Afternoon cycle ride by Robert Fear
Ibiza, May 1977
As I set out on my cycle ride, the streets of Es Cana were busy with pale-faced holidaymakers exploring their new surroundings. I almost collided with a couple who looked the wrong way as they crossed the road.
The hire bike was a boneshaker, and as I headed out of town to the west, the road surface was uneven. The ride became rougher, and I swerved to avoid potholes. Shocks vibrated through the handlebars and I lost my grip twice. Despite this, the breeze in my face and the sun on my back felt good.
Roads twisted and turned as I followed the coast around Punta Arabi and through the outlying villages. I passed pine tree fringed sandy beaches and caught glimpses of the sea. New tourist developments dotted the coastline, in between the traditional houses, shops and bars.
After a while I came to the dusty main road that ran from the north of Es Cana. Cycling westwards towards Santa Eulalia I soon found myself in the main square where I had changed buses when I first arrived from Ibiza Town in April.
My parched throat led me in search of a drink. Opposite the Guardia Civil offices, I spotted Fred’s Bar and decided it was a good place to quench my thirst. With the bike propped against an outside wall, I walked into the gloomy interior and blinked after the bright sunshine.
At the bar I ordered a draught beer. As I stood and sipped it, I glanced around and saw groups of men sat at the wooden tables. English was the main language being spoken, and the newspapers were days-old copies of The Sun. I felt out of place amongst the rustling of papers and whispered conversations.
Chalked on a board was a small menu of English food. I ordered Shepherd’s Pie with my next beer.
‘Take a seat at that corner table and I’ll bring it over in a few minutes,’ commanded the gruff Yorkshire voice from behind the bar. I assumed that was Fred.
‘Cheers mate,’ I smiled and walked over to the seat he had indicated.
Sat on the hard, wooden chair I placed my drink on the table.
I looked up and saw a man limping from the bar. A large glass of whisky and ice almost slipped from his hand. Without a word he slumped down opposite me. He shouted greetings to others but ignored me. His voice was slurred, and he had a distinct American accent.
My food arrived, and I dug into it with a vengeance. The cycle ride had given me a good appetite. As I polished off the plate, my table companion burped and glanced towards me. I smiled at him and he grinned,
‘Looked like you enjoyed that.’
‘Yes, it was great,’ I replied, ‘have you tried it?’
‘No man, I’m not into food much, I prefer this stuff,’ he slurred and pointed to his drink.
He pulled out a pack of Camel cigarettes, flipped back the top and offered me one.
I accepted it and gave him a light. We both took a deep drag on the rough taste and exhaled plumes of smoke. He moved closer and I could make out a mass of scars on his face and arms.
‘Do you live in Santa Eulalia?’ I asked, ‘you seem to know lots of people here.’
‘Yea man, been here ages now. Came to Ibiza in ’73. I’ve got a small apartment just outside the town, overlooking the sea.’
I looked at him with curiosity, ‘so you work here then?’
He threw back his head and laughed. All eyes turned in his direction as the raucous laugh subsided into chuckles.
‘No man, I’m pensioned off from the Army. I was in Vietnam. Halfway through my second tour I got blown to smithereens and was lucky to survive. They shipped me to the States, filled my body with metal and stitched me up. I was in hospital for months and still go there twice a year for check-ups.’
My jaw dropped, and I looked at him with a new respect. He continued,
‘The climate here helps my aching bones, and the booze is cheap. I’ve made friends, although most of them think I’m crazy. I suppose I am sometimes!’ he mused.
‘Did you want another drink?’ I asked him, to break the momentary silence.
‘A large bourbon, with water and ice would be great, thanks man.’
Back at the table I clinked my glass against his. ‘Salut!’
We chatted a while longer and I told him about the work I was doing. His eyes glazed over. He nodded as I talked, but I sensed his mind was elsewhere.
‘I have to go now,’ I said, as I stood up and offered my hand.
‘Nice talking to you man, all the best and hope to see you again.’ He gave me a weak handshake from his seated position.
‘Yes, me too, my name’s Fred.’
‘I’m Michael, or Mike, also known as Mad Mike by my friends. Take care on your ride back to Es Cana.’
He waved over as I headed out of the door.
The bike had fallen over, but it was still there. I had not thought to secure it two hours before when I entered the bar. I figured it was safe parked opposite the police station.
With a slight wobble I set off along the main road towards Es Cana. A car came straight at me and I had to swerve. Out of habit, I had started out on the left-hand side of the road. With a wrench of the handlebars I switched to the right and just avoided a collision.
That could have been nasty!
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