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Promenade

As I walked along the promenade I made sure to keep to the shade of the tattered awnings which fluttered in the breeze. I was walking south which meant that the sea was on my left and the town on my right with the rocky outcrops and mountains rising behind it. The beach stretched silent and undisturbed in either direction littered only by the skeletons of the occasional sun bed whose plastic bodies hadn ’t been washed away or disintegrated in the heat. It was midday and the sun was beating down hard making the concrete beneath my bare feet too hot to walk on except in the shade.

As I passed a small boarded up shop front I noticed the shutter at the front had not been fully pulled down to reach the floor. I went to one of the darkened windows and tried to see what was inside, I could just make out a rack of deflated lilos and rubber rings to the left of the door. Perfect, just the kind of shop I was looking for, I reached down and gave the shutter a hard pull. Nothing, it wouldn ’t give. I tried again and thinking of the long walk ahead I gave it all I had. After the first couple of inches it began to slide up easily. Trying to conserve as much energy as possible I slid it slowly to the top.

The sunlight lit up the interior of the shop to reveal a small, dusty space taken up by untouched racks of beach goods – towels, shorts, rubber rings and right by my side decent selection of coloured flip flops. It looked like it was once what you ’d call a mum & pop store – small, clean and well looked after. This part of the town had a beautiful sandy beach overlooked by the green and sand coloured mountains behind . It seemed to be the kind of place favoured by locals leaving the tourists further up the coast. Unlike the centre of the town that I had passed through about an hour earlier this place wasn’t saturated by crumbling neon signs and gaudy beach front bars.

Finding my size of sandal I slipped it on and glancing at the large rubber ring hanging on the wall I was tempted by a cool swim. I considered how much energy even a short swim would use and not knowing where my next meal would come from I pulled down the shutter and continued down the promenade.

I had walked maybe another mile along the beach front road – sometimes strolling onto the sand – when I realised I could hear the faint sound of music playing in the distance. I stopped to listen and it seemed to be coming from further inland in the direction of the mountains. It was a classical composition that could have been Chopin but then I’m certainly no expert and really only recognize classical music when its been in the movies. I took the next right which led between two medium sized hotels into quieter streets lined with small detached, white washed houses. Most were turning a light grey but the palm fronds which shot up and peered over the front garden walls still gave the streets a peaceful feel. Some of the large front gates hung open to reveal broken windows and shutters falling from their hinges making them look sad and empty. I wondered how long the others could maintain the façade.

I continued down this street in the direction of the music and after about half a mile I came to a cross roads. I turned left and was able to identify the source of the music coming from a house at the end of the street. It was a large house with white walls and a red tiled roof and faded green shutters. A large balcony ran around the whole of the first floor and underneath were a series of arches leading onto a shaded ground floor patio. I could see all of this because although the house was surrounded by a high stucco wall the two massive front gates lay wide open to reveal a gravel drive and perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. For a moment I could barely believe what I was seeing – I briefly considered how much water would have to be used to keep the plants alive – and then thought about my own struggles for water. I had nearly died more than once when the rains hadn’t come.

I walked up the drivway in the direction of the front door and as I got closer I could tell that the music was coming from an upstairs room whose green shutters were left wide open. The music had quietened now and had taken on a tinny quality – making it sound like it was coming from one of those old record players with the speakers built in to it.

The gravel beneath my feet shifted so loudly as I approached the houset hat I assumed whoever was inside must have heard my approach. When I was within a couple of metres of the front door it suddenly opened a couple of inches squeeking loudly as it did so. I stopped dead and it continued to open slowly – the light filtering in to reveal a large reception with a wide wooden staircase leading up to the mezzanine. A thin wrinkled hand appeared around the side of the door and pulled it open fully to reveal a woman who appeared so old and thin that it seemed impossible she could be alive. She was hunched over with her head towards the floor but as I approached she began to look up. Her eyes were barely open but her toothless mouth broke into a wide benevolent grin and then in a low, cracked voice she spoke:

“Hullo? Is it a room you’re looking for? Because I’m afraid we’re all full up at the minute…”

For a moment I couldnt respond. It had been over three years since I had seen another human being and although this woman appeared to be quite mad she was a person and that simple fact left me overwhelmed and unable to speak.


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