At breakfast they gabble happily, my host couple and the Turk. When I hear my name, I freeze – rummage through the closet of my brain, shoving aside hangers of imperfeto y futuro for the meaning of their question. Scrounge for something presentable to offer in reply. They cannot believe I’ve passed Grado B. My housemate and fellow student, Emre, the Turk, has passed Grado F, the height of fluency. Jaime and Elena are drunk with affection for Emre, pass pity and amusement across the table to me. Add to that a pinch of scorn since last week when I asked if the shared bathroom might be cleaned occasionally.

Necessita? Si.

Emre sat silent. I did not possess the Spanish for truck stop in Calcutta, so I let it go at that. The night I arrived, the night I found I was sharing unlocked quarters with a strange man, the shower faucet emitted a shock, a humbling way to die if it came to that. Jaime ignored me, instead explaining to Emre why this was impossible. The Turk smirked and nodded. Was he wearing rubber galoshes in the shower?

Last night my white plastic desk chair collapsed under me. Jaime pushed on it twice, said, Esta bien. I settled my size six petite frame into the chair – it buckled. Jaime surveyed the room, gestured to a three-legged stool in the corner. Later he returned with two chairs, old and new, placing one over the other, saying in perfect English, What doesn’t kill you, gets you next time.

Retirement from a long career in nursing has surprised Kathleen Wedl with an unexpected explosion of creative passion. She had done some writing through the years, and now more urgently wishes to express herself in a relatable way that touches her audience.

See more of her work in 8.3