Maria Dolores’ house was easy to locate. The twisted Stone pine tree that obscured most of the entrance was, in fact, the only fully grown tree in the whole street and was older than the house itself. The scarred trunk was rooted in the south-west corner of the house and flung its branches out over the street forming a canopy over the gate. Layers of pine needles piled up like rudimentary nests in the crevices where the main branches split from the trunk; Mother Nature neglecting the spring cleaning. A heavy chain that Maria Dolores struggled to wrap around the fence post every time she left the house secured the gate. It had no lock. The stone wall which bordered 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 dry and crumbling. A rusted metal fence clung to the wall. Buckled by the weight of a vast bougainvillea, it was an eye height hazard to any passer-by. The impressive plant with its plethora of fuchsia flowers hung around the pine tree like a billowing skirt hiding the entrance to the dilapidated house. That was the way she liked it. Maria Dolores wasn’t keen on anyone seeing how she lived.
Her life had not been without incident. The memories of which were never far form the surface. They would not be suppressed. Uninvited companions that haunted her day. Maria Dolores closed the gate, fastened the chain and walked down Carrer de Carles IV with her characteristic limp, pulling her more or less compliant mongrel terrier, Baby, behind her. Sometimes her gait tricked her, the forward motion moving her feet quicker than her brain realised. It compelled her to take a dance step, a hop or a shuffle before recovering again. She cautiously negotiated her way down the slope. Even at this early hour the heat somehow made the dry pavement slippery and hazardous. The tarmac threw up a sweet sickly odour and she took her time. She had lived in this neighbourhood, in that house, for almost thirty years and knew this area even 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 she took 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 knew was that one never knows when one might be propositioned. Take a trick when you can.
As she perched on the cropped wall near the bottom of the hill, she took in the growing hubbub around her. Barely clad youngsters whipped by on rented mopeds. The first-timers tentative and cautious. The foolhardy speeding, weaving between imaginary obstacles, playing a game, accidents waiting to happen. A dusty goods van parked below her in the street blocking off one lane, the driver ignoring the parking space only 15 metres away. He jumped down and without looking and threw a dismissive arm in the air at a taxi driver who honked his horn as he swerved into the opposing lane.
Disinterested latino women in prim uniforms swept the entrances of their respective hotels. They made light work in cleaning away last night’s debris; beer cans, a pizza box and cigarette ends, thankful for the opportunity to earn minimum wage. A few meters away latino men carried sacks of sand and cement up one of the narrow alleys that crisscrossed the hill to one of the numerous building sites. These exploited labourers silently trudged through the day, more than happy to receive fifty euros in black at the end of it. A couple of oblivious tourists that had stalled at the hotel door rotated a cheap pop-up map and squabbled over which was the easiest route to the centre of town. 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 pearly 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 blue-green eyes, unusual in an Andalucian woman, combined exotically with her flawless olive skin and jet black hair. Her looks had brought her many admirers over the years, but also some unwelcome attention. 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 exchanged more than cursory greetings. She thought maybe he was German from the accent, anyway not one for talking a lot.
She nodded curtly in response. “Does that dog not get hot?” Said Maria Dolores talking at the French Bulldog, not lifting her head, not wanting to directly address the person standing over her.
“He does, but we don’t go out much during the day.”
“You’d think he’d get hot with all that black hair.” Maria Dolores repeated, regarding the dog with a little disdain.
“Well, I guess so.” Retorted the neighbour beginning to take the line of questioning personally.
A quick tug on the leash stopped the bulldog getting too close to Baby. Maria Dolores had often considered leaving Baby at home during the day but how could she? The thought was ridiculous. They were companions. She shuffled to her feet, grunted and nodded again. The conversation was over. The neighbour said goodbye and wandered off back up the hill. Maria Dolores looked past him to the empty road then crossed over to continue her journey.
Maria Dolores is part of something bigger.