The child darted in Starbucks and started running around immediately before his mom could even take one step in. He pushed his way past the people in line to look at the refrigeration section and then bolted right towards the end of the line. His mother, a slender middle-aged, tan woman with a pink blouse tucked in her khakis and a Hermes bag, didn’t seem to care. She casually looked around until she saw me.
“Ana? Nice to meet you,” I said smiling, waiving then standing up to shake her hand. She did not return the smile but was looking around nervously.
“My son destroys everything. I come back to you,” she said and then turned around to find her little boy.
I sat back down and watched the kid show again. I had no idea she was going to bring a kid with her. The kid was now touching everything and he could find in the display area and drooling, too. A lot. People were smiling good naturedly and laughing, like it was so cute.
Ana got her kid under control by saying something in Spanish. Then, she swooped him up and walked back to my table. She kicked another chair over to our table and plopped him down. Somehow he grabbed a biscotti in the last few minutes and was nawing on it still in plastic.
“OK. This is my son, Enrique. He doesn’t know English,” Ana said, now with a smile.
“Hola, Enrique.” He kept on drooling. “Is he learning English, too?”
“No, just me. I know I am old for a language program. No one else has children at the school. They are all your age.”
“Oh, uh, I wanted to practice Spanish and meet new people. I don’t care about how old you are. Thanks for coming.”
In literally, the span of a few minutes, Enrique managed to climb down from the chair and went back up to the line where there was a new batch of people waiting to order. My attention went back to watching him, and then Ana, still looking at me, unaffected by her son’s actions asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
I was surprised at how forward this question was. I looked back at Ana who didn’t seem to care one bit that her son was again stealing something.
“No,” I said shaking my head. “I’m pretty busy working and finishing my program.”
“You know, I’m not a good conversation partner for you because with Enrique it’s just too difficult to manage this. Like now. But there is one boy in my class that also wants to practice English.”
“A boy? Like how old?” I knew her program and was sure it was not open to children.
“Like your age.”
“I’ll email you. His name is Julio. I’m sorry. It’s my son… I have to leave now.”
Enrique, as if on command, started to wail. Something must have happened but I didn’t see it. I only saw Ana scooping him up and walking towards the door. She opened the door, then looked at me and said loudly, “Don’t ever have kids.”
I started to waive goodbye but it was too late. Their backs were now the only thing visible as they walked across the parking lot. I put my notebook in my backpack and grabbed my tea to walk back to my apartment. I thought that conversation exchange was going to last at least an hour but looking at my watch, it only lasted ten minutes, thanks to Enrique.
A few days later, Ana made an introduction to Julio over email. There was a big salsa party that was happening on Friday and when he suggested we meet then I wrote back and invited him. I thought since he was new to Washington, D.C. that inviting him to come could be fun. He wrote back and said he was tall and would be there wearing jeans and a white shirt.
The salsa bar was on the second floor of a Cuban restaurant. As I walked up with the stairs with my friend, Susan, she said some of her friends were already inside at the bar. It was still early and the music was barely audible from the stairs. A sense of excitement was growing in me and I was really looking forward to meeting Julio.
When we got to the last stair, Susan went in first and I followed. We saw our friends and gave quick hugs. All of our friends knew I was going to meet a tall guy with a white shirt and dark jeans, but they assured me that no one matching that description had arrived. Our group was chatting and drinking while we glanced around to see the pool of potential dance partners. And then, in walked a man that was wearing a white shirt and jeans. Susan saw him first and said, “That’s your Julio.” I made eye contact with my Juilo and I waived. He was not tall at all, barely my height, but knew most guys lie about their height anyway.
“Hi, are you Julio?” I asked as he walked over.
“Me Julio. No English,” he replied.
“¿Conoces a Ana con el niño?”
“Si, Ana. ¿Bailamos?”
“Uh, soy la chica de Ohio y conocí a Ana la semana pasada.”
“Encantada, Julio,” I said as I held out my hand but he just grabbed it and led me to the dance floor.
Before I knew it we were in the center of the dance floor. Julio was the type of dancer that could make a beginner look like a professional. He was exactly what I needed in a lead and his cues were perfect. Each step fell in sync with the background drums. It was like he had memorized a choreographed routine for this song. When the song ended, people were clapping and then I started clapping. Julio took a bow.
I tried to make conversation again and asked, “How long have you been studying English?”
“No English,” he said with a smile, “Spanish.” Then, we started dancing again. This guy was the best dancer I ever met and he proved it when he would separate from our salsa partnership and do a solo dance. People applauded and he kept on entertaining everyone, including me, song after song.
“Julio, I need some water,” I said during one of his solo perfomances.
I went over the bar and didn’t see any of my friends but I saw Julio’s friend who he came with. While drinking my water, his friend asked, “¿Bailamos?”
And, again, I was on the dance floor. Julio found another woman as his partner and we went next to them. This was a dance-off and I was the gringa accessory. I was spinning and dancing like I had lost control and I just kept on following along having the time of my life.
After that song ended, people were clapping again. I had to sit down and drink some water. There was an empty seat at the end of the bar that had my name on. I made a bee line through the now crowded dancefloor and took that seat. I ordered another water and wiped my forehead which was sweaty. Everything was sweaty at this point.
I looked around and only saw Susan dancing. The rest of the group must have left. She looked like she was having fun. Then, after some time, Julio came over to stand next to me.
“Gracias, Julio. ¿De dónde eres?”
“De aquí,” he replied with a smile.
“No, ¿dónde naciste?” I tried again, but he was grabbing my arm to dance again.
“Ah, no thank you. I am tired and too sweaty. I’m going to leave soon.”
“OK,” he said then I saw him ask another girl to dance.
He was acting a bit strange and I thought he must just really like to dance. Anyway, we had each other’s email addresses so we could coordinate a real conversation exchange or another dance-a-thon.
Three days after the salsa party, I still hadn’t heard from Julio. I decided to write him that I had a lot of fun on Friday and wanted to see if he had time in the coming week to do a conversation exchange. He wrote back and said that he was sorry that couldn’t make it on Friday, but he was free on Wednesday.
SINGLE? Join on 10/18 for a Singles Happy Hour. Short story by L.B. Lewis for November 15, 2017. Copyrighted. All rights reserved.