Monday, July 22, 2019 10:17

Carlota

I was filled with a sense of nostalgia as I took those last few steps towards the beach. The roads had changed a little it was true and a few eucalyptus trees had been felled in order to facilitate the widening of pedestrian path, but the apartment blocks and hotels remained just as they had then. It was like I could taste the reminiscence with each breath of salty air, as if each wave that lapped against the sand carried with it a reminder of my past. Some things never change. As I turned the corner and the beach came finally in to view I saw for the first time in almost a quarter of a century a tiny part of Spain that had been witness to my growing from a simple, ignorant youth into a simple, ignorant adult. It was a painful recognition that sought to underline what I think I had known all along; that those years when sand and sea had been everything to me were in fact nothing more than wasted years; years when I might have done what so many of my peers had done: gone on to university, got successful jobs, carved out for themselves useful and lucrative careers and raised families. In short, to make some useful contribution to the society that had raised them. Instead I was back again, back to experience … what? I really wasn’t sure. Maybe God had a purpose in returning me here, a purpose hidden so deeply from me that it had, on this my very first day back in the country, brought me to the beach. There had been a girl here in those days who had shown me many pleasures, not least of which was the simple delight in beachcombing. It had all started one night when I had stumbled across her and a friend sitting beside a blazing fire of driftwood at the far end of the beach. It had been a hot night and I had taken a late walk down to the sea in the hope of finding some fresher air than that which filled my little apartment like a heavy weight. Darkness had drawn itself across the moonless night like a curtain and my gaze had been drawn to a spot at the far end of the bay to what appeared to be the flames of a fire. Soft voices drifted across the still night as I approached and I very soon recognised what appeared to be two young women sitting facing the sea. I had approached them out of curiosity, nothing more, and was surprised when they so readily invited me to sit with them. I remember feeling entirely out of place with them yet at the same time so utterly at ease with myself, especially when Carlota, for that was the name of one of the girls, had taken a shine to me. Carlota was an attractive girl of decidedly Spanish stock with hair the colour of a black tulip and eyes that spoke of the depths of the deepest well. I had spent a very pleasant few hours there with them that evening before taking my leave in favour of my bed. The girls had been kind enough to invite me back again the following evening, and before long had begun to take my nightly attendance there for granted. Very soon, too, Carlota and I took to wandering hand in hand along the beach, finding at the tide line bits of wood for the fire as well as the seashells that were often marooned by the occasional big wave. I will never know how Carlota’s beautiful eyes succeeded in finding those sometimes-tiny shells with just the moon’s rays to light her way. Carlota and I grew closer as the weeks became months and her friend, Esmeralda was her name, had by then been relegated to the status of a third party. It ended one day when Carlota, seemingly having wandered up into the trees on to the cliff top, fell to her death on the rocks below.

Carlota and I had never become intimate in the sexual sense; we had only ever been, at best, close friends who shared what we thought were some of life’s important values. Only now have I the wisdom to see just how terribly shallow those values had been – and, far too late, of course, to recognize just how much Carlota had meant to me then.  I think that youth, with the lack of objectivity that must be its natural bedfellow, conspires sometimes against rational thought, and the effect Carlota’s death had on me was to drag me back night after night to sit looking out across the empty sand. An old house stood at that point with an Aleppo Pine growing out of its centre, a house I knew to be occupied by an old man who seemed to live alone. Somehow that house had offered a feeling of assurance to us on those warm but sometimes-stormy nights when the flames of the fire danced wildly like the breath of a dragon. I cannot pinpoint what it was about the house, just that it seemed the sort of place where three teenagers might find shelter if shelter was needed.

In the days following Carlota’s death I took to sitting beside the house, with tears in my eyes, listening between the tumble of breaking waves for the sound of her funny little laugh. I would often see the old man looking out of his window and, with self-pity in my heart, wonder whether he had ever lost someone he held so dear. Carlota’s meaningless and stupid death brought about in me the reluctant acknowledgement that there was more to life than that which I was currently leading and my thoughts began to turn to England and my well-to-do family there.

Of course my pernoctations couldn’t last forever and with the onset of winter the memories of family Christmases around cosy log fires began to supplant those of the Spanish girl I thought I had loved. My return to England put behind me the pain of the past and coincided with my father’s plans for a new business venture. It was me he had chosen to run it.

Now, two and a half decades on, just when I had put from my life the final bits that were simple and ignorant, I was back in Spain, my senses filled with the sounds and smells of my youth. There’s a paseo now where once sand had joined the trees, but the old house still stands just as it had all that while ago. The tree at its centre is a little larger than I remember, and beyond it the rocks that took Carlota’s life. I walked slowly along the paseo, seeing no sign that the tradition of beach fires had survived the years, and finally stopped beside the old house that was now under some considerable renovation. I called out to a man wielding a carpenter’s saw and asked him if he knew where I might find the owner the house (I had never again seen Esmeralda, Carlota’s beach friend, and the old man was the only link I had to the past.) The carpenter told me the old man had died many years before. He lifted his saw and pointed to the rocks beyond the house. “He never got over losing his daughter,” the carpenter said. “She fell to her death just over there.”

 

Copyright © J E Emberson 2010