I stood on the beach feeling the chill as the wind rose and caused my wet clothes to flap. I looked down at my soaking shoes, my jeans sticking to my legs. I felt the arm of my jacket cling to me as the water drained down my sleeve, streaming from the cuff, and I watched as it cascaded on to the sand below. That was when I became conscious of a pair of feet standing next to mine.
I raised my eyes and realised I was being studied in my discomfort.
'Water's cold, isn't it?'
'Look! I'm soaking wet thanks to you!' I said to the penguin who was now standing beside me, looking me up and down.
'And your waterproofing doesn't work either, does it?' he implied.
I demanded that he get back to his own kind and, walking rapidly back up the beach with water squirting from my shoes, I hoped sincerely that the concierge would still be away. Preventing visitors from trailing seaweed and sand through the building was exactly what she was paid to do.
The retaining wall at the edge of the road was about three feet above the beach and, although there were no steps at that point, an outcrop of rocks provided me with a convenient exit.
What exactly did I feel as I looked back and saw that the bird was now running up the beach after me? I was too wet and cold and the salt water was stinging the cuts on my hand too much for me to feel pleased by the persistence of the penguin. However, the sea wall was too high for him to scale so once he understood that he couldn't follow me I was sure he'd have no option but to find his own way back to the sea. I would have to force myself to adopt the impartiality of wildlife photographers and resist interfering further – there was simply nothing more I could do for him.
Pausing only to allow a car to pass, I crossed the road and turned towards my apartment block. I glanced back. There, on the opposite side, was a penguin scaling the rocks and walking towards me.
'Stop!' I yelled, at both the penguin and a speeding van as it hurtled down the road towards us, but the driver didn't hear me or see the penguin. I dreaded a bump as it passed. None came. Once the vehicle had gone by, there was the bird, walking across the road. Without wasting another second, I rushed over and picked him up. He was soaking wet and felt very cold.
'What am I going to do with you?' I asked.
I was reprimanded by that nagging voice in my head again: 'I told you, seabirds can't survive in the water if you wash them with detergent!' Why did it sound so like my mother?
Carefully, I put him into the bag, folded the top over and, holding him against my chest for warmth, walked through the glass doors into the building.
'Oh! Señor, whatever has happened to you? Are you all right?' asked the concierge, who seemed genuinely concerned as she came out from behind her desk, looking at my wet clothes and the blood dripping to the floor from my hand.
'I'm afraid I slipped by the sea and fell in. I'm fine, really, no bones broken. I just need to have a hot shower before I catch my death of cold.'
'Did you fall from the rocks? They are slippery. Are you sure you didn't hurt yourself badly?'
'No, I'm fine, thank you, really! Absolutely fine. I just need to change,' I said as I manoeuvred round her. My shoes squelched and left sandy puddles where I stepped. I was anxious to get away quickly before she came fussing around me and discovered the penguin. 'Oh, I'm sorry about the mess! I'll clean it all up just as soon as I've changed.' Without waiting for a reply, I rushed up the stairs.
'Leave it to me, señor,' she called after me. 'You go and have a hot shower!' Of course, it was a different concierge on duty. Perhaps not all the fates were against me.