Pablo and I sometimes drink with a Spanish agency worker named Felip in the Cloisters pub. When we last came across Felip, he related how he had spent his weekend. He and his girlfriend Elisabet are presently going through one of those stages in which they seem to be lost within their own relationship and following a convoluted path into an ever more desolate hinterland. If they could only find a way back to when they were young and happy, and they had seemed to trip around hand in hand, drenched in invisible sunshine.
Part of the problem was indeed the weather. Both Felip and Elisabet had obtained steady work with an agency in Edinburgh, but Felip was less able than Elisabet to withstand the Scottish climate. Both he and Pablo assure me that it is impossible for somebody from Northern Europe to appreciate the distress that so much rain and so little daylight can instil in a Spaniard. But I have seen the hair of Spanish men in their twenties turned grey by an Edinburgh winter. I have seen the colour fade out of their skin, their faces droop like old tits. I have sensed the chill which is cast across their characters, so that their minds turn slow and dull and grim, like a splendid tiger that is worn down by captivity and reduced to pacing in mindless circles.
And this summer in particular seemed to comprise the nadir of Edinburgh’s entire meteorological history. It rained all day, every day. The rain raged like a senile monarch, and everybody suffered endless inconveniences under its senseless tyranny. As June turned to July, the city was forced to admit to itself that it would rain solidly throughout the summer and that respite would only come when the winter cold made such extraordinary volumes of rain no longer feasible.
Felip had finally made Elisabet an ultimatum. He was going to return to Spain and she would just have to agree to this. Nevermind that there was fifty percent unemployment in Spain; he wanted to be rid of Edinburgh’s weather. “It’s dark all the time – like living in Gotham city,” he spat, his eyes burning with a derision that was pure fire and impossible to mollify. Yet a week later and things were not so straightforward. After years of mismanaged diabetes, Elisabet’s grandmother needed to have her lower leg amputated, and the family simply could not cope without the money that Felip and Elisabet were sending home. Not only was Felip consigned to Edinburgh, but he had to give up his beer and cigarettes. As he had suspected, the wonderful virtue of such a sacrifice was intolerable.
But Felip was still scheming furiously. His next announcement was that he would relocate to Berlin before the winter. It was reportedly easy to find work in Berlin. This city could not equal the sunshine of Spain, but it could hardly be as bad as Edinburgh. It was hard luck that Europe had divided her torments even-handedly, so that no single region enjoyed both employment and sunshine.
Elisabet could not oppose Felip’s departure without losing his heart as well as his person. She remained politely incandescent, however, as if a speck of grit had got into her brain and corrupted the machinery. She was mortified by the gnawing, guilty contempt that she increasingly felt for Felip – at how stale and tiresome his character had become this summer – and she now only seemed to love him in theory, when he was not physically present. She knew that he felt exactly the same about her. They were like two kings who are left alone together on a chessboard with an eternity to try and stalemate each other.
Suddenly fearful that they were going to end the summer as strangers, and aghast at the pity of ending their relationship so unspectacularly, Felip and Elisabet hastily agreed to spare some money for an impromptu weekend away. The furthest that they could get from Edinburgh on so little money was Newquay. They could stretch to a private room in a youth hostel.
Unfortunately, they were already squabbling on their way to the airport. It was pouring vindictively, as if the rain was venting its anger at the temerity of these humans for taking the initiative. Felip could not suppress his incredulity at the size of Elisabet’s suitcase. Even if Elisabet had packed every possession that she owned into such a large suitcase, it should still be only half full and so why was it so heavy? Felip struggled with the suitcase whilst Elisabet flapped an umbrella over them which was as useless as a cobweb in the wind. The umbrella was sucked in and out several times, before a great gust tore it away altogether and Elisabet was left holding the handle.
At the airport, the boarding staff insisted that Elisabet check the size of her hand baggage in the designated container. Felip slid the suitcase into the container with such force to ensure that it fitted, but unfortunately neither he nor any of the boarding staff were able to extract it again. There followed an exchange of views over whether Elisabet should be charged for oversized baggage, and the airline’s view prevailed. The size-checking container with the suitcase still jammed inside it was carried aboard to be stowed in the cabin.
It was raining so heavily that the plane could not take off. “I’m afraid that we’re now being kept in a queue for takeoff,” the captain reported after forty minutes, as begrudgingly as a man who is required to give a further clue in a pub quiz because everybody is so stupid.
After two hours on the tarmac, the cabin crew dispensed complimentary coffees. Felip heard somebody remarking that the coffees were so small that they should have handed out microscopes so that the passengers could see them.
Elisabet was finally aware that the plane was taxiing for takeoff, but she was too exhausted to register any relief. She and Felip had been commenting tersely on the progress of the flight, until they had completely run out of things to say. They were left like two fish floating together in a bowl, whilst everybody around them talked volubly. Elisabet wanted to go to sleep, but her mind groped in vain for unconsciousness like a hand searching for a coin that has rolled far under the bed. Felip was no longer pretending to study the writing in his magazine, and he was just ogling the girls.
The plane had taken off and it was now stuck pointing upwards. People sat without apparent concern whilst the rain swirled past them down the windows, as thick as a river.
Yet at thirty thousand feet, something amazing happened…
The plane was suddenly flooded with light.
Felip and Elisabet sat up, bewildered. Were they dreaming? Outside the sky was the deepest and most perfect blue. Seated nearest the window, Felip peered down to where the clouds now foamed far below them like the contents of a gigantic saucepan. The plane was suspended above an immaculate landscape of pure cream, a world fascinating in all of its incredible detail. Perhaps the eye searched for angels patrolling the hills and vales below to ward off anybody who might try to erect a billboard. Sitting back, Felip waved to Elisabet, and she leaned forward in wonder. Her hand found his, and he marvelled at the warmth in it.
Above them, the sun was its old magnificent self. They had found it, like Dr. Livingstone merry in the jungle, greeting them with a chuckle. The sun, I presume?
Felip and Elisabet were smiling in each other’s faces. Their worries were suddenly retreating, like slugs and snails wending their way to hide under the nearest rock now that the sun was out. Felip wanted to paw and stroke every curve of Elisabet’s body. Elisabet wanted to groan and writhe in Felip’s arms. The sun wanted to cry out, “hip! hip! hip! horray!”
Alas, the plane descended once again into torrential rain. Newquay was hit by flash flooding over the weekend and it lost all of its electricity. Everybody in Felip and Elisabet’s youth hostel gathered together in the darkness of the top floor, and they listened in silence as helicopters circled overhead and those fleeing from their homes yelled for help. Felip and Elisabet will never talk about this holiday and you will not find any photos of it on Facebook. They returned to Edinburgh three days later than they had intended, thereby missing most of the shifts up for grabs at their agency. Elisabet’s family was truly frantic at receiving less money than usual.
The rain’s majesty is undisputed and Edinburgh remains his capital. He is my sovereign and yours, and we can only bow our heads in subjection.
[Tychy has previously advocated the use of meteorological missiles to disperse rainclouds approaching the city centre. Ed.]