Nestled in the narrow streets of Palma de Mallorca, among the layers of green and yellow shutters behind slim garden terraces, where the raw strum of street musicians fills the air, sits Arabay Coffee House. It’s a place of warm greetings, friendly smiles, espresso aromas, and the occasional grinding of coffee beans. Being just outside Plaza Mayor, and a moment’s walk from my apartment, it was a frequent stop of mine during my short stint as an English teacher.
I was only needed at the school three days a week, helping mostly with pronunciation although my American accent differed from the British English they were being taught. This gave me slightly more free time than anyone truly needs. I filled it at coffee shops, practicing my poor Spanish, reading without end, and writing incessantly.
Besides the ever-changing acoustic playlist that continuously played through the shop, giving a mix of Spanish originals and English covers (most of which were well known and perfect for the “coffee shop” ambiance), there was another reason Arabay had become my favorite of the common cornerstone cafes. There was this waitress. She caught my eye one day while loosely focusing on a half-finished story of which my laptop refused to cooperate with me. Distracted by the window and the busy street below, I didn’t notice her until she stood at my table ready to take my order. Her hair was tied back in a tail, with a few stray strands falling down her cheek from the busy shift. But those eyes, they were big and round, alluring without intention, and of a medium-dark roast.
After stumbling through a greeting I used one of my few Spanish lines I’d perfected for ordering, “¿Me pones un cafe con leche, porfa?” This used my favorite reflexive verb me pones, directly translating to you put me, a whimsical phrase. She smiled and continued her rounds through the maze of small tables with coming and going customers, walking swiftly and occasionally adding to the nearly full tray she carried.
She didn’t work often. Countless times I’d tuck myself into my favorite table on the second floor, next to the window overlooking the street, and hope those brown eyes would surprise me again at my table. And when I’d turn to see the pleasant blonde waitress in her denim apron, or my favorite waiter Elias eager to practice his English with me, I smiled through the growing disappointment. But even then I wouldn’t give up hope. I’d stay longer, openly tending to my writing, while inwardly hoping for the shift change to bring her in, tossing on her brown apron and pulling her hair back into her on-the-job look. At least that’s how I pictured it would happen. But at shift’s end a random waiter would slide into place behind the counter. This usually followed with me packing my bag, paying my bill, and whisking off to my flat, despondent whether or not I wrote anything substantial that day.
One day my luck turned. During Correfoc, a festival of fire and demons, where people line the streets and cover their hair for fear of stray sparks (of which there are plenty), I was with a few colleagues of mine, a mix of Americans, Brits, French, and Germans (whom I’d come to learn all speak excellent English due to their school system). It was there that I saw her, in the midst of a crowded plaza. She was wearing a black jacket and tight pants, different from her casual beige clothing I’d seen her in at Arabay, but I recognized her instantly. Her hair fell far past her shoulders, the way young women wear their hair before cutting it to the matured bob fashion. And to my pleasant surprise she was with a few people I knew, fellow language teachers. I was promptly introduced by one of them and it was then that I learned her name: Amara. The name alone sings out beauty and radiance. She spoke English with a spellbinding accent and said her name quickly, as if it were only one syllable. We immediately dove into conversation, leaving the rest of the group in our peripherals, mere background noise.
She was much shorter than I realized, having only seen her while sitting down. But it was to my liking, for I had to bend far down, brushing against her soft hair and smooth skin, to be able to hear her amongst the festival crowd. She smelled of coffee and chocolate. I learned she was from Cologne but her parents were from Spain, explaining her olive skin and enticing accent. She told me about Cologne and how I must go there one day (my only experience in Germany was wintertime in Berlin and I didn’t care for the early sunsets and dreary streets, but for her, I’d travel across the whole country). I must have said something about my mediocre time in Berlin because she spoke very convincingly of Cologne, saying how it was more similar to a Spanish town than anywhere in Germany, where the people are laidback, more carefree, and gather frequently to celebrate holidays and families. I told her it sounded wonderful and I would have to go.
Every time I pulled my ear back from her so I could speak, her big brown eyes pulled me back in like a fly to a light. She was attending the university, which explained her only part-time position at Arabay, and would be returning to Cologne once the semester finished. We had similar timetables.
But just as soon as she appeared, she had to go. Her group of friends were pulling her away for food and drinks at someone’s apartment. Unable to obtain the same invite, she promised she would see me later that night. With a smile, my beautiful Amara turned and left the plaza. Though I have no right to call her mine. I stayed out the entire night, dancing and drinking in the streets, hopeful my love would return. But sadly, I never saw her again that night.
I continued frequenting Arabay, longing to see her behind the counter or sneaking up to my table to continue our conversation from the night I remember as more of a dream. There was one time when walking upstairs to my window-side table I thought I saw her hair flicker out the downstairs entrance, but that was the closest I came to seeing her again. After a month passed I was losing hope. When ordering a drink from Elias I asked him if she was working that day. Through a hodgepodge of jumbled Spanish and broken English I was informed she had returned to Cologne to attend to an ill mother. He was not sure of her return.
Winter became spring and out of spring bloomed summer. My time in Spain was coming to an end. Even if I could find another teaching job when my school finished in June, my visa would expire and I would have to return to the States. I have yet to visit Cologne but I plan to someday, searching coffee shops and universities for the sweet smell of chocolate and coffee, for deep eyes with no end, for my Amara.
Jay Tanji is an American/British writer based in Barcelona. His previous work has been published in Dime Show Review, Gravel, Literally Stories, and Flash Fiction literary magazines. You can follow him on twitter @JKTanji.