Every day I watched them from the cafe. The chair creaked whenever I shifted around, always the same chair, at the same table. The owner, Manuel, recognised me on the second day and on the third I stopped telling him what I wanted. The coffee in tiny cups appeared as if by magic as soon as I finished the cup before.
There were three of them, two taller boys, tanned and dark, and a shorter younger boy of about six who always had a toy with him. He reminded me of someone but I could never work out of whom. Sometimes they played in the waves, on some days the older boys carried a tray of sweets around and the shorter boy dragged his feet behind, bored. It seemed that instead of burning his skin, the scorching heat only made him lighter, as if soon he would just vanish in the yellowness of the day.
I watched them as I read my book, as I wrote in my journal, as I chatted to other holidaymakers. It was too late for me, I kept thinking, and besides, I had a great life. I had my company that by now could function almost without me. I had a big house, two cars, friends, a string of affairs that didn’t require too much commitment. A villa here, in Spain, and another one in Australia. I had a great life.
One day the boys approached me with their tray. I bought a lollypop and I offered it to the blond boy. He accepted timidly, staring at me with his light eyes that looked yellow in the sun. After that, he came every day. We didn’t talk. My Spanish was basic; he didn’t speak English. He sat at the table and played with his car and I bought him ice cream and juice, and sometimes food. Then I wrote or read, and all the time I watched him, raking my brains for a face that would explain who the boy reminded me of. I still couldn’t tell. All I knew was that when I looked at him, I felt as if I’d known him for years.
Manuel told me that the boy’s name was Michael, that he was an orphan, and that the parents of the other two boys had taken him in. ‘English name?’ I was surprised. ‘His mother. American. Dead now,’ was the reply. I called a local solicitor I knew, an Englishman who had been living here for over a decade. It wouldn’t be hard to get it all sorted as long as the family agreed. They were poor, he said, and he’d have a much better life with me. I wasn’t so sure. I was too old to change now, too old to care for somebody else.
Michael came every day now and watched me as I pretended to read. His yellow eyes seemed to be asking me something, what, I couldn’t tell. On my last day I told him I was leaving. Manuel had written the Spanish words down for me on a napkin and I read them slowly, pronouncing every letter. The boy looked at me for a minute, then he got up and left. I watched him join his brothers on the beach.
Two hours later, I knocked on a shabby brown door with a broken handle.