We hadn’t meant to drink. But with Redbeard and I it was almost an inevitability. One last night to see out our brotherhood and our livers could finally have the rest they cried out for. So there we were, back on the beers and dressed in our finest party attire: bucket hats and waxed mo’s aplenty.
The last two weeks had been a bit of a struggle, with waning stamina and the ill health that six months of self-abuse can create. But we pushed on, chasing the dragon, night after night. At this point we didn’t know really know anything else.
Tired bodies aside we were in fine form and lapping up the beautiful combination of sun, sand and skin that makes southern Spain such a magnet for tourists. Rise late, rub face and sneak past the cleaning lady – feeling strangely in the way given that I had paid to be there. Then the beach for countless swims and a touch of paddleball before hunger drove us back to Cadiz’s warren of shops and the now familiar booze aisles of the supermarcado.
The night was all we knew and we pursued it relentlessly.
What must they think, these mere mortals, at our arrival in the common area? Brandishing a bottle of whisky Redbeard introduced himself to the group:
Clearly this was not the relaxed beach town they had been led to believe. I took a seat and, opening my own bottle, poured myself a hearty dram and began the small talk that plagues hostel rooms the world over.
It had been a long time since that strenuous day at Efteling but Redbeard’s riposte to my paranoid observation that we, fiercely bearded and tartaned, looked homeless still stood: you’re never homeless when you’re with a friend. And while I now know that the ocular attention we received that day, magnified as it was by the lurking unease of the truffles, was not malignant but merely observational as is the Dutch fashion, there is still much comfort to be had in a brother.
At your most vulnerable, when the serotonin has all left town and the buses out are fully booked; when you’re nursing a speed comedown on an empty stomach and the airport queue for your soon to depart flight isn’t moving; when you finally realise that you’ve been walking away from the hostel instead of towards it – these are the moments a bro is most valuable. In their presence solidarity holds you, hardships turns soft and you can laugh at the world again.
We hadn’t meant to drink, but drink we did and as we rolled from the bar to the port it was apparent, once again, that we were cataclysmically fucked. Caught in this prison of our own making all else faded away: the coming months, my impending solitude and Redbeard’s inevitable reality check: a return to the parentals, home and the hunt for non-existent jobs. Another drink down and we forgot the future, engaging the present with gusto.
The port was a swirling display of light and colour as tourists and locals alike wandered amongst the docked ocean racing yachts. Pretty girls queued for photos with the sailors in their dashing white while our Dutch partners in crime made disparaging remarks. At Redbeard’s suggestion we faced the demons of Efteling and rode a small half rollercoaster, leaving our stomachs but not their contents behind as the ground rushed up to meet us.
The Dutch wandered off and we too drifted, gravitating back through the now familiar maze to our hostel, marvelling at the screeds of rubbish that boarded the streets. Municipalities worldwide take note: never underestimate the power of the disgruntled garbage man.
Then, like the highly functioning alcoholics we had become, we slept for three hours before rising again to a world of hilarious packing and pretending to be but not caring if we actually were quiet. Although alcoholics is perhaps too strong a moniker. We were surviving degenerates, temporary reprobates; it was an existence without the usual self-loathing so destructive in those truly blighted by the bottle. We had chosen it and in a strange way, revelled in our resilience against the hardships of the night.
On the bus we sat in silence, holding back the tears that gathered in the gloom of the late dawn. This was no time for words. Thoughts loomed large, but neither of us were brave enough to voice them. There was no need for bravery, in the end. Our connection transcended the spoken word, and we each knew what the other was thinking.
The silence grew, and we gave into its demands.
When my stop came I could barely speak. I embraced Redbeard clumsily, a few words slipping out on autopilot as I bade my fine companion farewell. I wept briefly at the bus station, lost in my thoughts, his words from that fateful day in Holland ringing in my ears, then set off down the road into town, finally truly homeless.