I had come to Tenerife for a school friend’s wedding, but she’d headed off on her honeymoon and now I was free to do whatever I wanted. I made my way to the roof terrace to drink coffee and answer emails. An Austrian man and a German woman had just met and were chatting up there, which meant I got to use my party trick: interrupting them in decent German. German speakers always startle like nervous thoroughbred horses when someone unexpectedly speaks their language. And sure enough, they were excited about it, which was gratifying, because I’d already cultivated a crush on the Austrian man, who had kind eyes and good cheekbones. I told them about living in Berlin and trying to write things in German and he explained he was taking the summer off to travel the world—he’d never left Tyrol—and maybe learn Portuguese in Lisbon.
After breakfast, the German woman stopped by my room and asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with her. OK! I said, and grabbed my things. We had to run across the beach to find a place to put our towels—the beach at Puerto de la Cruz is made up of black sand, too hot to go barefoot.
I lay on my stomach and started reading a Swiss magazine. The introduction was braggy, explaining why the issue I was reading was such a masterpiece of high-quality journalism. But my eye snagged on the list of regular contributors. One of those listed was Claas Relotius, the writer who’d been at the centre of a journalism scandal last Christmas. He’d been a staff writer at Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s most respected newspapers, until it emerged that he’d invented large chunks of most of his articles. It seemed nuts to me that this very serious magazine would want to show Relotius off as a contributor, so soon after the big scandal. I mentioned this to the woman, who shrugged. I’ve never heard of him, she said.
After a while, we went to get tapas and wine. On the way to the cafe, my companion talked about how she’d had her legs waxed before she came on holiday. She’d done this even though she thought it was silly that so many women still felt compelled to remove hair from their bodies. I told her it was definitely silly, but I still felt like a swamp monster if I didn’t shave my legs and at a certain point, the energy required to battle the standards you’d already internalised felt like a lot to invest in something that was, in the grand scale of things, relatively unimportant, when compared to global warming or something. Comparing anything to global warming, she replied, made whatever you were comparing it to seem trivial.
Over very cold white wine and garlic prawns, she proceeded to tell me some very personal things about her last few years. Perhaps subconsciously responding in kind, I found myself confiding to her the gorier details of a long-term illness I’d battled with ten years ago. Later I would wonder why I had told a near-stranger things I’d never dream of telling even my close friends. It wasn’t as if I could easily assume we’d never see one another again, the condition that often makes rapid-fire holiday intimacy possible. She lived in Erfurt, a couple of hours from Berlin and it wasn’t impossible that we’d run into each other one day in Germany.
After sleeping off the wine on the beach, I returned to the hostel. I’d bought some beers from the supermarket, and now I settled into my bunk bed with my headphones and the first season of The Bold Type and cracked one open. The series centres on three beautiful best friends working at a magazine. I found it best to treat it as a sort of wildly inventive sci-fi show about New York media; although it was theoretically set in the present, none of the problems that seem to plague online publications in this era seemed applicable to Scarlet, the show’s fictional magazine. None of the characters seem to work late, be impoverished (even the one financially insecure character celebrates a promotion with Marc Jacobs pumps) or be anxious about work or job security.
While I was watching, I got a text from Laura, a Spanish friend I’d made at Gemma’s wedding.. She wanted to know if I fancied coming to a couchsurfing meeting that evening. It would be on the other side of the island, but she would send a friend to pick me up by car if I fancied it. Sure! I said. Twenty minutes later I was in her friend’s car, speeding across the coastline as the sun dipped closer to the sea.
I’d been expecting a mix of locals, new arrivals and backpackers. Instead I found a close-knit band of friends—and me. They had spent the last four years meeting every Tuesday. They knew every last detail about each other. All possible flirtations, rivalries and sexual partnerships had been exhausted. They were ravenous for new blood.
It seems to be customary in the Canaries to be so loud that you speak over your friends at the same time they’re speaking. I’d never had four people pepper me with questions simultaneously. Local boy Ivan had once lived in Cologne and was excited to practice his German. Eva was from Dresden and only spoke English with her Tenerife friends. Daniel wanted to speak English, but could only comfortably communicate in Spanish. Patrick was German and kept switching between Spanish, German and English, line by line. I started to sweat. The wineglass at my elbow kept magically refilling.
Saying I like attention is like saying fish are partial to water: I mean, I once got David Bowie’s haircut in Labyrinth out of my own free will. But for maybe the first time ever, I had more of the stuff than I could comfortably handle. I tried to escape to the toilet for a moment to collect my thoughts but there was no lock on the door and two Spanish girls burst in and then burst out again in a flurry of apologies and laughter.
On my return, I discovered I’d somehow managed to miss my ride home with the man who had brought me; he had left early to tuck his daughter in before she fell asleep. Don’t worry, said Laura, laughing at my expression. Fabian will drive you home. Fabian seemed in absolutely no hurry to leave, lining up two tankards of beer in front of him.
I felt too sunbaked and braindead to negotiate multiple conversations, and succumbed to my lowest form of behaviour: flirting aggressively. I find paying people very intense compliments usually makes them a little shy and abashed, and so I managed to carve out some breathing space by telling one talkative man he was the most charming person I’d ever met, telling another he had the soft brown eyes of a young George Clooney, telling Daniel I would return to Tenerife next year to make him a proposal of marriage, etc. etc. Nobody knew quite what to make of all this. By the time Fabian was ready to go, the group was collectively a little dazed and red in the face. They promised to send me photos of their group picnic via Whatsapp later that week. The man I’d said I’d propose to suggested we Skype. Staying in character, I blew everyone kisses as I exited.
By the time Fabian pulled up at the hostel, the door was locked. But it was only 12:30! I thought. I didn’t have a key and I hadn’t known there was a curfew. There was a medieval style metal knocker on the door and I now thumped this against the wood. One of the men who worked at the hostel opened the door, bleary-eyed. Hey, did you have a good night? I said, overcompensating for my rudeness in waking him up. He made a regal gesture, swatting my question away wordlessly, and retreated to bed.
I fetched a glass of water and made my way to the roof terrace alone. I settled on the sofa, looking out at the lights of the city in the distance, and exhaled for what felt like the first time that day. Then, setting the glass on the floor, I lay back. Before I knew it, I had fallen into a dreamless sleep. When I woke up on the sofa the next day, I would already have a weird sunburn.