hg: A Scandal in Valencia

A few years ago, before the flying ban, Naomi and I popped down to Valencia for a week of tapas and sun.

We stayed in a friendly hostel hidden away down a dusty alley. Our room was on the fifth floor so we got a decent workout from climbing the stairs each evening. Plus the church bells across the street provided a vigorous alarm clock.

We spent our days gorging on local food and wandering around the city, seeking shade and admiring the architecture. Some days, to escape the hustle and bustle, we took a bus to the beach and swam in the sea.

However, our happy routine was interrupted one day by a most singular event.

We were sat outside having lunch, basking in croquetas, patatas bravas and beer. The restaurant’s tables backed onto a cobbled street lined by tall, stone buildings. Pedestrians ambled along and stepped aside for passing cars.

About the time we ordered a second round of beers we noticed two men in white vests emerge from the building next door carrying stacks of documents. They flung the papers down onto the street in a haphazard pile and went back inside to fetch more.

They worked slowly and steadily, sweating in the midday sun, until the pile had grown to the size of a small car. I continued to watch them, curious as to what the documents were about. Presumably they were being left for collection. Was a business closing down? Were old archives being shredded? Evidence destroyed? The building from which they were emanating held no clues.

After the last stack had been deposited, the men stood in the doorway and smoked a cigarette each. Then they retreated inside.

Passing pedestrians started to take notice of the pile and peered at the top layer of documents. They seemed concerned about the unattended material, sharing grave looks and mumbling to each other. Clearly these documents held sensitive information.

Among the onlookers was a well-to-do middle-aged pair. One of those fancy Spanish couples with perfect tans and fashionable clothes. The woman had bouncy hair, perfectly manicured nails and matching lipstick. Her husband wore slim-fitting chinos and suede loafers without socks.

They stood reading a few of the papers carefully, clearly immune to any sense of intrusion. The more they read the more agitated they became. They spoke quickly and looked around for some kind of explanation. The two workmen had not reappeared.

The couple began accosting people and waving the documents at them, eager to share their frustration and build a gang of concerned citizens. Their victims looked troubled. A few hung around but most walked off. Mr and Mrs Diligent stood their ground, determined to do something, albeit unable to work out what that something might be. They settled for shaking their heads and talking loudly. The woman even got her phone out and launched into an animated conversation with some helpless listener.

The atmosphere of the whole street had changed by now. People seemed on edge, as if anticipating some dramatic climax. Everyone in our restaurant was watching expectantly. A few fellow diners went over to look at the papers and returned with dark expressions.

Due to linguistic shortcomings, Naomi and I didn’t have a bloody clue what was going on. Going to look at the documents wouldn’t have helped and we were reluctant to ask questions, lest we become embroiled in a foreign scandal.

What if a van had turned up to collect the documents and the driver was confronted by this angry couple and their supporters? Depending on how sensitive these documents were, it could’ve been ugly. Perhaps anyone near the scene would’ve been implicated. We decided to finish our croquetas and get the hell out of there.

We paid the bill and left, although I’m sure the restaurant staff were too engrossed by the unfolding scene to care about our money. As we walked off I glanced over my shoulder a few times, convinced I would see a blacked out Mercedes come screeching to a halt next to the documents and masked men leap out to disperse the crowd with baseball bats.

We strode back to our hostel and climbed the stairs to safety. An hour of indigestion followed. Long lunches and speedy exits don’t mix well.

Once the cramps had subsided we spent the afternoon discussing theories and checking local news websites for sensational exposés or reports of gunfire. Needless to say, nothing was ever heard again of the scandal in Valencia.