Under An Island Sun – Episode 10

The main characters from the story

Philippe found the coast road uninspiring, surrounded as it was by near-barren scrubland interspersed with the occasional dried-up river bed and basic buildings.

What a contrast from the fertile fields and houses with wooden shutters he was accustomed to in the French countryside.

The dreariness was only relieved by views of the Atlantic for stretches to their right, and distant volcanoes inland, hinting at mysteries to be discovered.

“How does anything grow here?”

“With difficulty. There tends to be little rain.

“We have Badlands – ground made from the debris of long-ago eruptions that has not yet changed enough for many plants to survive.

“The land in the centre of the island, higher up, is more fertile. Some crops grow there, but not enough.”

Antonio pointed out useful shops, bars and clinics as they drove down streets before pulling up in a parking area between several apartment blocks.

The shouts of children and mothers calling in Spanish came from open windows, along with the sound of crockery as early evening meals were prepared.

The men climbed a set of steps at the top of which Antonio unlocked a white door and held it open.

“Here we are. Put your case in your room. I’ll get beer out of the fridge for us to drink on the balcony.

If Nicole had been here, she would have turned around and walked out, demanding an upgrade.

To Philippe’s eyes, the apartment was adequate and surprisingly tidy.

There was a clean cloth on the table in a corner of the open-plan living area, with a small but well-organised kitchen along the innermost wall, complete with a rack of cooking utensils over the hob.

Antonio clearly knew how to look after himself.

The small balcony had a white table and two chairs and overlooked the other blocks, with a road to one side.

It was hardly a promising prospect, yet, as Philippe sat down, he felt more at ease than he had for weeks.

Antonio brought out glasses of cold beer and a bowl of crisps.

Philippe noticed three terracotta pots, each with a scarlet geranium, lined on one edge of the balcony.

Antonio saw him looking at them.

“What do you think of my garden? It’s hardly exotic, but . . .” He shrugged.

“I find it impressive. Every time I try to keep plants like that, they die.”

“You probably over-water them. The trick is to allow them only enough.

“And be prepared to take off spent blooms, or new ones won’t grow. You have to be in charge.”

Antonio took out a packet of cigarettes and held it across, lighting one for himself. Philippe shook his head.

“So, now we have quiet, tell me about yourself.”

Philippe briefly described how he was taking a break from teaching, without going into the reason why, and about his background of driving in the Pyrenees.

“I saw you looking at the Land-Rover. You’ll be driving one on the tours.

“Chris is getting it serviced, ready for you to collect in a day or two.

“You’re not driving mine. She is like my woman.”

Antonio wagged his finger, then winked.

“Do you have a girlfriend at home?”

“I have. I hope she’ll fly out to see me here for a short holiday.”

Philippe took a long draught of his beer. At this precise moment, it tasted better than the finest wine.

“What about you? Do you have anyone?”

His question was followed by the slightest of pauses. Then the older man grimaced.

“Me? No. I like my freedom too much.” Antonio grinned, before nodding at their almost-empty glasses.

“I’ll get more beer.”

As he went inside Philippe’s phone, on the table beside him, buzzed with a message.

It had been over three hours since he’d texted Nicole, and she hadn’t replied until now.

“On my way out to dinner with a colleague…”

She named a famously expensive establishment.

“What would you like to eat?” Antonio asked when he came out again. “I have pasta and can cook a decent sauce.”

Philippe put the phone down.

“You’ve done enough for me today. It is time I returned the favour. Is there anywhere good to eat near here?”

“A place around the corner makes the best paella, fresh from today’s catch.”

“Let’s go there. I’m paying.”

Antonio clinked his glass.

“I think you and I are going to get along very well, my friend.”

“Here’s to the best paella,” Philippe replied, trying not to think of Nicole, her expensive restaurant and her nameless colleague.

To be continued…

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