Episode Eight: isla bonita…

Neiva’s English was poor; but as Sylvianne’s Spanish was completely none existent  she was forced to sit helpless, not knowing what to make of the unfamiliar plates of food that Neiva was setting down on to the small, ornate, darkly wooded dining table in front of her.

Sylvianne had believed Neiva to be some sort of cleaning girl when she had first encountered her this morning. Dressed in a pale blue crisp cotton skirt. neatly gathered to a small waist band and short puff sleeved white blouse. she looked fresh and spruce, and with a light blue polka dotted headscarf  neatly tying back a black cloud of bubbly hair like a 40’s land girl, she had looked all business as she began  cleaning the bathroom; but when she reappeared this afternoon to begin preparations for an evening meal, moving about the small villa with comfortable familiarity; Sylvianne was forced to acknowledge that Josh must have managed to not only secure himself the delightful little villa, but one that brought with it a Canarian Martha Stewart to boot. Neiva was scarily efficient for one so young.

Neiva placed a large plate in the centre of the table, as she did so she nodded meaningfully at the plate, ‘Chiperones a la plancha’, she said. Sylvianne looked over the plate, there was definitely something in there with tentacles, eeww! Sylvianne swallowed hard and looked back to Neiva, the lack of enthusiasm for the plate etched all over her face. but Neiva hadn’t stopped to see the reaction, she had already gone to fetch another large plate, ‘Papas arugadas’, Neiva stated simply, showing Sylvianne what looked like overdone potatoes. Next came green leafy salad and the unmistakable, sublime waft of warm bread, that at least was recognisable and smelled gorgeous.

The advent of food suggested that Josh might be expected imminently, but Sylvianne had no idea, he hadn’t been there when she had got up this morning and there were no notes, nothing to give her any clues as to his timetable and so she took it upon herself to do what the English have been doing for countless generations when faced with communicating with someone who doesn’t speak good English. She spoke to Neiva in English, in an exaggerated manner both slow and loud, thereby obviously making herself all the more easily understood.

‘Will Josh be home soon do you know?’

Neiva turned, ‘Senor Josh?’ and then there was  a flood of Spanish. Sylvianne stood dumb in the face such rampant latino effervescence, she sort of nodded and shook her head in equal measure, yes but no but yes, the gesture seemed to be saying, but she felt unable to articulate anything else and instead tried to smile, but even that failed, she looked more pained than anything. What the hell was she doing here?

Neiva didn’t wait for a response, and one didn’t come. Sylvianne fervantly hoped Josh would be home soon, there had been no time for talking or anything yesterday. She had arrived, just arrived unannounced largely, and Josh had been unable to sort anything out other than making up the bed in the second bedroom and now Sylvianne felt terrible for just turning up.

She hadn’t once considered she might put him out at all.

Clearly, Neiva’s animation suggested that Josh’s arrival would be universally popular, Neiva’s dark looks and stony expression had been forbidding almost, and she had eyed Sylvianne with the utmost suspicion, it was etched in every glance, every gesture. Josh it would appear didn’t have the same effect; that realisation appeased her somewhat, Sylvianne hated the idea that Josh might be living among inhospitable people.

She half turned and watched Neiva busy again in the little kitchenette just off from the dining area; actually she was being unfair, their mutual lack of a babel fish meant that only the basics were untranslatable, the girl certainly wasn’t inhospitable. Sylvianne sighed heavily and wandered out on to the veranda, her hand lingering along the warmth of the walls as she entered into the full glare of the late afternoon sun.  La Casita Estrellas. 

The low rise cottage was rustic, but very pretty. Painted a warm peach both inside and out, with mellow clay roof tiles and Mexican style saltilo and talavera tiles across the entire house and around the outside veranda; it was the very essence of a Spanish hacienda, the little house under the stars.

Josh had bemoaned altitude sickness and the frugality of his early lodgings on La Palma, and Sylvianne had believed that he would be home before that first year was out. Believed or hoped?  But once he had moved to the outskirts of Puntagorda, his missives home had seemed happier, more settled and now, standing on the veranda,  looking out over the north Atlantic, in all it’s massive blueness, she could imagine he would like it here very very much. He might never come home, she thought.

Just then the object of her musings, pulled his beaten sky blue Santana Land Rover in to the little dust bucket space reserved for the purpose aside the villa and jumped out looking very enthusiastic. Sylvianne stepped forward to greet him, but stopped short when she saw he had immediately made  his way into the kitchenette and started up animated chatter with the now equally animated Neiva. Her heart squeezed just a little when she noticed he had stolen a handful of the small dark potatoes from the plate on the table and was eating them with gusto, much like he would do when he had been a small lad – he would run through the kitchen,  mucky and unkempt from the garden and grab at  whatever food she had laid out ready for dinnertime as he dashed past  and she would shout after him – she smiled at the memory and then suddenly saddened, tears threatened.

Unsure what to do next, she hovered uncomfortably between moving away or moving in; Josh spared her indecision as he turned his wide, uncomplicated smile on her, he walked forward and engulfed her in a huge bear hug, ‘ how’s my best girl?’ and he squeezed her reassuringly tight. ‘Beginning to feel a bit stupid actually Josh’ she managed to mumble, muffled as she was against his chest.  Pushing her away a little whilst still keeping hold of her upper arms, Josh looked at his Mother squarely, ‘Stupid? Why?’

‘Well, I’m here and I shouldn’t be. I jumped on a plane and then another, and caught a rickety old bus and travelled along dusty roads through places I’ve never heard of to arrive where  I hadn’t been invited  and interrupted your life when I had no right to – I hadn’t once thought of you – only of myself. And now I’ve been here 24 hours I realise I am in the way and I am solving nothing by being here. And yes that makes me feel very stupid.’

‘Was that rehearsed?’

‘Sort of. I’ve had all day to reflect and, well yes.’ she ended on a shrug.

‘You don’t need to be invited Mum. Actually, I think it’s wonderful that you came. I know why, and that’s ok. It’s just nice to see you.’ He let her go. ‘Don’t go fretting. It’s ok to be here, if you like I can arrange for you to move to a hotel, in Tezacortes maybe, if you want an easier base to explore from – but I am very happy to have you here at La Casita Estrellas, if you can stand the quiet.’ He was nodding as he spoke, urging her to agree. ‘You can stay as long as you want. So long as you are ok me working, I can’t get time off right this minute.’

‘It’s quite beautiful here. Greener than I imagined, I was expecting something more lunar.’

‘La Isla Bonita. And it is, I love it. C’mon. Let’s eat.’

As they moved toward the dining table, Sylvianne noticed that just like this morning, Neiva had melted away, like a little brownie from the bottom of the garden, she flitted in and then flitted out, just like that. Sylvianne squared her shoulders, now was the time for the tentacles – her stomach lurched.

Sat on the veranda sometime later, Sylvianne had to admit, Neiva could cook. At Josh’s urging she had tried, eaten and delighted in the Canarian dishes that had been left, including those tentacles and now Josh offered her suspiciously British looking instant coffee, as he sat down beside her. The sun was low in the sky and the whole world was becoming an intense orange glow as the firey orb dipped toward the horizon out to sea. Little solar lights started to spring to life in the hidden leafy places like little glow worms suddenly released and then the crickets came, clicking in rhythm.

Josh lowered the parasol at the patio table and set a cluster of citronella tea lights on the table and they quietly contemplated the view. It was Josh who broke the quiet.

‘Did you stay for the funeral?’

Sylvianne sipped the coffee, ‘yes.’


Then Sylvianne placed the cup down and faced Josh. ‘ I ran away. Not from the funeral, but from my life, it all suddenly felt faux, like I had been kidding myself. All those things that I thought were going to make my life meaningful. I was deluding myself.’

Josh didn’t miss a beat.  ‘You’re wrong you know. That computer course, that was fantastic and you were doing the keepy fit thing and you were starting to sound almost like your old self – you were healing Mum.  It’s a process and you’ve faltered a bit, that’s all.’

‘I didn’t know. She lay dead and I just didn’t know. And I just felt that my stupid life was just that, stupid and meaningless.’

‘Then make it have some meaning Mum. It’s time for you to do something for you. Not me, Not Lara. Not Dad. It’s time for you now.’

‘I ran away from myself, I got frightened.’

‘If there was a place in the world to flee to, I can’t imagine anything more perfect than here.’

Sylvianne saw the sun’s final flare as it finally sunk below the horizon and solar lamps burst across the garden beyond the edges of the veranda, and she smiled. ‘Absolutely Josh. Absolutely.’

Josh took a sip from his coffee. ‘I hate him for hurting you, you know that don’t you?’

Sylvianne nodded and moved to hold her son’s hand. ‘I should have come here sooner.’

Josh squeezed her hand. ‘Neiva has a large family and they all get together once a week for a big get together meal, but it’s much more than a meal, it’s an event! It’s tomorrow night, and I go over to see them all, you can come with me.’

‘You speak marvellous Spanish now.’

‘You have to, you can’t get by properly locally without it, but it comes quite quick the more you socialise with the locals and her family are great. So you’ll come along with me?

She nodded. ‘I’m really going to miss Ellen, I don’t have many friends you know?’

‘Time to start making some new ones eh?’

‘Yes. It’s time.’