Bella was in a mood that day. I’d struggled to lead her all lesson and we shouldn’t have insisted that she canter round the ring that third time at a broken pace, when she wanted to stop and have her lunch. Still new to cantering, I was on her back, drunk on exhilaration, fear and love, so far beyond my comfort zone that I was past caring. When she tossed her head suddenly, I lost my balance and already falling, tried to roll off her, but my foot was so far in the stirrup that it contorted. Bella stood docile while I was being rescued, her big mare eyes full of mock sympathy. She had gotten what she wanted, the lesson was over and she’d soon be munching through a pile of hay.
Un esguince, a sprain, is what everyone at the stables thought I had, when my ankle purpled and swelled. Un esguince, something that could pass in about a week. I held onto the hope in the hospital waiting room as I chatted to a similarly afflicted patient and read the first sixty pages of my fat Irish novel, quite calmly, wondering how much more alcohol Dermot Healy is going to pour down Jack Ferris’ throat and expect me to believe he’s still alive.*
Then, I was taken into a room and seen by Doctor Number One. He said he wanted to feel around my ankle, before looking at the X-ray, so as not to be influenced by sight alone. Doctor Number One was handsome and just so you know how shallow I am, his good looks and charm made me brave and smily. While he couldn’t see any fracture on the X-ray, the swelling was unusual for the hoped-for esguince, so he sought the advice of a traumatologist, aka, Handsome Doctor Number Two.
Handsome Doctor Number Two’s specialisation meant that he could spy out a fracture and a broken ligament in the X-ray, which were invisible to Handsome Doctor Number One. When this diagnosis meant a cast, crutches and an excruciating daily injection in the stomach to prevent blood clotting, I bawled, thinking that Doctor Number Two wasn’t so handsome after all, that I couldn’t speak medical Spanish and that I’d have to be in a cast and crutches for six weeks. I felt utterly helpless in that moment, knowing that I’d have to rely on an unfamiliar medical system and the kindness of friends I’d made in three months, as opposed to a lifetime.
I have to admit, I was eased into the transition when my mum came to stay for a few days. When she left and life returned to normal, I felt fragile going back fully into Spanish. It’s like my maternal and linguistic crutches were removed and now I’d have to rely on whatever resources I had gathered in the short time I’d been here. Luckily, I had enough knowledge of the city to know where I could hop to in small, breathless increments and my friends of three months were ready to help me in the form of car-rides, medical translations and company.
I feel that I’m convalescing in Spanish too. Whereas in London, people either mind their own business or try to cheer you up, here is different. Strangers in the street offer assistance and advice, some of it confusing. How, old man, am I meant to avoid planting my foot in front of my crutch and go forward at the same time? Then, there’s the gallantry without harassment – a hobbling woman turns your average tipo (bloke) into a caballero (gentleman). And finally, there’s the pity. Which takes some getting used to. No-one is trying to cheer me up, a bad thing has happened, so I’m meant to feel miserable and a little afraid. Povrecita; It hurts me to see you like this, the grocer next-door says to me, life is hard. No, it’s temporary, I say defensively, it could have been far worse; No need to look at me like that – I’m smiling; I’m fucking Pollyanna.
Truth be told, I fear pity because the open, despondent look that accompanies it feels like the transmission of a curse. It’s like someone recognising that your misfortune is real, which to my emotional mind, makes it feel heavier and less transient than it is. But maybe, as part of my Spanish convalescence, I can learn to see pity differently, as a form of compassion, a common recognition that we’re all human and vulnerable.
*I always compare literary bodies to my own. While I love Jack and can understand that he drinks booze like water to cope, it’s hard to imagine this state in my own body, where the mere smell of wine makes me fall off a bar stool.
This is the fourth of my posts on moving to Donostia/San Sebastián. You can check out my last post about navigating the city’s linguistic scene here. Feel free to like or share.