Malta international airport, almost 7.30 am. My plane is boarding and as I join the line of passengers, I see a young couple embracing only a few metres away. As I approach I think they are both also boarding the plane, lovers who have come to enjoy a few days of holidays on this lovely island; then, as their ardent embraces continue, I sense the feeling of desperation that comes with goodbyes and understand they are enjoying their last minutes together before going their separate ways.
A hopeless romantic such as I am cannot fail to sympathize with lovers, and how well I understand the pain of saying goodbye to someone you love without knowing if you will ever see each other again… as I see them, still hugging, still kissing, totally absorbed with each other, alone in their very own world, my mind draws a picture of what their love story may have been.
They look very different from each other. She is tall, slim, dark skinned, with the figure of a model, her hair braided the African way. He is slightly shorter, medium built, with pale skin and short brown hair. Somehow, they seem to fit perfectly with each other. They may not be particularly attractive, but they have that special glow that love brings to people, making them all look so very special.
They must have met by the sea, I think, or then maybe not. Maybe they met one evening, at one of the many bars of St. Julian’s where young people get together to have a drink and enjoy these warm summer nights with a slight breeze and a sky full of stars. They must have walked hand in hand to the small sand beach on the way to the Corynthia Hotel and lain there hugging each other savouring the moment and wishing it would never end. They must have swum in the warm sea – 26 degrees Celsius, my friends told me – and played lovers’ games in the water and then felt the hot sun on their lithe bodies. I can picture them walking, arms around each other, through the old streets of Valetta, glancing at the traditional buildings built of yellow limestone with the funny protruding balconies painted in bright colours – mostly green in fact – and seeing the bluest of seas at the end of each street.
I dare say their walk must have finished on the terrace with the most amazing view over the Three Cities and the busy harbour, with a look over the sea that brought so many invaders to Malta, from Romans to Normans, and ultimately the British; they may have marveled at the fortified city of Mdina, Malta’s capital city in 1544, one of the island’s defense points, where the fearsome Knights of the Order of Malta, together with some 9.000 islanders, fought and repelled a Turkish invading fleet of more than 30.000 men.
I’m certain that someone on the streets will have told them about the heroic resistance of the Maltese people during World War II, when the island, then British territory, stood alone against its neighbours and enemies, such as the Italians who were only 90 kilometres away and heavily bombed the island. They certainly heard the legend of St Paul’s shipwreck on the island and they might have visited together a few of Malta’s many churches (one by 1.000 inhabitants), among them the unique Mosta cathedral with its beautiful dome and miraculous story; during the war mass was being celebrated there (the Maltese being a highly religious people) and a bomb was dropped by an enemy plane, falling inside through a hole on the roof. It was certainly supposed to explode, killing the many people who were inside but somehow it didn’t, and everyone said it was a miracle. A replica of the bomb can still be seen in the building as a reminder of that fateful day.
They may have seen all those wonderful places and so much more, but most important is that that did it all together, enjoying every minute. After sightseeing they would return to his or her hotel and make love and just stay there in each other’s arms in the soft light of the early evening, talking about their respective lives or making plans or simply saying nothing, trying to freeze time so that those days of holidays might go on forever.
Sadly, all of us who have lived through a summer love story know it inevitably – and soon – ends. Plane flights are ruthless, and we all have to get back to real life, after living a dream.
When the time for separation comes it’s hard. You look at that face you have so quickly grown to love and try to capture it in your mind as if with a camera because you know in a minute it will cease to be there. I look back at the two lovers and they are now walking away from each other in slow motion. They no longer touch but they can still see each other. Then he disappears behind a wall and she resignedly turns her face to the airline lady who is waiting for her to show her passport at the boarding gate. Now it’s truly over.
On the bus to the plane I can see her eyes are full of tears. She bravely fights them, but she is all sadness, the glow completely gone. My heart goes out to her. I know how she feels. Today, when she gets home (I wonder if she lives in Rome where we are heading for or of she is going somewhere else like me) she will break down and cry, she will let a flood of tears invade her and she will know that, were she granted one wish, one wish only, she would surely go back in time to the moment when they first met, so that she could live their love story all over again. Haven’t we all wished for it ourselves on the last day of a summer holiday long ago? Some things will never change.
Inside the plane I sit on my chair and look up at the girl as she walks towards me. Her eyes meet mine and I smile. She smiles back, a shy, sad smile and she passes me by. She’ll never know she has inspired a total stranger to write about her love story and her airport goodbye.