Outside the Metro exit yesterday on Callao, Raul stopped to catch his breath. It was four degrees below and the cold was scratching at his chest under the beige scarf. He felt light headed and leaned against the metal railings. After a few deep breaths, the dizzy spell passed. He straightened up and headed down towards Sol for something warm, maybe chocolate.
Inside the café it was steamy hot. He struggled with his coat and gloves. His vision blurred again and he had difficulty counting out the coins.
“This is un duro we don’t accept those.” said the attendant.
Raul apologised and found a Euro coin to make up the total.
“I carry it so I never have an empty monadero. Imagine me trying to pay with it so close to Calle Preciados.”
The attendant smiled and slid the cup of hot chocolate towards Raul. There were others in the queue behind and the jefe didn’t like the staff chatting with clients when it was busy.
“I’ll bring over the sandwich when it’s ready.”
Raul took the cup and made his way to an empty table by the window. He put the cup on the table and removed his jacket and hat. He steadied himself against the chair, before sitting. His feet were cold. He should have worn two pairs of socks, “warm feet, warm blood” as his mother used to say. But she was long gone now and he wouldn’t be long in following her.
The cup was hot in his hands and he felt the heat returning. Outside a steady train of people passed. His lower back ached from the Metro stairs but the bus would have taken twice as long.
“Here’s your sandwich.” It wasn’t the attendant, it was a young lady from the queue. She motioned to sit at the table with him and Raul nodded.
“I heard you say you couldn’t pay this close to Calle Preciados, what did you mean.”
“I gave un duro for the chocolate and sandwich, but of course they couldn’t take it.”
“Yes, but why Preciados.”
“Well Preciados is named after two brothers. The were a type of civil servant and had a good reputation here. They built their houses on that street and it became known as Calle Preciados.”
Raul smiled. The young were so impatient.
“The brothers were almotacénes.”
She only raised an eyebrow.
“They were in charge of converting weights, measures and currencies. This was back around the late 15th century. There were many and varied kingdoms and regions trading in Madrid. Many had there own systems of weights and their own currency. The almotacénes worked as intermediaries.”
She smiled. Raul smiled too.