Tim Dowling: I’m sure I remember the way to the village. What could go wrong?

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The Guardian

My wife and I wake up on holiday in Spain. The other four people aren’t arriving until lunchtime, so we have the morning to ourselves. The day promises to be hot, but it isn’t yet. We decide to walk down to the village.

We’ve been to this place before, but I don’t have a great memory for holidays. Everybody else seems to remember where to turn off for the recycling and which of the two bakeries is better, while I struggle to recall any details. I do, however, think I can find my way to the village. I’m not sure why, but the route seems lodged within me – born of trial and error, deep-seated and hard-won.

The journey starts on a low note. The green gate leading to the footpath is padlocked, and I certainly don’t remember the combination.

“Nope,” I say, after trying the 12 most obvious permutations. “We’ll have to climb over.”

“I’m not doing that,” my wife says.

“What?” I say. “We can’t give up already.”

“You can go by yourself,” she says.

“This is literally the first hurdle,” I say. I vault the fence to demonstrate how surmountable an obstacle it is. After staring at me for a while, my wife hands me her bag, grabs the gatepost, grips my forearm and wedges the toe of her sandal in an adjacent stone wall.

“The rest is easy,” I say, once she’s safely over.

“How do you know?” she says.

“From last time,” I say. “Don’t you remember?”

“I never did this,” she says. “I always drove.”

“Anyway,” I say. “As long we’re heading downhill, we can’t go wrong.”

This is true. The valley is essentially funnel-shaped – with the village at its spout – and steep-sided; in places the path is a series of rough stone steps.

“I wished you’d mentioned the terrain,” my wife says. “I’d have worn different shoes.”

“Not far now,” I say. In all honesty, I sort of remembered it being paved.

When we reach the top of the village I aim for the main square, but we end up east of it, or possibly south. Eventually my wife asks a passerby, who directs us round the corner.

“How long would it have taken you to ask?” my wife says.

“I’d never ask,” I say. “I’d be a skeleton at a crossroads, looking at its phone.”

In the square we get some bread and fruit, two kinds of cheese, a couple of bottles of wine. My wife buys me a stupid hat. We think about a coffee, but our friends will be arriving soon.

“So we retrace our steps?” she says.

“We can just go up there,” I say, pointing to the steps leading out of the square. At the top we head left until we pick up the path.

Maybe we don’t go quite far enough left. The path takes a weird bend and turns to dirt. After a few minutes things get decidedly unfamiliar.

“This isn’t the way we came,” I say.

“Oh well,” my wife says. “As long as we’re going up we’re fine.”

“Yeah,” I say. I do not think about how faulty this reasoning is when applied to a funnel-shaped landscape. After 15 minutes of climbing, I offer an unwelcome opinion.

“I think we need to go back,” I say. We descend until we meet another path and walk along that for a bit, taking the next available uphill turning. After five minutes it becomes clear this isn’t right either. The full heat of the day is now upon us, and we have no water, only wine, red or white.

Eventually I leave my wife sitting in a scrap of shade while I explore.

“That way looks promising,” I say, returning from my third scouting trip. My wife says nothing; she just stands. I pick up all the bags and we set off.

“I remember this!” I say, my voice ringing with false confidence. We are finally on the right path, but my wife’s strength is sapped by uncertainty, heat and poor leadership.

“I feel dizzy,” she says, turning puce.

“Almost there,” I say.

“Go ahead,” she says, sitting down.

“I really don’t think you should stay out here,” I say.

“Just go,” she says.

It turns out we are almost there. I can see the house above us. I sprint up, dump the bags and return with a glass of water. I find my wife sitting under an olive tree. I offer the water as proof that I did not try to kill her on purpose.

“Thank you,” she says. I sit beside her while she drinks, saying nothing, waiting for the right moment to raise the subject of the green gate.

September 3, 2022 at 10:42AM Tim Dowling

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