Irene headed down the winding street to the doctor's office. Too punctual, as she was, but she didn't care. She was starting her new life that day.
A seaside town, touristy, but not too touristy. Small, but not tiny, quiet, but not dead. That's what her friend Carmen, who had been living there for four years when she married her current partner, had told her.
She sat for a few minutes on a bench that overlooked a viewpoint, high above the town and from where she could see the most touristy area, with the hotels and hostels, restaurants, the short promenade, as her friend proudly called it, and the beach. To one side, the fishermen's harbour, where there were no more boats, she assumed they were all out fishing.
Yes, the place had promise and for those people who wanted to start a new life, away from an ex”boyfriend who never wanted to make a serious commitment and who was now going to be a father, it was perfect.
She sighed in annoyance. Ten years of putting up with the same guy, the last three living together, making plans for the future. She didn't want to be a mother right away, but she wouldn't have minded. According to her own progenitor, at thirty”eight it was too late, but those were tales of previous generations. But that was the least of her worries at the moment.
She had taken a big, risky step. Leaving her flat, her environment, her friends who, after so many years, were shared, yes, and her job as a nurse in the hospital, where there was a chance of promotion... to come to this small place and work in the paediatric area of a small surgery, the only one there was.
“And what was I going to do? “he said to himself as he continued to walk down the cobbled streets. The houses were white, with high balconies that were beginning to be covered with flowers, announcing that spring was near.
No, she couldn't do otherwise. His own friends would have to choose, even in the hospital, where his ex worked, also as a nurse, there would be bad blood. The best thing to do was to retreat to a place and start again. He had never been too scared, and when Carmen told him that there was a vacancy and that it had not been filled for several months, he said to himself that this was an opportunity.
And here it was.
He entered the clinic, greeting those in line for the tests. In his town, there were usually lines of twenty people or more. Here, there were only four. The nurse, a lady who looked like she was about to retire, greeted her.
“I am Irene García, the new nurse”.
“Great, Irene, it's Beatriz. Please change and come over here”.
Irene was surprised, but she didn't care. As all the health centres were similar, she quickly found the changing room and changed. She went to the analysis area. There were now about eight people. Beatriz was working efficiently with the difficult veins of an elderly lady. He pointed her to the station and she, after sanitising her hands, began the work.
When they had finished, Beatriz accompanied her to the coffee room. There were two doctors there, a man and a woman. The man was quite young, I'd say fresh out of his internship, and the woman was somewhere in between.
“Dr Pedro Sanz, a paediatrician, and Teresa López, a general practitioner. There is another doctor, but he is on holiday. You and I are the only nurses at the centre».
“I'm so glad to have a nurse at last”, said the kindly doctor. Irene looked at him in surprise “ what was a man like him doing there? He looked like the kind of man you'd find in a big hospital, tall, handsome and with a big smile.
“We may need you at any other time," said the doctor, "we tend to do everything here.
"No problem," said Irene, "that's what we're here for".
"Well, in ten minutes we'll start the consultation," said the paediatrician and left the room. The doctor followed him and Carmen invited him for a second coffee.
"There's nothing unusual here, but in summer, when it's full of tourists, you'll probably have to work longer hours than usual, but they pay for it. The doctors are nice. Pedro has only been here a few months, we don't know why, just like you, I don't know why you came here from a big city.
“Will it be all right if I tell you that a great disappointment in love?” Irene replied, knowing that she had to tell him something.
“Oh, I'm sorry, Irene. I'm divorced and in the summer I have a great time, this place is full of retired German tourists and you can't imagine how much fun they have. I'm sure you'll find someone...
“Leave it, Carmen. Right now, I don't want to know anything about men. I've had enough of the ballast I've left behind.
“OK, let's get back to work.
Irene went to the paediatrician's office. It was a bit neglected and the pictures on the wall looked a bit old. She said to herself that, as she loved painting and was not bad at it, she would ask the head of the centre if he would let her decorate some of the walls with bright colours, perhaps dinosaurs or little animals.
He went into his office and checked everything with precision. The previous practitioner had left everything well prepared. He checked the patients he had for the day and there were half a dozen. A few stitches from a fall, some baby vaccinations, and then, the odd one or two. It was going to be a quiet job.
The doctor came into her office to see if she needed anything and she said no, that everything was fine. She wanted to see a hint of sadness in his eyes, but he immediately smiled. Irene didn't think anything of it, but it intrigued her.
He peered into the waiting room, where there was a little girl, about six years old, with her father.
“Aitana? “he said and the girl jumped out of her chair. The father stood up and she looked curiously at his appearance. He was a rather tall, broad-shouldered guy. His hair was short and he was clean-shaven.
“Are you the new nurse?”, said the man.
“Yes, my name is Irene”.
“Hi, I'm Aitana and this is my father, Daniel. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Aitana, please," he said, blushing, "forgive her, she's very curious”.
“Don't worry,” she turned to the little girl who had already sat down on the stretcher and was showing her leg, with a rather large bandage on it. “I don't have a boyfriend, since you ask. And how did you get this wound?”
Irene uncovered the dressing and discovered that she had at least twelve stitches in her skinny little leg. It must have hurt like hell.
“Because I went on the swings standing up, even though my yaya tells me not to do it a thousand times, but I wanted to see if I could turn around”. He looked at his father, who was very serious, "but I won't do it again. I have promised”.
“It would be a shame if you fell and broke something and had to stay in a cast all summer, Aitana”, said Irene, and the girl opened her eyes and thought.
A woman entered the consulting room with a flushed face from the race. She was a brunette. Irene stared at them both. Aitana was blonde with blue eyes. She didn't look like either of the parents.
“Esme, you didn't have to come”, said Daniel uncomfortably.
“I wanted to accompany you, you know”, she said, stroking Aitana's hair, who paid no attention to her.
Irene continued to treat the stitches without saying anything.
“There's one point that worries me because it's not closing properly. Mum or dad should look at it every day”.
“She's not my mother”, said the girl so calmly.
“Oh, I'm sorry. Well, if you want, you can bring her in in the morning, even if you don't have an appointment, I'll take care of her, because that spot isn't closing properly. It might get infected”.
“If I can't bring it myself, because of work, my mother will”, said Daniel. And thank you very much.
The three of them left, Aitana jumping up and down so happily. It was clear that she was a lively child and that they should be very vigilant with her. The father looked worried, although he had the impression that it wasn't the first time it had happened, but he had something and his girlfriend, it was clear what it was, didn't seem to connect with the little girl... of course it could be his imagination.
The morning passed more or less peacefully and it was soon three o'clock. Irene went out, satisfied with the work she had done, and as a first day and because she had basically nothing in the fridge, she said she was going to take a walk around the restaurants in the area and treat herself. She had rented a small flat near where Carmen lived and in the afternoon, when she came out of her office, they had arranged to meet up to catch up.
The sea air brought a pleasant smell and there was not too much commotion on the beach. He wanted to take off his shoes and walk along the sand, which he would soon do. The sea was calm in the background and some retired people were strolling along the beach.
He continued walking to the restaurants, there were several, still serving the Spaniards who were eating late, the Europeans had finished, so he asked a friendly waiter and sat down on the terrace, between sun and shade and with a wonderful view of the sea.
“Would you like to try our seafood paella, madam?”, said a man in his fifties, tall and strong.
“Yes, thank you, that's fine. And a glass of white wine”.
Soon he was served a glass of wine and some olives to wait and he sighed. He didn't know if living there was going to be too quiet, but for the moment, it was wonderful. His mother sent him a message to see how his first day was going and she replied, sending him a picture of the place. She promised to visit him as soon as she had a holiday.
The paella was served and as soon as Irene tasted the first spoonful, she closed her eyes and stood still. The waiter approached her, concerned.
“Are you all right? Are you all right?”
“Oh, yes, yes. It's just that... I've never tasted such delicious rice”.
The man laughed.
“I was scared. I thought I might be allergic to something. I'll tell my brother, who's the cook. It's always appreciated”.
“Yes, I can tell you that I have never tasted such loose and flavourful rice. I've just moved here, and I think I'll be coming here more than once”, she smiled.
The man thanked him again and left for the kitchen. After a short while, a man in a white jacket and a cook's hat approached the table.
“I wanted to know who was the person who liked my rice”, he smiled, “and I see it's you, Irene”.
“Oh, Daniel, it is really amazing”.
“That's good. I'm glad you liked it”.
“More than that, you're an artist in the kitchen”, she said, causing him to falter, “oh, I'm sorry. It's just that I love to eat, well, eat well, of course, and when I taste something that's really good, I get excited”.
“Of course, of course”, he said with a broad smile that made her heart pound a little harder, “if you like stew, I usually make it once a fortnight”.
“I'll come often, of course, but I can go for sport now”, she laughed.
“There is a hiking route that climbs up to a hermitage. It's all uphill, but the scenery is worth the effort. And if you like it, there's a cycle path”.
“I don't have a bike at the moment, but I will try the route, thank you Daniel”.
“At your service”.
The man went into the kitchen and Irene continued to enjoy her meal. What a pity he was engaged. She'd thought he was a great guy and a great cook to boot. All the good ones were taken.
He said goodbye after a small argument because he was not allowed to pay as it was his first meal, but he was grateful and promised to come back.
She slipped off her shoes and walked across the sand, feeling the dampness on her feet, the gentle breeze ruffling her wavy hair and becoming more and more convinced that she had made the right decision.
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