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What I Really Did on my Summer Vacation


You say you want to know what we did on our summer vacation, but do you really want to know?  Why would you ask teenagers this question? You know that for most of our supposed vacation I was taking remedial math. You don't know about the last two weeks. All right.

On the last day of August I traveled to Barcelona with my parents.  My mother had an obsession with mosaics. The trip was a present from my dad to my mom.  They brought me because what else were they supposed to do with a thirteen-year-old girl? It was too late to send me to camp. The hotel was a three-star, four-storey job; our room had a double bed and a cot in the corner for me. The comforters were plush and orange. Not super exciting, although my mother kept exclaiming to my father how clean everything was, as if she had been expecting to be living in filth for two weeks. 

The two of them went off every day to look at tiles.  I always pretended to be sleeping in the morning when they set off, so after trying to wake me up a few times they would leave me alone.  As soon as they left, I would raid my mother's cosmetic bag, paint my face as garishly as I could, put on a long t-shirt but no shorts, just underwear and flip-flops, and run to the plaza by the magazine stores, the plaza they didn't know about, where the other putas stood around chewing gum and tottering on their high heels.  I say "other" but I was not really a prostitute, just a wannabe, just a kid traveling with her parents hoping something would happen to her.

I never actually got picked up. I don't think it was because I was too young. The makeup made me look almost ten years older, I swear.  Maybe it was the flip-flops.

However, on the last day, I went to another plaza where artisans were selling their stuff and where a group of Peruvian buskers were playing.  I spoke to a beautiful man who was selling cheap jewellery, and to my relief he understood my Spanish, whereas none of the locals could.  This was because Jorge was Peruvian, and Mr. Cortes teaches us South American, not European Spanish.  I joked that I wanted to buy some jewellery but had no money, so would he just give me some? He picked a necklace off its hook.  It consisted of a pewter chain with a long cross made out of wood, crudely painted green and studded with tiny tiles.  He put it around my neck.  Then he asked me if I wanted to go somewhere with him.

Jorge was tall, had very dark skin, very long straight black hair, and stunning green eyes that were much more like jewels than anything he was selling.  He packed his stuff in a little wooden case, took my hand and led me out of the square.  I thought of saying, "I am thirteen" but the words didn't come out. We went in a little red door and then up a set of narrow stairs, into a small, barely furnished apartment.  We went into his bedroom.  There was a mattress on the floor and a light bulb hanging from the ceiling. He motioned to me to lie down.  I asked him to tell me about where he was from, but he was one of those people who looks really artistic but does not have an imagination or a flair for words. He just said he was from Peru and that he was an Indian. I asked him to tell me about his family and he just snorted.  I gave up and let him kiss me and pull up my shirt and kiss my breasts. He took his jeans off and started to pull off his underwear and I asked him about condoms. He said he would be careful.

My Canadian education asserted itself.

"Necissita usar un condom," I repeated several times until he gave up and put his pants back on. He lay on his back, smiled at the ceiling and shook his head, sighed, smiled at me, shrugged, and told me I was killing him, that he was in agony.  He kept his hand on his crotch and I looked at it curiously.  I hadn't actually ever seen an erection before, and wished I had been paying more attention when he was in his underpants. I asked him if he wanted his necklace back and he just laughed and asked me how old I was. I turned onto my stomach and put my head in the pillow so that he couldn't see me blush. 

After a while he said he had to go run some errands. Did I feel like waiting for him? I said it depended on what time it was.  He laughed at that too and asked why. He said life was too short to worry about what time it was. I told him that he was right and that it didn't matter. I told him that because I couldn't very well say it was because I had to be back at the hotel room ten minutes before my parents returned so that I could wash my face and put some pants on.

He got up and went down the stairs and out the door. About a minute later, I went out too.  Suddenly I realized I was lost. I hadn't paid attention to how we had gotten here from the plaza. I ran a few blocks to make sure I wouldn't run into him, and just started walking any which way. The air was starting to get sticky and smell like meat. After what seemed like an hour I heard Peruvian flutes and ran towards them. I froze as I spotted my parents walking hand-in-hand, their backs to me. I ran in the other direction for several blocks and found myself back at the end of Jorge's street. Jorge was knocking on his own door. He was holding a small white paper bag with a picture of a green cross. 

Before he could turn and notice me I flew back the way I had come, and miraculously found myself back in the street of our hotel.  Sitting on a bench by the door was a Turkish couple my parents and I had met in the elevator.  They squinted at me curiously but did not seem to recognize me.  I ran into the hotel, washed my face in the bathroom on the mezzanine, and took the fire escape up to our room. I crossed my fingers and prayed that my parents hadn't come back yet. I turned the key in the lock and crept inside.

They didn't notice I wasn't wearing pants.  What they noticed was the necklace.

"That's beautiful," my mother said.

"You should have let us buy that for you, honey," my father said. "We've been looking for something for you.  We feel so bad that you've been left on your own so much."

"How much did you pay for that?" my mother asked, opening her purse. 

Anita Anand is nominated for the 2012 QWC Prize. Read our Q&A with her here.