Browns, burnt reds, creamy golden whites – the colours of the closed eye. I’m on my back and K is beside me, lying on a bed of pine needles and crunchy dried leaves. I open them as a black beetle bustles past a bottle of sunblock at the base of a tree trunk. Layers of world; our soft bed a lifetime of confines and cavities for it to clamber over and through.
It doesn’t know the world above it that we inhabit – the regularly spaced trees like columns in a brown basilica. The air is cool, streaked with rays of sunlight and dusted with buzzing insects. Above us, if I raise my head and look sideways, a different space – brighter and higher; a world of virile greens, the blue of the sky breaking through here and there.
If I lay my head back down on the forest floor I can look up at and somehow out onto yet another space. A vast and ferociously lit universe. The very tips of the trees and above them the glaring void. The extremity of the light, the sheer difference in the strength of it as it falls on things up there bathes them in the same strangeness things have when seen underwater. It is a quiet world today – none of the usual air-and-leaf laments; “windstill”, K calls it.
You’d think that the metallic reds of a man-made machine would be an intrusion here but Polly looks pretty beneath the pines at the side of our wonky tent. I make us a ham sandwich. K is vegetarian but cured Spanish ham has made it onto her list of vegetables. With a penknife I hack us some slices of bread. I peel the ham from its plastic packet. I put the ham on the bread.
Like all food prepared outdoors and in the vicinity of a tent it is a wonder – the world’s best ham sandwich. It is less than an inch from my watering mouth and moving in when we hear him.
“Excuse me. Could I get some help please?”.
I turn around to look. There is a man at the drinking water fountain twenty yards away. Long hair obscures his face; he has a hose and an unhappy looking dog.
This is probably how getting murdered begins, I think. K is less hesitant and goes toward them. I follow.
“I need to water my dog”, says the man in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice, “but I can’t keep the tap pressed in and work the hose at the same time”.
K presses the tap and the man hoses his dog down. He does a very thorough job, getting into all the canine nooks. The dog appears to have mixed feelings about the experience.
“He’s too hot, you see”.
Dog watered, man and sodden beast wander back to their VW van and K and I to the magnificent sandwiches I have prepared. She thinks there is something sad about him – alone here with his pup.
“Do you think he’s come out of a relationship?”
I’m a simpler creature. He had a hot dog. Now he has a wet one. We haven’t been murdered. I watch him as he trundles off to the campsite shop. He looks like he has stopped worrying.
The ham sandwich doesn’t disappoint.
Night falls as a three-quarter moon rises. We walk to the dune. Down the tree lined avenue in leafy darkness and up the hill till a swathe of sand looms on the roadside – the enormous drift that years of the levante have deposited along this shore threatens to bury the road here and we climb up, huffing and panting.
At the top we are moonlit on silver sand. The whole dune is veiled in the little orb’s powdery blue cloak. A forest of squat pines at our back; in front of us a 180º panorama that begins, on our left, with a country road in southern Europe and ends, on our right, with the craggy, windswept coasts of north west Africa. No wind tonight though. It is still.
In Tarifa it is almost never still, almost never quiet. The silence alters the view. The world stretches out before us like a vast indoor space; vaulted, cavernous, a Truman Show construction. Even from up here we can hear the water lapping at the shore, the sporadic motors as they speed along the road in the distance.
Wind turbines twinkle on the hilltop – little red war-of-the-worlds beacon lights the only sign of their brooding presence. No wind to fan their blades. I swear if someone were to say a word up there we, down here, would hear it.
Along the concave curve of the water’s edge there is activity; silent and almost invisible it is betrayed by the participants’ torches. Evenly spaced at around thirty metres they patrol the shoreline – little lit lines dragging in the water behind them. Nets. We ask ourselves what the catch could be right there in the shallows. We don’t know. Probably something ugly that I will fail to convince K to try in a bar in town one of these days.