The month is June and she is spending a few days on the Algarve as she has done for almost as long as she can remember. She loves these first days on the beach, even if the wind still blows a little bit more than it should and the water temperature chills her bones when she dives in. She feels the warm sand under her feet and looks at the sea before her, at the waves that softly wash onto the shore. Around her she hears the voices of her family, her husband and children – now grownups – and their friends, but somehow, they seem to be far away; she feels detached from it all.
She grabs the book she is reading but her attention is drawn to a young couple walking by the sea. In the distance they look tall and graceful, her long hair flowing in the wind. They hold hands and sometimes he draws her to him and kisses the tip of her head, and they laugh and continue their walk absorbed in their love and happiness.
Long ago, she thinks, long ago it was also like that, for me and my summer love.
The boy from the North
It was one of those hot days when the sky was impossibly blue, and the sun reflected in the sea like a million stars. There was barely a breeze and it was stifling under the sunshade, so she had decided to get an ice cream. She had run to the beach bar (the sand was burning) and as she tried to regain her breath she saw him, leaning against the counter, like a Nordic god of the Viking tales she so liked to read about: tall, slim, his hair the colour of a corn field, his eyes a deep blue in stark contrast with his tanned skin. She was startled and pinched herself, for this amazing being actually seemed to be smiling at her! She even looked around to make sure this was the case, but found no other possible target to his smile, so she looked at him and shyly smiled back. In no time he was near her, saying ‘Hi’ and talking to her and she was looking at him and feeling as if she were in a trance.
It turned out he was not Nordic but German, but like most Germans spoke good English so it was easy to communicate. He told her he was spending holidays there with his parents and brother; in her turn, she told him about her large family and how they invariably came here to spend the summer in their holiday home. He told her he knew about her family – he had seen her from afar and very much wanted to meet her. She could not believe her ears – at fourteen, and under an easy-going and extrovert exterior, she was in fact a typical teenager with all the doubts and uncertainties of those “in between” years.
Over the following days they met on the beach. In the afternoons, when her parents went home, she felt more at ease and they went for long walks along the shore. They told each other many things about their respective lives: his in cold, grey, rainy Hannover and hers in the much sunnier and brightly coloured Lisbon. A few years older than her he was finishing High School whilst she still had a few years to go. He told her about his dreams to travel the world and said one day he might take her. And then she knew she was in love, with all the intensity of a romantic heart who is feeling such a deep emotion for the first time.
He made her feel loved too, and beautiful and desired. One late afternoon as they walked by the sea, he grabbed her hand and they walked hand in hand like two lovers. When they were as far from the world as they could be, he stopped and facing her pulled her to him. When she looked up at him in wonder, lost in that deep blue that attracted her like a magnet, she suddenly felt his face approaching and she knew he was going to kiss her. When he did, when she felt his lips touching hers and his tongue opening her mouth, she let herself be swept away by the sheer magic of that moment, only wishing it would last forever.
The souvenir of that first kiss stayed with her for a long time, even if many other kisses followed. They lived their love day by day, with the anguish of lovers who know they will soon have to part. As that fateful moment approached, she knew it would break her heart and told him so, but he promised their love would last and he would come back – if not before, the following year – to be with her again. And she believed him with all her heart.
Only love can make us go from absolute bliss to utter despair and that’s exactly what she learned that summer after falling in love for the first time. When he left she stayed on, for she and her family only left by mid-September, when they returned to the city to prepare for classes. She would go for long walks by the sea alone, retracing each step they had made together, and she would relive every word, every caress, every kiss, every moment they had spent together. And she cried, she cried her heart out, thinking how happiness could arrive in such a sudden way and then disappear so violently. She wrote to him and he wrote back, and she consoled herself hoping for a not so distant future when they might be together again.
A lifetime after
She wakes up from her dream of the past. She no longer sees the young couple walking on the beach, they have vanished from her sight. She wishes them the happy ending her story didn’t have. Every year he promised he would come back, but he never did. Year after year she cherished the memory of those holidays together, never wanting to let go of that dream in her head. Year after year she saw how her friends fell in love and out if it, how they went out and danced and thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and still she stuck to her distant love and hoped he would come. She lost her youth to him for she would not look at another, no matter how much everyone told her she was silly and losing the best years of her life. She didn’t care, and still she hoped, living for the moment when the postman rang her bell bringing that much longed for letter.
He never came. Finally, she had to accept that the beautiful story she had built in her imagination would have no happy ending. She buried it deep inside her and, at long last, decided to move on with her life.
“Darling? Are you all right?” – she turns her head and sees the smiling face of her husband of many years, maybe not the romantic hero of her youth but the man who loved her with a true, solid love, the father of her children, her lifetime companion.
She looks back at him, and brushing away the last souvenirs from the past, replies “Yes, darling. Never been better. Shall we go for our walk?”
He nods and reaches out for her. Hand in hand, they walk down to the sea, and then along the same path she trod with her first love a lifetime ago. She looks at her husband and he smiles at her, a smile so true, so full of love that it moves her. She squeezes his hand and looks ahead, the memories of her summer love fading away until they disappear.