For nearly two years, we have lived in Orihuela Costa, on the Costa Blanca in Spain, among a cocktail of nationalities. Last September, when my son was celebrating his seventh birthday, his Dutch friends brought round a girl from the next road who looked Malaysian. She stayed and had a slice of cake. Her older sisters who came to collect her were introduced as Norwegians. I later learned that their mother was from Kuala Lumpur and their father from Iran, but the family – they were called Bigdely – had become Norwegian citizens and lived there for years. Now they were making a new life in Spain.
On 2 April, Shila Bigdely, the oldest girl, was murdered on her way to school. She was rushing down the road because she was late. The clocks had gone forward that week, which meant she had to cover a very short distance in the dark to catch the bus to San Miguel, a few miles away. There are good lights on the road but occasionally they don’t work. I was mugged further down Calle Nicolas de Bussi (named after a local sculptor of religious images) the year before, when a gang took advantage of the darkness.
Just outside our housing development there’s a ravine. Ravines are about the only areas that don’t get built on in the Costa Blanca property boom. Our ravine stretches across the last couple of hundred yards before we reach home. It is a part of our life. We walk, cycle or drive past it several times a day. On Saturdays, a market runs alongside it, where we buy all our vegetables and roast chickens. Occasionally, an opportunist shepherd puts his flock down there to graze between the housing estates. Afterwards small plants fertilised by the droppings – wild spinach, fennel, even an impressive henbane – spring up beneath the pines and carob trees. The last landmark at the end of the ravine is Chino Dragon, the local Chinese restaurant.
There are small No Tipping notices in English and Spanish now, but the land is still used for dumping rubbish. It is also used for walking dogs and many other purposes. When we first moved here, we had to wait a couple of weeks for most of our furniture to arrive. There was a huge Moors and Christians fiesta and several hundred folding slatted wooden chairs were rented out to spectators. After the procession, the damaged ones were chucked down the ravine and I salvaged five broken ones in order to make three good ones. They are still on my back balcony, painted a vivid bluey green. On another occasion, I found a large broken painted terracotta pot. It is now mended and contains a small kumquat tree. Just hours before Shila’s body was found, I had taken home a plank from this land hoping to make shelves for my growing collection of martial arts DVDs.
The ravine occasionally entered into my son’s bedtime stories. His favourite saga contains a massive cast of characters including three skeletons, 15 aardvarks, Quasimodo, Vinnie the Venus Fly Trap, Simon the Sundew and Pete the Pitcher plant. In my story, an old sofa that had been dumped beneath a tree became the aardvarks’ bed. The sofa has now been taken away by the police for DNA samples. I shall never tell a ravine story again.