You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.
We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.
Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.
Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as lead once ingested.
Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.
We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.
That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.
Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.
Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.
‘I’ve done something awful.’
‘You haven’t cancelled him?’
‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’
It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of Leo’s family tree….his half brother.
The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.
Twenty plus years younger than Leo.
Last sighted over twenty years ago.
Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.
Well, not shortly.
We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.
The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.
A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.
Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.
The dogs bayed cheerfully.
The person shuffled.
The dogs bayed again….
‘Well, come in’ said Leo.
‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…
He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…
The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.
Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.
He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.
As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.
Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?
He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.
Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.
After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.
He was at my shoulder in a flash.
No condiments! I will be ill!
So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…
I dished up.
Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…
He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.
Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life
I left them to it while I washed up.
Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?
Had he seen any of the sights?
Yes…the Teatro Nacional…nothing special..
Museums? Pre-columbian gold? Jade? Contemporary Arts?
What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…
Pity he missed that experience…
Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.
‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.
Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station
‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’
‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’
Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.
‘Can you give me directions?’
‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’
Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…
They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.
Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.
It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.
As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.
He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.
Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.
Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.
By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.
‘What is in the sauce?’
Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.
‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be ill! It contains gluten!’
Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.
He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.
Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.
He beamed at me.
Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?
Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight
While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.
How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.
Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.
A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…
Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though, he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting. An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.