All four of us were advancing in single file and we had not stopped climbing. At the beginning I had put myself second in the line, just behind Marie, like I was super cool about it. That way, I had the sight of her hips right in front of my eyes. I told myself that would help me. And indeed it had done for about an hour. After that, even her pretty backside was no longer enough to cheer up the journey.
Now I was at the end of the line, and struggling not to get left behind. I have my pride. I’d rather die than admit to the trio of mountain tourists that I had had it up to here. My mother was right: maths wizards are not built for sport and vice versa. There must be some sort of contradictory process going on in the brain.
It was just that, yesterday, the maths wizard had met two girls and a guy in the hotel bar. It was four months since I had hooked up with anyone and it was driving me up the wall. So I told myself that surely the guy could share some with me. Of the two of them, Marie was the least pretty but she was his sister so I could be sure that with her the field was clear.
I had insinuated myself into their conversation which was about the walk they were planning on doing the next day. I really must learn to keep my mouth shut. At least a bit. What had come over me, telling them that I like trudging over mountains too? No doubt it was because I wanted to impress the young lady. The result was that they invited me to go with them. Just like that, I was delighted. But once underway, I just felt incredibly stupid. My shoes were rubbing like crazy. I was developing more blisters than I would have thought possible for two feet.
The brother and his girlfriend were walking in front now and they were beginning to get some distance ahead. At that moment, Marie turned round.
“Great! No problem!”
“Oh, do you always puff and pant like that when you’re not having any problems? You look more like a tuberculosis patient with asthma who’s just run a race! I was just about to call an ambulance!”
“Is it that obvious?!”
“Take a selfie and you’ll see what I mean! OK, let’s have a rest!”
As she said that she put her backpack down. I protested feebly, then gave in, exhausted and humiliated. She shouted to the others to keep going. Then she turned to me and sighed.
“Oh, you men, you’re so annoying! You’re as much a hiker as I’m a dancer! Wouldn’t it have been simpler just to say you were a beginner?”
“How did you know?”
She really did laugh then.
“I thought yesterday you were a bit too worried about it, but when I saw you turn up this morning with your crappy trainers! You can’t ever have gone walking in the mountains before without proper hiking boots. You must be really suffering!”
She had said that with a great big smile. And that’s when I saw she was much prettier than the other girl. Much prettier than any girl I had ever met.
“You’re so harsh. Not one ounce of pity!”
She was standing up and I was sitting on the edge of the path, pathetic. I was trying to get my shoes off.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. It’ll be worse when you have to put them on again. Unless you want to walk in your socks, of course.”
“You could carry me on your back.”
“I wouldn’t count on that, buddy!”
She took out her cell phone and called her brother.
“Hi, bro! Listen, I’m not feeling too good, I think I’ll go back down... No worries, a charming young man has offered to go with me. You carry on with Alice, see you back at the hotel later on.”
She hung up and put the iPhone back in her pocket.
“Thanks, Marie! It’s kind of you not to completely finish me off.”
“You’re welcome! But you owe me a meal at least. Do you feel up to tackling the path back down again?”
“No problem. It’s going down!”
“Don’t be too cocky, it’s worse going down. Your feet are not going to be a pretty sight, trust me. They’ll be seriously wrecked!”
“Shit! You must think I’m such a airhead.”
She smiled even more charmingly.
“You look like a lost dog. But I love dogs.”
She held out her hand to help me up. I felt slightly better. For a fraction of a second our bodies were touching. Her scent of sweat mingled with perfume exploded in my head.
“I’d rather you went in front,” she said as she stepped to one side.
“Why? Are you afraid you’ll lose me?”
“No, but you’ve been checking out my backside for the past two hours, so now it’s my turn!”
It did not hurt so much going down. But when we arrived my feet were covered in blood. My mind was too full to feel the pain. I decided she was the one when she came back from the drug store with the dressings.
There’s no chance of me telling you about the night we then spent.
Since then, I’ve bought some hiking boots and I have improved. I even carry our son on my shoulders.
We’re getting married tomorrow.
She has asked me to wear my old trainers, in memory of the good old days.
Translated by Wendy Cross