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On fire for Tenerife 

Ben was a bachelor who had been stood up at the altar in his 20s. After that he never did quite see women the same way.

Recently retired, he complained bitterly about the weather, politicians, terrorists and today’s egoistical youth to anyone who would listen.

Lately his complaints had been of a more personal nature. His shoulders, one knee and one hip were ‘killing him’ was the cry. Following his umpteenth visit to the doctor, the usually mild-mannered physician began to lose his patience. During Ben’s last visit he said rather bluntly, “look. Whilever you continue to live in this cold, damp climate, the pain is never going to improve. If you’re serious about wanting change, move somewhere warmer!”

Ben was stunned. His mouth formed a perfect O. “But I’ve never even been abroad except to France once with the ferry and that was only for a day trip!”

“Well I suppose you just have to ask yourself where your priorities lie,” said the doctor. “Is it leaving your comfort zone and experiencing less pain, or staying where you are and declining a little more each year? You choose.”

Ben took that thought home with him and for days thereafter relentlessly grilled all and sundry. His main question was, ‘where should he go if he were to retire to a warmer climate?’ He received many answers, but most people seemed to think Tenerife in the Canary Islands would suit him right down to the ground. ‘There are plenty of English people there, it’s cheap, the weather’s good and the locals are friendly,’ seemed to be the consensus. Ben began gathering information. Finally he decided to chance a winter there just to see if he could get any relief. If it didn’t work out, he could always return.

When he first landed on Tenerifian soil, he had to screw his eyes up against the bright light. The sky was so blue and crisp, new when compared to an English sky which somehow seemed infinitely older.

Ben soon settled into a one bed studio in Ten Bel, Costa del Silencio and encountered fellow Britons, Belgians, the occasional Italian and Swiss man. They all spoke English so he wasn’t exactly lonely, but the novelty soon wore off. One day he ventured to Las Galletas where he was told the local population lived.

He chose a dingy bar that looked decidedly Spanish. A musty ham hung from the ceiling and he spotted a cheese, a tortilla, olives and some chorizo. He sat at the bar between two older Spanish men, Juan and Marcos and on an impulse bought them a drink. They toasted him with vino del pais and persuaded him to join them.

They couldn’t say the name ‘Ben’ but insisted on ‘Benito’. Both had leathery suntanned skins. Marcos was tall and thin with a smile that could melt anyone’s heart and Juan was short and stocky with two missing teeth on the top row. When he laughed it looked a bit sinister, but two beers and three vino’s del pais later, Ben had ceased to care.

Oddly, he felt more at home with these two men who he could barely communicate with than he did with the others he had met so far.

The bar “El baril gordo” soon became his local.

One day Juan and Marcos invited him to a celebration at a restaurant in the hills, miles off the beaten track. As they opened the door, the noise was deafening. Inside there wasn’t one person who looked remotely foreign. They were all Canarian. Admittedly he now knew a few Spanish phrases, but nowhere near enough to hold a conversation. He took a deep breath and followed Juan hoping all would be well.

There were long trestle tables with blue and white checked paper tablecloths sporting huge platters of meat. He could see chops, steaks, spare ribs and sausages. There were also plump tomato rounds, crispy lettuce leaves and curly onion rings laid out here and there. The aroma was heavenly.

They sat, telling him to help himself. They all took something that looked like dusty, jacket potatoes too.

A woman cut one in half and poured a brilliant red sauce on it. Seeing his look of perplexity she said, “mojo. You try. Please.”

She deftly served him three potatoes, cut them in half and spooned the sauce over them.

Not wanting to appear rude, he put a whole potato in his mouth. It was so fiery he felt his cheeks turn red and his mouth explode. He must have looked odd because they all laughed. It was, however kind, gentle laughter. He didn’t feel like a prize idiot.

Someone told him to eat some bread. “Water no good for hot. Bread take away.”  Sure enough the burning sensation abated a lot sooner than Ben imagined.

Suddenly he thought how proud he should feel. He was the only foreigner there! They had invited him to a special feast and had gone out of their way to show him their customs and be sympathetic to his predicament. He thought how strange he must look to them and how funny it must have seemed when he burnt his mouth. The vino del pais was excellent and presently he felt something gurgling up from deep within. Suddenly he began to laugh. His body shook and he began to cry. The locals were mystified. He gestured to his mouth and the mojo sauce and then they started laughing too. Soon the story made its way around the restaurant and everyone was laughing. It was a good feeling. He felt understood, accepted and part of a bigger picture. There was a simplicity here, but there was also a sense of belonging. He had warmed to this business of living again, a little due to the sun and sea and a little due to the local people on the island. He was indeed fortunate! Silently he thanked his lucky stars.

By Shelley Hall