Turns out I didn't need to worry about where to go for dinner last night after all. I was in the common room at the hostel, poring over my guidebook and trying to decide which of the restaurant offerings would be best-suited for the budget-conscious, conspicuously solo traveler, when I saw a familiar face. It was Leonardo, the Mexican med student Canaan and I had picked up and invited to dinner with us the night before. I knew he was leaving that day, so I was surprised to see him still hanging around the hostel at 7 p.m. "My train leaves in three hours," he said. We talked about what we had done that day, and realized we had done mostly the same things, and gone to mostly the same places. "I should have asked you if you wanted to walk around today," he said, "but I thought you had plans."
"Nope," I said, remembering our somewhat awkward goodbye the night before, when he had offered his cheek to first I, and then Canaan. Used to the French two cheek kiss, I leaned in for a second as he leaned away towards Canaan, and I blushed and hoped he hadn't noticed my gaffe. Then came the awkward moment when you try to decide what to say to someone you've just met and gotten to know for the last two hours, and will probably never see again. In the end, we didn't say anything at all. "Well, bye," Canaan told him as we entered our room, and he entered his down the hall.
"Well that was kind of weird," she said as we huddled in the bathroom to brush our teeth.
"Yeah, that goodbye was kind of...abrupt," I agreed.
"Well what was I supposed to do?" she said. "I have to get up early in the morning. And he didn't even give us his e-mail or anything."
"Oh well," I said. "It was fun, anyway."
And now Canaan was gone, and here he was again. "Well I don't know if you have time before your train," I said, "but would you maybe want to go get something to eat?"
"Actually, I just ate," he said, "but yeah, I'll go with you."
"Oh, well if you already ate..." I said.
"No, no, I'll come," he insisted. "Let's go."
And so we did, going back to the very same restaurant around the corner that he had dined in not an hour before. Though he didn't order any food, we did share a bottle of wine while I ate. We talked about our travels, where we had been and what we had seen, and as he told me about the five days he had spent in Paris a couple weeks ago, I found myself wishing I had met him sooner. He was smart, funny, and spoke perfect English, even though he insisted that he had forgotten a lot since he doesn't often have a chance to practice it. The icing on the cake was when we discovered our shared love of Radiohead, Coldplay, and Wes Anderson films (see stuffwhitepeopleandmexicanslike.com). And Bill Murray! we exclaimed. So brilliant! And Anjelica Huston! Amazing! "You absolutely have to see Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic," I told him. I told him about how I was supposed to see Radiohead play, and he told me that for years, he thought they would never come to Mexico again, because as the story goes, the band went to a Mexican strip club after playing a show one night, and the girl onstage stripped to the song "Creep." Thom York was apparently so offended he swore never to come back. Then he told me he has tickets to see them play in Mexico next month, so all's well that ends well.
Then his phone alarm started ringing, letting him know that it was time to leave for the train station, and we regretfully drained the last drops of wine from our glasses. When the check came I reached for my wallet. "No, please, let me," he said, placing two twenties on the small silver tray and waving my hand away.
"No, but you didn't even eat," I said. "Don't be silly."
"No, please, the conversation was a pleasure," he said. "This is the first time I have treated someone during this trip, and I am happy to do it."
"Well, thank you so much," I said.
"Here, let me give you my e-mail address," he said, tearing out a piece of paper from his journal and scribbling it down, along with the names of three artists and writers he liked that he said I had to look up at some point. "And then you'll e-mail me and I'll have your address."
"Yes," I said, actually meaning it. "I will."
Then we left and walked to the Metro together, where he would take a train to the main train station, and from there take an overnight train to Madrid. Two days later, he would return to his home in Mexico City to begin his studies in psychiatry. "I'm sorry you have to leave," I told him regretfully.
"Me too" he said. Then, after stumbling over the conditional for a few seconds, "It would have been really great," he said sincerely. Once again he offered his bearded cheek, and this time I kissed it once, congratulating myself on knowing the procedure, this time. But then, as I was ready to turn away, he came back for a kiss on the other cheek. "As the French do..." he said awkwardly, before turning and descending the stairs underground. I couldn't help but smile at the irony of the situation as I walked the few feet back to the hostel. The best date I had had in a long time, and it wasn't even a date, with someone I met for a total of about three hours, and would in all likelihood never see again.
I thought back to another Mexican I had met in France while studying abroad years ago, Patricio, and the few sweetly awkward non-dates we had gone on together. He had lived in Mexico City too, and thinking about his intelligence and good nature was enough to make me wonder why I am not living in Mexico City right now, dammit, as apparently this is where they are keeping all the smart, funny, handsome men.
Come to think about it, my travels lately have been sort of unfairly biased towards Europe. Perhaps it's time to think about exploring the Americas (particularly the Latin ones, please). "You should visit Mexico," Leonardo had told me during dinner, nodding solemnly to accentuate his point.
"I really should," I replied, considering it. "And you know...I think I will." May it be so.