This is a sketch from one of my experiences in the common room of Sant Jordi Mambo Tango hostel in Barcelona, Spain.
Cheerful voices drifted upward and grew as I descended Into the cellar-like cavern beneath the hostel, the metal staircase announcing my arrival in eight ringing claps.
The room was dark with only a few christmas lights strung sloppily in the corners, little pools of reddened light on brown brick walls. Loud clangs and WHOP WHOPS came pouring out of the tiny kitchen to my right, alive with the frenetic movements of travelers making pasta and chopping vegetables.
I found an empty chair in an isolated area near the TV and gave a “sup” to the two guys lounging on the couch watching Billy Madison. One gave me a quick nod of acknowledgement, the other nodded toward the TV, his pointer finger half-buried in a jar of Nutella.
WHOP WHOP WHOP
In the center of the room a group of four sat at the long communal table discussing the social decay of common rooms when a television is introduced. A grunt of agreement came from the bearded man who stood hunched over the biggest loaf of bread I’d ever seen, hacking off an enormous slice with his switchblade.
“That’s quite the loaf,” I said, my eyes slowly devouring the deep golden crust and white fluffy flesh of the bread, hoping in vain he’d offer me some.
“Thanks.” He said, eyeing me suspiciously as my eyes darted away from the bread as if I’d been caught staring at cleavage.
Two others faced opposite each other playing chess while a thin girl with dirty-blond hair sat watching, an amused expression on her face as the victor made his final move. He leaned over the table, curling his finger beneath his chin and whispered.
He whispered again.
“I can’t hear you brother, why’re you whispering?”
With an incredulous look he turned to the girl next to him and whispered in her ear.
“He lost his voice at a football match,” she said laughing. “He asked if you want a rematch.”
“I’m OK, mate,” said the loser, shaking his head as he stood up.
I listened half-paying attention to half the things in the room – WHOP WHOP WHOP – when I heard another whisper.
I looked at him, not sure if he was talking to me.
“Hey, wanna play?”
“Wanna play?” He whispered again, pointing toward the chess board.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. “I’m rusty though.”
“Already with the excuses.” He whispered with a smile.
We set up our pieces as the noises in the kitchen shifted to an oily sizzle.
“Check Mate,” I said.
The whisperer sat mutely in his chair, elbows resting on the table while his hands burrowed absently into the depths of his curly black hair. Moments passed in shocked silence as his eyes sparkled amusedly at the board then at the girl to his right, then back to the board.
“I’m Jon.” I said, extending my hand.
His gaze rose to my hand, then my face. “David.” He whispered, accepting the handshake. And with a grin he whispered, “Rematch mother fucker?”