We climbed and the sun hit sideways from its corner in the sky, so that we were still sweating late into the evening. It was a place that never seemed to meet dusk, that slipped into night the same way you became a shadow, one step forward and then gone. The concrete stairs were deep, the sloping streets just slivers, a mere taste of all we couldn’t know.
Brown sandals strapped across my ankles and I felt every slant of cobblestone. It kept me alert. I was afraid I’d falter, afraid I’d tumble backwards, down, to where I belonged. But we met the top, found its center, and each slivered street became the fingers of the plaza’s open palm.
Someone had told us there would be music there at eight o’clock sharp. La musica, she had said, the only word we knew among so many more. We waited against the walled Plaza Mayor for someone to appear with an instrument strapped to their backs, slung over their shoulders or squeezed between two hands. We waited for a concert.
Plastic-wheeled tricycles hammered across concrete. A football leapt towards the wobbly tables of the surrounding cafes. Ice pop-purple lined the boys mouths, graffitied their tongues. The girls sat in a deliberate circle. And I understood, in a way I could not understand the language of anyone else in the village, that the pale, blue-eyed, red head was their fearless leader. Her hands tacked to her hips. Her grim pout. I had known her once. Had known the girl beside her, who hugged the stone column with a strange sideways glance. Her perfect, bright, blue-ribboned bow stuck out from tangled black hair. They were girls who would have caught fireflies, run across the suburban streets of my childhood with green-stained knees.
We heard the sturdy chime. Heard the cuckooed bellow of eight o’clock. The bells clanged one after the other. Then I felt their easy side to side as they plunged into a fanciful melody. “I think this is it,” I said. I no longer waited for someone to arrive, no longer wondered what the spectacle would be. We listened. We shrugged. “This is la musica.”
Just as we were about to turn away and wander further into the depths of the yellowed, lazy slices of street, everyone stopped. The tricycle wheels slowed. The football sat in the clutch of a protective arm. The girls’ chins yanked upward. Everyone’s gaze shifted, then settled. The doors of eight o’clock whirred open, mocking our premature dismissal. Above the arches, against the stone, the giant clock with its proud golden hands became a music box. Three molded dancers marched and churned in their dizzy, wayward spin.
When the minute ended, the dancers retreated. The doors to the clock closed and the plaza found its sway once again. Frenzied feet on the pedals of the tricycle. A football soaring overhead. The girls fell back into their easy chatter. This is their summer, I thought. This is eight o’clock in the Plaza Mayor.