Most Americans know one thing about the city where I was born. They know of the famous week-long festival, and when they meet me they assume that is what caused my disability. No, I was not trampled by angry bulls as they charged down the narrow streets of Pamplona.
The cause of my paraplegia has nothing to do with this. But in an odd way, it made me a tea drinker, which is a joy every day. Tea brings variety to my monotonous days. But I am getting ahead of the story. Tea is to be the conclusion.
People smile and look away quicky when they see the disabled. Most avert their eyes and quicken their walk as if a man in a wheelchair is an unpleasant sight and odor. Some months after I left the hospital, I received a call from an acquaintance I had not seen for several years. She was in the city and offered to pick me up to go for a “cup of tea.” My beverage then was cheap coffee in the morning and ouzo in the afternoon. I wept at the chance to leave my tiny apartment. Shy and ashamed, I explained my situation to my friend.
“Not a problem,” Cheli insisted. A date and time were set. I began to worry. My financial situation was shaky. Although I planned to return to my work, each month brought a new medical problem. I had not been well long enough to work. “Tea” at a place Cheli would choose would make several days’ worth of food money disappear. But the happy thought of going somewhere other than the clinic made me swear to give up ouzo to make up the money. Maybe Cheli would pay my way once she saw me so pathetic.
Next, I worried about getting around. To be disabled in the centuries-old part of the city is like a prison. “Handicap access” is a joke. My wheelchair is not electric. The cobble streets near the flat and the cost of an electric chair make it impossible. It is good that at least my arms and chest are very fit. It is still difficult to get in and out of a vehicle. I decided not to worry.
Cheli arrived on time. The driver nicely helped me fold my chair and soon we were at SpicyTea. Cheli ordered for us. Unlike a coffee house, at SpicyTea cool jazz plays and there is no “bang-bang-bang” of an espresso shop. Cheli chatted and laughed and drank her tea in gulps. We drank seven or eight cups and I got tea drunk. I liked the green tea. Before we left, she paid and bought a few bags of loose tea and a little strainer. She took me to the wash room as if she is buying the newspaper. She kissed me on my bad cheek when the driver helped me out at home. She gave me the tea and strainer. Her perfume and kindness stayed in the still air of my flat long after.
That is how I became a tea drinker. Many thanks.
This was a guest post by Raoull Iturri. If you’d like to submit a guest post, send an email to [email protected]