There is a particular spot on the beach near the office which is especially recommendable for those lost souls who wish to enter into a semi-conscious state of Zen. I refer of course, to the zebra crossing in front of the farmacia. Many a time, while driving, I have seen people standing there, on the lip of the road, staring into space with their eyes part-way shut in some kind of philosophical ecstasy. It would be wrong to stop and join them in meditation and worse still to startle them with a modest burst of the horn. One should merely drive-by with one hand on the wheel as you absently dial somebody on your mobile-phone.
Other times, if the participants forget themselves so much as to take a step off the pavement, their minds far away in transports of bliss, I think it is fair – assuming you notice them – to steer them back to the side of the road with a yell and a generous honk on the horn. Sometimes, as they lose their concentration and return to reality, they playfully shake their fist at your passing and shout some small prayer of gratitude at your departing rear.
So, other times, stripped of my wheels, it is me that stands there, lost in my thoughts, with cars racing past over the black and white lines before me.
And then, out of the blue, one of them stops.
The driver smiles, and gestures for me to cross. I may perhaps be able to worship all the better from the other side with the sun no longer in my eyes.
Or then again, he may simply be an Englishman stopping on a zebra crossing to give way to a pedestrian.
Let me say this: as a driver you soon learn that many people stood on the side of the road in front of a zebra crossing have merely found a pleasant place to pause, often for a refreshing gossip, and show every sign of surprise when you stop in front of them. I mean, local people cross the street when the feeling takes them, not when there are black and white lines stretching away from their well-shined shoes. They must dimly suspect that these lines are for the convenience of the visitors, to perhaps help them navigate their way across the road. But, who wants to cross at this moment anyway – even to be polite – when Consuelo is in full flight about the goings-on in the apartment upstairs.
I even remember stopping once as my car approached the black and white lines, with people (on this occasion) evidently ready to cross, when the car behind me (you could almost hear the tsk) accelerated and overtook me, narrowly missing the small and doughty herd of walkers.
So, the other day, I was not at all surprised while standing by the crosswalk at the farmacia, my mind full of the pills I was intending to purchase, when a car stopped in front of me. Not, near me, or, before me in preparation for me to cross, but actually in front. Blocking my way. Now here’s a new one, I thought. The car would have parked on my toes if I hadn’t of been standing on the elevated pavement.
‘Oiga’, shouted a small and hirsute gent with a black moustache as he lent across his wife’s chest and peered up towards me, ‘¿dondé está la salida para Murcia?’
It’s strange isn’t it? There are some foreigners who, by a happy chance, can blend right in. They are both accepted and ignored at the same time. They would have black hair, perhaps, and might be short. They might have a decent tan or lean towards short-sleeved button-up shirts with small alligators embroidered on their chests. They could wear a heavy gold watch or sport a gold tooth. They might have a generous paunch and be wearing an old but lovingly preserved woolly bullfighter’s hat. I’m not saying that Spaniards look like that; it’s just that you might blend in a bit if you had that sort of appearance. People might confuse you for a local person, who both speaks the King’s Spanish and, Por Dios, knows the way to Murcia. However, when you are tall, blond and with a peeling nose, when your teeth stick out and your upper garment is a tee-shirt that says ‘Gibraltar is British’ (well, all right, I’m embellishing this a bit here), then the chances are that you might be a foreigner. Added to this, when Don Francisco is driving along the beachfront with his señora past a series of hotels and bars with ‘British Breakfast only 18 euros’ written monolingually on a blackboard stuck on the street for the elucidation of passers-by, you may want to be on the lookout for someone, well, more your own size.
So, here we have a fellow who wants to go to Murcia. He’s Spanish and he’s just stopped on a zebra crossing and persuaded this tall foreign gentleman to stoop down and stick his head in the motorist’s open car window. It seems that no one has considered that there might be a language problem – which there isn’t, you see, because I can speak Spanish and I know which way Murcia is.
I was in Murcia once, with Juan and Alfonso. We’d been to see some people on business and, following this, we were settling down in a bar for a beer and a tapa. Juan is a tall red-head, with a beaky nose and freckles. Alfonso has a beard and is blond. Me, well, you know that I don’t look much like Julio Iglesias. So Juan orders the drinks and the barman is pretty impressed. ‘Man’, he says, ‘your Spanish isn’t bad. It needs a bit of work maybe, but it’s not bad at all. Where are you from?’ ‘I’m as Spanish as you are, I’m from Malaga’, says Juan, whose full name is Juan de Dios Diez de Oñate. ‘I’m from Granada’, Alfonso pipes up from the darts machine, ‘and I’m from Valencia’ I added (with my gentle English accent peeping around the words).
He didn’t believe any of us.
So, here we are. I want to get to the farmacia, the motorist wants to get to Murcia and the caravan of cars behind him, all by this time tooting, honking and shouting, are clearly in a hurry to be going somewhere too.
Well, I say, savouring the moment of power over all the traffic before relenting slightly, ‘you just carry on until you reach that huge sign there in front of you and follow the gigantic arrow painted on it which is pointing towards your destination’. I said it in Spanish and I’d like to think that a small blink of surprise crossed his face. ‘Gracias’ he said and put his car into gear.
Do you know, I had almost forgotten why I was standing there, on the edge of the pavement, staring across the street at the farmacia. It was of course to cross the road and get my pills.
But before I could put a foot onto the zebra crossing stretching invitingly in front of me, the whole cavalcade of cars, lorries, bicycles and a fellow on roller blades, all accelerated across my path.
In Andalucía, a zebra crossing is just a street decoration.