My Spanish was about as good as the policía’s English – which wasn’t saying much. Before he could sign and stamp the eight-page crime report he’d laboriously tapped out on his clunky old Amstrad I needed to prove that I was, indeed, the aforementioned female of said age, address and nationality. Reader, I couldn’t.
I’ve experienced many losses in my life: job losses, financial losses, human losses, weight losses, you name it, but one loss I hadn’t experienced until last February was the loss of my identity.
Once upon a time, in those halcyon, pre-Brexit, pre-Covid days, David and I had spent two glorious February weeks in sunny Barcelona, basking in shorts and t-shirts. We’d returned tanned, relaxed and raring to go.
‘Let’s do it again,’ I urged him, after a miserable, wet winter of hard work and ill health. ‘Recharge our batteries, only this time let’s go further south for even more sun!’
Ha, ha. Almost as soon as we stepped off the plane in Alicante we came down with stonking head colds. Then it started snowing. The weather was so unseasonable it was even featured on the BBC News.
Our glacial Airbnb looked out onto a modern church with a thirty-foot crucifix in its forecourt – somewhat disorientating for a pair of intrepid Buddhists. Determined to make the best of it, we decided to hire a car. As the bog-standard one we’d opted for had a flat tyre we were upgraded to a plush, techno-smart, brand-new car for free. Hopeful that our luck had changed we decided we’d risk a picnic by a lake we’d spotted on Google maps.
The moment we drove into the empty car park it began to rain. ‘ We’ll have to picnic in the car,’ said David. ‘But let’s take a quick peek at the lake, first.’
The lake turned out to be a boring reservoir. Drenched to the skin, we hastened back to the car only to discover one of the windows had been smashed and my handbag, (which I’d stupidly left under the seat), containing my passport, phone, driving licence, bank cards, purse and five hundred euros, stolen.
The old boarding card in my pocket wasn’t enough proof for the policía, who clearly suspected I was intending to make a bogus insurance claim. As he sat back in his seat, weighing me up, I furiously chanted a Buddhist mantra in my head. Eventually he shook his head, sighed and stamped the report.
My bank and the British Consulate also viewed me with suspicion and wanted to send notifications to my phone to confirm my identity. But I had no phone. I no longer existed. I felt like a persona non grata.
As we drove into Benidorm, where we’d been instructed to drop off the damaged car, I couldn’t help but admire the courageous 11am lager drinkers, thighs purple with cold under optimistic shorts. And as we drove away in our inferior replacement vehicle, I felt vindicated for having avoided, until now, this brash Spanish metropolis.
On our last day we discovered a colourful little seaside town called Villajoyosa (Joyful town). An antidote to Benidorm, it was, indeed, a joyful place. ‘Suffer what there is to suffer’ wrote the thirteenth-century Buddhist sage, Nichiren, ‘enjoy what there is to enjoy.’ And so we did. The langostinos and Rioja were as fabulous and as welcome as the sunshine.
The day after I returned home on an emergency passport the insurance company agreed to pay my claim in full. I added ‘loss of holiday I’d craved’ and ‘loss of identity’ to the list of life losses that, thanks to my Buddhist practice, I’d somehow managed to survive.
A week later I came down with Covid.