I asked Cati if I could take her photo. After all, she was – is – beautiful, charcoal black hair smoothed down to her shoulders, bright tilting eyes flashing bravely, her mouth biting her lip between sing-song speeches on her adoration of her native Sevilla, her young woman’s face etched with smiles and concern in equal measure, as though she wanted to laugh all day long, but life was catching up with her.
I have two jobs, she said, but the pay is no good.
I asked her to elaborate.
Tell me your story, I asked her.
Cati is one of the million Sevillanos who live in the historic city of Seville. She was educated in Madrid to degree level, but is back living with her parents in the suburbs of Sevilla.
I work for a hotel during the day, she said. At night I take tourists around the city.
How much do you get paid Cati, at your hotel?
They pay me six euros an hour.
How do you survive?
I live with my parents, I have no choice.
I speak three languages, she told me. Spain is finished, or it acts like it is finished, it’s so sad. I want to leave. I love Seville, but it’s for the tourists now.
I complemented her on her English.
We have to know English, she said as though knowing three languages was as natural as doing your own laundry.
The tourists, she said, they keep our cities alive. The government does nothing but hurt people. I want to go to Australia or London or America.
How much do you earn taking the tourists around Cati?
Thirty euros for a night’s work, if I am lucky. The tourists expect so much. They come, they take their photos, they stay in the hotels, then they leave. They collect memories.
Are you collecting memories Cati?
I want to have a family one day, have a husband and children. I don’t know if that will be possible. I have to leave Spain soon, I am qualified. I need a better job than the jobs I have here.
Do you really want to leave Spain Cati?
No, not really. This my country. I want to work. I will find something. I need to keep optimistic.
Can I take your photograph Cati, for my blog?
Cati smiles and then laughs. No, please, I am not pleasing to the eye. Your camera will break.
Cati is wrong about the way she looks, but she is not wrong about Spain. The tourists come, they collect their memories, they share their photos on social media, they eat their tapas and stay in the hotels, then they go home and forget about Spain; it is a place that doesn’t matter anymore, but what about Cati and the young people like her?
I take her details and promise to stay in touch. She smiles and kisses me on both cheeks and then marches off, waving, a new burst of optimism twinkling in her eyes.
She promises to meet me later for tapas and a beer in the back streets of Sevilla, close to the Calle Levies.
In my mind’s eye I move forward in time and see her in charge of a high-profile NGO in Madrid, travelling to the US on business, earning a salary that makes her proud, and I see the fear and the dread on her face replaced by serenity. This is what I hope for her.