I stood at the "boca" of Casco Viejo waiting for my roommate, Ivan. He’s from Puebla, Mexico. We’ve always been friendly, but we've never gone out together. I guess celebrating the independence of Mexico was a big enough deal for Ivan and I to cross that frontier. I stood next to a blonde haired girl with enormous headphones. She smoked her cigarette and listened to her music loudly; I listened to the group of teenagers behind me. One of them was playing the ukulele.
Casco Viejo is the most beautiful part of Bilbao. Unless you include Sopelana. I live almost seven metro stations towards the coast from Casco Viejo. But the concave shape of the city lets me imagine where it is from my apartment's balcony: cobbled streets and architecture that I can't properly describe. All I know is that it's appealing in most senses. Ivan's smiling face showed up near the set of stairs. I went to meet him. He was quickly accompanied by two French girls who were also following us to the party. I didn't pay much attention to them at first: one was sick, and the other one I knew because she taught French in one of the town halls.
Ivan was unsure of where we were going. He talked to someone on the phone briefly, but they didn’t know either. We saw a Mexican flag hanging from a fourth floor balcony and cleverly made our way to the right flat. We ambled up the uneven, wooden staircase to the flat on the third floor. The flat was spacious and filled with loud, friendly people. We stumbled into the living room where most of the people were sitting and talking. We ate chips with guacamole, and poured cans of Amstel into our own plastic cups.
There was a student from Bogota, Columbia. I refer to him as the giant. Not because of his size, but because of his overwhelming personality. It seemed like his constant commentary was meant to overflow into every conversation. I never understood who exactly lived in the flat, but there was a slightly older woman who seemed to mother all of us. She wore a black, long sleeved t-shirt with boyish khaki shorts. She was calm and passive, but I attribute that to the ashtray and cigarette that she always managed to carry in one hand. She made sure we each had a beer.
Rise was a Spanish student. I call him Rise because he kept changing his name as a witty joke. I started calling him Rise because it was one of the words on his t-shirt. He was all over the place. Before I knew it, he was off making some joke in Spanish with one of the other guys. Rise stood on a step ladder and was hanging a streamer on the mantel piece. The giant grabbed some tape and streamers and started wrapping him in it. He fell on his ass and started laughing. He looked around at all of us and awkwardly smiled. He was strange and frantic but we all got along with him.
The French girl that taught at the town-hall became the focal point of the party. She wore a white, summer dress with a watermelon pattern. Her and another girl from somewhere in South America went around the room, putting mascara on everyone's face in the shape of an obscene mustache. My face was too scruffy for the mascara, so they used a pastel crayon with the colors of the Mexican flag. Everyone was laughing about who had the worst mustache.
More food and alcohol was brought into the living room. We sat down on the couches and on the floor to eat. I didn't know what half of the dishes were. I did recognize the baguette dipped in mole sauce. "Es pica?" Asked the girl from Barcelona.
"No, no. No es picante."
Which led to Ivan bringing me his plate of food for me to try. He offered me a small pepper from the corner of his paper plate. He said if I didn't think the mole was pica, that it wouldn't be bad. But it was down right terrible, and I quickly drank beer straight from the can. Nobody laughed at me; they were just happy that I was trying the food. Most of the people from South American stood around a laptop quickly changing between different traditional Mexican songs. They would passionately sing half of the song, before someone else would change it to something they liked more. Nobody cared and everyone sang.
There was an Italian girl who was in the same Spanish class as me. She spoke more fluently than I did. She bounced around and danced to unfamiliar songs. Her black glasses were shaped like perfect circles. She was the best dancer I’ve ever seen. She spoke a lot, and I liked to listen to her Italian accent. Everybody asked everyone else where they were from. I don't even remember how many countries I heard, but I know that practically everyone was from somewhere else.
It was also the French girl’s birthday. She quickly took center stage, as everyone sang and presented her a frozen, chocolate cake. Everyone grew quiet as she removed the plastic lid. Then she ferociously took a huge bite and several hands pushed her face into the cake. The room burst into sugar and laughter. Her face was smeared with ice cream and chocolate. She jumped up and kissed one of the shorter guys on the cheek. He let out a cry and everyone started laughing even louder. Some people began taking small pieces of the cake and smearing it on each other. Eventually the 'mother' of our group put down her ashtray and began handing out slices of cake. It was delicious and was followed by sangria.
We got real loud as the night moved on. An older woman, who lived in the same flat, walked through the party with her yoga mat. Everyone got quiet out of respect until she went into her room. Then it got even louder than before and I swear nobody could understand anything. Eventually the shorter guy, with chocolate smeared on his face, herded us down a dark hallway into a small bedroom. Over a dozen of us sprawled out across the two beds and the floor. We continued to play our game of charades until we became too obnoxious to stay in the flat.
We all stood outside waiting for someone to volunteer their apartment. Someone eventually complied that we could keep the party going at their flat, as long as their Irish roommate didn't mind. Their apartment was next to a restaurant in one of the older plazas. His Irish roommate, who was covered in intricate tattoos, didn't seem to mind our presence. He was studying intensely, and he never said anything to us. We were too into the moment to decipher whether or not he was angry with us. Maybe he'll blame us if he gets a bad grade tomorrow. He could've said something. But I wouldn't have said anything either.
There was a piece of artwork hanging above the living room TV. It was a painting of a naked girl being chased away from a lake by a goose. The hallway had several hanging photos of what Bilbao looked like a long time ago. The flat had a small balcony where a few of us sat and looked at the plaza from the second floor. I fell in and out of conversations. There was now a new person in our group: he was from northern France. He tried to speak English with me, but I didn’t really want to. So we spoke broken Spanish with each other instead. He eventually faded into a conversation with the watermelon girl and someone else that I didn't know.
I started telling the Giant about all of my plans. Which isn't always a good decision. If I talk about my plans, my mind sort of sky rockets. My voice gets louder; I stop looking into people's eyes for confirmation; I go wild. But he stayed right with me. It interested him a lot. "No, no. It's not "Quiero muchas planes" it's "Tengo muchas planes. OK? Quiero isn't certain. You're certain, right? Use tengo."
“Tengo muchas planes,” I said with affirmation.
I stood in the marmalade of worldly laughter, doubting whether or not sleep could exist after all. Anything could rile up anyone of us right then. It wasn’t until after 4am that we strolled out onto the streets. Our group grew smaller and smaller, as we walked further down the river towards the coast. Eventually it was just Ivan and I. So we carelessly made our way back to our apartment on Calle Txakoli.
Everything made out okay that night. I went into the bathroom and washed the chocolate cake off my face. I stayed up for a few more hours sitting on the balcony. I sat there thinking about the acre’s worth of things I’d yet to go through. How many nights to come I’d spend just like this. How lucky I was to have lived so unreasonably-- to have grown tired from throwing cake—from really spending sometime wandering. The sun came up, and I decided to get some sleep.
We were a real celebration tonight. I think it might just go on forever.