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The International Writers Magazine

A Day in Torremolinos
Martin Green

Our tour, taken as a gesture of defiance in the face of all of the family and physical problems engulfing us during the past year, had started in Madrid, then taken us west to Lisbon and south to Tangier, then back along Spain's southern coast, the Costa del Sol. 

After a week of intensive travel, we were happy to have a day on our own in the Mediterranean resort town of Torremolinos.  The usual optional tour had of course been offered, this one a visit to Gibralter, which we'd passed on the ferry coming back from Tangier.  Most of our tour companions, feeling the compulsion to see everything possible that overcomes people on this kind of a trip, had gone to Gibraltar but we'd declined.
We slept until after nine, then came down and enjoyed the hotel's extensive buffet breakfast of eggs, cereals, rolls and pastries.  This was in contrast to the usual tour regime of up at seven, pack, put bags outside, come down to eat, rush back to room to get ready, on the bus by eight.  "This coffee is pretty good," I said, eating my second, or was it my third, pastry.  I liked the coffee because it was more like American and less like Spanish, which was thick, strong and bitter.
"I really shouldn't be eating all this," said my wife, who was always diet-conscious.
"Go ahead," I told her.  "Tomorrow it'll be back to a quick bowl of cereal."
"Yes, it's nice not to rush.  Paul's having his last mid-term today.  I hope he passes."
Paul was our younger son, a junior at UC Berkeley, who'd gotten into a series of scrapes, the consequences of which were far from over, and who was on the edge of flunking out of college.
When I didn't reply, she said, "I wonder what Alan's doing?"
Alan was our older son, 25 years old, who'd lost his job several months ago.
"Looking for work, I hope."  Alan, who'd held the same job since graduating from college, had seemed stunned by his layoff although it seemed to us all the signs were there.
"Maybe we'll find out he's found a job when we get back," my wife said.
"That would be nice, but I wouldn't count on it.  Hey, I thought we weren't going to talk about them, not today anyway."  I looked at my watch.  It was almost eleven.  "We should get going if we're going to go shopping.  I know you're going to want to look into every store."
"Not every one.  How are you feeling?"  She asked this every day.
"I'm fine.  Let's go."
As directed the previous day, when we'd arrived, we turned to the right when we exited our hotel, walked two blocks and found the elevator which went up to the main shopping area.  We'd already decided that we'd spend the day getting souvenirs for everybody, then, when we got hungry, have lunch in town.
I spotted an outdoor cafe at a nearby corner.  "Okay," I told my wife.  "How much time do you want?"
"I don't know.  Two hours?  Maybe three."
"Better make it three.  I'll meet you at that cafe up there.  That way I can sit down and have a drink while I wait for you."

Splitting up when we went shopping was one of the secrets to our long marriage.  When I see something I want I go into the store and get it.  If my wife is looking for, say, a birthday card, she has to examine each and every one on display before making her choice.
 "All right," she said.  "I don't think it'll take me three hours, but I'll meet you at the cafe."
The day was warm and sunny.  The street was crowded with tourists, many wearing shorts, and the outdoor cafes were already filling up.  I looked into a few shops, then, as I like to do when in a foreign city, wandered down some side streets, just looking around.  In one I found a nice-looking restaurant, colorful flowers in front, a large window so that you could look out onto the street.  I stepped inside.  It was small, about a dozen tables, all with more colorful flowers on them, bright and spotless.  An attractive woman came out from the rear.  I asked her if I could see the menu, saying that my wife and I might want to come later for lunch.  The menu she handed me, which contained English translations for most of the dishes, looked good, so I thanked her and said I'd probably be back.
I returned to the main street and stopped into a few more shops.  One sold bullfight posters, at a reasonable price, and I made a mental note to return with my wife and get one each for our sons.  The three hours weren't quite up but I was ready to sit and have a cold drink.  I walked back to the cafe and found a table in the shade.  A pretty young waitress (it seemed all the women in Torremolinas were good-looking) took my order for a sangria.
One of the pleasures of a European trip is sitting in an outdoor cafe, with nothing else to do but sip a drink and watch the passing crowd.  Many of the people in the street were obviously tourists, the women with their shopping bags, the men with long-suffering looks.  A number of well-dressed young women in pairs walked briskly by, brown legs shown off by short skirts, talking and gesturing vigorously to each other.  Occasionally, a distinguished-looking older man would walk by, a scholar, a well-known Spanish writer or maybe just someone with a gray beard and glasses.
My attention was distracted by a noisy young family having lunch at a nearby table.  I guessed they were Scandinavians, all blonde, the two young children jumping up and down, laughing and talking loudly while their pretty mother tried to shush them.  But they weren't annoying; they were having too good a time.  The little girl, possibly aware of my stare, looked over at me and gave me a shy smile, then hid her face, giggling, in her mother's shoulder.
At that moment, my wife came up, like the other women tourists, holding a shopping bag.  "Have you been waiting long?" she asked.
I looked at my watch.  As I'd expected, it was quite a bit past the three hours.   "Not long.  I've been having a good time.  Some young girl smiled at me, obviously wanted to pick me up."
 "Then it's a good thing I got here."
My wife ordered a sangria while I had a second for myself.  As we drank, she described her shopping adventures.  I told her about the bullfight posters and the little restaurant I'd found.  After finishing our drinks, we walked to the restaurant.  Possibly because it was by now mid-afternoon, it was almost empty.  The woman who'd shown me the menu that morning seated us at a table by the window.  She told us what the day's specials were and we ordered two of them, both seafood, plus a local wine which she recommended.
The lunch was a leisurely one, starting with a soup and including a salad.  Every so often the proprietress would come over and ask us if everything was satisfactory.  We assured her that it was.  We chatted some and found out that the place was a family operation.  Her husband was the chef.  When she wasn't coming over to us, she was busy setting the other tables for the evening meal.  Another woman, assisted by a boy, worked at twisting up napkins.  When we finally finished, the proprietress walked us to the door.  The boy came up to her and she introduced him.  "This is my nephew Albert."
"Can I take a picture of you?" asked my wife.  They came out and stood in front of the restaurant.  "Oh, thank you.  And I got all of those lovely flowers.  Thank you for that splendid lunch, also."  The woman came forward and hugged my wife.  As we walked away, I said, "How come you got a hug and not me?"  We went back to the shopping area and bought the bullfight posters for our sons.  Then, instead of taking the elevator back down, we descended by a number of winding streets, which left us several blocks from our hotel.
We crossed over and walked out onto the beach.  It was October so not very people were about.  Because we wanted to say we'd been in the Mediterranean, we both took off our shoes and socks and waded in the water.  "It's pretty cold," I said, quickly retreating to the warm sand.  Walking down a bit we came upon a group of children, about six to ten years old, dark-haired and dark-eyed like Albert, playing in the water, laughing and splashing.  We watched them for a while, then walked back to our hotel.
In our hotel room, my wife put down the shopping bag and then she was in my arms.  Without speaking, we undressed and made love, one of the few times we'd done so in the last year.  Afterward, while my wife took a shower, I lay on the bed and the thought came unbidden that our trip would end in only a few days and that when we returned I'd have my surgery.  Then there were thoughts of Paul and Alan.  I pushed these aside and instead thought about the day.  I thought about the sunshine and the warmth, the shopping, the sitting at the outdoor cafe, the lunch, the woman's spontaneous hugging of my wife, our walk along the beach.  I was very glad we hadn't gone to Gibraltar.
I remembered the laughter of the dark-haired children we'd seen in the water, the laughter of the two blonde children in the cafe, the smile of the little girl.  Possibly only children, I thought, can experience unalloyed happiness.  By the time we're adults we've become entangled in so many troubles that happiness, like a single flower in a thicket, can only be snatched at, and so is all the more precious.
Later that night, as we took a stroll alongside the shore, looking into the shops still open, we met one of the couples on our tour who'd gone to Gibraltar.  "It was very interesting," said the wife.  "You should have gone."
"What did you do here?" asked the husband.
"Nothing much," I said.  "Just hung around." 
And that was our day in Torremolinas.
© Martin Green May 2007

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