With Apologies to Miguel de Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote & Selma


By Selma Tufail

The December morning was cool but the sun promised to bring the warmth of a day in Spain as Selma and Anniqua left for the train station, first checking to see if their tickets were in their handbags; so anxious were they to not miss the train that they decided to have breakfast at the station. Well, as they were not in the habit of leaving home without breakfast, they were soon overcome with a weakened condition brought about by the lack of food.

As soon as the sisters dismounted from the bus, Selma, who had not eaten a full meal the night before, without further ado, walked into the first cafeteria she saw. But Anniqua, who had watched Anthony Bourdain’s gastronomic adventures in Spain could quote, verbatim, his thoughts on its food:

“Any reasonable sentient person who looks at Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain—they’re going to fall in love.”

Anniqua was ready to fall in love.  At one moment she was sitting beside Bourdain at a restaurant in the hills of Granada enjoying snails in almond sauce, and the very next in the Asturias feasting on a white bean and sausage stew called fabada. She had no doubt that whatever she ate at this cafeteria in the railway station, it would cause “a flood of flavor” to explode within her.  Wasn’t that what the tv shows had promised her?

“Let’s order bocadillo de tortilla de patatas. It’s a perfect breakfast meal for two sisters about to embark on an adventure such as ours,” she said without the slightest hesitation.

“So be it,” answered Selma, and clearing her throat she turned to the barman.

Behind the counter was a man of fifty something, who might have been a very personable fellow, were he not the only person serving the crowd of passengers who also appeared to have  left home without breakfast.

Anniqua picked up the tray of food he placed on the counter and promptly proceeded to a corner table.  

Selma took a bite of the omelet sandwich and very deliberately began to chew. The bread was cold and the tortilla de patatas was frozen on the inside. She looked at her sister in dismay.

Anniqua, when she took a bite of the bocadillo, immediately understood her sister’s unspoken words. She consoled Selma with the best explanation she could, entreating her to be patient, and spoke of the wondrous dishes they would dine on in the ancient city of Toledo. Selma took comfort in this, suppressed her disappointment, and thanked Anniqua for all the research she had done, and her superior knowledge of Spanish cuisine. Anniqua, on her part, was enchanted by the authentic glass of café con leche which she held with a tiny paper napkin on account of it being hot and not having a handle.

Before the sisters left the cafeteria, Anniqua excused herself, saying that she needed to use the washroom before the train journey.


“Oh no! Don’t tell me you wrote about the washroom incident too.” Anniqua looks horrified.

“Of course I did.” I say popping the last piece of the croqueta in my mouth. “Listen.”



 “What took you so long?” Selma asked Anniqua who returned from the washroom flustered and visibly upset. “Tell me what happened.”

“That I will tell you,” replied Anniqua, “once I have steadied my heart, and only if you are prepared to hear of the accident that befell me.”

Selma drew close to her sister, eager to hear the story of her misadventure.

“I hung my bag on the back of the washroom door which I carefully locked lest someone walk in on me through my carelessness. I cannot conceive how it happened, but, in the solitude of the tiny windowless room, I found myself suddenly enveloped in complete darkness, my eyes deprived of sight and my tongue of speech. I had no power to call out, nor desire to reach out with my arms for fear of touching something unseemly. My horror of the blackness in which I found myself, left me all but paralyzed. I have no idea how long I remained in that state.”

“Do you know what I was most afraid of?” continued Anniqua after a pause, “that I would never be able to get out of the toilet and be stuck there forever, so I solaced myself by composing a multitude of verses in praise of freedom, but once I was able to liberate myself from the washroom, the only one I could remember is the one I will recite to you now:

O ye in the darkness of this tomb,
Ye light switch, lock, and dusty broom,
Are ye aweary of the fear,
That this poor bosom of mine consumes?
If my suffering disturbs thee, you should know
Anniqua’s tears are on the flow,
All for the want of a little glow
To guide her out of this damned aseo.

The use of the Spanish word “aseo” gave rise to a hearty laugh from Selma, for this was the first time she had heard Anniqua speak Spanish. 

“I don’t see the humor in my story,” Anniqua rebuked her older sister. 

“So how did you escape from your unlit cell?” Selma asked, trying to keep a straight face.

“As I began, in some degree, to recover myself, I remembered that the room was tiny and my bag was hanging on the door in front of where I sat. Reaching out with an abundance of caution to retrieve my bag and my phone inside it, I must have triggered the motion sensor, and the light came back on. Then with greater speed than seemed possible in my state of panic, I unlocked the door and bounded up the stairs to find you.”

With these words, Anniqua fell silent, the shame of narrating her misfortune showing plainly on her face.


“You really think I can compose poetry in the few seconds it takes for a timed light to come on again?” Anniqua raises an eyebrow as she puts her fork down on her plate. 

“If I’m going to make up stories, might as well go all the way. But did you like them?”

“Your blatant lies? Yes. Write some more.”

“I will. You can be sure of that.” I say with smile.


Click below to read more of Selma and Anniqua’s adventures in Spain:

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