Maria Dolores’s house was easily located. The twisted stone pine tree that stood in front of and obscured most of the entrance was, in fact, the only tree in the whole street and was older than the house itself. The scarred trunk stood by the south-west corner of the house then flung its branches out over the street forming a canopy over the gate. Layers of pine needles piled up where the main branches split from the trunk, mother nature neglecting the spring cleaning. A heavy chain that Maria Dolores laboriously wrapped around the fence post every time she left the house secured the gate. It had no lock. The stone wall onto the street was as neglected as the rest of the property. The once white paintwork was now cracked and fragmented, missing patches revealed a grey masonry below, which itself was drying out and crumbling. A metal fence that had been somewhat shoddily fastened to the wall was giving way under the weight of a vast bougainvillaea, making it an eye height hazard to any passer-by.
The stone pine tree wasn’t the only feature that separated this dwelling from the rest of the street. The railings of the balustrade leading up to the main entrance had teddy bears and other miscellaneous stuffed animals interwoven into them, the impressive bougainvillaea plant with hundreds of fuchsia pink flowers hung around the pine tree like a billowing skirt. Passing tourists were often seen taking selfies, posing with the bougainvillaea and it’s fuchsia explosion as a backdrop. Three huge parasols; two yellow but anaemic from a decade in the sun, the other bright red, covered with the ‘Estrella’ beer insignia, completed the concealment of the front door. Behind this stage curtain sat a singular white, rickety plastic chair, facing the door it had been salvaged from the beach or stolen from a bar terrace she couldn’t quite remember. Once she closed the gate she could enter the house without being seen from the road. That was the way she liked it. Maria Dolores wasn’t keen on anyone seeing where or how she lived.
Shutters that had once been olive green to match those of the rest of the street were now paint-bare and weathered. Cheap tourist beach towels had been draped as curtains on the one window that faced the street: ‘Ibiza Nights, Ibiza Daze’, another sported a bikini-clad woman. In the summer they kept the front room cool, blocking out the hot Mediterranean sun and in winter they were the only protection against the wind and cold. The windowpanes long ago broken had never been replaced.
Maria Dolores closed the gate, secured the chain and walked down Carrer de Carles IV with her characteristic limping gait, pulling her more or less compliant mongrel terrier, Baby, behind her. She cautiously negotiated her way down the slope, even at this early hour the intense summer heat somehow made the dry pavement slippery and more hazardous than usual. She took her time. She had lived in this neighbourhood, in that house, for almost twenty years and knew this area before that when the streets were no more than dirt tracks connecting the windmills to the main road that ran alongside the shore. The windmills were long defunct; their remains littered the area in various states of collapse. She paused just before the small street joined the busier carrer Miguel Marquez below her, pulling Baby into the shade, taking advantage of the moment to straighten her sunglasses. She had never gotten out of the habit of primping herself whenever she had the chance. If asked she wouldn’t be able to say exactly how long she had worked as a prostitute but one thing she would say was that one never knows when one might be propositioned. Take a trick while you can.
As she sat on the cropped wall near the bottom of the hill, she took in the growing hubbub below her. Barely clad youngsters trooped by on rented mopeds; first-timers tentative and cautious, others speeding, weaving between imaginary obstacles along the road, accidents waiting to happen. A dusty goods van parked below her in the street blocking off one lane, even though there was space to park 15 metres away. The driver jumped down and without looking, threw a dismissive arm in the air at a taxi who had swerved into the opposing lane. Disinterested latino women in prim uniforms swept the entrances of their respective hotels, cleaning away last night’s debris; cans of beer, a pizza box and cigarette ends. Latino men carrying sacks of sand and cement up one of the narrow alleys that crisscrossed the hill. Exploited labourers silently getting through the day, happy enough to receive fifty euros in their hand at the end of it. Oblivious tourists who had parked themselves at the hotel door to orientate themselves with a cheap folding map. Maria Dolores had seen it all before, this was just Ibiza stretching and yawning. A daily ritual of which she was a part, holiday life unfolding on the white isle.
She sat there expressionless, thick rimmed sunglasses generously covered her eyes, her grey hair pushed up into a rose-pink bucket sunhat. The wrinkles that tapered from the corners of her mouth, however, established her to any passer-by as a woman of a certain age. She didn’t envy the young women as they paraded along the street in hot pants, bikini tops and flip-flops, she had had her life. Decades had passed since she, or anyone else for that matter, had considered her beauty. In those days her sparkly blue-green eyes, unusual in an Andalucian woman, combined exotically with her flawless olive skin and black hair. Her looks had given her many admirers over the years, and attention that hadn’t always been welcomed. Let the young enjoy themselves whilst they can she thought, life will catch up with them.
Baby shuffled to her feet and took cover behind Maria Dolores’ legs bringing her back to the present. She looked up to see her neighbour with his French Bulldog, it was sniffing around Baby. They had been neighbours for five years or so but had never said more than cursory greetings. She thought maybe he was German, from the accent, anyway not one for a lot talking.
She nodded in response. “Does the dog not get hot?” Maria Dolores talked at the dog, not lifting her head, not wanting to address the person standing over her, like a chastised child. “You’d think he’d get hot with all that black hair.”
“He does, but we stay in during the day.” A quick yank on the leash stopped the bulldog getting too close to Baby. Maria Dolores considered leaving her Baby at home during the day but how could she, they were companions. She too now shuffled to her feet and nodded again, the conversation over. The neighbour said goodbye and wandered off. Maria Dolores looked past him to the empty road then behind her and crossed and continued her journey.
Maria Dolores is part of something bigger.