We looked at the lobsters, bobbing silently in their strip-lit tank, awaiting a quick boiling while their future eaters sat comfortably at neatly-linened tables, red carnations standing in elegant little vases. There are two kinds, I point out to him, noticing it for the first time myself; one has claws, the other is just like a big shrimp. Langostas y langostinos.
He was a little too grubby for such a chi-chi restaurant, I realised, my little 2-year-old boy with the grey gritty sand of Salobreña’s beach in his hair, dusted over his clothes, caked onto his sandals. Tom was holding Rosa Nour for a minute, watching the football – Brasil v. Argentina – ignoring the crashing waves on the rocks outside the window behind him. He exchanged knowing remarks with the manager, sitting at the till beside him, about this and that player’s season, who might win the World Cup.
The sun was beginning to set over the water. Waiters flitted about offering things to drink, the evening’s special, ever more complicated and expensive. The English couple at the next table cooed admiringly at our baby – 2 months old today, I say proudly – while Tom races about after Shamsie.
It is about now that I realise how peculiar and wonderful it is to be out at a fancy restaurant (something we do extremely rarely) with a rambunctious toddler and a tiny baby. Nobody bats an eyelid, even when Rosa starts crying and I end up squashed into a corner not designed for breastfeeding in, getting her to sleep before snuggling her up in the sling.
I wonder what the scene would look like if this were happening in England. Frosty waiters kindly requesting that we strap the child into a high chair while he eats the kiddie menu of chicken wings, peas and chips. Diners bristling at the sound of the baby’s tired mew. Quiet comments being made about my responsibility as a mother to have her kids in bed before 9 pm.
Imagined. Not real. I wouldn’t even try this scene if I were back home, if England is indeed home any more. People would be nice, cordial, polite. Maybe even relish the sight of parents so haphazard in their lifestyle.
But part of me is certain that I would be creeping about, apologising at every squeak, ordering little hands out of shelves and cupboards right now, lonely in my task – whether or not the world offered me such a cool reception.
So the flip side of that invasive Spanish bolshiness is the way in which they ruffle a cute kid’s hair, or warn him about running into the road, or berate him for knocking over a chair before giving him a lollipop and telling his mother how their own sons had had so much energy when they were that age. The weight is distributed over other people’s shoulders, most of whom you have never met.
They are a fabric of hands holding wrists, interlocking, making a mesh to catch the wild and the wayward, keep in touch with the touch organ of their neighbours, sometimes without ever saying a word to them directly. Not because it is a principle of theirs, a high-minded theory they found in a book, a movement growing online.
It is just the way we are held together, holding each other up.