he

analyzed spread sheets, created risk formulas, and studied behavioral patterns, all

while his imagination journeyed through sun speckled alleys, speared swordfish from

the side of boats, and leapt to the aid of young Spanish beauties unaware of the

speeding taxi. These daily journeys allowed him to believe life existed beyond the over-

sized office tower where he worked. The Mediterranean. Just the word, the way the r’s

rolled in his mouth, conjured blue shadows and broken archways, sail boats on the

horizon and wrecks cloaked in seaweed, wondrous scenery and debaucherous nights.

The idea that he could step on a plane in America, disembark in Barcelona and be

absolutely anyone he wanted was exhilarating. An ex-athlete, an internet entrepreneur,

a porn scout, Jared could have made himself into absolutely anything; instead, he made

himself into a mouse. A timid, sniveling, Milquetoast. What ground him down even

further, what turned the knife of humiliation just a bit more, was Pablo, the bartender.

Pablo had watched the entire interaction with elbows on the bar and pimply chin in

hand. When Jared finally noticed him Pablo shook his head and laughed as though he

had seen it all before.

“Who is she, Pablo?” Jared pleaded, despite himself.

“That, my friend,” Pablo began. He then uncorked a bottle of rioja and poured

Jared a glass, “is Gabriella Urdina. A woman much beyond you. Do not feel too bad,

though. I’ve know fifty men just like you. They turn to me, their faces drooping like wax,
wanting to know of the beautiful Spanish woman. First off, I tell them as I tell you, she is

Basque. Do you see the sign in the window?”

Jared followed Pablo’s cigarette-stained finger to a dusty, faded placard in the

window. He took it from the sill. “Euskara Badikigu,” Jared tried to pronounce the words

with his limited Spanish. Pablo sneered at him.

“It isn’t Spanish, my friend. It’s Basque. It means ‘basque spoken here.’ That’s

why Gabriella comes in here. And that’s why you, an American, should not waste your

time thinking of her. A woman like Gabriella is rooted in the basque soil. She wants a

man of the mountains. Are you such a man?”

Jared drank his wine without answering. Pablo grunted and shuffled to the other

end of the bar where a bearded young man waited patiently to be served. Jared was

infuriated. Pablo had questioned his manhood, but what made it worse was that Jared

could not refute him. His grand opportunity, presented in the shape of one Gabriella

Urdina, had stared directly in his eyes and dared him to act with the courage and

passion he’d always imagined himself to possess. Jared, the mouse, had reverted to

sophomoric banter. He wasn’t a mouse, though. Jared would prove himself as brave as

a Viking if given another chance.

“Where can I find her?” Jared demanded of Pablo. His was ready to shake it out

of the man if necessary.

“I’m not her keeper,” Pablo retorted. Jared glared at him before storming off down

the alley where Gabriella had disappeared.

Jared became familiar with the shop keepers that surrounded the square outside

the Great Royal Palace. He lingered, pretending to shop while he watched the door of
the cafe. At night he wandered from bar to bar, only entering those with the placard

“Euskara Badigiku.” Drunk, depressed, his pockets empty, Jared staggered back to his

hotel with hungry eyes. After ten days, on the verge of passing out with the cracked

ceiling lamp swirling above him, Jared forgot what his apartment in New York City

looked like, forgot his boss’s name, forgot what he did on a daily basis, and threw out

his office security pass in a drunken rage. Jared would walk the streets of Barcelona

until he found her.

“Where is she Pablo?” Jared asked.

Pablo was tired of the question. Each morning Jared came in rumpled, dry-

mouthed, on the verge of tears. Some mornings Pablo ignored him. He just sat on his

orange crate between the espresso machine and the glasses reading football highlights

in the paper. Other mornings he placed an espresso on the counter before Jared asked.

The question always came.

“What do you want me to say?” Pablo shrugged his narrow shoulders toward the

corner. “She’s on her way? Can’t wait to see you?”

“Do you know where she lives? her number?” Jared prodded.

“No. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. Why should I? Who are you? I don’t know

you,” he spat on the floor, rubbed it into the dirt, then walked away.

Jared smoked. He watched the alley turn from gray to watery yellow to a baking

orange. He tried to read the paper Pablo left on the bar. His Spanish improved slowly.

He could now understand who scored and which teams won. He doubted Gabriella

would be impressed by his progress.

“What do you mean you don’t know me?” Jared asked an hour later as though

the conversation had never stopped.

“What is your last name? I don’t know.”

Pablo placed his hands on the bar in front of Jared. In one he held a rag. In the

other was a bottle opener, which he shook at Jared for emphasis. A deep crease formed

between his eyes as he tried to explain what he thought should be obvious.

“All I know is that you are sick of America. You whine that it is crass, too

commercial, it has no soul, that you wish you lived here. What do you love, Jared? What

do you care about? Do you think a fierce, loyal woman like Gabriella is going to go with

you? A man of no conviction? Gabriella would die for her people, her family? Unless you

feel that about someone, somewhere, you should not think of the Gabriellas of the


It was nearly three weeks before Jared saw her again. He circled the street

around the Mesón del Café, stopping in occasionally to see if she was there. Pablo

leered at him as he would a stray dog. The two of them barely exchanged words as

Jared downed the strong espresso. He needed the energy. His search left him

exhausted and broke. Jared discovered the savings he’d brought with him was gone.

Like a junky in need of a fix, he took a cash advance out on his credit card giving

himself one last week to find her. He e-mailed his boss that he was too sick to travel and

didn’t care whether or not the old man believed him. If he left without seeing her he

would forever feel like a failure. Instead of reminiscing over a wonderful trip, he would

end up picking his wounds like scabs.

There was no hesitation when he saw her. She was seated outdoors at Cafè de

l’Acadèmia with a glass of wine and a cheese plate before her. Half a dozen friends

surrounded her, all dressed in fashionably casual clothing and dark sunglasses. They

acted as though the café were there solely for their pleasure. Jared walked directly to

her table, ignoring the disdain of her companions.

“May I sit?” Jared asked using the Spanish he had been feverishly studying.

“Of course, Big Mac,” Gabriella responded in English. She lowered her

sunglasses to assess him in the glittering sunlight. “Are you lost?”

Jared took a chair from a nearby table. The metal legs scraped the cobblestones

as he placed it across from her.

“My name is Jared,” he wasn’t sure how his voice sounded, brusque probably.

His patience had been frayed by the days spent walking in search of her. As delighted

as he was, there was also anger. “I know you think I’m a silly American like all the others

you’ve met, but I’m not.”

“You are wrong, Jared,” Gabriella told him. She sat back in her chair, unaffected

by his aggressive posture. “I don’t think about you at all.”