The neighbouring village has a street market each Tuesday morning. I often enjoy passing an hour or so there, even though I rarely buy anything. Today, instead of walking or cycling there, I’ve decided to drive, as rain has been forecast – I like to take exercise, but at heart I’m a lightweight. The heavy sky and erratic gusts back up the weatherman’s words, and I’m satisfied that on this occasion my laziness is justified. Sure enough, as I pass the poplar trees and white walls of the cemetery and head out of the village the first heavy drops splatter the windscreen and patter and pop on the roof.
Slowing down for the intersection with the carretera I’m surprised to see a small stooped figure beside the slip road, gazing hopefully back up the hill toward me. I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers – a legacy of dire parental warnings backed up by too many low-budget cop shows – but the old fellow leaning on his stick and toting a bag looks frail enough that even I could probably best him, should things end up in a rumble. Besides, the rain looks like it’s getting heavier. “Gracias, hijo” croaks the elderly chap, lowering himself arthritically into the passenger seat.
I need to remind him to put on his seat belt. A couple of kilometres later he’s still fiddling with it and I pretend not to notice, but finally there’s a click as he completes the puzzle. By now we’re not far from our destination village, and I start to wonder how long it’ll take me to get him out again. The rain has by now increased to that irritating level that’s too little for windscreen wipers but too much to ignore.
“Where are you from, then?” he asks.
“I live in Alange.”
“No, I don’t mean that. You’re not from round here. Are you Catalan?”
“Haha, no, further than that!”
“Ah, you’re Polish, then, are you?”
“What? Err … I’m from near London.”
“I knew it. I could tell from the way you speak.”
We’re now entering the village, and I decide I’m not going to win this one. A tactical change of subject is in order.
“Where would you like me to drop you off?” I ask him.
“Where are you going?”
“Into the village centre.”
“Vale. You can drop me off at the tienda del chino, if that’s OK with you.”
Among the many immigrants living in Spain, the large contingent of Chinese nationals are renowned for their exploits in the retail industry. Often relying, I imagine, on imports from contacts in their native land, family businesses typically set up warehouse-style stores selling all manner of hardware, tools, housewares, clothes and more at discount prices. The terms tienda del chino or bazar chino are commonly used by Spaniards to describe such a business. The trouble is, I don’t know of one in our neighbouring village. I point this out, and we agree that he’ll direct me.
Most of the subsequent lefts and rights arrive just too late, not unusually for instructions offered by a lifetime non-driver, but after a less than smooth trip through residential streets we emerge into one that I recognise.
“Here!” he exclaims triumphantly, pointing to a busy little hardware shop that I know well, “El chino!” He thanks me as I pull into the kerb and, with less fuss than I’d feared, disentangles himself from his belt and begins the taxing process of climbing from the car.
“You’re welcome,” I reply, “but hang on a moment. This shop belongs to a man from the Canary Islands, not from China.” The store in question is run by a pleasant gentleman who is, I suspect, originally of North African origin.
“Pues sí,” says my new acquaintance, a little surprised at my confusion, “aquí el chino es moro.”
Here the Chinaman is a Moor (an African Muslim).