On Holy Saturday of 1991, Rhoda and I were staying at the Suecia Hotel near Madrid’s Prado. Although there was a church that was closer, its iron gates were closed and no crowd was forming. So at about six fifteen in the evening we walked toward the Plaza del Sol to where a street map showed another church. A group of people were outside and within minutes of our arrival, a crowd formed.

When the doors opened we were in the van of the torrent of worshippers. The pews were plainly fashioned and narrow so as to accommodate only four adults between aisles. Rhoda and I sped down the second aisle from the left, and took two seats in the sixth pew from the front. A fiftyish Spaniard came down the side aisle and grabbed the other two seats by occupying one and by manifestly reserving the other, presumably for his wife. In a matter of minutes people were competing for standing space against the side and back walls.

After everyone became more or less settled, as if on cue about a dozen mantilla-covered, black-garbed grandmothers unsuccessfully drifted down the aisles as if to shame some of the younger people out of their seats. Afterwards one older, smaller, grayer women, with eyes that seemed the most watery, glided into view from behind my right shoulder. She was staring straight ahead and proceeding at uniform speed with mincing steps as if she had been programmed. The beep-beep sound made by the robot R2D2 in the movie Star Wars came into my mind as she slowly passed by.

Suddenly, the Spaniard who had dibs on the two seats next to Rhoda, started to whisper “Ma, Ma, Ma,” each time whispering a bit louder and snapping his fingers. At about the seventh, she stopped, rotated mechanically, and brought up her arms in what seemed to be an expression of wonderment. She beeped back toward us and Rhoda and I stepped into the aisle so as to let her pass. She paused before us and with a neat little smile said in a tiny voice, “Gracias señor, gracias señora,” as we were thinking, “How beautiful, he was saving the seat for his mother.”

They greeted each other Spanish style. He gently framed her face in his cupped hands and kissed each of her cheeks and she responded the same way while we wished that we had that custom in America. Then the Spaniard helped his madre past him as if she was to sit on the end. Instead, he led her into the side aisle, placed his hands on her shoulders, gently turned her, and pointed to the back of the church. By herself she beep beeped out of sight.

Five-minutes later a fiftyish, overweight señora with hair dyed blonde, occupied the seat he was saving.


Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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