When Adam leant over and whispered: ‘This trip is going to be hell,’ I probably should have marched off the plane without a backward glance.
The writing was on the wall, in mile high, plain English: our holiday was doomed. Adam and Lydia had broken up, messily, the year before. This was the first time they had met since. Loads of uncomplicated, happy people were meant to be coming with Siobhan and me to Marbella – but they had all dropped out. Now we were four.
When we pooled our money on the first day, I realised we had a financial problem as well as an emotional one. Somewhat surprisingly, the two exes had brought virtually no money. Adam had £50 cash for the 14-day holiday after Lydia made him pay for her flight – an impressive act of debt collection achieved without even speaking to him. Bizarrely, she then turned up with 30 quid – when 30 quid still wasn’t a lot of money.
On our first shopping trip, we thus stocked up on bread, booze and water. I had the temerity to ponder a carton of yogurts. ‘I don’t think we can afford those, can we?‘ snapped Lydia as she ripped them from my hand with a disbelieving shake of the head.
Mealtimes were strained. Increasingly. Thrice daily. Siobhan and I were stuck in the blackest of black comedies. Less funny ha-ha, more funny deep psychological damage. ‘Can you ask her to pass the salt?’ Adam would say. ‘It’s not really about the salt, is it?’ came the reply to I’m not sure whom.
Of course, we were now too poor to actually go out and seek the comfort of better-adjusted strangers. So we stewed together on cheap vodka, brewing obnoxiously. Later, Siobhan and I wondered why we didn’t reclaim our dwindling cash, flee the flat and let nature take its course in all its terrible fury. But to err is human, and we ummed and erred our way through two painful weeks of poolside paranoia, of requited fear and loathing, of festering unresolved issues.
Even a night on Marbella’s beachside strip failed to defrost the group chill. The gaudy glare of Disco Flash Pub failed to illuminate our conversation, while the saucily-titled cocktails of The Cockney Kilt stimulated little beyond our undernourished taste buds. Adam and Lydia, still bitterly divided, glared mutually while pouring bile into the ears of their designated, unblessed peacemakers.
The four of us have never since shared a room, let alone a bad atmosphere. Waking in a cold sweat, years later, I calm my pounding heart by telling myself that I’m not on holiday, or anywhere near Marbella. It’s just Monday morning and everything’s going to be all right.
Submitted to The Observer 2007