The island of Malta rises like a deluxe paving stone from the water, south of the Tyrrhenian Sea. More southern even than Sicily and North of Africa’s Europe-facing coast, it is hot. The air is alternately dry and humid, waves of wet and dry heat confusing the senses. We arrive at around three. The brother and sister next to me listen to music on their iPhone 4 handsets using the white headphones that they come bundled with. They leak sound and remind me of a group of scientists reading results from the Large Hadron Collider on an Etch-a-Sketch, in candlelight. I drift into lulls of sleep from the heat and the vibrations of the plane.
My cab driver insists I sit up front with him. There is a wallet on the back seat. He either doesn’t hear me or ignores me but we drive on, at speed. Cutting through the traffic, he tells me he has a son in Manchester. “Rain and wind,” he says. As we come into Valetta and St Julian’s Bay, he spots a friend of his and guns the engine, overtaking on the outside, then relaxing and his friend undertake on the left. “My friend,” he says, laughing, and his playfulness lifts me. The heat is incredible. It is 36 degrees and rising.
Corinthia Hotel resembles a Tenerife resort, oddly out of place among the jagged rocks of the coastline and the serene yachts going slowly past in the sparkling sea. I eat in an air-conditioned American bar and restaurant called J. J. Beans. It could be anywhere. It is loaded with semiotics, I wryly note. Nicolette, my waitress, has English that sounds American. She is extremely good-looking, tan, and neat.
I eat, and half-finish a watery Diet Coke with ice and a slice. Upon leaving, I’m confused – why is there mayonnaise on my headphone jack? The suntan lotion has spilt into my bag, over everything I am carrying. My mood has already been ruined by an autistic text from _____ blethering about my umbrella (it turns out not even to be mine). She is infuriating. I sit and compose a reply and marvel at the solidity of the veggie wrap. It really is quite something. I then wander, aimless, and realise: I could care less about the text. Fuck the text message. The sensation washes through me and I am the sensation and then, it is gone. The sun, fat and orange and lazy, goes down over Valetta and up go the lights. A cabaret act starts up. I turn the TV on and they are trying to sell me erotica. I turn it off and the band are playing ‘Your Song’. I hope you don’t mind – I hope you don’t mind – that I put down in the words.