Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer Holiday

Would you like to hear my favourite story?

It's really good.

My friend told me this a few years ago, but there's not a day that goes by where I don't think about it.

My friend's cousin told him the story, and in many ways he is the protagonist of the piece, this cousin.

The cousin was in Spain on his summer holidays, with his girlfriend and her family. They were staying at a hotel somewhere near Barcelona, though I might be wrong about the location. I think it was a place near Barcelona. I was there, once, in Spain. A nice place, I remember.

That used to be an awful habit of mine as a child, where, if told a story, I'd need to know a pile of mundane details to provide the picture with colour. Where did it happen? What was the weather like? Who was there? Was it day or night? What kind of mood were the people in? What time was it? And so on, and so on.

Often I'd be happiest if the story took place in the summer- and even better if it was in an exotic locale. Best of all was if it was a place where I had been, that I could associate with. I never went on a foreign holiday until I was 16, when I went to Spain, of all places. It was the best time ever, for me.

Anyways, the cousin was on his holidays, and having a great time. I remember (or maybe I've made this up) that my friend said that the food was nice. That was another important incidental to my solemn and lunatic desire for background colour, the quality of the food. It is in Spain, though, the food is always lovely. I like paella.

The cousin was out for dinner one night, with the girlfriend and her family. Then the parents and younger brothers and sisters went home, and it was just the cousin and the girlfriend and her brother and his girlfriend. She was on holiday with them too, the girlfriend of the brother of the girlfriend of my friend's cousin.

After the dinner they went out for drinks to a few bars, around the square. I remember that in Spain, all the bars around the square. Where I was, when I was 16, there were lots of English bars. I played table football. It was nice.

After the bars they were coming home, back to their accomodation. I think it was about 2 in the morning, my friend said.

On the way back they met all these Spanish people, mostly guys, sitting in the middle of a bridge, drinking against the wall. They started chatting to them, the cousin and his girlfriend and her brother and his girlfriend. Apparently they had good craic, and were smoking fags and drinking with them.

The cousin had to take a pish at one point, so he went to the edge of the bridge and pished off it, onto the dark ground a few feet below.

My friend describes how the cousin became aware of a sudden and awful silence as he pished. His pish hitting the land below the bridge would have made a splashing, noisy splattering as it fell to the earth below, and all of a sudden it didn't make any sound anymore.

The cousin looked to the ground below him, pishing all the while and saw "a wee Spanish man looking up at him, smiling, as his stream of pish landed about his face". The wee Spanish man even appeared to be washing his face in the pish, splashing it up about his cheeks as one would do with aftershave. The cousin turned wildly and pished the remainder of his pish onto the bridge.

The cousin ran to his girlfriend and her brother and his girlfriend, and wrenched them from their new Iberian amigos, whispering harshly under his breath that something terrible had happened, and that they had to at that very moment rush back to their lodgings.

As they walked back, he tearfully told them about the man under the bridge, and the awful smile on his face as he lavishly bathed in pish. Nobody could think of another word to say after that, and the four of them walked, at a quicker pace than would seem reasonable for two young couples on a sultry Spanish night, backed to the saftey and comfort of the hotel, and the cousin's girlfriend's ma and da.

Though awful shook up about this, the cousin was able to later relate it with some levity, after a suitable amount of time had passed.

I'm sorry I was never able to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. The cousin took off one day, not long after, and has never been seen again. Some say he ran off to join the navy. Others say he moved to Letterkenny to become a chartered accountant. Who can really say? I like to think it was this event that made him go, but I can't be sure. But, still...

All I know is that, to this day, my favourite story is the second-hand tale of my friend's cousin's encounter with a depraved man, under a bridge, in Spain. Pretty sad, huh?

And I often wonder why it's so. Maybe it's the memories it brings back for me, this story; of dark nights in Spain where lizards seem to creep on every wall, where the ground is dusty and bare and where men sit on bridges late, late at night, drinking and smoking fags.

For a long time after, this tale held a strong and powerful grip on me. My friend's description of the wee Spanish man's face, disgusting in its joy and satisfaction, grinning up at a confused and horrified young holidaymaker, remains to this day etched into my consciousness.

Over time, my own memories of my time in Spain have wedded strangely with the pish-face-man tale (known only to me through retelling) to form one personal, psychic portrait of the Spanish night.

So it truly is my favourite story, this one. And my lingering affection for Spain remains.

And every time I eat paella, I think of table football, and the square, and all of a sudden, there I am: standing under a bridge, smiling, looking up into another set of appalled and unbelieving eyes.