Jane read the headline and felt a cold and clammy sensation even though she didn’t know the girl in the article or even the places mentioned. Somehow she felt the article was related to her, that maybe she was connected in some strange way to the events depicted within. She dismissed her thoughts for craziness and wild imagination and continued to sip her coffee. The canteen was busy and she watched all the students queuing up for cheap food. She detected at least four languages, she loved doing that, listening and trying to figure out what everyone was saying. Most of it could be guessed at by their body language and gestures, last night’s parties, who is shagging who, that dreadful exam, failure, success.
Alfonso sat down beside her, too close for comfort as usual.
“¡Hola Bonita! ¿Que tal?”
“Hola Alfonso, Muy bien ¿ y tú?”
She politely replied but returned her focus to the paper before he answered, hoping he would get the message and leave her but of course he didn’t, persistent, to say the least.
Her friend Amy breezed in and slammed herself down on the bench in front of Jane, nodded at Alfonso and rudely began to converse in English, knowing he wouldn’t understand, hoping he would move. She offered her a cigarette, Lucky Strike, she had a packet of them on her all the time since they arrived. Jane declined, her hangover wouldn’t let her stomach one.
“Thought you were heading off on a road trip with the three amigos”
“No, I thought better if it, sure really, I hardly know them.”
“Oh?, thought they were your best buddies, great craic, party animals.”
Jane could detect the jealousy in her friend’s voice. She understood where it was coming from, she had abandoned her for the past month to party with the lads. They were wild and exciting. Free. Like everyone else here they only knew each other since this first semester started. Sean had arrived along with the girls on Erasmus from Ireland, not from their university but they were all lumped together so they hung around giving the impression they were friends. Pierre arrived from France. Enrico was different. He was a bit older, ran a bar in town, knew all the haunts and where to get everything. She had enjoyed the last month, the fun. She had even toyed with the idea of maybe hitching up with Pierre though he showed no interest. Enrico was the one pursuing her attention. It’s always the wrong friend. She sighed.
“What’s the sigh for? Think you’re missing out on something great? I think you finally did something right by not going. You’ve been on a right binge since you met them. They’re not good for you. I don’t trust that Enrico anyway. What’s he doing hanging around, befriending students, being all best buddies with them. Bet he does the same every year. Those lads idolise him, hang on every word, do every crazy thing he asks them to. They haven’t made it to one lecture, and the way he looks at you is creepy, like he would like to devour you. How can you stick it?”
Jane felt uneasy.
“Sure they all do that around here, you have your own stalkers” she replied.
Forgotten by them Alfonso let out a snort. He may not have understood the conversation but he knew Enrico.
“¡Joder, chicas! ¡Enrico es un hijo de puta!”
He stormed off.
“Whoa, someone doesn’t like Enrico!” Amy laughed.
“He probably thinks you do. That’s the end of one of your stalkers now anyway though at least he is a nice one, more of a gentleman than creepy Enrico. So, Where were they heading? What big adventure did you miss?”
“Valencia, they were going to Valencia. They probably just wanted my grant money to share the petrol costs. It’s a long trip.”
“Maybe, or maybe something more, one girl and three lads she hardly knows. I’m glad you didn’t go. I was worried all weekend, like, did you hear about the missing student from Madrid? Not a word, disappeared, not a trace. “
” I know, I was just reading about her. God her parents must be frantic. She’s not even Spanish, here on Erasmus like us, from France. Hey I think she was from the same uni as Pierre, must ask him about her.”
They both went silent, knowing they had taken quite a number of chances themselves this year. Being away makes you feel you can do what you want and they did.
“Let’s go, maybe we could make it to a lecture today for a change.” said Amy.
They left the canteen and life carried on with parties and adventures.
Much later that year Jane was sitting in a bar with Sean, on his own without his buddies. She wondered why he had asked her there, they hadn’t talked in a while.
“You’re alone more I notice. Have the three amigos split up?”
“Funny, Oh I just had to cop on, work to do y’know.”
“You never told me how the Valencia trip went. I’m sorry I didn’t go.”
“I’m glad you didn’t . I’m glad you stayed here.”
Jane didn’t know whether she should be insulted or not but Sean didn’t seem to want to talk anymore about it so she let it go.
“Did you fall out?” she asked after a few minutes of silence, longer than she could ever bare.
“Like, I haven’t seen Pierre in ages and you never go to Enrico’s anymore. You used to prop up the bar there.”
“Oh, Pierre is gone back. He was only here for the one semestre.”
The silence returned.
“None of this is real Jane. Nobody cares about anyone here. It’s all a game. Do you know why I asked you here tonight? Of course you don’t, you trust everyone. I’m meant to get you drunk and bring you to him. He doesn’t take no well you know, look. “
Sean opened his hand and showed her the pill he hadn’t dropped in her drink.
“I don’t care. He can do what he wants. It’s over. My life is over.”
With that, he stood up and left. Jane sat there stunned. She threw back her drink and ordered a double. Enrico, no doubt. She had rejected his advances a little too often for the arrogant bastard. The news came on the TV screen over the bar as she waited for her order. Her spanish had improved a lot since she had arrived here so she quickly translated it in her head.
“New leads on the missing student. The police are looking for witnesses to identify three men in a blue ford fiesta, one Spanish and two foreign, maybe French and British.”
Jane dropped her glass to the floor.
“Irish, not British” She whispered.