Santa Maria Navarrase, Sardinia, Italy.
We got it into our heads that our bus was at 9:30. We set an alarm, got our things together efficiently, arrived at the centre of town by 9:15. I read the schedule while we waited. Bus, it would appear, was at 9:05. This schedule must be outdated, I said. I traipsed up to the post office to check another schedule. I walked back shaking my head. You got yourself a beach day, I called out. Next bus not for five hours, and we'd checked out of the flat, clearing the way for the next guests. It's that strange feeling: If you told me today I could have five minutes on that beach — with its watchtower, green-blue waters and bar... But there we were, stranded in paradise, or anyway with uncertainty hanging over our heads. We needed to get back to Cagliari in order to fly the next morning. Could we rely on the next bus? What was our backup plan? We didn't have the key to a hotel room, a car, nothing except our flat back in London. Which suddenly seemed a long way away.
I thought back to the ends of dozens of holidays. They blur together. That feeling of transition, even displacement, melancholy. Back in California, when we had a car, I'd drive home, feeling dry and somehow bruised. Things like traffic jams and suburban supermarkets seemed so mundane. We were passing through other people's places, brushing up against their routines. On city breaks throughout Europe, waiting to go to the airport, it's as if a bit of the magic has disappeared. Some of the luster has worn off. You've already seen everything you wanted to, your options are limited by what happens to be open and nearby. Amsterdam was a good one, despite my killer sore throat: We watched The Red Shoes in a cinema in the centre of the park. In Hong Kong, we planned on going to the city museum. The owner of our flat emailed us that morning: Please be out by 10 and leave the key in the mailbox for the cleaner. You may want to be inside today. There is a monsoon warning. Thank you! Earlier, I'd gone out to get us something to eat for breakfast and our local coffee shop was closed. Now we took to the streets with our luggage and I realised pretty much everything was closed. The drops coming down were sparse but large. The signs above our heads were swinging dangerously. When we got to the museum, it was, of course, shut. The vegetarian dim sum palace was closed. So here we were, hopeless in Hong Kong, in its office lobbies and under its concrete walkways, anywhere we could find shelter and abate our boredom. Luckily, in Hong Kong you can check your baggage at the airport shuttle terminal in the centre of town, so we weren't lugging our overstuffed rucksacks. The terminal is on the ground floor of a large shopping mall, and eventually it was the only place we could think to return. We'd already spent so much time there: We'd waited there for our host to hand over keys to the flat, and then again two days later for a replacement set, because I'd lost ours — sorry! — on Macau. We'd watched Wim Wenders' Pina in 3-D in the mall cinema with my sister. She was long gone now. Everyone from our party was gone. And here we were in the shopping mall again, spending the day in various states of recline — on the floor, a bench when one was available — with the stores closed and a few random foreigners like us, looking through huge windows at the tempestuous bay.
The bay we were looking at now was calm and clean, and it sparkled. We debated going for a swim. There were only a few others on the beach. A male couple, or perhaps father and son, arrived with a beach umbrella. Surely it was the umbrella by the door of the flat we'd just vacated. We decided that these guys must be our replacements, and that they'd gone straight to the beach while Vanna finished cleaning. They've got the key to our flat, we thought. We decided we hated them. Except, Jamie squinted, the younger one is kind of hot. I was thinking the whole thing was creepy, like spying on the future. We were supposed to maybe picture this couple replacing us, heading down to the beach, starting their holiday, but that's how it was supposed to remain — an imagined vision as we rode the bus away through the mountains. We were never meant to actually see them. I don't like it, I said. It felt like tempting fate.
The day before, we'd discovered a spotted eel under the rocks. It fascinated and scared us as we swam above it. We proudly added the eel to our impressive list of animal spotting: goats, wild boar and, on the horizon, a whale. That was meant to be our last swim. But now Jamie was in the water again. I looked over at our replacement couple. As always, there were recurring characters on the holiday — the Swiss sisters who helped us get on the right bus over, the young cabana boy we saw every day who blushed easily. We nicknamed him Piano, a variation on the name of the cafe. But I didn't like this new twist — this bit of time travel. I had become convinced I was seeing our replacements, and it wasn't right. As I was thinking about this, I looked over and found the younger man was staring straight at me. I swear he's... Is he giving me the blow job gesture?
We tried to ignore what appeared to be the man's increasingly blatant stares. If you can get more blatant than a blow job gesture. But can I be sure that's what he was doing? If not, then what?, asked Jamie. Yawning slowly?, I suggested. Eating a handful of peanuts? In the end, I went into the ocean, and swam in the brilliant sea, which was the right thing to do.
It's a bit of a backwards purgatory, I suppose, the end of the holiday. You realise — despite saying the opposite for days — how desperate you suddenly are to return home. You want to return home changed, but the same. I thought idly about the cooper font on the beach cafe's lampposts. There's cooper font all over this town, I thought. It's rather sweet. Then it started raining.