• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 05
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A Portuguese Package Holiday

It was the kind of heat that made the soles of your feet flinch and dance across the concrete slabs like creatures possessed, that made the bluish white skin on your shoulders blush, burn, crisp in the time it took you to yank a t-shirt over your head, that felt like you had been shoved in the top oven of the Aga and had the heavy cast iron door shut on you for good. The kind of heat we didn't know existed 'til we ventured like squinty-eyed beings from another planet, from the shady depths of our single hotel room to the swimming pool around the corner. Three freckly musketeers, 12, 9 and 6, sick with excitement, clad in mismatched arm bands, our polka dot swim suits faded in the arse, parading to the pool under a scorching midday sun that threatened to zap us like ants under a magnifying glass, before we got anywhere near the holy water that might save us.

Day one of a precious week in the first land we had ever tread on that wasn't moist and green as a piece of soggy cabbage. Portugal, a country we had never heard of until our dad announced we were going on a second-hand package holiday our cousins were too good for. Maeve found it on the map and announced Ireland would squash into it 6 times. Aine's holiday goal was to make friends with a Portuguese black girl and be pen pals.

We were exhausted and parched as Jesus in the desert by the time the bluish tiles of the pool swam into our blurry vision like a mirage. We were not built for this climate, us Irish I realised, as a rogue bead of salty sweat stung my right eye. We were designed to thrive in drizzle and damp. I thought of the cool turquoise water that would soon envelop my body and struggled on. Finally we reached the entrance and I creaked open the rusty wrought iron turnstile, the other two squashing in behind me, squealing with excitement like animals about to be released into the wild. We had never swam in a pool before and the anticipation was on a terrifying par with Christmas eve.


A Portuguese Package Holiday

Maeve clocked it first, and her flushed face fell. 'There's no water', she exclaimed, looking like she had discovered a lump of coal and a mandarin orange under the Christmas tree. We stared at the desolate, drained, carcass of a pool. I felt thirsty just looking at it, thirsty and betrayed.

Aine began to cry and her ill-fitting arm bands slid off her wrists in defeat. There was a plastic donkey on the pool side, positioned as though to ward off opportunistic skate boarders who might re appropriate the pool for their own ends. 'Here,' I said, hoisting Aine onto his painted rump. 'Have a ride on Diarmad the donkey.' Her whinging escalated to a piercing shriek as the scantily clad bottom stuck to his scorching plastic back.