Spanish Dinner - an excerpt from Making Scents
Luis's family was noisy and demonstrative. They lived in the heart of the village, on the outskirts of Ronda, in a whitewashed terraced house with fancy wrought iron bars at the windows. Although it was a hot day, indoors was refreshingly cool. The floor was terracotta tiled and the walls were painted the standard white. A large fireplace dominated the room, and either side of the hearth stood two armchairs. There was no room for any more furniture, other than an enormous pine dining table and matching chairs that took up most of the remaining space. On one of the walls an image of an emaciated Jesus, blood pouring from his wounds, gazed forlornly down.
'He died for my sins,' Tash thought, as she felt her eyes prick with unexpected tears, 'and there were plenty of them.'
Luis's mother, Paquita Maria Lopez, was short and thickset with black hair that was beginning to grey at the temples. Like all Spanish women of her age, she was dressed entirely in black, except for a flowered apron. She greeted Tash by kissing her on both cheeks. Antonio, Luis's father, was also short, dark-skinned and had a gravelly voice. Ana, Carlos's beautiful sister and her husband, Pablo, who had both been at Annabel's birthday party, were there with their baby, as were several cousins, so the house was packed. Tash wondered if all Spanish families were this noisy.
Somehow, they managed to squeeze round the table, all talking at once. Without ceremony, Paquita slammed a large plate of salad in the middle of the table, from which all helped themselves without pausing to take breath. Pablo, Luis's father, handed round a jug of red wine that everyone poured into tumblers as if it was lemonade.
"You wants bread?" Luis put a slice of rustic white bread with a hard baked crust on Tash's plate without pausing for her reply.
The atmosphere was so festive that Tash forgot about being nervous. She was beginning to enjoy herself, at the same time feeling a pang of jealousy at the closeness of the family, aware that this was something that she had never experienced when she was growing up.
"Tell me about you, guapa. Your padres..." Luis's eyes had her spellbound again, so that her voice was barely audible amidst the chatter.
"My parents died when I was little. I..." she started.
"Oh, this is very terrible." Luis put his knife and fork down and stroked her cheek.
"Er, yes, I suppose it is. You're very lucky to be part of a big family like this." She nibbled on her salad and then remembered that Samantha had told her that no one in Spain was a vegetarian. "Please tell your mother that I don't eat meat. I'm a vegetarian."
Luis shouted something incomprehensible to his mother, who looked shocked to hear such news. She yelled back at him.
"She says is no problema. She cook you fish," he smiled, flashing his even white teeth.
"Oh, no, I don't eat fish either. To be honest, I'm not that hungry. I'll just have some bread and salad."
Looking puzzled, Luis called out again to his mother who was gathering up plates. She too looked aghast and yelled back at him.
"She say do you eat the eggs? She has some tortilla, some egg omelette for you." The family had stopped talking now and looked at her as if she had just landed from Mars.
"Thank you - that would be great," Tash said, wishing that she had stayed behind at Casa Bonita where her vegetarianism, along with her language was understood.
Luis translated, and Tash was relieved that she was no longer the centre of attention as everyone resumed their conversation.
"Come with me for drink in the village after. Okay?" Luis asked.
Was this a date or was he just wanting to practise more English words, she wondered? She thought it best to decline. Then he smiled at her.
"Thank you, that would be nice," she heard herself replying. How could she ever say no to such a god?
The meal passed at a leisurely pace and Tash enjoyed the thick slice of homemade omelette, which was packed full of potatoes and onion. The others ate a strange looking sausage with patatas pobre, which Luis explained was potatoes cooked in oil with onions and peppers.
"Here, try some. Is good." Luis piled some from his plate onto hers, which prompted Paquita to disappear into the kitchen, from where she emerged a moment later with a huge blackened saucepan.
She tutted disapprovingly at her son, and piled more patatas onto both Tash and Luis's plates.
"What is that sausage you're eating? It looks different from the ones in England?" she said, eying the white speckled black salami-like sausage with suspicion.
"Is morcilla. My mother, she make it herself from the blood of pig, rice, onion and spices. You want try some? Is very good." Luis had speared a piece and was holding his fork out to her.
"God, no, I mean, no thanks. I really never eat any meat." She smiled wanly and hoped that he was not insulted.
He just winked at her and continued shovelling his food into his mouth, as if it was his last supper.
Read more of Making Scents, a fast paced novel, based in England and Spain. Available as a paperback and ebook.