It’s 10 o’clock when I land.
That’s the problem with booking the cheapest flight. It always lands late.
“Take bus number 1,” she texts. “Our stop is number 422, in front of El Corte Ingles. You know, that shop you hate.”
I haven’t seen her for years.
Well, two years.
But it feels longer than that.
I find the bus stop. Get on. Let her know I’m on the way.
“So do we need to share a bed tonight?”
“Why? Are you going to shower if we do?”
“Nah, gonna eat lots of burritos.”
“Clown. We got bunks.”
It’s rare for me to travel with a girl. With anyone, really. Especially a girl I’m not, you know. Dating.
“I’m guessing you’ve taken the bottom?”
“How you gonna reach the stars from down there? Be ambitious.”
I actually asked her on a date once. She said no. Of all the no’s I’ve gotten from girls over the years, hers might be the only one I agree was a good idea.
“I was waiting for you to go eat. Super hungry now.”
“We’ll eat late. In true Spanish style.”
“Nothing will be open!”
“It’s Spain, everything will be open.”
I get off the bus at El Corte Ingles. It doesn’t take long to find the apartment. One wrong street, one wrong turn. That’s all. Often it takes a few more than that.
She buzzes me in from upstairs. I get in the elevator, the size of a shoebox.
The front door is already open. She appears just as I’m about to step inside, smiles like a mother when she sees me. We hug.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
I drop my bags in the room. It’s the cheapest Airbnb in town. Tiny. Two bunks. Both have pillows. Both have sheets. Bargain.
Mallorca is lifeless when we step out onto the streets. Some cars. No lights. No people. Nothing open. It’s not even midnight. We walk through town to the main plaza. You always know when you’re in Spain; wide streets, stone sidewalks, old buildings, not tall, not short, rustic. When we get there it’s dead, everything closed. Except Burger King.
I don’t have many female friends. I mean real friends, not Facebook friends. The girls I have real phone calls with, multi-hour phone calls, the girls who call, just to see how I’m doing; they’re girls I’ve been romantic with, at one stage or another. A female friend who was always just a friend? I don’t think I have any.
Well, I have one.
That’s why I think it was a good idea.
I sit and watch Fernanda eat her fries. That’s her name. Fernanda. I don’t eat. Then I eat one. Then eleven or twelve. I’ve never seen anyone eat fries like Fernanda. She doesn’t dip them. She holds the fry, gets the ketchup packet, then she squirts ketchup onto the fry itself, right along the fry, from tip to tip, in a perfect line. Then she eats it. Gets another fry, does it again. I watch her do it six or seven times. People always ask about the big things – job, house, degree. But it’s the little things – how they arrange their wardrobe, if they say please, the way they eat their ketchup, that really tell you if you know someone.
The next day, we get the tourist stuff out of the way early – do the Palma walking tour, look at some castles, try a Mallorcan ensaïmada. When evening arrives, we take a walk along the waterfront, all the way to the end, until there’s no waterfront left. We talk about a girl that’s been on my mind.
“Really tall. And just, beautiful. Odd thing we’ve had going on.”
It’s good having a female friend. It’s like you’ve got the other team’s offensive coordinator there, sharing all the team secrets. While a poor girl thinks you’re at the kick off you’ve already seen the next ten plays of the game.
The next day, Fernanda suggests a day trip to Sóller. Google highly recommends it. It’s a two hour bus ride, through winding mountains, valleys, lots of green. It’s beautiful, but sometimes, when you’ve seen a good amount of the world, bus rides become a sort of limbo, the scenery becomes background noise. You need to actually stop and remind yourself, hey dickhead, this is beautiful, appreciate it.
When we arrive in Sóller, it’s late. And it’s Sunday. Much of it is closed. Streets mostly empty, apart from the odd wanderer. The main plaza is more lively, with tourists and tapas restaurants and tables with big umbrellas. Fernanda and I walk through, explore some side streets, find ourselves back at the main plaza. Turns out, the main plaza is the only plaza.
“I guess so.”
We take a seat at the emptiest restaurant, have a drink, order some vegetarian croquetas.
“I just don’t get why he disappears, and then he starts replying for a week, and then he disappears again?”
“Guys do that sometimes.”
“Well. Sometimes we just don’t want to talk to you.”
She shakes her head.
“I mean girls do that too, right?”
She smiles. I smile. We both nod and eat a croqueta.
A couple of days later, after trying every vegetarian cafe in Palma, we book a rental car to explore the island. I book the cheapest car, from the cheapest company. Pick up time is 11 a.m.
I walk down to the waterfront to pick it up, right on time. Fernanda stays at the room and mothers the bags. I almost walk right past the rental office, it’s so tiny. It’s tiny, and it’s packed with people.
“We don’t have any cars right now,” she tells the guy at the counter. “All these people are also waiting for cars.”
“But we’ve booked! We booked it for this time!”
It’s some British guy with angry hair. His world is falling apart, apparently.
“We’re overbooked sir. You’ll need to wait for two hours, the cars will be here then.”
When he’s done, I give the lady my booking. Same story. I text Fernanda.
“Need to wait two hours, they have no cars.”
“What the fuck!”
“Let’s go eat.”
Fernanda meets me on the waterfront. We find an American diner, I have the strawberry pancakes. We’ve spent the last four days binge eating; there’s no stopping us now. The two hours zooms by. When you’ve spent your life sitting in airports, two hours is like a toilet break.
We walk back to the rental office. It’s a different lady now. The other one is probably in court, getting sued by the British guy. I hand over the booking form.
“Oh,” she says. “You’re an online booking. There’s no cars, you’ll need to wait an hour or so…”
She hasn’t even finished speaking when Fernanda turns hostile.
“He was here at 11 and you said the same thing! We’ve been waiting two hours already!”
The lady tenses up, looks at me sheepishly.
“Sorry, I didn’t know.”
She looks back down at her computer, clicks a few things.
“I’ll need to give you a slightly bigger car, is that okay?”
I nod again.
“Okay, they’ll bring it right out for you. Do you want to buy insurance? It’s only 50 euros and you’re covered for everything. Otherwise any damage is an excess of €1,200.”
We don’t buy it.
Fernanda and I go outside to wait for the car.
“Why you blowing up at the nice lady for?” I laugh. “She didn’t know.”
“What, you were just going to say okay and wait for another hour?”
“Of course not. I was just about to win her over with some charm. Then you brought the fury.”
We get in the car. It’s been a while since I drove on the right hand side. It’s been a while since I drove, period. We’ve barely been in the car ten minutes before I krrr krrr krrrrrr the side mirror against something.
“It’s fucking weird! Driving on the other side.”
We spend that morning driving out to Cala d’Or. It’s a little tourist village, on the west of the island, our new home for the next few days.
I drive badly while Fernanda describes the map badly. Like Bonnie and Clyde. Well, not really. More like Donkey Kong and Dixie Kong. Except Fernanda is older than Dixie and can’t read a map. There’s a rumour that women aren’t good map readers. Must be true. There’s also a rumour that Asians can’t drive. Definitely not true. Well, maybe just today.
Cala d’Or is a typical beach holiday town. Lots of hotels, tapas restaurants, supermarkets with those rotating racks of sunscreen on the footpath. Fernanda and I check in, then go in search of dinner.
Every restaurant in Cala d’Or is the same. Pizza, pasta, tapas, seafood. Fernanda examines every menu like it’s an ancient artifact, decoding the scriptures in her head. Eventually she finds one she likes.
“Table for two.”
The guy smiles and walks us in.
“Sit anywhere you want, you can choose.”
I point to Fernanda.
“She can choose.”
The waiter laughs, leans in to whisper.
“It’s always the same, huh?”
He gives me a giggle, a friendly shoulder pat.
We order the unhealthiest food on the menu. Pizza, nachos, something else that we probably regretted later. Our waitress is a little blonde girl. I guess German. Wrong. Dutch.
“Where are you guys from?!”
We explain we’re both from New Zealand, even though our faces are Brazilian, and Chinese.
She’s chatty, starts telling us about Cala d’Or, how long she’s lived here, some of the fun things we could do.
“Oh, we’re not together,” I tell her.
“You thought we were a couple? “
“Nah. Fernanda’s going through a mid-life crisis. I just came out here to support her.”
Fernanda rolls her eyes. I laugh like it’s a joke, even though it’s kind of true. Because it’s always kind of true, for everyone. Life just seems to be made up of a series of mid life crises. One after the other. Eventually you realise that’s just called life.
The next day we drive out to a beach that will look spectacular on our Instagrams. Fernanda knows where it is, how to get there. She takes the keys, says she’s driving today.
The roads are quiet. As we pass through the towns, I know these are the same roads we drove yesterday, but for some reason I don’t recognise them. They all look the same. Until eventually I recognise one: The road with the funny intersection, the one where it looks like you can’t turn, but the sign with the blue arrow appears just in time, and then you realise you can.
But today we go a little further from the towns. We hit the open road, lots of fields, lots of orange and green, lots of houses with too much land, vineyards maybe, farms.
I read the map to her, left, left, right, left.
Eventually we come to a dirt road.
Left here, I tell her.
The road is gravelly, uneven. She drives slowly.
It gets narrower. Hedges and trees on both sides.
Leaves brush against the car mirror.
Slowly, I say, watching the branches tickle the side of the car.
We keep going.
Surely it must widen up soon.
Branches drag against the car. We hear scratching. Is it really scratching?
It’s probably alright. Keep going.
That sounded bad.
Too late now. Can’t go back.
We look at each other. It might be okay, we say with our eyes. We hope.
Eventually it clears. We get out to the main road, drive down to the beach.
As soon as we park I jump out and check the doors.
I start laughing. Fernanda looks at me, smiles nervously.
“We’re so fucked,” I tell her.
She gets out, runs her hands along the panels.
“Oh my god.”
Then I take a step sideways, look at it in the sun.
“Okay, it’s not thaaaaat bad.”
I crouch, change angles again.
“Actually it is that bad.”
I look at her.
“Worry about it tomorrow.”
Eventually we find the beach we’re looking for. It’s hidden, down a long flight of stairs. But we follow the small trail of tourists to a lookout, up on a cliff where we can see the lagoon below. Fernanda looks horrified.
“What the hell?”
I’m not sure what she’s what the helling about.
“This isn’t it, is it?”
I shrug my shoulders. I’ve never seen this place, never heard of it.
She pulls out her phone, shows me a photo.
“This is what it’s supposed to look like.”
I study the photo. I can recognise the boat ramp, the far cliff. But that’s all. The sand in the photo is white and perfect. The sand in real life is brown and covered in rocks. The water in the photo is turquoise and glistening, the water in front of us looks likes sewerage.
I burst out laughing.
“That’s hilarious.” Catfished by Instagram.
After dinner that night, we stop at a small ice cream shop by the hotel. It’s one of those fancy ones, where they have nice tables outside with dim lighting, and overcharge two euros for each scoop.
“I just. I don’t even think I want to work anymore. I want to be a housewife.”
I turn my spoon upside down, suck the ice cream off like a lollipop. The same way I’ve eaten it ever since I saw someone do it in a movie when I was ten.
“But, this is exactly what you were wanting last year.”
“You wanted that apartment. And that job. And Berlin.”
She nods again. Smiles as if she’s already had this conversation with herself last week, and the week before. And a few weeks before that.
“I think I’m just lonely.”
I scrape at my ice cream again, not even eating anymore, just drawing patterns in the half still left.
“Yeah, well. So am I. Sometimes. It’s not always a bad thing you know, to be lonely.”
The following day, we try a new target. Fernanda’s found a different beach. Again, it’s supposed to look spectacular on Instagram. Again, she drives.
Before leaving we stop and load up on snacks at the SPAR, healthy-ish ones. As we arrive back at the car, I run my hands across the side panel, seeing how deep the scratches run. Fernanda smiles anxiously as I do it. I smile back.
“Worry about it tomorrow.”
I fire up Google Maps and we head for the coast. I recognise these roads a little more now. I remember the double street, the one that confused me when we first drove into town. And then the big roundabout that comes after it. A few minutes on, there’s the big Santanyí sign. And then of course the funny intersection, the one where it looks like you can’t turn but you can.
Past that, it’s new territory. It’s a new beach this time, on a different coast, with different roads to roam. On the stereo we listen to a song one of her musician boyfriends wrote for her. The same song we were listening to yesterday. The same guy she keeps talking about at meal time.
“…what you want, what you want, doo doo doo, what you want…”
“It’s catchy, right?”
Yeah, it is actually.
Like the rest of Mallorca’s beaches, this one seems to be hidden too. We park the car, wander around the little red teardrop on Google Maps. No beach. But again we follow the trickle of tourists, along the rocky cliff, up the hill, through a little wooden gate. Behind the gate the path is well trodden, a hint that it’s here. Five minutes along the path, we find it. It’s down, far, far down, in a little cove under the cliff we’re standing on.
Fernanda shows me the photo. It kind of looks the same. But in the photo it looks majestic, the kind of place where you’d build a palace up on the cliff after winning the lottery. In real life it just looks like a cove. The kind of cove you look at for five minutes, take a photo, and leave.
We look at it for five minutes, take a photo and leave.
That night after dinner, Fernanda and I poke at a piece of mediocre cheesecake.
“My Mum talked to me. She thinks I’m lost. Said I should write down some goals. Asked me if I’m…drifting.”
Fernanda looks at me.
“Well, are you?”
I think about it.
“I don’t think so. I don’t know. Maybe.”
I scrape at the cheesecake again. Turn the spoon upside down and eat it.
“I think I’m with your Mum a little bit. Your life’s too easy now. Not that you didn’t work for it, but…”
Fernanda can see it, now that we’re sitting here talking about it. But Mum can see it better, from halfway across the world. What would we do.
The following day is our last day in Mallorca. We drive out to Mondragó National Park.
It’s late afternoon when we finally find the beach there. It’s a medium sized bay, pretty, walled by rocks on either side. It’s empty when we arrive. I take off my flip flops. We walk along the sand.
“There’s a seat there.”
She points up on the rocks lining the water.
She stops me. Points at the rocks. Makes sure my eyes are following her finger.
We climb up onto the cliff, sit on the little seat in the rocks. It’s a bit odd, like a park bench someone has hidden there, disguised. We chat for a while, then just sit in silence. The tide is coming in. I watch the swell crash against the pile of rocks below us. It comes in cycles, a few small waves, then a big one, a few smaller ones, then a bigger one.
As they crash in and out, my mind drifts, segues, as it usually does by the water.
Happiness. Loneliness. Mum. Fernanda.
Each time a wave crashes on the rocks, my mind hits pause for two seconds, just to see if this one will make a splash big enough to reach me. And then straight back to wondering.
Tanzania. Car crash. Where to go next. Why. Drifting.
Wave. This one looks big. It’s going to splash me.
Half an hour goes by. An hour. Maybe two. No idea.
Mallorca. How many people wait the whole year for a week in Mallorca…
Fernanda says something.
I flinch, ask her what she said. I’d nearly forgotten she was sitting beside me.
“Maybe this one,” she repeats, raising her eyebrows towards the water.
She’d been watching the waves too. This whole time. Waiting for them to splash us. Just like I was.
The wave collapses onto the rocks, loudly. It plunges deep, then, as if launching off a trampoline, shoots up towards us. It splashes the tips of our toes, barely.
I look up. The sun is just starting to set.
The next morning Fernanda wakes up before me. Packs her stuff before me. Tells me we’ve got five hours until we fly. It’s time to worry about the car.
“Google it. How to fix car scratches,” I say, stuffing toiletries into my bag.
I hear the mumble of Youtube videos, her flicking through different ones.
“Toothpaste?” she says, puzzled.
She keeps watching. I look up at her, see her eyes fixed on the screen.
“Oh my god,” she laughs. “Fucking toothpaste.”
We check out and hurry down to the car. I give her my toothpaste, grab two dirty socks. She wets one, toothpastes it, starts buffing the door.
After a few seconds she pulls her head back, examines it like an outfit she’s holding in the mirror.
“Oh my goddd. It works.”
She buffs harder, starts laughing.
I take the toothpaste, start polishing the other side.
A couple walks past, looks at us confusingly, a Latina and a Chinaman furiously polishing their rental car with socks.
After twenty minutes we’re done. In the right light, it looks brand new. In the wrong light, it looks like we’ve tried to cover our car scratches in toothpaste.
We laugh at each other, proudly. We did our best. It’s in fate’s hands now.
I drive today. We barely need the map anymore. I make my way out of town, one last time. Along the confusing double road. Around the the big roundabout. Past the big Santanyí sign. Through the funny intersection, the one where it looks you can’t turn but you can. From there, it’s onto the highway, our final Mallorca road. Ample lanes all the way back to Palma.
We pull up at the rental office an hour later. It’s the same lady at the desk, the one that got sued by the British guy. She’s gossiping with a workmate.
I hand her the keys.
“None at all.”
She glances at the car out the window for less than a second, tells me to sign a form, hands me the return slip.
“That’s it,” she smiles.
She waits for me to walk out. As I close the door, I see her quickly go back to gossiping. I check my credit card for weeks. They never charge it.
We share a cab to the airport. Fernanda’s going home to Berlin, me, onward to Amsterdam. She waits for me to check my bag in, we shuffle through security together. Soon we get to the end of our shared walk through the airport, the part where her gate is this way and my gate is that way.
She drops her bag. We hug. She puts a hand on my neck, pulls my head down towards her. Kisses me on the cheek.
I smile, wrap my arms around her.
The last time Fernanda and I said goodbye, it was a goodbye that said maybe we’ll meet again, someday. But this time it wasn’t even a goodbye. It was a call me when you land, remember to read that book, don’t worry about the twenty euros, I’ll send you that recipe, did you give me back my toothpaste?
And I knew, from now on, there would be no more goodbyes between us. Only take cares, and see you next times, laughter about this holiday we took when we were kids, the beaches we couldn’t find, the food that cost too much money, all the conversations that came in between, along Mallorca roads.
But as we broke our hug, turned to walk our own ways, I didn’t say any of that.
Didn’t need to.
Like the waves on the rocks at Mondragó, she already knew.