away

There’s a softness that comes with waking up somewhere warm, worn out from doing very little. On the first morning it happens, sheet kicked into rough twist by our feet, I realise that we’re away; that we’ve left the country for the first time in two years. It has taken time to get here, and it takes me time to sink in. Our bodies, our minds, have been through such strange things. I have coped mostly by filling all those newly empty hours with things to do: writing and deadlines and taking on new projects. Here, there is none of that. The day stretches out, and at first the sheer length of it is dazzling. In the night, I find myself awake with TV theme tunes ricocheting around my head, wrestling with the complexities of small nothings. 

It takes days to sleep through the night; I think it always has done. I try to explain to M that I am not a person for whom doing nothing comes easily. I will grow restless, I will research bikes to hire and mountains to think about climbing. He is patient; he knows this already. 

It is so surreal and so familiar to be in a European town. The sulphuric bounce of yellow off tiled streets after dark; the untranslatable nonsense of bus stop adverts. Olhao is a sleepy, salty place. As has become tradition, when I first try to shoehorn the hire car into the only available space (immediately outside someone’s front door - how is that even allowed!?) a gaggle of elderly people watch on stony-faced. I take this personally, until, as the days pass, we realise that these locals are on the doorsteps most of the time. We say hello to one another. 

There is brine in the air, you can smell it. I find salt between my ring and my finger, inside the conch of my ear, around the rim of my glasses. Every day, we walk past a chapel - snuck away behind the grand facade of the church - dedicated to women who awaited the return of their lovers from sea. We take the ferry to the beach and turn off the main drag too early, find ourselves among the dunes and scrub, sand shifting through my sandals. The water is clear and beautiful but the tide is strong; I go for a swim and look back to find M beckoning furiously for me to head left. When I do, it pushes against all of my skin. 

Soon, quite soon, I start to watch the sunrise. There is a terrace on the roof and from there the gulls fly past at eye-height. They are smaller than our cawing, chip-hungry lot, and speckled. They seem businesslike and handsome in comparison. We start and end the day on the terrace, and the skies are so good. I long to read the clouds, their swirls and smears, their fluffy edges and deep heft. At this time in the morning, everything seems taken from the same colour card: the whitewashed buildings, the roof tile, the distant crane, the mountains in the distance. How perfect, how ordinary, how far from where we’ve come.  


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