The next few days were divided between writing, reading and running about the gorgeous hills, fields and sea shores of my beloved Scotland, though my introduction to the heather hills was not entirely tranquil. Every morning I would hear small feet patter up the stairs towards my room and a small face with mischievous blue eyes would peer around the door before hurling herself gleefully onto my bed. I loved my little cousins from the first instant I heard their shy hellos. An outspoken six year-old took one long look at me before declaring, “You can’t be my cousin! You don’t look like her!” How could I explain a time change of five years and multiple hair colors?
This certainly wasn’t to be the last misunderstanding in our new-found friendship, but I very quickly became a favorite commodity, essential in the playing of games, braiding of hair and the occasional settling of arguments in the absence of stronger authority. “Lai-na! She’s not being fa-ir! If Mummy were here, she would let me have it!” But despite my new occupation as entertainer, umpire and conveniently situated babysitter, I still found plenty of time to explore the shallow pools and rocky cliffs of the sea weed-strewn shore before finding a comfortable rock and gazing out to sea in blissful silence, my thoughts winging as far as the seagulls that made their raucous presence known around me.
A few days of relative peace, and I could once again feel that twinge, that longing for excitement and adventure that running across a dark field during a rainstorm didn’t quite satisfy. A trip to “town” -a small village, 45 minutes’ bus ride away- was in order, and I made my plans accordingly. Bright and early the next morning, I boarded the bus with my cousins -it also doubled as the local school bus, an admirable expedient, I thought- and we bumped our way around hills and through thickets on a road that for a small car would have been close fit, but for a 25-seater seemed suicidal.
After bidding goodbye to the two unenthusiastic scholars and a few highly excitable moments involving a milk truck and post van, two stone walls, an iron gate and a curious cow, I arrived, shaken but unscathed in the little town of L—. Realizing very quickly that four streets, two pubs and several dubious gift shops were all that the town could boast of, I quickly enquired my way to the library, only to find that, in the tradition of small establishments, it was only open on afternoons and Sundays. I checked the time. 10 a.m. Sighing, I looked about for sudden inspiration. Nothing. So, for little better to do, I aimlessly wandered the streets. One hour later, I emerged from a nickel-and-dime shop with yarn and knitting needles. I don’t really know what possessed me, because I can’t stand knitting. Maybe it was an intense urge to overcome the fear of utter boredom as I executed the same stitch over and over again, my repetitive labors only rewarded by a bafflingly crooked and misshapen object.
Whatever the reason, there I was in my long skirt, tam-o-shanter and Argyll sweater, feeling like gui’ ol’ Scots lass, knitting bag swinging freely, and conspicuously, from my careless hand. After some deliberation, I decided to repair to the nearest pub for some kind of fortification until lunch-time. In passing the bus stop, I noticed two of the best looking boys I’d seen all day -not saying much, considering most of them were safely in school- and the darker, shorter one even reminded me a bit of the nice boy from the hotel, I smiled reminiscently as I walked by. I had a little trouble remembering where I had seen the place so took the scenic route and who should I meet at the door but the two boys from the bus. Hmm, this could get interesting!
Walking into the darkened room, lit only by a few flashing lottery games and a couple of dubious lights, I could see both the bartender and the few ancient customers looking askance at me. Ignoring them, I settled myself and baggage on a comfortable couch, ordered tea, and whipped out my journal for a comfortable hour of catching up with a long-neglected friend. Meanwhile, the two likely lads passed me without a look as they headed straight for the pool table. Their interest became evident however, when they took turns peeking around the corner during the game. I closed my journal and threw caution to the winds. “Can I play winner?” “Sure!” After losing spectacularly to both of them and some friendly chatting, I received my second offer for a night out on the town.
Inwardly grateful that I didn’t have a cell phone, -doesn’t hurt to make them work for it, I thought- I took their numbers and said I’d look them up on Facebook, (and I meant it this time!) I couldn’t help thinking, rather amusingly, that this was becoming a trend. No more need of phone numbers, just a quick people search on the big FB and hey, presto, a new friend or drinking buddy! All too soon, they had to dash for their bus, so I offered to play the next guy who had been hoping to get a turn. One look at his face and I knew I’d found a character. Sporting multiple tattoos, an eyebrow ring and a long scar that ran across his nose and cheek, -“a misspent childhood” was his only explanation, I thought a badly-aimed beer bottle would’ve been more accurate- he was the epitome of the type of guy any mother would have run from screaming. Short and tough with a unmistakable swagger, a missing tooth, and an accent that could cut a knife, all that was missing was an eye patch and a cutlass, and he could’ve walked right out of the pages of Peter Pan. Even an occupation of “fisherman” suggested high seas and a rap sheet.
His “beginner’s luck” held out for two games, but he met his match in an off-duty chef, a sweet older guy with a tendency to flirt and buy drinks for pretty girls. After playing the acknowledged master and losing…again -not saying much at this point!-, I had a bright idea. I bet my tattooed friend he wouldn’t be able to beat his nemesis just once. He immediately response, “Ok, what’ll you bet?” “Not money!” I replied, thinking of the small amount of coins jingling in my pocket. “Alright,” he grinned mischievously, I got a bad feeling, “how about if I lose, I get nothing, but if I win…you have to go out on a date with me!” Whoa. I walked right into that one, didn’t I? Aw, loosen up, it could be fun!”Ok, I’ll take that bet!” And he gleefully began planning our date, “When I win!” In view of the consideration that someone could stand being taken down a peg or two, (and, he was a leetle outside of my age range!) I asked his opponent very nicely to burst his bubble of gloating expectation.
My self-acknowledged champion graciously did just that, joking that he was the one that deserved the date now, to which I laughingly replied, looked pointedly at his wedding ring, “Considering that your children are probably older than me, that might not be the best idea!” Anyways, “Scarface” ends up sulking on the couch, whining about how I am a tease and muttering darkly in a very green-eyed fashion, to which I laughed heartlessly and continued to play pool with the winner who, with the help of some blatant cheating on, allowed me to win a few games! I even played my disgruntled friend once more to make him feel better, though since I actually won that game, I doubt if it actually helped!
I also allowed him to walk me to the bus stop, but not before he tried to give me his number. I felt a bit mischevious, so I handed him my notebook, deliberately turned to the page with my growing collection of numbers, -including one cheeky old man!- and told him to find space where he could! One look was enough, and, just to be contrary, he signed only his first name and putting a few kisses by it, explained that if I wanted to find him on Facebook, I would “have to look”. Oh-ho! I smiled, jealous much? On the way to the bus, he tried to flatter me into going out with him anyways. You know the drill: “you’re gorgeous and I would do anything to date you!” I couldn’t help laughing in his face, he sounded so ridiculous. The poor guy must have felt pretty sore about losing, though that was more probably due to the claim that I was the first girl to “bum him off.” Looking at him, I doubted it.
He even invited me to another pub to get “sloshed”, saying he was a “nice guy” and would “drive me home.” My reply? “Why should I trust someone who has to tell me he’s ‘nice’? Besides, it’s stupid for a single girl in a foreign country to go off with a guy she barely knows!” And just to pour salt on the wound, I said we “could be friends” but I “really shouldn’t have agreed to the bet as he was too old for me and not exactly my type.” I don’t think he’d experienced a set-down like that in quite a while. He made one last attempt, saying that he at least deserved a kiss as recompense. “Sorry, I’m saving that for someone special.” “Couldn’t I be someone special?” “I don’t think so. Bye!” And so he wended his lonely way to the pub across the street while I boarded the bus and spent the rest of the ride home divided between laughing over my adventures and mentally going over the lessons I had learned that day: don’t take a date as a bet -unless he is young, good-looking and has all his teeth-, always carry cash and never drink alcohol on an empty stomach!