A sorcerer put a curse on me.

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A sorcerer put a curse on me.

I had a bad feeling about him from the moment he walked in the door to the bar in Madrid. Maybe it was the fedora, or maybe it was that he was a white dude with dreadlocks. He didn’t speak a word of Spanish, so when he asked me something in English and I responded back in my American accent, he took it as license to continue the conversation. It was at that moment I made the crucial mistake of putting my book away and indulging him—I was alone, after all; what’s the worst that could happen? Famous last words.

He had been backpacking through South America for years, wanting to study Buddhism. I wasn’t really sure what made him think South America would be a hub of Buddhist mysticism, but I held my tongue. When I mentioned at one point my mom was from the Philippines—the answer he wanted to the dreaded “where are you from?” question when he was dissatisfied with my insistence that my family is from California—he was similarly disappointed to discover that the Asian island nation wasn’t a Buddhist country either. He had heard about animistic beliefs and androgynous gods in the Philippines, and I had to gently break the news to him that the Philippines was an overwhelmingly Catholic nation. The only androgynous gods you’ll find nowadays in the Philippines is the bakla person who will give you the best haircut of your life. (Bakla refers to a person assigned male at birth who has a feminine gender expression; bakla is considered a third gender in the Philippines.)

He told me he’s writing a book. I stopped myself from rolling my eyes. Maybe he wants to start a podcast too, I thought. The book would be about violence and how violence could be used as an important tool. He brought up the flag of Mozambique, adorned in an AK-47, as an example. I nodded along, trying to feign interest. I also couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of having escaped the United States of America only to have an American extol the virtues of firearms in a bar in Spain. Shortly after, it came up that I did taekwondo for most of my youth. Big mistake. For the next ten minutes, he tried to demonstrate that he knew martial arts—“the real kind,” not the “fake” kind, of course! He said taekwondo, as an ancient art, is fundamentally about the movement of energy. I didn’t know how to tell him that taekwondo is not an ancient martial art, but rather one that was developed in the 1950s. But what did I know? 

He said he could cast a spell on me. A shaman in Brazil had taught him how to break the rules of karma, and with this spell, he could make sure that all the negativity I would accumulate in the next life would happen to me a thousand times over in this life. And then, like a Pentecostal preacher speaking in tongues, he began babbling incoherently, drawing a shape in the air in front of me. 

By this point I had enough. I could immediately feel something is wrong; not that I was cursed, but that there was something seriously off about this man. I waited for him to go to the bathroom, and I bolted out of the bar. So much for trying to kill time in Malasaña at a nearby bar until my friends were free.

There’s a certain romance about solo travel. I always imagine that I’ll go somewhere in a foreign city, and maybe a beautiful person will strike up a conversation and I’ll have a group of friends for the night. But this? This was something else. I was struck by the gall of this man—did he really think he could bend karma’s will?

For the record: No, his curse didn’t work. As much as I believe in spirits, I couldn’t be convinced that a single spirit could take him seriously, a fedora-wearing white man from Arizona who had apparently learned this from a Brazilian shaman. I just hope that the shaman made a good amount of money.

On rare occasions, I wonder if his curse actually did work. That time my computer died while trying to finish an essay? Maybe it was the curse. That time my flight was delayed? Maybe that was the curse too. That time that the person in front of me in the queue bought the last sausage roll at the bakery? That’s gotta be the curse. 

He may not have been able to truly put a curse on me—even if he did, I seem to have repelled it pretty well—but maybe he gave me something else. Maybe he gave me the gift of constant reflection. Maybe he gave me the gift of being able to point to something absurd when it feels like everything is just going wrong. Maybe he meant to teach me something much deeper, about the metaphorical value of “curses” and “blessings” and what enchantment can look like in a seemingly random, meaningless world.

Or… who am I kidding? The real lesson I learned is that, the next time a white man in a fedora tries to speak to me in a bar, I should just pretend I don’t speak English.

It’s been over three years since I last wrote on this blog, which I first wrote in over a decade ago. Since I last wrote, I moved to England for further studies and have been traveling around plenty—including to one of my favorite cities, Madrid. The thing about travel—especially solo travel, which is my main way of traveling—is that it leaves you with plenty of stories: from the beautiful to the absurd. To make sure I don’t forget all these strange, bizarre, and hilarious experiences, I’ve decided to write some of them down (with some modifications for storytelling purposes). Some will be published here intermittently.