It was hot. That was my first thought. My second was a little more frantic. I didn’t know where I was. The road was dusty, the air suffocating. Looking ahead into the distance, I saw the haze radiating off the road. It simmers, glistens almost, and I remember thinking how it looked like it was teasing me, reminding me of the desperation of my situation.
I was alone. Alone in a foreign country. I knew very little of the language, and the few people who were around either paid too little attention to me or too much for me to feel comfortable talking to them. I wasn’t a brave kid. I was a stupid one. I certainly couldn’t talk to strangers, my mother’s work, and I wouldn’t willingly approach one, even if I was lost.
Because, it was definitely time to accept that I was lost.
I’m afraid of bees. Even to this day, a buzzing noise will send me scurrying, determined to get away as quickly as possible. It’s not the stinging that scares me, it’s the unpredictability. Bees fly seemingly without purpose, or at least to my untrained young eyes, zig zagging from flower to flower, not resting for much longer than a minute. They seem to get distracted easily, yet are seemingly very attracted to young lost boys wearing a bright coloured t-shirt. I didn’t understand.
This was the single biggest bee I had ever seen. If I clenched my hand into a fist, it felt like the bee would swamp it. It probably wasn’t that big, my childhood memory is just playing tricks on me enhanced by my fear and sharpened by my situation. But there it was, this giant bee, buzzing louder than anything I had ever experienced, zig zagging across a foreign landscape straight towards me. It held the advantage, it knew the terrain. I was alone, I was afraid, I was an easy target.
My Mum’s voice rang in my ear: “stay still, it’ll soon fly away”. But I ran, I ran and I ran as far as I could. I had read about bees, I was convinced I was allergic to their stings and I certainly wasn’t about to find about whether I had been right. Keys fell out of my pocket as I ran, sweat poured down me even faster. It was only when I could no longer hear the buzzing that I stopped running.
I looked around and it slowly dawned on me that I had even less of an idea where I was.
There was a bench. Well it wasn’t a bench, more of a fallen log shaped nicely to become a seat for travellers. It was on the side of the road (even in my bee fear, I had stuck to the road – some sense remained) and I sat for a while. For the first time in a while, I took a proper look at the scenery.
In truth, it was beautiful. My bench was the perfect vantage point looking right across a surprisingly lush valley which led into the prettiest sea I had ever had the pleasure of looking upon. When grown-ups told me that the sea was a different colour abroad, I had never believed them. Grown-ups lie, I told myself. Maybe they do, but they certainly hadn’t. Blue has so many shades, and our grey-ish blue from Blackpool and Formby looked so disappointing compared to the treasures that met my eyes.
Mediterranean seas aren’t just blue, they are green as well. They’re alive. You can see, even from a distance, the life within them. And not just the fish, the actual life, but the feel of it. The sea to me looked like a hug, both warm and welcoming. Safe. Hydration and life, the cusp of breaking away from reality itself.
The road was the exact opposite.
My bench was underneath the only tree on my road. If you could even call it a tree. Almost everything in this country looked so malnourished, alive to the point of death. It had constantly amazed me since we arrived how anything could survive in such heat. Yet somehow these plants were alive, because for nature evolution is just a necessity. And that made me uncomfortable, because just as the haze had been laughing at me, the tree was too.
I longed to be back at the complex, I was even beginning to miss my sister.
I had begun the day at our apartment, arguing over what to do for the day. My mum and sister wanted to go to the beach, I wanted to stay by the pool. I went too far that morning. I threw a tantrum, refused to go, cried and cried and cried. My sister accused me of ruining the holiday, my Mum told her to go and get ready and they left me there. As she left, my Mum told me to stay indoors. I was older than Madeline McCann but those recent events had left us all a little bit scared.
At first, it was the best day of my holiday. Finally my sister had left me alone, finally, I could read in peace. The apartment was nice and breezy, and every now and then a lizard would wander in. I liked lizards, they were entertaining to watch and not as threatening as bees. I took pictures, I read one of my books, I read another one for the third time that holiday. My Mum had left me lunch, so I ate that and enjoyed the quiet.
But slowly, the heat started drawing me out of the apartment. The sunshine does funny things to people, it starts to get into your heads, and begs you to come and experience it. It was then I realised just how guilty I felt about my reaction to a perfectly rational suggestion of going to the beach. I decided to go to the beach, apologise, and then have fun playing in the sea.
We had walked to the beach a couple of days earlier, I was fairly sure I knew the way.
Sitting on my bench, it was painfully obvious how naive I had been.
I’m not ashamed to admit I began to cry. I longed for my Mum, I wished for her not to be angry at me. In that moment, I was convinced I was going to die and that filled me with more fear than any bee ever could. I was sad, sad that I had upset my family and betrayed them. Sad that I had ruined their holiday and almost certainly made sure they would never go abroad again. I was just an abject failure.
I’ve found over my life that it’s in my darkest moments I have the most resolve. And while it would be too cheesy to say that sat there, crying in a foreign country where I spoke very little of the language, without a phone and being terrorised by the local wildlife that I became a man, however, I certainly made a decision. I was going to find my way back to the apartment.
I thought hard about the bee incident (can we call it a chase?) and traced my steps back in the vague direction I had come from. Sticking to the road meant, of course, I had run along a straight line and the reality of finding my way back was much easier than my young mind had convinced myself it would be. I kept my eye on the road, away from the sun, and it was there I found the keys I hadn’t realised I’d lost. The keys to my apartment! And for the first time since I had left earlier that day, I felt happy. I knew my way back! I could do it!
I made it back before my family. I cried when they got back a couple of hours later and they cried too. I apologised and we hugged, and I felt warm and happy. I didn’t tell them about my day. To this day, I don’t know if they have the slightest idea of what I did. For the rest of the holiday, I did exactly what they wanted to. The consequences of not were too much of a reality for me to bear again.
N.B: there are elements of truth contained within this piece of writing, however, it is a fictional account of what I imagine my worst possible holiday memory could be.