I first met Sjoerd at the house of an ex-pat (by the way all ex-pats for some reason are considered British – the others are immigrants). He was a bit hesitant to engage with me at first until he discovered that my parents were Dutch. We talked Dutch. Not that my Dutch is very good as my parents never wanted me to learn it. A useless language, my mother told me. Better to let it go, even though she and dad spoke it all the time so of course I picked some up. On this occasion I winged it and Sjoerd was impressed. We kind of became friends.
Over the years he told me his story in patches. His father was a priest, distant and judgemental so as a consequence Sjoerd turned his back on the church. He had a brother and twin sisters. One he was close to, but sadly she died of breast cancer at a young age. Apparently, I reminded him of her. When he was circa 21 he told his mother he was gay and she was very supportive. The same could not be said of his father.
Perhaps because of this he took off and explored the other countries of Europe. Once he arrived in a Scottish village and they thought he was David Bowie. He stayed there for a year and was treated like royalty. That he sang like an angel and played a mean guitar did not hurt.
After this he took to the seas, and sailed here and there, eventually landing in Spain. Not surprisingly this amazing country stole his heart. He settled, bought some land very cheaply, as it was then, and settled near the sea, just above, on a mountain. He was not rich, but life was cheap and good.
However, a change would come. Spain was booming, proving to all the doubters and sitcoms mocking Spain, that they were wrong. Joining the EU certainly was a lottery win. Tourism was super high – more than any other country in the world. Building abounded unchecked and new tourist developments flew off. The previous mule tracks that crisscrossed Spain were converted into roads with generous EU grants, thus opening a historically inaccessible country.
Sjoerd’s little property was purchased by Marina d’or for a small fortune. Suddenly he was relatively rich. He moved further inland and bought a mountain property of some 50 hectares, again for peanuts. He celebrated its wildness but still found time to visit Atzeneta for shopping and company. He drank a lot of beer, repeating his life story endlessly, and wallowed in his happiness again and again. The mountain either spits you out or embraces you, he loved to say. I knew what he meant.
I always enjoyed his company, although the conversation was truly one-sided, and I never could get over the total skinny-ness of him. Especially his legs. It was hard to imagine that he ever ate. When I saw photos of him in his youth I was stunned!
One day his brother came to visit with his wife. He confided in me, that Stuart was an alcoholic. His first beverage of the day was beer. All the same, he thought Stuart was happy and accepted his choices.
About a month later Stuart met me in a bar (where else?}. His brother had been very impressed with me and so now we were better friends than ever. Stuart had gone to a lawyer and signed all his land of to his neighbour as his brother was not interested in it. That is when I found out he had only one eye and the neighbour in exchange for inheriting the land, needed to ferry him up and down the mountain.
Sadly, that did not happen much, and as the years progressed, Stuart became even thinner. I always loved him, even if I heard the same stories again and again. He was super intelligent and totally eccentric. But I did notice a change. He stopped drinking, mentioning something about his bladder. I assumed it was to do with his prostate. I do not believe he ever went to the doctor. I never saw the neighbour anymore.
One night he did his weekly shopping and drove back home, way up the mountain, much higher than I am. He lost control of his Suzuki jeep and they tumbled down into the steep barranca below. His neighbour arrived, whether called or what I do not know. What I do know is that Stuart insisted he was fine and the neighbour actually let him walk alone to his finca.
The next day Stuart was found dead from a suspected internal haemorrhage though no one really knows. No further details were given. I was and am very sad. I feel that could have been avoided. But I will never know the truth.
RIP peace my friend. I hope you are in a better place than this world today. I am happy that you loved your mountain top, as I love mine. You never liked me taking photos, but the people who really cared for you, have told me to publish this – and here it is.