MALTA: A SWEDISH GODDESS

I’d saved up a little money and had decided to go on my first ever overseas holiday alone. No parents, just me. I chose Malta.

We’d been there a couple of years previously. Dad had wanted to show us around as he’d been based there during the early 50s while he was serving in the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, he’d spent the entire two weeks thinking he was still in the Royal Navy, drinking every day and getting into fights. This holiday was going to be far more peaceful.

With neither an offer of a lift to the airport to see me off, or of any evidence of pride that I was becoming of age, I made my own way to London by bus to catch my plane.

Everything just seemed so magical to me: check in; finding the gate; boarding; reading the safety card eight times; the flight; the views, and the landing. I don’t think I stopped looking out of the window for the entire three hours in the air. I felt as free as a bird. I was as free as a bird. For the next fourteen days, no one was going to put me down, yell at me, grunt at me, or treat me in the way that one treats something they’ve just scraped off the sole of their shoe.

Passport stamped and bag retrieved, I had to get a taxi to St Andrews, the town where I would be based for the next fourteen nights.

I found my cheap bed and breakfast. The room consisted of a bed, and nothing else. I didn’t care.

I found my budget restaurant which served magnificent pizza.

One evening, a local guy – probably around the same age as my father – approached me. He was very friendly, and he sat down next to me. He bought me a beer, and we had a decent chat. Sadly – for me – I was a late bloomer, and my bullshit detector had not yet matured.

I told him I played the piano, and he mentioned that there was a beautiful hotel on the other side of the island which had a grand piano. He suggested that, if I wanted to, I could meet him at the same place the following day at 16:00 and that he would take me to said hotel where I could play. To this day, I have never been able to turn down a nice piano, so I agreed without hesitation.

The following evening, I was in the restaurant and he arrived, drunk. Not falling over drunk, but drunk enough for him to be slurring his words. I should have called the whole thing off there and then, but with my age – and having a father who had suppressed any rights for me to be in any way assertive – I went ahead, even though I knew it was going to be a huge mistake.

Our beers finished, we left the restaurant and got on a bus. I had no idea where we were heading; I was simply following my new ‘friend’.

I can’t recall his name, but, for the purposes of this story, I will call him Dickhead.

We arrived in Malta’s capital city Valletta, where we had to change buses. Having done so, our journey continued.

The bus was full, to the point that several passengers were standing. The two of us were sat side by side on the left hand side seat at the front, Dickhead by the window, me by the aisle.

A girl – roughly the same age as myself – came and stood right next to me. She was wearing tight blue jeans, a small denim jacket and a white t-shirt underneath. Her scent was amazing. I didn’t know anything about perfume back then, but now, every time I look back on this memory, I like to think that maybe she was wearing Fleurs de Rocailles (flowers from a brook), as mentioned by Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, the film which would earn him his first Academy Award. I have no idea why, I just do.

The buses in Malta – at least back then – were decades old, and with no air conditioning, the windows would always be open. Long blonde and silky, her hair would blow in the warm evening breeze, and from time to time she would sweep it back with her hand. Occasionally, the rays of the setting sun would come and join us, dancing upon her tanned face before continuing their perpetual journey west.

She looked at me, smiled, and asked how I was doing.

This can’t be happening, girls NEVER talk to me.

After I’d confirmed that I was fine and had established that she, too, was fine, I learned that she was from Sweden, was also travelling alone, and she, like myself, had ventured overseas on this trip for the first time without her parents.

A quick look to the left told me that Dickhead had fallen asleep.

A couple of clicks further along the coast road, she told me that she would be getting off the bus at the next stop, and asked if I would like to join her for dinner. I was bowled over.

I looked at Dickhead to my left and then back at her to my right. Dickhead, her. Dickhead, her. I felt like I was watching the men’s finals at Wimbledon. I was weighing up whether I should spend the evening with a middle aged drunk Maltese guy, or if I should head off into the sunset with a beautiful blonde Swedish girl. Of course, it was a no brainer. There was absolutely no question in my mind as to which option I would go with. I would stay with the middle aged drunk Maltese guy. Again, my lack of assertiveness along with a smattering of loyalty had overruled the logic in my brain and emotions in my heart, along with the throbbing sensation in my balls.

We stopped. She smiled, bade me adieu, and alighted from the bus. As we pulled away, I glanced back at her, knowing that I had just made the most catastrophic error of judgment.

Dickhead finally stirred and informed me that we had to get off the bus. We then flagged down a taxi and spent another fifteen minutes driving along a narrow road in the middle of nowhere, before finally arriving at the hotel.

We found the bar, ordered beers, and took a seat. Sure enough, there was a grand piano.

I introduced myself to one of the waiters and asked if I could play a few songs. The answer was a very firm and absolute, ‘Ebda.’ I spoke no Maltese, but the tone and facial expression told me that things weren’t looking good. I tried another tactic. ‘I really can play. How about I play for just ten seconds, and if you don’t like it, I’ll stop?’

‘Ebda.’

With a heavy heart, I accepted the decision, and fell into immediate depression. I’d said goodbye to a beautiful Swedish girl in exchange for absolutely nothing. Nada. Fuck all. Stoopid, stoopid, stoopid. You stupid, dumb wanker, I told myself repeatedly.

Although I’d accepted the decision of the staff, Dickhead wasn’t ready to back down. Even more drunk now, he stood and started arguing, his voice rising. A couple of minutes later, our bill was brought to our table, and we were told in no uncertain terms that we needed to pay, and most importantly, leave expeditiously.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, it then transpired that Dickhead had left his wallet at home. I had to pay, and being on a very tight budget, it took all the money I had in my pocket to cover the bill. Dickhead didn’t even have the money to cover the taxi back, and now nor did I.

Furiously, I walked off leaving him behind, following the way we’d come; a winding road, the middle of nowhere, pitch black, and I was only seventeen years old. After around thirty minutes, a Mercedes taxi pulled up to me, assuming that I needed a ride. I explained that I had no money. He looked at me, took pity, and beckoned for me to get in the car. He drove me to where he was heading, Valletta. I am eternally grateful for the kindness of that man.

I walked for another two hours, finally arriving back at my digs tired, hungry, thirsty, and very cranky.

For the remainder of my holiday, I spent all day every day and all evening every evening walking around Valletta. I glanced through the doors of every restaurant, café, and bar, and I scoured the bus station many times.

I never did find her, nor did I ever forget her.

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