The donkeys and I have had a very close shave this week: we nearly had our lives taken over in a most unwelcome manner. All is sorted out and our home is back to normal. What lesson can we draw from it? Rubí is reflecting on the matter and she will tell me.
It is a very sad fact of ex-pat life here in Spain that family and friends sometimes swoop down upon us, expected or unexpected, and seem to think it natural that we should hand over our lives and homes to them just because we happen to live in the sunshine. At work you sometimes hear a teacher in the staffroom saying, “My family are arriving next week,” and the sympathetic response is usually, “Oh no! How long for?” If they say three weeks, the tut tuts begin immediately. Rule of thumb is ten days probably the crunch point.
That is for regular family and friends, and then you get the occasional person – the person you don’t really even know that well but you met on the internet in some context – who is just doing the rounds with a sad story and needs “to get my life together”. Such was the case this week. I had an email last Monday from England from a person who had once stayed here for three days, between jet-setting around the world supposedly involved in off-shore financial stuff (which is a mystery for my poor rabit brain). Now he had fallen on hard times and was staying in England, sleeping on a mattress on someone’s floor.
“Would it be possible to park myself at yours for a fortnight?… I have to… work at an online TEFL course I have to do… I need a break… prior to starting a new life.”
My first instinct was to say no. I should have stuck to that, but the usual guilt feelings began to work on me. Poor guy, he seems to be in a terrible situation… down on his luck… horrible place he is staying in… needs a chance to get some peace to do his course. And I’m living a quiet life with donkeys and no troubles, apart from the troubles we all have (and I’m very concerned about a family member’s health just at present.) So I forgot my first instinct and said: “Yes, you can come.”
I had a reply immediately and a flight was booked for Friday, which gave me three days to get the room ready. It is a difficult time of year anyway: at work, getting exam classes properly ready for mock exams in January; at home, coping with the twice daily physical round of feeding, watering, grooming, cleaning, with the donkeys, and all in half-light and darkness as the days get shorter.
I had a bad feeling about this but there was no going back now. Too sudden! Too desperate! This guy had been running from one situation that was going wrong to another for the past four years since I had known him, and now he was going from big finance schemes to an online TEFL course and it would all be sorted out in a fortnight staying in my house. Didn’t make sense.
Still, I rationalised, it would do him good. He could spend some time looking after the donkeys when I was at work during the week. Get on with his course for a fortnight. What was the worry? It took me three evenings to sort out my house and make it suitable to receive a visitor: I live alone and I have not cleaned the house properly since the beginning of the summer! There was no guest room but a room full of junk and paintings and laundry. The poor donkeys did not know I was getting us all into this situation: I never discussed it with them.
When he arrived here on Friday I collected him from the bus station in Benidorm and he talked about himself non-stop for two hours. I took him to a meal with friends in a restaurant in Finestrat and he carried on talking about himself for another hour, not noticing the stretched patience and then growing anger of my four friends. He drew out a twenty Euro note at the end of the meal to pay for his share and announced that was the last of his money but luckily his good friend (me) would see him all right for the next “few weeks”.
Oh no… I remembered what had been my first instinct when I first received that email. Too late now. After the meal and back home again, I asked him when was his return flight and he was very vague about it. I guessed there was no return flight. He asked me what I was doing for Christmas, at a totally random point in a conversation about the practical points in the bathroom shower arrangements. I quickly told him I was planning on going away (having guessed his long term plan was to stay as long as he could.)
“Would you like to see the donkeys now?” I asked.
“I don’t really like animals,” said my guest, and rolled another cigarette to add to the pile of ash now accumulated in the saucer of a precious Italian ceramic Desimone coffee cup and saucer set given to me as a birthday present by my daughter years ago, and just taken from my cupboard.
I will spare you the details of the awful night that then followed but it involved my “guest” slamming doors at three in the morning, leaving all the lights on, then when finally done on his night patrols – which involved filling the house with the stench of tobacco – then snoring all night with a monumental vibration that shook the house until nine o’clock in the morning.
I had no sleep, of course. At breakfast, I confronted him about his intentions and there was no return plan except to just live here. I reminded him of his email: a fortnight to work on his TEFL course. I made it quite clear to him I was not going to be taken for a ride.
I fed the donkeys and went up to Finestrat. After a long conversation with a really good, patient and kind friend, we came up with a solution. The guest could move into a flat that was temporarily empty and stay there until his return flight, free of charge. I went back to my house with the good news. He did not want that. He said if I was throwing him out he preferred I paid for a flight for him back to England. My house was full of tobacco smoke now and he had also set up his computer on my dining table, together with all his other office equipment, and was now clearly in control of my house. (Except of course for the washing up, which was my job.)
At this point, I suddenly found inspiration in the long hard journey that brought me here. I shouted at him at full volume to get his life in order and not come here messing up mine. Astonishingly, he very quickly found some money and booked his own flight back to England. It turned out to be Iberia to Madrid, then British Airways to Heathrow, using the Air Miles card of another friend. Amazing how the other half live.
My first instinct is to never want to return to England. My second instinct is to not let England come here very much either.