As I look at the three of them coming out of the pub laughing, screaming and falling over each other, I smile. Einar looks around the street for me, but I make no effort to confirm my presence. As Peter whispers in Isa’s ear, and she doubles over laughing, a sudden wave of affection fills my heart and I know then that the trip to Malaga is not going to be about the Moors, nor the sea, not the history or the sightseeing. It will be about the four of us.
Let us go back a few hours in time.
Or maybe first, let us tell you a bit about Malaga. Seville, Granada, Malaga and Cordoba form the four major cities of the Andalusian region of Spain, and it is these cities that the Moorish empire most left their mark on. The city is in the Costa De Sol region, an area that is renowned for some of the prettiest beaches of the Mediterranean. The rock island of Gibraltar lies a stone's throw away, and if you have a really strong arm, the stone might cross over and land prettily in Morocco. But if you are not Hercules, Hulk Hogan or me, and still hell bent on having your stone in Moroccan territory, you can hop on a ferry. It will take about four hours to cover the distance.
How I educate you all. Must start charging money soon.
Right, let us now go back a few hours in time.
Coughing and sniffing, I got down from the bus that brought me from Granada to Malaga. It was 8 pm, and the sun was still shining brightly in the sky.
I called up Isabel, the Couchsurfer whom I was going to stay with in Malaga, and she gave me directions to her house. Moments later, she messaged to confirm if I had understood the directions. I replied saying I would not really mind if she came galloping on a horse, picked me up in one sweeping movement and carried me to her abode. She asked if all Indian males were as macho as I.
I liked Isa, even though we had only spoken online. Right from the first time I had mailed her asking if I could stay with her, she had been cheery in her replies. I had a feeling we would get on well.
Twenty minutes later, I rang her bell.
Her house was every bit as welcoming as her. Another Couchsurfer had already been staying there for a few days. “Einar”, he said and there was no doubting the baritone. “Nero”, I replied in the deepest voice I could muster. “Wine?” quipped our pretty host.
We spent the next two hours just the way three strangers meeting for the first time should… drinking wine.
And some more wine.
Somewhere along all this drinking, Isa and Einar told me that at eleven pm, they were going to pick up one of Einar's friends from the airport. I declared, between sips, that Indians hic love picking up people, err fromsh airports and stations, not bodily, so I shwould go too, hic hic!
As the clock struck what it was supposed to, we ran down to the car. Einar insisted that Peter was a fun guy, an absolute character, and it was our duty to play a gag on him at the airport. After sharing several inane ideas, we came up with a plan. Earlier, we used Facebook to identify Peter Castenback.
On arriving at the airport, Isa and I rushed to the receiving gate, while Einar hid behind a pillar close at hand. A camera was positioned strategically to capture the whole scene.
A number of men walked passed us, heading for the exit. A few women streamed in. Some dogs bounded by. None looked very similar to our man. A man walked in our direction, to his family standing next to us. The two young children, both below 7 years of age, fell all over his legs, trying to hug him, and the wife looked on with happy tears. He kissed her, and kissed again while the son tried to lift his heavy suitcase. It wouldn’t budge. The daughter was stuck onto his right arm, wanting to be airborne. She was crying, though maybe, just maybe she was too young to understand pain or separation. For a minute forgot our shenanigans and smiled at the reunion.
Suddenly, Einar hissed from behind the pillar. A gangly figure was approaching. As he neared us, he resembled the man we had seen on Facebook. But wait, what was he wearing?
Right before Peter would pass us by, Isa stepped forward and launched into her speech, as per plan. She insists that Einar has passed out in the house and therefore we have come to receive Peter. The man nods. He is then told that he can accompany us only if he dances here, in the airport.
What would you do in such a situation?
It is my turn. I tell him that I was made to go through the same ordeal, that because I was an Indian, I had to do the kuchipudi to enter Isa's house, that Isa has unusual artistic fetishes. I sound quite rueful. Maybe I should try become an actor.
Would you have danced? In front of two foreigners you have never met or spoken to before? In front of an entire airport? In a strange country, a strange land you are visiting for the first time? Would you?
Peter Castenback would. Our strange request does not faze him at all. Instead, he grins and tells Isa, "Well, you will have to join me then." Isa looks surprised, if not shocked, but before she can come up with an answer, Peter has spread out his arms and has pulled her into a waltz. Before I can collect my wits, he has started to sing a Swedish song. Loudy, for the entire airport to hear.
Isa sportingly follows his lead, and there they go waltzing around the airport as the clock strikes midnight. Peter is in his element, twirling and waltzing her around as if he has been doing so for years, as if he knows her for years. I am trying to appear nonchalant, as if I have been looking at strangers dancing in airports all my life.
I move back, and look at the man closely. He is wearing a coat that was part of a suit once, but under that there is no shirt, only a vest that he has probably worn for a week. Where the coat ends, and it was rightfully a trousers’ right to occupy position, there are a pair of shorts. Far below the hairy knees, there are white socks, and pointed black shoes. His hair is tousled and he wears thick spectacles which could pass off as fashionable. From his left ear, sprouts a feather. A blue feather.
Peter Castenback. The man with a feather for an earring.
Minutes into the performance, Einar bursts out from his hiding place and we all start laughing. The two Swedes hug and clap each others' backs just as all men who are bosom pals do.
We settle into the car, and before the suitcase has been out in the back, Peter brings out a bottle of wine. In the twenty minutes that it takes to reach Isa's house, we are taking large swigs from the bottle, I face a barrage of questions about India, Isa is accused of inviting men over only to see them dance, and Einar is on some alpha Viking trip where he keeps going "oiii" at random people walking on the road, the sky, and surprised dustbins.
We go back to the house to put down Peter's bags. He announces that he would like to change his attire, and before we are halfway close to mouthing 'certainly', he has pulled down his trousers all the way down to his ankles, and we have no choice but to know what Swedish undergarments look like.
We spend the whole night hopping from one pub to another. We dance with random people, we speak to random people, and we forget those people. Around 4 am, I step out of a bar and sit on a kerb on the opposite side of the street. Maybe to clear my head, maybe to feel some fresh air, or maybe just to soak in the moment. A girl whom I have seen inside earlier is standing near the bar. Facing me, she does one of the dance steps that I had been doing, and laughingly says something in Spanish. I don’t understand her so I smile. She smiles back, waves and goes down the road.
I would have stared at her walking away, had it not been for my friends bursting out of the bar. As I look at the three of them coming out of the pub laughing, screaming and falling over each other, I smile. Einar looks around the street, to find me, but I make no effort to confirm my presence. As Peter whispers in Isa’s ear, and she doubles over laughing, a sudden wave of affection fills my heart and I know then that the trip to Malaga is not going to be about the Moors, nor the sea, not the history or the sightseeing. It will be about the four of us.
The next day, Peter, Einar and I had breakfast together. Earlier, Isa had already bathed and left for her father’s house. Towards noon, Einar and Peter left for a seaside village where they planned to surf for a few days. Surf, not couchsurf. Strangely, even though we had only spent a day together, I felt I would miss them.
Isa and I spent the evening talking and made plans to go to a concert and a beer festival with some of her friends. When we reached the venue, she wondered if Einar and Peter would have liked to be there too. We called them up and the lazy louts said they would, and if we would be kind enough to pick them up.
Isa being Isa, that brilliant woman who really should have been a boy, turned the steering wheel and off the two of us went in the middle of the night to pick two Swedish men we had only met a day before. Half an hour later, after getting lost and then finding our way, we turned into the street of their hotel. The two were standing outside with a crate of bottles. When they saw the car, they jumped up and down and screamed as if they were two little boys and not the thirty plus year olds that they were; hugging us as soon as they got in.
I don't know if I shall ever see the three of them again. Maybe we were meant to meet only once,or maybe they will come to India some day. But that trip to Malaga, it was about the four of us. Isa Per Mar - that lovely girl who welcomed us into our homes and hearts; Einar Norstedt - the alpha male always for a challenge; me; and Peter Castenback - the man with a blue feather for an earring.