To my surprise we didn’t stop and the bus went around the outer rim of the village where we barely fit through the narrow passages between stone buildings, the wheels trundling on the cobblestone, until we were coasting slowly down an open country road.
“Where are we going?” I asked Mateo.
He shrugged. “I do not know. Perhaps they mean to murder us?” He said this in all sincerity though I caught a wicked gleam in his eyes.
I grinned at his humor, so similar to mine. It almost made me…giddy. God, giddy. What a dumb feeling. And yet I felt like I was infinitely cooler by sitting on this bus and joking with this man I’d just met. I felt giddy that I was part of something, a team of strangers who were all being driven to some place to get murdered.
I was wriggling in my seat like a puppy, my hands gripping the back of Claudia’s seat while we all craned our necks forward to see where Manolo was taking us.
We finally pulled up in front of a long windy driveway up a hill. Farmer’s fields surrounded us, rolling on with the hills until it met the hazy line of mountains.
Manolo ordered us off the bus. As we got up, Mateo nudged me gently in the side with his elbow and with his warm breath close to my ear said, “It was nice knowing you.”
I giggled which drew a look of ire from Lauren. Oh right, she was still here.
Once we were off the bus, we huddled around as Manolo started bringing out the bags, explaining that the hill was too steep for the bus to go up. Though it was still warm, there was a nip in the air and you could tell that we were at a higher elevation.
Soon we were joined by a skinny, scrubby man in cargo shorts coming down the hill toward us. His receding hairline took the focus off his pale and sweaty face.
“Hola folks!” he cried out in a thick Irish accent, waving at all of us and then wiping his hands on the front of his shirt. “I’m Jerry.”
He looked like a Jerry.
“And that hola will be the last Spanish any of you will ever hear,” he went on, putting his hands on his hips. He came across like he was really involved in what he was saying even though I was sure he’d had to do this speech a million times before. “For the next two weeks to one month, all of you will be speaking English. Not a problem for the English-speakers, though I assure you your English will greatly deteriorate as time goes on. The Spaniards will speak better English than you.” From the way he smiled and paused, I could tell he expected more than just a few titters from the crowd but that’s all he got. He shook his hand and clapped his hands together once, loud. “But for the Spaniards, this means no business calls unless absolutely necessary. No talking to your family. You may email them and write them in Spanish to your heart’s wee desire but no speaking Spanish, you all understand?”
I heard Mateo murmur “puta” something to himself. I leaned in, catching another whiff of his cologne. “What was that?”
“I was cursing in Spanish,” he said. He lifted a well-manicured finger to his lips to shush me. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“What were you saying?” I said in a whisper, like we were conspiring.
“I’ll have to teach you when the program is over,” he said. Then he straightened up, hands folded at his front. Jerry was still talking, trying to engage each of us with load of eye contact.
“So I hope you’re all prepared for this,” Jerry went on saying, “because this isn’t going to be easy. But, if you’re anything like the one hundred and twenty six other groups I’ve overseen, then you’ll get through it just fine.” Jesus. One hundred and twenty six? Did this guy never take a day off? “There are twenty Anglos and twenty Spaniards and you’re going to get to know each other really well. Up there,” he turned and pointed at the roofs that were just peeking over the crest of the hill, “is your home for the next while. That is where you will be interacting with each other, Anglo and Spaniard, for six hours a day.”