Walking on a Friday night with John the Nigerian and George from Sierra Leone. Jaunty, bouncing down the bright slope lit in the glare of numerous headlights. There are no shadows. It seems Madrid is a city without shadows, whether violently over-exposed in the long sharp daylight or blanketed in electric night, even the darkeness is bright, composed of overlapping rays of light.
What is normally intimate, is here public. Nigerian, Camerounian, Benin ladies line the “great way” calling to potential clients, in several languages offering blowjobs. John is steely, silent as we pass each small group, but George is perenially jocular, waving as a few of the ladies call him by name: My brodda, I no see you long time, wey you dey?
Nevertheless, our steps do not slow. We are on a mission, searching for the Chinese street vendor who the night before sold John a packet of “marlboros” hastily rolled by unskilled hands. John clutches the cigarettes angrily, disgusted with their flat bent forms. For 3€ he is sure he deserves more.
The vendor stares at John, unrecognizing, deaf to complaints made in halting, urgent Spanish. When John leans dangerously close to his face, the vendor jumps, displaying an agility his earlier stoicism belied. The argument ensues, circular, incomprehensible to all but the most knowledgeable onlookers.
I call out to the combatants, asking in English if I may take their photos. John immediately strikes an indignant pose, while the vendor stares resolutely away from my camera. I snap this shot and we are off back up Gran Via, the way we came.