I lost my wallet, my black leather wallet with the impression of a lion rampant on it. It was entirely my fault, but as I was mentally beating myself because of the guilt, I yelled at my wife. I needed help. She was trying to help. I shouted at her and frightened the dog.
The wallet is important because it contains all the elements of my Spanish life. It is a complicated folding wallet with several distinct parts. Opened up, the back part is big enough to take a few euro notes. Never very many. I’m not a rich man so it doesn’t bulge with big notes. I can’t afford them. Above all, I couldn’t afford to lose them. Once, I spied a 500 euro note in a friend’s wallet. I’d never seen a note like that before. I vaguely knew they existed.
When the wallet is opened, a double sided plastic window reveals on one side my Spanish residency card and on the other my Spanish driving licence. These are vital documents here in Spain. They say who I am and what I am. It is as well to have them in order when dealing with officials in a strange language.
I was once stopped at a police check-point, waved down by an illuminated baton. Winding down the window, I looked into the eyes of the young traffic policeman. Seeing that I was a harmless old man, and a foreigner to boot, he waved me on. Good thing he didn’t smell my breath. I’d been out for a meal at my favourite Italian restaurant and the bottle of light Frascati had slipped down easily with my beloved pasta Vodka. Perhaps the garlic masked the alcohol. These traffic policemen scare me, because of their symbolism. The icon that boldly decorates their vehicles is the fasces, the symbol adopted by Mussolini and the Italian Fascist era, an icon I associate with the Nazi Swastika. I was a child of the Second World War. Some images are burned on my mind.
My driver’s licence gives me only two further years, before I need to re-take the aptitude and physical tests for a new one. The test is more or less routine, and therefore it terrifies me. It involves no road test if a licence is held already. Specific centres are licensed to conduct driving aptitude tests: vision, blood-pressure, reaction. As my cataracts have been removed, I can actually see what I am doing. My typically high blood pressure is pill-controlled these days. It is the rolling road machine and the tunnel test that bother me. The rolling road is a bit like a tired old gaming machine. The road image veers from side to side indiscriminately, a road-rumbling noise as it veers. Two handles control two places on the road. Off track, a warning buzzer sounds. The first time my wife and I took the test together, the man controlling the test said she did better than me. I’ve never been allowed to forget it. She got five years on her driving licence. I’ve taken the tunnel braking test twice and still don’t understand it. The moving car disappears into a tunnel and the person being tested has to judge when the car reappears by braking before it crashes. I always over anticipate but presumably pass.
My green residency card is another problem to me. Lost, it would have been an even greater problem. It states that as a citizen of the European Union, I have the right to live in Spain indefinitely. British, I am no longer a citizen of the European Union. A new residency permit needs to be applied for: a routine matter on production of the previous permit, a current passport, some complicated completed forms and a bank certificate confirming that the fee has been paid; not at all a routine matter if the previous residency permit is lost. Our visit to the foreigners residence police station is on Tuesday. The appointments have been extremely difficult to secure. A lost residency permit would have invoked cancelling those appointments.
In the past, I have lost bank cards. Residing in the black wallet is a goodly collection of bank cards. There are two for British banks. One of those banks has just informed me that because of Brexit, that card and its banking facility is being withdrawn. There are three different, activated, legitimate cards for my Spanish bank account. I am not sure why there are three, as they all refer to the one current account. I’m assured that each is necessary, as each refers to a different feature of the account.
Additionally, the wallet holds any number of very useful business cards, my car emergency breakdown card and my rather pretentious Poetry Society membership card, a membership which must be renewed imminently. Everything gone. Bereft of identity. Penniless in the absence of bank cards. Panic stricken.
I had gone to the local garage to buy a new gas bottle. Our hot water system is gas fired but on our urbanisation (a Spanish term for community of dwellings) there is no mains gas. Periodically a new gas bottle is required. At the garage, I paid with a 20 euro note from the shiny black wallet. It is shiny from age and use, because it is me, rather than my wife, who does most of the paying-out in our household. The new gas bottle is safely installed, despite a struggle with its weight. We have hot water.
Towards the end of the day, my wife graciously agreed to going to a nearby bar for a nightcap, exercising the dog at the same time. I had made supper. She had washed up, although I had washed and put away most of my cooking implements while cooking. By now, the sun had set behind the mountains. We have glorious mountain-silhouetted sunsets. Enough cash was left in the wallet for one drink each. But where was the wallet? The last I remembered, it had been used paying for the safely installed bottle of gas.
It was in none of the usual places. Frequently careless places. Not in my bag. Not on the dining room table. Not slipped down the side of the armchair where I had been sitting. Adrenaline began to flow. Panic set in. Coming downstairs from getting ready to go out — a colourful dress by Desigual, her favourite Spanish designer — my wife began talking about something routine and trivial. It was not me that shouted at her. It was my panic. How could she be concerned about something so trivial when my whole life was about to be turned upside down? It was a loud shout. The dog cowered and shot upstairs to hide.
In the dark, I went to search in the car. The wallet was not on the floor outside, although there was a wallet shaped leaf that needed to be kicked to make sure. Not in the boot where I had secured the gas bottle. Not on the driver’s seat. Not in the side-pocket. Not slipped down between seat and pocket. Nowhere to be found.
‘Let me try,’ my wife said. ‘Where are your car keys?’
I’m afraid I shouted again. Even more loudly. The dog had still not put in an appearance. I’m certain that the neighbours were now listening in to the row. The wallet was not on the driver’s seat. She did not find it in the side pocket, nor down between the seat and the side pocket. She too, kicked the leaf that looked like a wallet.
‘No good,’ she said. ‘I’ll go round the other side.’
I knew it was no good. I settled gloomily to the idea that the wallet was gone, and I was going to be faced with documentary complications. I knew there was no point in going to the passenger side. I hadn’t been there. Mentally, I complied the list of things I would need to do to recover my finances and identity. Worst of all, would be the cancellation of the police residency appointments that had been so hard to book. The night-cap drink that the bar didn’t matter any more. I could get miserably drunk at home.
A quiet voice came from the passenger side.
‘Yes. I was sitting on it.’
After buying the gas bottle, I had put the wallet on the front passenger seat as I drove home. In my search, in the dark, I could not see it.
My wife set off for the bar by a circuitous route with the dog. I went directly there. Steve, the cheerful barman — the ever-cheerful barman, despite his recent 1500 euro fine for having no car insurance — heard my poured out tale of guilt and sorrow and regret and shouting and mental wife-beating. Not forgetting the dog-scaring. He heard the same tale when my wife arrived with the dog shortly later. The dog said nothing but allowed Steve to stroke her. They are familiar friends.
It was Steve that did the healing. He told my wife about my regret and my guilt, my anxiety about wrongly berating her.
She smiled sweetly. We sat outside. The stars shone in the clear night sky, Pisces huge and yellow to the North. In the distance Santa Pola lighthouse flashed its safety over the Mediterranean Sea.
As we sipped our comforting drinks, I was left to reflect on my guilt of old age, of panic and the joy of my wife’s good nature.
Thank you Steve. A big tip with the bill.