Scots abroad

This story was included in the book Work In Progress, published by thi wurd books in 2017.

There’s fuck all to be done in the waiting-room of a hospital – except think. To sit here, having these same thoughts again and again about how fast things fall apart. How it happens as soon as you start to get comfortable in life, to relax. To forget yourself.

This morning the sun was up, high and shining, the way it always is here. I was having ham and eggs in a café on the beachfront, this new place I’d only been to a couple of times, when Lianne came round the corner, running, turning her head from side to side and looking all round the place, and that noise of her flip-flops slapping hard off the concrete.

When she saw me she shouted, It's Marisa, come quick! She got hit by a moped, they took her to Palma in an ambulance…

I kicked my chair out and rushed for the main road, heard her coming after me.

Here Sean, take this.

She pushed some money into my hand.

Get a taxi. Go! So I ran.

There was some Spanish shite on the radio, guitars and a woman’s voice droning on and on. The rosary beads draped round the mirror were nearly hitting the driver in the face every time we took a corner. We were shooting up the expressway, past parts of the island I hadn’t seen before. The things from normal life – billboards, factories, schools, churches. All the while I’m thinking: it was a fucking moped, a bike with a wee engine on it. Wouldn't even crack a bone. I kept this in mind as we got further from the beach and closer to the city, as I paid the driver, ran into the casualty, and asked at the desk. The woman took my name and told me in broken English I'd have to wait till somebody was ready to talk. She not ready, she kept saying, coming round to show me to the seats across the hall, pointing at one so I would sit down. She not ready.

And here I am. Still waiting. What’s playing on my mind is, I wasn't there. I’m with her nearly all the time. Whenever we’re not working, more or less. And the one morning we’re not together… it’s hard to accept. The unfairness. You think if something major is going to happen, to me or to her, then the other one would be there. I always thought being a couple made you attached to each other – that something, some force, kept you connected. That way they say if one half of an old married couple dies, the other one croaks it right after. Something puts you in sync. Your lives. Or at least it’s supposed to.

But it happened. And I didn’t even know.

I hadn't seen her this morning, or heard from her. Nothing since yesterday. I don't know why she was down the beach. She was in the ambulance, maybe unconscious maybe not, at the same time as I was sitting down to a cooked breakfast.

I can't get my head round that either – this accident. This. Her being knocked down by one of the mopeds always speeding round this place. When I think of the collision I get a blank. Marisa was tall, she was so tall and calm and elegant. I'd never seen her run, never seen her trip up. It’s easy to picture her down the shore. Her hair always shone in the morning. She’d get up earlier than everybody else so it was always washed and clean, and it made all the other lassies look so drab. So small and dull next to her. And she’d be wearing her sandals with the wee jewels in them. Sunglasses, earrings, laughing along with whoever she was with. The idea of it. Being hit by a moped. Actually driving into her, that heat and the metal touching her skin, pushing her over. The thought of that moment – her beautiful brown hair flying, her body knocked down on its side. To be lying there, on the pavement. Injured. Blood.

A woman came in earlier and sat across from me. She was so relaxed among all the quiet, worried folk in here. There was this faint smile on her face, and every now and then she brought out this wee round mirror and grinned into it, then put it back in her bag. But I didn't keep looking. Not today. I watched the wee TV that was stuck up in the corner. Didn't even acknowledge her really. I only took notice when she stood up again and came into my eyeline. She was being shown through to the treatment area. I watched the brown legs and high white shoes go through the double-doors. I should’ve been going there too.

See we hadn't meant to start going out, Marisa and me. Just kind of fell into it. We come from neighbouring towns, didn't know each other before coming here but we both knew Lianne. Marisa worked in the Sports Bar in the Plaza, waitressing from midday till ten, usually six days of the week. I was the daytime DJ at Romeo's on the strip, three or four in the afternoon till eleven when the clubnight started. We hadn't clicked right away; were just two people in a group that hung about. Scots living abroad. There was folk from all over, Fife, Edinburgh, Arran, a big squad of teuchters, loads of us in just about every place you went into. More than the English or Irish, and way more than the Spanish, who seem to have fled the town and left it all for us.

Marisa was the shy one. Preferred her pals to the guys, even when she was drunk. Some people said she shagged the maître d' from Antonio's before he got fired, but Lianne told me it wasn't true, it was only a kiss that Marisa hadn’t even wanted to do anyway. She’d been drinking and he kept trying with her, and so whatever. It happens. He’d fucked off back to England now anyway. She hadn't really been with anybody at all since they got there in the spring. Not properly. I liked her more when I knew this. We were the only ones who had 'daytime' jobs, me and her, all the others were flyering and working the bars till four, five, six in the morning. It was a couple of months of going out drinking before we got close then slept together – and after that we were a couple. I never actually asked her and she never asked me, but it just became this thing and people talked about us that way, so that was that. A couple in love. She was the first really tall girl I'd been with. It is different. The long limbs. I always thought I looked fat lying beside her. Wee and white and fat. She didn’t seem to mind. She was long and slim and brown and so beautiful, that body and her hair and her face, that face that everybody loved, even the girls would talk about it, how pretty she was. And then me. So fucking average. Maybe I made up for it in other ways but there was no avoiding the fact that when it came to looks, I was nothing, just skinny arms and legs sticking out of a wee chunky body. Nothing when compared to her.

Yet we never had any problems about physical stuff. It was only ever daft fights, squabbling, this totally unimportant meaningless rubbish you think up just to have a go at each other. These wee arguments that had started happening all of a sudden.

It nearly ended just last week. Mad to think about it now. How close it was to being all over and done. We met this other couple, Markie and Loreen. They’d been here eighteen months, and were heartsick of it they said. Loreen called it living in a goldfish bowl. Markie had a car so the next day they were going to pack up and go to Alcudia, where it was nice and quiet. Marisa was that enthusiastic about the plan he asked if we wanted to come, start again up there. I knew DJ jobs would be even harder to come by in a graveyard like that, but I found myself joining in and saying aye. They’d get us at the end of Torrenova Place the next day at three o’clock, so we were there on time, two suitcases each, watching for a car that had Markie and Loreen in the front seats.

We waited.

The sun was hot. I can remember everything about that day. How Marisa went into a shop and got herself an ice lolly, a round red one, didn’t even ask if I wanted anything. Then her leaning against a postbox, slowly sucking on it. I kept taking my foot out from my flipflop and touching it on the pavement. It would burn after a second or two. I squinted in the light, looking up and then down the road.

What if this is the wrong place? she said. She held the lolly away from her and a thick red drip landed on the kerb. They just said the end of the street, didn’t they? But what end?

This is it. The street numbers start down the beach. Look, that's number 300 there.

Aye, but they might not know what way the numbers go. I'd think the street would end where the beach was, not in the town centre.

You would think that?


But you don’t think it?

Because I’ve looked.

They've been here longer than us. They'll know.

It's nearly twenty past.

So what do we do? Leave and go down there?

We're at the wrong bit. Am sure of it.

You are?


This is stupid.

Stupid would be staying here when they're clearly not coming.

Fine. Let's go. And when we miss them, it’s not my fault.

Just shut up.

We went, dragging the cases behind. The pubs and take-aways on the street were starting to come to life, staff getting ready for the evening business. Then a rat shot out from behind a binbag that was resting against the Noodle Shack. It went right across the road, I saw the big ropey tail battering about on the tarmac before it dived into an open drain and was gone. Marisa was screaming. And not one wee understandable scream. Not just surprise. The thing had only been in view for a second or two but she had her hands up covering her eyes, squealing and not stopping. All the people on the pavement had turned round to stare, there were heads poking out from windows.

Christ sake, I said, going over to her. It's away. Never came near us.

Oh God, oh God.

Calm down. Stop it. I bet people being murdered don't make a noise like that.

I know, I know. She sniffed and put a hand to her chest. It's just, Lianne told me a story about a rat years ago, I've never forgot it. Oh God …

What story?

It's so horrible Sean.

What is?

It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard, ever.

Are ye going to tell me or not?

Och, I don’t really want to go into it. It happened to a woman one of Li’s pals knew. In Edinburgh, I think. The woman had just had a baby and she'd been breastfeeding. So her and her husband went to sleep one night … and she woke up, because a rat …


Oh. It’s too terrible, honestly. It’s too disgusting.

Just hurry up. Tell me.

Well – because a rat had got into the bed, and was taking milk from her breast.

She put her head in her hands.

Her man woke up and said to stay dead still – ye know, in case it bit her and ripped her breast to bits, so they had to wait till it was finished. They actually had to sit still and just wait. Imagine that? Sean, imagine that happening to you? To me? I know I could never get over it, never. I never would.

I laughed. I put down my suitcase. I turned away and kept on laughing, and she was pulling my sleeve, punching me on the shoulder and shouting, It's not funny! It's fucking true! – but I couldn't stop. I didn’t stop. She stormed off, the ponytail jumping about angrily as she went.

Mar, come on. Wait.

You’re a dick! she shouted without turning round.

We walked without talking for a while. Then she said, I bet they did come, but we were at the wrong end.

They didn't come.

I know they did.

These drunk plans never work out. We didn't even know them. He was a bit of an arsehole anyway.

You've changed your tune.

No I haven't, I said, and I lifted a peach from the rack outside a fruit shop. She waited outside while I paid for it, fanning herself with a magazine. I bit into it once I was back on the pavement.

She was staring at me.

What are you doing?


That hasn't been washed.


Unwashed fruit out a shop in Magaluf? That is fucking minging.

I took another bite, and had to wipe the juice that ran down my chin. She was still looking.

What is it?

It could've had flies wandering over it all day. The wee man that put them out could've been scratching his balls.

That’s vulgar, I said.

I’m vulgar? You're the one filling your face with fucking germs.

She marched away and this time I didn’t follow. We made up at the bar in Bally's the next night. But can it ever be the same after you start having these fights? These arguments about nothing where you both feel this anger, looking at each other’s face, the stupidity of it all. I was thinking this even at the time.

This morning though, the accident, it had swung things back the other way. The moped that changed the course of life. Maybe. Forcing me to sit in here like the doting husband. I suppose it doesn't matter if you've been with somebody two months or ten years, when things happen you're a seat in the waiting room just the same. You can’t be anywhere else.

I did feel more attached when I was on the phone with her parents. Lianne had rang the casualty and they let me go behind the desk to update her.

As soon as I picked up the phone she said, Marisa's mam and dad want to talk to you.


I've told them everything I know, but they want to speak to the one that's in the hospital with her.

I called the number she gave me. They sounded scared. At the end of the call her da said, Let us know the minute they doctors speak to you. We need to know whether to get a flight or not.

Alright, Mr McHugh.

Alright son. You look after her.

As I was talking to him, I wondered what would happen if I said I'd not been with her the night before because I'd been shagging Belinda, the dish-washer at the Tiki bar. What would happen if I just said it. I’ll look after her Mr McHugh, don’t worry. Maybe he’d think it was a joke, some levity in a dark situation. Obviously, definitely not. But who knows. Maybe he had a weird sense of humour. Maybe he was the sort of sick, sorry individual who would be intrigued to hear the whole story. About how Belinda was originally from Barbados but had moved to London when she was only seven. How she’d been in Magaluf for over four years now. Would this be interesting to him? It hadn’t been interesting to me. I could tell him how I spied her big arse over at the sink when I was in talking to Jeff the Chef. How she flashed her smile to show me the wee diamond set in one of her front teeth. You see Mr McHugh, I would have been on top of Belinda on her bed, with the window open and the hot breeze blowing dust into her wee room in the east end, most likely at the exact same moment as Marisa was making plans to go down the beach in the morning, with whoever it was – I still don’t know. Lianne wasn’t dressed for the beach when she came to get me. And Mar won’t have been alone, she hates that. She gets lonely so easily. But I don't feel guilty. Not even a bit, being honest. I wasn't looking for all this. We fell into it. Both of us did. She told me she gave up smoking because I asked her to, then I found a twenty-pack in her bag two days later. And I found a vibrator in her bottom drawer as well. A vibrator! Not one of the terrifying ones that look like a baseball-bat with veins popping out all over it. It was this wee pen thing that buzzed when you held the button in. I could've went to town on that one. What would someone keep a vibrator for when they had a boyfriend? Another guy could've had his confidence shot. Questioned himself. Made a massive deal about it. But I didn't. You see, I understand that people need a wee secret part of life, something just for them and nobody else. I understand it. Everybody needs that.

The waiting room is quieter now. Half-empty. The other people all look like they’re asleep. I have been here a long time. At least it feels that way, there’s no clock for me to check. I go to the window and take a look out through the blinds. It's still day-time but the sun has passed the highest point and is on the way down. Preparations for the night will be starting in Magaluf. The city streets outside are wide and grey and clean, and seem silent from in here. Cars and buses going past on the concrete, so smooth and soundless. I see people out walking, going in between the wee trees that line the road. Children, couples, families, it’s all Spanish folk here and they’re not in any rush. None of them. Just walking. It makes me think of home, my old life in the city. In Glasgow.

A nurse comes up behind me, the soft shoes padding on the tiles. I turn. She smiles, and blinks her eyes a couple of times. Her dark hair tied back in a ponytail. Her face is clear and beautiful. The light gleams off her gold crucifix and I look away for a second. Why do you not get women like that in Scotland? She was just so calm. So natural. Everything about her.

Mr Forbes, she says. Perfect English, with that great Spanish accent. The doctor must speak with you. Please follow me.

Alright, I say. ●