Elena gently covered me with her blanket when she saw that the air conditioning was blowing mercilessly over me during Iberian Airway’s Madrid-NYC flight in 2013. While she was pulling the blanket up to cover my neck, her hands touched me and I noticed her dry skin. I opened my eyes for a moment. Elena’s hands were veined and wrinkled. To finish my undergraduate studies, I was on my way to the United States after a layover in Madrid.
Elena and Constantin, both in their sixties, immigrated to Spain around 1998 to make money. Now, they divide half of their time in Spain and the other half in their native Romania. When I said I was coming from Turkey, Constantin was happy to meet someone from a place where they made his favorite TV show, Muhteşem Süleyman, a soap opera which aired back then and narrated the life of an Ottoman emperor. “Now we will stay in NYC for a month to visit our son and we will miss out. It’s a pity,” he said.
We used a mix of English and Spanish to make sense of each others’ words (I was relying on the Spanish I had learned for fun a summer ago). Constantin’s English wasn’t perfect but still impressive for someone his age. Meanwhile, Elena pronounced two words in Romanian pointing at the customs form and it looked as though they were arguing. I couldn’t help my laughter. What kind of argument can a customs form produce between an old couple? There are questions like “Have you touched livestock recently before boarding on this flight?” and stuff like that.
Elena changed seats with Constantin to sit by me and converse during what would be an eight hours flight but I was sick and soon fell asleep. When I woke up, I saw on top of the blanket a newspaper with a headline about Juan Carlos, who was the Spanish king back then, and his hip surgery. The article stated that Juan Carlos had 5 surgeries in the last 18 months and it raised questions in his intimate circle if he was still fit to be a king. However, what I rather care was Elena and Constantin’s names next to that of Juan Carlos and their contact information written underneath.
I thanked them and offered them my number in case they would want to contact me if they visited Istanbul. But Elena wasn’t that interested because she said they had been there already. They wanted me to visit Romania and explore it for myself. They said it could be in the summer or winter season but Elena rather recommended that I went in the summer.
With the money they had made in Madrid, Elena and Constantin bought a house in a village 30 km away from Bucharest. They said they produced wine just enough for their own consumption. They had chestnut trees too. Constantin showed his dirty nails and said that because he handled chestnuts, no matter how much he washed his hands, he couldn’t make his nails look clean. Elena said they would clean off with time. They invited me to come over to their farm in Romania for a week or so and experience life in nature.
Elena explained that back when they were younger, they worked all the time and didn’t have an opportunity to own land. This couple, unable to find work in their native country, took a chance and went to Spain which was experiencing an economic boom at the time. Their son was young back then and furthered his studies in Madrid, becoming a computer engineer. He was on his way to become an American citizen. “He has a green card and everything,” Elena told me proudly.
Turns out, their immigration story hasn’t finished just yet.
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