And then there were two. I think I said that this fortnight would be a bit trippy in the weird sense of the trip word. After two weeks with my brother here I was in the company of a stranger more than half my age.And a beautiful young woman to boot. What could go wrong?
The first four days flew by. We were like brother and sister (only born 44 years apart (poor mum). The scenery rolled by as did the hours. On day one visited Noto and another beautiful place I can't even remember the name of (Avolo possibly) and finally entered Modica like two triumphant tourist warriors riding our good steed - an almost new Peugeot 208 into the wilds. Modica was magnificent. The town sweeps up on both sides of a deep ravine with the main street dissecting it along what would have been the riverbed. We decided to stay two nights. Why rush away from heaven?
And then the mountains beckoned. Piazza Almeira via Cas..........nore (my memory is perfect). to a small B&B run by a hyperactive but enthusiastic host, Salvatore and his beautiful extended family. Nicky fell in love with Georgia, the three year old daughter who led her a merry dance ending at the donkey enclosure. (Salvatore runs programs for school kids with his thickly coated rust-coloured quartet: Marisa, Fulvia, Luna and Fiamma.
Nicky became entranced by the family and the notion of returning some day to work there.
Forming storming norming and transforming. You might be familiar with that sequence. Everyone who does leadership training gets introduced to these phases of team development. It has application at the personal level as well. Three days in and we were still getting on. Each morning I would ask: "Are you okay? Are you up for another day in my company? Shall we continue the adventure?" and each day we chose to go a little further along the road. Our understanding was that either of us could call the experiment off at any time at our discretion. I was committed to arriving in Palermo at the end of twelve days. I had no option but to continue. I had a plane to catch.
Something changed at the end of day four. Not storming exactly but the transition towards "norming" hit a speed bump. In Agrigento, in an apartment perched high above the "Valley of the Temples" overlooking the sea we faltered. I was loving every moment of the journey. Nicky, unbeknowns to me, was getting a little jittery. She was faced with another eight days stuck in a car with this bloke who wanted to talk about life and books and history and I think she suddenly sensed that it might just be a little too much. Maybe her impetuous nature had led her into a blind alley.
Nicky has a bit of gypsy in her. She hails from Kent in the UK, has been living and working in Syracuse for the past year. She's a singer; writes her own songs, and doesn't like to be tied down. There was the gypsy bit and there was the money. We were doing it pretty cheaply but it was still costing 40-50 euro each night between us. There was the cost of the hire car, petrol, meals etc etc. and being young and footloose she has been working largely for her meals and accommodation in a restaurant in Ortigia. She often gets paid nothing for long days. The "Work Away" system where young travellers get offered work for no pay seems okay in the short term but is flawed when people become staff rather than volunteers.
That Thursday evening we went out for a meal, laughed a lot, got excited by yet another Sicilian town with night life and vitality, wandered the laneways and went to our beds; but not before I read her some of my novel and she returned the favour with a song. Lovely innocent young girl that she is, she paid me the biggest compliment by thinking I was reading from Lampadusa's "The Leopard." If only! Nicky then sat up half the night stressing, texting her sister and friends for advice and going over and over the budget in her head and she couldn't make it work.
I added to the confusing mix by suggesting that the storming norming forming framework might be about to move us to a new level (though I didn't use those words). What would we be talking about in three days times I wondered out loud. Where would our relationship get to in eight more days of close quarter travelling? Why had a young girl of 21 been so trusting of an almost complete stranger I asked thinking we were at a point where we could explore these "big" questions? I was concerned for her safety. Not from me but from herself - her willingness to trust. I think that contributed to planting the seed of the idea that I might just be a serial killer she had inadvertently agreed to travel with. Steve from "Wolf Creek"
Next morning she was gone. Not literally but she had left mentally some time during that night. Over a pathetic breakfast provided by our host who had the hide to suggest we give his apartment a 10 out of 10 rating (it was good but Salvatore had set the benchmark with home baked cakes for breakfast, freshly squeezed orange juice, fruit picked that morning from his orchard and espresso coffee (all for the same price).she announced that she was returning to Ortigia. I was gobsmacked. How had this happened? I had become dependent on her as my navigator (she had tthe iPhone I had a paper map). In my mind we had formed a bond. How would I survive? She was quite clear. 'You'll survive. It'll be great to explore Sicily by yourself' I heard her saying. Fuck me - that wasn't part of my plan. I wanted company. Travelling alone can be great but at times it sucks. 'We had an agreement' she reminded me, and walked out the door without even looking back.
To be continued.