“This place smells nasty!” said Parvin, “you can’t live here.”
“You’re right” said Jeff, “I reckon the drains would need serious money spent on them.” They decided to go for lunch. They found a nice café. There were huge cacti in the courtyard and a sign that said beware of the dog in Portuguese. They ordered sandwiches.
“This is beautiful!” said Parvin. The sun was so bright they all had sunglasses on. “I could get used to this!” Later, after coffee, they climbed back into the car and headed towards the next place they were going to look at. After a series of roundabouts they came to a road that disappeared into a dusty track. The house they were looking at here was not yet finished. They had a set of computer-generated images that the agent had given them that made it look beautiful. They pulled up outside. A brick built carcass faced them.
“Blimey! This takes a lot of imagination!” said Jeff.
“But look”, said Marcus,” its huge, and look how much land there is, and its way cheaper than our budget. We could afford to spend a fair bit getting it together once its finished.”
They wandered round the site. The building was of brick, although not the sort they were used to in England. The bricks were hollow. There was no roof, although the roof trusses were in place.
“We should definitely consider this as a possible” said Parvin. "It has most of what you want – its on a hill, has gorgeous views, space for a pool, its probably big enough to have studios for both of you…”
“Apart from being half built!” said Jeff.
But it was clear that both Jeff and Marcus were thrilled with the potential of the place.
- o -
There was a huge splash and Billy landed in the pool.
“This is fantastic!” he said. Kenny dived for coins on the bottom of the pool. Frances was combing out her long hair after swimming for hours. Her hair was her crowning glory; it was past her waist and a beautiful pale blond. When it was plaited it made a thick heavy rope and when she danced it moved as though it had a life of its own.
Ginny and Molly lit the barbecue. It was built into the perimeter wall of the villa. The grills were heavy iron and took two hands to lift. “this is like a proper kiwi barbie!” said Molly, “not some poncy wobbly thing on legs like you get in the UK.”
Bron lay on a lounger, reading.
“This is so relaxing!” she said. ”I didn’t know it was possible to feel so relaxed!”
Later they sat around the marble outdoor table. It was a huge slab, supported by two pillars. Along one side was a brick built seat with an edging of blue and white tiles with patterns of waves on. they tucked into a pile of all sorts of fish, and pork that Andy had marinated in honey and piri piri oil. Andy was the cook in their household. Bron had a few dishes that she had learnt to cook from sheer perseverance, such as poached salmon, pancakes and cheesecake, but anything that required an attention span of more than a few minutes was doomed to failure. Bron would be found putting up a shelf or tidying the shed when Andy went to see why the smoke alarm was going off. They reckoned that Kenny got his ADHD from Bron and his Aspergers from Andy.
Alex wiped his plate with some rough bread.
“This is the life! I had forgotten how lovely this place was!” Across the pool the kids sat on loungers, absorbed in a game on their Nintendos.
“They can link together by infra red,” explained Jack, “so they are all playing the same game on separate gadgets.”
“There is something surreal about that,” said Bron, “sitting looking out over this landscape that has probably not changed much in hundreds of years, under this ancient moon, playing computer games that don’t even need wires!”
“It has changed a bit,” said Ginny, “there is a lot of development now. When we came 15 years ago this was just a dirt track. There were hardly any houses when you looked out over the valley.”
“Looks like they are getting on well with that place over the road,” said Andy, pointing to a house that was waiting for its roof. The concrete rafters looked like the ribs of an ancient beast against the darkening sky.
“There’s a really sad story about that,” said Ginny, “it was in the same state when we were last here. What happened is that a couple saved for years to build their perfect home. They were childhood sweethearts and grew up together. All they ever wanted was to settle down and have a family. They got married as soon as they were old enough and worked every hour there was until they had enough to buy a bit of land and make a start on building their home. They had a baby - they were hoping to finish the house before the baby started toddling.”
“I remember the fun and games of a toddler in a building site!” interjected Bron, “I was forever squawking at Kenny ‘put that down dear, it’s a Stanley knife!’” They had renovated a cottage in Sussex when Kenny was tiny and then, not content with that, had moved to their current house, a 1930s Colt bungalow, and started all over again on that.
“So what stopped them getting it finished?” asked Jack.
“Well, the husband had an accident at the quarry where he worked. A huge block of rock fell on him. They thought he would make a recovery from his injuries but he developed an infection and died. It left the woman heartbroken.” said Ginny.
“But did she not get builders to finish it?” asked Molly.
“Well, that is the oddest thing about it all. The husband's will was invalid. Under Portuguese law the wife does not automatically inherit. As there was no valid will half went to the child. As the boy was just a baby no one can do anything with it until he is 18. So it just sits there. Meanwhile the woman and her son live in a tiny flat in Lagoa. She works in the supermarket. Now and again they come up on a Sunday and just walk round looking at it.“
“That is so unfair!” said Bron, “that poor woman! Can’t they apply to the court or something? ”
“Apparently not, maybe its just too expensive to take it through the courts or maybe there just isn’t anything that can be done.”
“I thought the law in England was screwy,” said Andy, “but that takes the biscuit!”
- o -
Parvin’s arm still hurt. She felt oddly out of sorts not having a keyboard handy, but in a strange way she felt more normal than she usually did. One thing she would need to do when she went back to London was lighten up a bit. The job was only a job at the end of the day and her life was drifting by without her participating in it.
Jeff put down their beers on the table.
“Well on today’s record there are not many places we could really put down roots. They all look lovely on paper but when you see them they are a sorry disappointment.”
“I agree “ said Marcus, “there are a lot of really crappy places. This place is in danger of going the same way southern Spain did, with all these villas packed in too close. I couldn't bear living in among all those tartan golfing trousers! And I don't know what they would make of us either.... The only place that we have seen that is half reasonable was the one that had not yet been built.”
- o -
Nell had borrowed a car from the massage therapist at the health spa. They drove to Silves, a modern town, in the middle of which was a Moorish castle. As they drove into the town they saw a circus, pitched in a field by a graveyard. They had to circle the town a few times before they found a way up to the castle. Eventually they turned up an road that looked like it went nowhere. They found themselves climbing up a steep hill and stopped by a large red stone church. To their right was a steep flight of steps with café tables placed temptingly among the trees.
“We could pop down here later,” said Nell. At the top of the steps they found themselves at the entrance to the castle. A huge statue of a man with a beard, dressed in what looked like roman costume, stood to the right of the gate. The entrance to the castle had a high vaulted brick roof, the brickwork forming organic curves around the windows. To the left was the entrance hall. They bought tickets from a thin woman with bulging eyes and big glasses. They had to walk over a temporary bridge to get into the castle. There was obviously a lot of excavation going on. Ahead of them was a blind man playing 'Je Ne Regret Rien' on an accordion. The tune sounded incongruous in this huge fortress. Nell put some coins in the man's box. She loved Edith Piaf.
They climbed the wooden stairs up to the castle walls. The view was amazing.
“You can see why they built it here!” said Nell, “you can see for miles.”
“They used to fend off invaders by throwing dead cows off the top” said Dan, “not just dead but rotting and full of gas.”
“ick!” said Nell, “that is not a thought I want to hang onto!”
They wandered round the walls. The lower area was being renovated. There was a complex drainage and irrigation system being made from brickwork. Along the edge of the walls were high mesh grids seated in concrete blocks to stop people falling off. As they got higher the crowds thinned out. The mesh panels thinned out too. Nell had never been too good with heights and began to feel a bit nervous. She felt Dan’s hand on her arm.
“Don’t worry, not long until we are back on solid ground!” They began to descend. To their left was a tower.
“Lets have a look from here” suggested Nell. She felt Dan’s arms encircle her from behind.
“Feel safer now?”
“Much.” They stood like that for a long time, looking out at the circus and the graveyard.
- o -
Between the TT and the Clio they just managed to fit everyone in. Jack was going to stay behind. He was not wild about Portuguese food and Alex said he would keep him company. Kenny managed to persuade Ginny that he should come in the TT with her and the rest of them packed into the little car. The road climbed and climbed, past engineering works where rockslides had made it necessary to place wire mesh over the hillside, past huge areas of eucalyptus. They saw rough huts occupied by old men, trucks selling fruit by the side of the road, old women in black waiting for buses. Now and again there were little shrines by the road.
"What are those for?" asked Kenny.
"I think maybe where people have died in accidents or to commemorate saints or something," Ginny explained.
"I think religion sucks!" said Kenny, "we are always having Jehovah's Witnesses coming to the door. They speak to you in enchanted tongues and try to steal your soul."
Eventually they reached Monchique, an old town full of colour and life. There were still cobbled streets and yet it felt modern. They parked on a car park by the heliport and walked into the town for a cup of coffee. They found a place next to what looked the former offices of a religious newspaper and sat outside at a table with a serviette dispenser made from an apple juice container.
“Hey! guess what?” Frances could hardly contain her excitement.
“What?” said Molly in a way that suggested this was not an unusual interchange.
“They used to use eucalyptus wood for paper!”
“How do you know that?” asked Billy, sceptically.
“I read it in the guide book!” said Frances, “its full of useful stuff, actually!”
After walking round the town they went back to the cars. They found a restaurant to have lunch in, set into the side of a hill high above the town. As they walked into the garden a black dog with pendulous teats approached them, wagging a very short tail. “Mina!” they heard a voice. “Mina!”
In the restaurant garden tables were arranged around a wooden chalet. They chose a table with a panoramic view over the valley. At the next table was an English family. The children were arguing about whether to get a dog or not. The little boy was adamant that they should not. A very cross-looking waitress with two large moles on her neck which made her look as though she had been bitten by a vampire came to take their order. They ordered lamb stew for Molly, Andy and Ginny, swordfish for Bron and cheese omelettes for the children. The dog with teats came over. Bron took a few photos of her.
“She has the kindest face!”
“She doesn’t get it from the serving lady!” said Billy, loudly.
"She has very big breasts!" marveled Kenny, no more quietly. "I mean the dog. The serving lady's breasts are just average."
"I think she has had puppies," said Ginny, "she looks as though she is feeding them."
"My friend's dad is a dog breeder." Frances twiddled her hands.
"Is a breeder a kind of dog pimp?" asked Kenny, "how do they make the dogs have sex? Do they shut them in a room and force them? Or bribe them with bits of cheese?" The English family hastily packed up their things and got up to leave.
When the bill came it was accompanied by a business card advertising Reiki by a woman with an English name.
“I expect people need Reiki after being growled at by the waitress!” whispered Andy, hoping Kenny would not say anything rude about her before they made it out of the restaurant. They walked back to the car, past a forest of oaks with no bark.
“They take the bark off for corks.” said Billy.
“The cork industry must be in trouble with all the screw top bottles they are putting on wine these days,” said Frances. Molly and Bron exchanged glances. These kids were something else.
When they got back to the villa Jack came out to meet them.
”No news on the van” he said, “they seem to be shut all day today.”
“Everywhere shuts on a Sunday somewhere rural like this,” said Ginny. “you’ll just have to stay a bit longer!”
“I could easily be persuaded!” said Molly, “ there is something very attractive about a soft bed, warm showers, a swimming pool, good food and wine and best of all, good company!”
- o -
After they finished looking round the castle, Dan and Nell walked down the steps to the café. There were trees with odd beans on them and some very thin cats weaving their way around the tables. Nell took some pictures of two tabby cats who were like bookends. They sat under the trees at a dark green table and ordered cold beers.
“You have no idea how much better I feel already!” smiled Nell. A tall waitress with a German accent and a long ginger plait brought over their beers
“How odd how we met!” said Dan after a while. “if we had more interesting luggage we would still be strangers.”
“I think we would have wandered into each other at some point, “said Nell, thoughtfully, “I think I can help you with your search for answers.”
“That sounds deep!” said Dan.
“I know,” smiled Nell, “I’m not sure what made me say that!” They finished their beers and went in to pay. By the till was a poster. Under a photo of a rough-haired terrier it said ‘please help – Meg’s humans have let her down – can you offer her a home?’
“I always want to take them all home!” said Dan, sadly, “but there are so many of them.”
“I don’t think this one will be long finding someone, “ said the waitress, “everyone who sees her asks for the phone number of the rescue place!”
- o -
Parvin was finding everything took twice as long with her arm in plaster. She was glad she had short hair; washing long hair would have been impossible. The hotel room had a bidet, which made the whole personal hygiene thing a lot easier. She wriggled into her jeans and tee shirt. Luckily the hotel washed stuff for you or she would be beginning to hum a bit. She needed to buy some new clothes in the town when she got a moment.
They planned to visit the half-built house again after lunch. The agent had said he would meet them there at 2. They had lunch at the same café. The proprietor told them about how he had farmed the land for years but had eventually decided that eking a living from such arid land was harder than making snacks for tourists and the odd cup of coffee for the locals. He had turned his farm buildings into the café.
“Progress!” he said, picking up the menus and striding back inside.
“But is it progress? said Jeff, “aren’t we part of the problem? We come here to escape from it all but we bring it with us.”
“Isn’t that the same with everything? You think you can run away from your problems but they are in your head,” said Marcus, “wherever you go they follow you. The only way to get rid of them is to face them.”
“What a profound bunch we are!” said Parvin, acutely aware that she was a great one for running from problems.
They paid the bill and got into the car. The half-built house was about 2 km away. When they got there they saw a dusty Renault 4 parked outside. A large red faced man wearing a straw hat came to meet them. He shook Marcus’s hand in an overly jovial way.
“Hello sir! And is this your good lady wife?” He had a pronounced Brummie accent.
“No,” said Marcus, “this is a friend who is helping us to find the right place. This is my partner Jeff.”
“Jolly good! That’s the modern way isn’t it? Civil partnerships and all that? Shall we take a look round?” They had all taken an instant dislike to him.
They walked round to the back of the property. There were piles of bricks and reinforcing rods.
“It’s a religious festival,” he said, “the locals are suspicious types, won’t work when the saints are against them. They’ll be back in a day or two and getting on with it all. We've had quite a lot of interest in this place. One other couple may well put in an offer this afternoon.”
Parvin noticed that weeds had grown round the rods.
“ Are they very slow? When will it be ready to occupy?”
“It will be fit for a king within a month!” said the agent. “its just case of arranging the transfer of the funds for the deposit and then you can choose your tiles and bathroom fittings and so on.”
They took details of the seller and arranged to meet her at her solicitors in Lagoa the following day.
”Bring your bank details and your passports,” said the agent as they got into the car, “then we can get it all signed up and sorted.”
“What a ghastly man!” said Marcus, the minute the car windows were closed and the aircon blasting, “I would not trust him as far as I could throw him.”
“Which would not be far,” said Parvin, "he had some beer belly on him!”
They headed back to the hotel. Jeff and Marcus both agreed that this was the best bargain they had seen and it had everything they wanted. It was just case of getting it in the bag before someone else snapped it up.
- o -
The Town Hall was a huge building. Cacilda’s sister Maria met them at the front desk.
”First I will show you where the Births, Marriages and Deaths are kept and then where planning and other records are. We also have a local history section which you may find useful.” After they had been round the building, and seen the huge leather bound ledgers Dan and Nell thanked her and found themselves a desk to work at. Dan pulled out the grey folder.
“Here's my adoption certificate and my birth certificate.”
“I love Orlando - like the Marmalade Cat!” said Nell.
They eventually found the full record of birth for Orlando Martins. It confirmed that Dan’s mother was called Sandra Martins and that her date of birth was in June 1959. His father was given as Roberto Silva and seemed to be a year older than his mother.
“She was only 15!” cried Dan, “in those days having a child out of wedlock would not have been possible and in a Catholic country an abortion would have been unthinkable. No wonder she had me adopted!” He felt a mixture of terrible sadness for the poor young girl who had to give away her baby and joy that he had a lead to go on.
“Now we just need to find her.” said Nell.
Dan thought for a moment.
“I think I'm going to write her a letter before I approach her. It will be a hell of a shock me turning up. The adoption counsellor made it very clear that not everyone welcomes a child from their past appearing out of the blue."
They went along to the electoral roll department to see if they could find a current address.