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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part II. South West

Cars, Elephants & the Rent

Steve Porter
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink Ebook MapOporto, Ponte Dom Luis

When we went back to give the agency the good news the secretary told us the flat had already been taken. So we continued our search on the paseo Marítimo, taking down phone numbers of flats with Se alquila signs displayed on their balconies. Between the large modern beachfront hotels, and the open-air bars and restaurants, there was plenty of out of season high-rise accommodation available for rent. I phoned one number and was told that the flat would cost thirty five thousand pesetas a month. We met up with Juan, who was working as an agent for the absent owner. Juan didn’t speak any English, which wasn’t unusual in this part of Spain where the majority of tourists are Spanish or Portuguese.

I remarked on the beauty of the deep red sun that was setting again on the horizon. Juan said it was very pretty but in truth he looked disinterested. After all, he had seen it most days of his life. But to the east coast eye this was a rare sight. I could recall only one sunset that had the power of those I had seen recently. That was on the Isle of Harris where Mary and I had been camping. I knew that Mary would soon be in the sea here as she had swum in Harris on a cold windy June day, while I was walking around in a parka jacket.

The flat was a studio on the eleventh floor on a section of the seafront called Amílcar Barca. It seemed an unusual name. Later research revealed the street was named after Hannibal’s father. Thirty five thousand did not seem cheap for what was basically a room. I had paid only twenty to share a place with a large separate kitchen and sitting room in Vigo. But the view from the balcony was wonderful.

Juan explained there would also be a one off payment of ten thousand—a bonus for his role as an agent. It was worth paying for the location and we longed for our own little space in the world.

We agreed to meet up again the next afternoon when Juan would give us the keys and collect the money. We could move in then.

Due to the recent flu virus, I felt constantly dehydrated and just couldn’t get enough of the fizzy stuff. These were times when a raging thirst made a bottle of beer seem quite tempting but I had the wisdom to know it would not only be the one. Mary sat behind a low-level wall on the paseo where we had moved to avoid the glare of walkers, bus passengers and other locals seated in adjacent bars or ice cream parlours.

She was quietly sketching a view of the plaza de San Juan where we had enjoyed a number of lemon Fantas over the last few days. She drew the ornate Town Hall, with its palm trees and added our mountain of luggage to the scene.

Juan came whistling along the paseo. He smiled and waved, appearing amused at this odd pair of foreigners, lying like vagrants on the edge of the beach.

“Hola, Esteban,” he said. “¿Qué tal? Y María, ¡qué bonita!” He kissed Mary’s hand in a way that brought to mind a character in a Golden Age play. He helped us with the bags and we entered the apartment block and took the lift to the eleventh floor. We were so happy to be in our own place at last and could make plans to visit the supermarket.

“Vale, el dinero,” said Juan, smiling as he rubbed his thumb and index finger together.

I counted out fifty, sixty, seventy thousand in Spanish bank notes.


“Más,” smiled Juan.

“Oh, yes of course, the ten thousand bonus payment.”

“Y veinte más,” he said.

“What do you mean another twenty? You said the deposit was a month’s rent.”

“Sí. Cuarenta y cinco mil y cuarenta y cinco mil. Es noventa mil, Esteban, ¿no?”

I sighed and shook my head.

“What’s the problem?” asked Mary.

‘We agreed thirty five thousand each for the rent and deposit, plus the ten thousand extra. Now he’s saying forty five thousand for each plus another ten thousand.”

Mary shook her head angrily.

“I’m sure you said thirty five,” I told Juan again.

“No, no. Cuarenta y cinco mil. Cua – ren – ta.”

He turned the palms of his hands up and shrugged his shoulders. I could only think of an English expression that my mother often uses to explain my sense of frustration.

“¿Qué significa ‘Comeeng the bag’?” he asked.

We gave in. Juan grinned widely, scooped up his winnings and bid us “Adiós.”

It was a mistake to appear so vulnerable on the beach. We didn’t have a car and in the eyes of the modern world this puts us near the bottom of the social ladder. I suppose in Amílcar Barca’s day no self-respecting man would have been seen dead without his own elephant.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationJuly 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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