12 Breakin up is hard to do
12 BREAKIN UP ’S HARD TO DO
Shaun sat at the steering wheel, driving alone towards Galway, wondering how long it would take Caragh to see through his performance. Why couldn’t he get Magda out of his head? Caragh was the most loyal friend he had ever had. In fact, he had been accepted by her whole family and had always enjoyed the days in Galway. They liked him too and welcomed him with open arms each time he arrived. He felt like Judas preparing himself for the poisoned kiss. He would choose his time well and leave Caragh with tears in her eyes, telling himself that it was for the best. He would be taking a jump into the dark.He knew it was extremely unlikely that he could possibly build anything with an almost total stranger who was absolutely unaware of his feelings and would probably laugh into his face if he ever dared to express them. Anyway, she lived in communist Poland and he lived in a council estate in Drimnagh.
He argued with himself as he drove. It would have been easy to keep his mouth shut, but he knew that Caragh would see through him. He also knew that although she was his best and trusted friend that he had never spent a whole night just thinking how wonderful it would be to get close to her. Something was wrong, he convinced himself and it would be better to take the risk of being alone, rather than spending his whole life pining away for a dream girl he had never even tried to be with.
He passed through small villages and drank in the smell of turf fires. He took everything in, feeling he was experiencing it all for the last time. Going down the West would never be the same again. There would be nostalgia for the past mixed with the painful memories he was about to set in motion.
He turned into the neat green in front of her house and spotted Caragh’s red Fiesta, parked in front of the bungalow. He blew the horn and released the seatbelt. He was taking the large heart-shaped box of Lindt chocolates out of the boot as the front door opened. Caragh stood waiting. Shaun could already detect the hint of suspicion in her expression. He should have known his extravagance would be a dead giveaway.
“It’s me again,” he smiled forcing himself to look into her eyes. “Just something sweet from Germany,” he said handing her the chocolates, which blocked her from hugging him as she would normally have done.
“I missed you,” she told him, but it felt like an accusation.
There was the smell of Irish stew, coming from the range in the living room as he entered the hall. Caragh’s back pack was leaning against the telephone table, already bulging from all sides. There was a general buzz of excitement at his arrival. Her mother was at the kitchen door. He shook hands and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Caragh eyed him all the while, her expression accusing him of hiding something. He was steeped in guilt and he would never manage to wipe the stain away.
The dinner lasted an eternity. Caragh’s father did his best to lighten the atmosphere, but to no avail.
“How was your trip to Germany?” Caragh’s mother asked in all innocence.
“No bad,” Shaun answered evasively, “conditions were a bit Spartan though.”
He knew Caragh’s questions would hit the target when she finally got her chance with him.
“You’re helping me with the washing up,” Caragh told him pulling him into the kitchen. “You’re acting very strangely,” she challenged, “What’s the matter? Do you have anything to tell me?”
This was his chance, but the memory of the bulging back pack stopped him. She had been talking about Greece for months and he wasn’t about to ruin it for her. He pictured her packing for the holiday, taking hours, deciding what to bring and what to leave behind.
“Don’t be so suspicious,” he responded dismissively, trying to force a laugh.
“You’re hiding something,” she demanded with frustration in her voice. “We’re goin for a walk,” she told her parents, as she pushed him through the back door.
They walked through the garden and into the parkland beyond. The sun shone in an almost cloudless sky and the branches of the tall trees barely moved, as they walked down to the river. Shaun considered catching her hand, but the look on her face dissuaded him.
“What happened in Germany?” she asked, somewhere between aggression and fear.
“Nothing happened,” he lied. “We just need a little time to get used to being together again.”
“Look, “she said, “I have made no demands. You wanted to go off to Germany on your own and you went. Now, tell me if you want to spend the rest of the summer with me or not?” Her voice broke as she spoke, despite her best efforts.
“Of course I want to spend the summer with you. I really missed you and I have been looking forward to exploring the Greek Islands with you.”
He took her into his arms, as he spoke and he could feel the relief in her body, as she yielded. He kissed her wet eyes and apologised for making her feel uneasy.
“You are the best friend anyone could have and I don’t deserve you,” he smiled looking into her sad eyes, meaning every word, but knowing that it still wasn’t enough.
“You really don’t deserve me,” she agreed as she dried her eyes.
The ship from Athens to the islands was crowded with back-packers. Shaun and Caragh huddled on the floor near a stairway and felt lucky to have enough floor-space to sit on. Shaun felt whiter than ever before, surrounded by so many attractive young people with bronzed legs and flawless complexions.
The ship stopped at many smaller islands on the way to the more popular ones like Paros and Mikanos. They had a few days before they met the others on Paros, so they decided to relax on the tiny island of Sifnos. The small harbour looked idyllic with every house white-washed and gleaming against a deep blue sky. Back-packers sat in open-air cafes on wicker chairs, drinking cheap wine and eating bowls of fresh Greek salad topped with diced goat’s cheese.
Shaun and Caragh had almost despaired of finding accommodation, when they were offered two camp beds in the living room of a farmhouse, with the promise of a private room the following day. Rather than waste more time searching, they left their backpacks and spent the day in one of the nearby coves. Caragh lay under the sun working up a good tan, while Shaun read a German book which Halina had given him.
He found himself watching Caragh asleep on her towel, wondering what Magda was doing and hating himself for his secret treachery. He soon became bored with his book and the intense heat caused a steady stream of sweat and sun cream to drip down his face and land on his t-shirt.
Caragh’s absolute satisfaction with this paradise frustrated him even more. Her dogged determination to be deaf to his complaints was not helping. His nerves were further frayed when they returned to the farmhouse to find that the German guests had returned early and used all the water from the huge wooden barrel at the back of the house. The Shadenfreude on their faces was all too obvious when they saw him inspecting the empty container and they didn’t even have the decency to conceal it.
“I couldn’t be German”, he thought. “The cold honest truth can be ugly when it kicks you in the face.”
“Go back to the beach and wash in the sea,” Caragh suggested failing to see why he was determined to make a tragedy out of every little thing.
At the beach Shaun found five open-air showers behind a large white wall. The sight of an attractive Scandinavian girl showering naked beside him encouraged him to remove his swimming trunks and pretend to be just as liberated. However, the fake self-image disappeared along with the beautifully tanned Swede. The hostile stares of the Greek guys who had replaced her were certainly not meant to compliment his ego. He could only guess at their comments, but it was obvious that he was the butt of them.
He caught his reflection in someone’s shaving mirror for a second and was horrified by the glaring contrast between the snow white knicker-line and the dangerously red, sun-burned skin.
He looked like a plucked chicken and the uncomplimentary stares told him that he wasn’t just being over-sensitive. Just when he felt he couldn’t sink any further, the sound of a passing traffic behind him made him turn around just in time to catch the disgusted stares of a bus load of conservatively dressed elderly Greek women. The only saving grace in the whole situation was that the red skin hid his embarrassment. He wasn’t feeling comfortable inside his skin anyway and the course he was intent on pursuing was only going to add to his self-loathing.
He envied Caragh’s ability to endure such intense heat without ever sweating. Even the evenings were too warm for him and the lightest cotton shirts were sticking to his back within seconds.
“Oh, you sweaty thing,” she exclaimed, seeing his drenched shirt as they took the uphill trail back from the taverna.
The sun-drenched days passed quickly, despite the wearisome routine which they followed and soon they were packing and making their way back to the quayside.
All their college friends were in good spirits when they met up at the campsite on Paros. Shaun hadn’t seen Declan for quite a while. Their weekly squash games had stopped, since he had started studying for the Bachelor. Helen had travelled with Gerard and his friend from Galway and Anne had met them at the airport in Dublin.
“When do we get a chance to show them all our tango?”Gerard asked Caragh making sure to kiss her on the cheeks with a theatrical display of emotion before swinging her around and finishing with the typical tango head-movement.
Shaun tried to feign the merriment which seemed to come naturally to everyone else in the group, but he just wasn’t feeling it. He had pretended to enjoy the oppressive heat on Sifnos and now he was forcing himself to laugh like a moron at situations that he found silly rather than funny.
Now he had been relegated to the position of moody onlooker, as Caragh and Gerard lapped up the attention and admiration. Caragh had been asking him for ages to do a dance course with her and he had made one excuse after another. She had gone ahead without him and now it felt like she was enjoying rubbing his nose in it. He could have perhaps dealt with the dancing, but the exaggerated displays of affection were just too much.
He got into one of his terrible black moods, sulked the whole evening and emptied glass after glass of the cheapest poor quality white wine, which did nothing to lift his humour.
An hour or two later, he left the toilets and couldn’t bring himself back into the crowded tavern, but instead made his own way back to the tent. Caragh could share a tent with Gerard , he thought in anger, knowing at the same time he was being unfair and his jealousy was unfounded and ridiculous.
Caragh arrived about an hour later, finding him buried in his sleeping sheet, pretending to be sleeping. She made as much noise as possible and when that was unsuccessful, shook him roughly.
“Why did you go off?” she demanded.
“Why don’t you stay with Gerard, if you find his company so great?” he retaliated.
“You’re not jealous are you?” she asked, her tone making it obvious that this idea amused her, infuriating him even more.
“Maybe we should just end it here,” he heard himself saying.
“How did I get here?” he asked himself, knowing that this certainly wasn’t the way he wanted to do it.
“I didn’t want to say anything until we came back from Greece,” he started. “I’ve met someone in Germany and I can’t get her out of my mind. I love you or I thought I did, but I just can’t fight against this feeling.”
“Where does that leave me?” she asked.
“I wish I could answer that, Shaun replied, but at the moment I am no use to you.”