By William J. Furney
Carmelo is happy these days. He has a definite spring in his step, whereas before it was more a burdened shuffle; he smiles and even, almost, hums. The world is good again: there is enjoyment and money-making. It’s a long way from over half a year ago, when existence was grim, customers scant and it looked like the persistent pandemic might never end.
Business is booming in the best little shop in the world, in a remote and coastal part of northeast Lanzarote where the residents, temporary mostly, like to bear their skin, and that’s the prime reason for the bespeckled shopkeeper’s newfound outlook that’s as sunny as the sky on this Spanish island off North Africa.
There is some envy in it, for me. I started out with my own shop, in my house, an embryonic entrepreneurship that would much later give birth to a newspaper business half a world away, in Bali. Siblings and visitors formed my clientele, all grateful for an on-premises sweet shop where they could indulge, even if the prices were high — and loans were available for those gluttons who couldn’t pay.
Carmelo and I have become friendly, and we chat as I make my morning purchases — also at eye-watering prices, but this is the only shop for miles. It’s early March, and after I scan the breadbasket that’s almost empty, due to Germans’ mad-dash foraging at the crack of dawn for the freshly baked loaves, I say to him: “There’s a big difference between now and just a few months ago.”
He considers my observation and answers: “Si. There are a lot of people now; before, the place was empty.”
“The pandemic is over,” I say, “but now we have a new global crisis.”
“The war in Ukraine, yes,” says Carmelo, with a flash of worry that Putin’s invasion and its ramifications might also hurt tourism and put him out of business, just as he was getting back into it.
Unlike when I was here last August and December and early January, there’s now little decaying fruit and veg, or bread that’s gone rank and mouldy (although all three sad states are evident); and Carmelo has invested in large, new refrigerated displays, and cast his old ones out. He has new lines that include Beyond Meat burgers, sausages and mince (shrewdly leaving the price off the pricey vegan products, but still I bought some). A pineapple will set you back almost €10. And a word of caution, dear reader: if you happen to purchase avocados from Carmelo, you’re likely to be disappointed, as their innards will almost surely be rotten — no matter how fresh they appear on the outside.
Morbidly obese foreigners abound, and they barely move. Two, in a bungalow near me, appear to revel in their sloth. From my observations, they traverse less than 10 metres a day, from kitchen to indulgent sun loungers out front, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Massive slabs of apron-fat hanging down like a human curtain over their straining lobster-skin midriffs make it hard to identify their gender, but other signs reveal them as man and woman.
Their steely eyes bore into me as I zip past on early morning runs over rocky shores, hungry and wanting; they crave what they cannot have, or be, and feast upon my fast-moving, lithe frame with such ravenous appetite that I can almost see their cascading saliva drools. This morning the male one hobbled back from the shop, on a rare outing as I ran behind him, a backpack slung over his shoulder and a shopping bag in hand that appeared light and may have contained refined bread and crisps while the other seemed heavier and could have been bearing ham, cheese, wine and soft drinks. Perhaps beer and sweets too. I have doubts that any Beyond Burgers made it in; I feel it’s almost a certainty.
There on their brown-tiled porch, they bared their mountainous flesh, inch by fat-laden inch, for passersby: an advert-as-immovable feast that displayed their gluttony, disregard and ennui for all to see. I admired them, and had a visceral urge to paint the giant couple, in decadent oil, as Freud did with his corpulent subjects, exploring with the paintbrush their extraordinary mounds and widely meandering curves. They had enough skin for six people.
My friend Paul, a British singer living in Lanzarote, says large people should have to pay higher fares on flights, because they take up more space and planes burn more fuel to keep them in the air. I try to argue that such a controversial policy — touted by some airlines — might breach their fundamental human rights. “When they buy clothes, they pay more, for more material,” he counters.
I’m considering all this when a neighbour two bungalows down calls me. “Senor,” he says, “do you have a moment?”
I get up from my sun lounger and approach this Englishman with a peculiar adornment I had been making a determined effort to avoid.
“Spanish?” he asks.
This information brings a smile to the elderly man’s face, and he tells me there is an Irish couple elsewhere in the village. Like I care, and as if fellow citizenship somehow engenders an immediate bond.
He tells me he’s from Bristol, this is his first time here but he’s “coming back in seven weeks” — and then launches into an avalanche of complaints about the village management and says he’s fear of being broken into because one of the panes in his bedroom window is a different colour than the rest of the glass, and there’s no lock on it. He asks if I fear bandits at night and I say no, because the thought had never entered my mind in this place of serenity and peace. David, as he later tells me his name is, says he doesn’t mind being on his own.
That is a lie.
Because I’ve watched him try to latch onto everyone from non-English-speaking maids to neighbours and even passersby. I have had this experience with people here before, and am keen to avoid a repeat encounter.
As I edge away from Bristol Dave with his sunburned chest that has erupted into volcanic sores and his spluttering words as he drones on and complains, I wonder, as I know others surely do, why on Earth he parades around with a cheap pearl necklace strung around his groin like it’s Christmas every day.
Maybe it is.