“My neighbors don’t like birds,” my host mother said, tearing up another piece of bread and throwing it onto the patio. “But I do, so I feed them and blame it on the man next door.”
She smiled as she tossed more bread crumbs onto the porch. A tiny gray bird swooped down and started pecking at the red tiles.
“Mira, it’s so cute!” she said.
A tiny moth fluttered around one of the pink flower pots. Victoria scoffed.
“I hate these mariposas,” she said, grabbing a dish towel and stepping onto the patio. She started viciously whipping the flower with the towel until the moth flew away and purple flower petals fell everywhere.
Victoria turned around and smiled as if she hadn’t just destroyed her own plant.
“There,” she said proudly. “No more mariposas.”
“Do you like salchichas?” Victoria said one night.
“What are salchichas?”
Victoria walked to the fridge and took out a package of what looked like hot dogs.
“Oh yeah, I like those,” I said. “We have those in America.”
“Bueno,” Victoria said. “I’ll make them tonight with some patatas fritas?”
“Patatas fritas?” I echoed. “French fries? Like in America?”
“Yes. Do you like them?”
“Well…” I paused. I was always careful when telling Victoria what I liked. If I ate more of something than usual, she tended to give me bigger portions and cook it more frequently. And as much as I liked pasta and fried eggs, I didn’t want to come back to the U.S. 10 pounds heavier having eaten very little actual Spanish food. I also wondered if french fries were part of her normal diet, or if she was making them because I was American.
“Yes, I like them, though I try not to eat them too often,” I said finally.
“Sí, sí,” Victoria said. “Every once in a while is fine.”
At 9:00 she called me back for dinner. I sat down at the counter and poured myself a glass of water. Victoria placed a large plate of french fries in front of me, then scraped six hot dogs onto my plate. I looked at them, then at Victoria, with sheer terror in my eyes.
“I can’t eat all of those,” I said.
“They’re small,” Victoria said, picking up a kiwi and peeling it. “You can do it.”
“We’re traveling to La Alberca tomorrow,” I said, “so I won’t be here for lunch.”
“La Alberca!” Victoria said. “You know they have a little piglet running around the streets?”
“Sí, everyone feeds it bread and it gets really fat.”
I imagined a little pink piglet with a red collar bouncing up and down the streets of a cute Spanish village. I decided to bring some extra bread with me to La Alberca just in case. Then I realized I hadn’t been listening while Victoria kept talking.
“…And also sausage,” Victoria finished.
“They feed sausage… to the pig?” I repeated slowly.
Victoria looked at me for a moment, then bent over laughing. “No,” she said. “They feed bread to the pig and it gets really fat. Then then they make the pig into sausage.”
I spent the next day searching for the legendary piglet. An hour before leaving, I finally found it. Though it wasn’t as tiny and pink as I’d imagined.
Cuando me vaya
“I’ve only had one other girl who didn’t like to go out,” Victoria said, putting plastic wrap around half a melon. She turned back to the sink and the mountain of dishes that she refused to let me help her wash. It amazed me that two people could dirty so many plates, but she insisted on giving me a separate plate for every type of food.
“But all the other girls I’ve had went out. The American girls went out every night, even when they had class in the morning.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. I’d heard it from enough people that I was somehow “doing it wrong” by sleeping at midnight every night. All my friends said their host mothers expected them to go out and were accustomed to students coming back at 7AM and sleeping until 4. The host mothers acted surprised if we woke up before lunch on Saturday and wondered what was wrong if we stayed home at night.
I’d made a valiant attempt at going out the night before, dragging myself to a Taiwanese girl’s apartment at 11pm to hang out with other international students. I didn’t know how to buy good wine, so I brought cider that no one drank. I had some good conversations and a decent glass of tinto de verano, but I was exhausted, my head hurt, my throat hurt, and my Spanish was getting worse by the minute. A drunk Chinese boy asked if me and my friend Amanda were sisters, even though she was white and blonde while I was half-asian and brunette. I came home at 2:30 while everyone else went to the plaza to keep drinking.
“It’s probably better that you don’t,” Victoria said. I looked up.
“You came here to study, after all,” she said. “Most of these girls never study, they just go out all the time. I don’t understand it, because they’re paying to be here. But you can do whatever you want, just don’t come home drunk.”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” I said. We sat down together and started eating our sopa at the kitchen counter.
Victoria had hosted girls for over ten years, and said she couldn’t remember how many. She never said their names, but she remembered certain things that they did. One American girl liked to sit on the patio and tan. One Korean girl refused to eat rabbit meat because she had a pet rabbit at home. The French girls ate bowls of plain lettuce every day.
Even if I was somehow “doing it wrong,” I liked the idea that maybe Victoria would have a reason to remember me as well.