The April afternoon was sunny and the temperature mild. She hadn’t been to Paris for some time, so she unpacked in a hurry and in no time she was leaving her hotel by the Arc de Triomphe. She was startled to see so many armed troops at the entrance but then she remembered the recent terrorist attacks and silently uttered a prayer – God, please let me enjoy this city I love so much, as I used to, just for this day.
She felt thrilled to be back. She had decided to treat herself to a pair of Roger Vivier shoes and walked the long way to Faubourg St. Honoré, the most chic street in Paris where all the top fashion houses were located. Anticipation did not stop her from enjoying the walk, basking in the harmonious architecture of the cream or light grey coloured buildings with their iron balconies, smelling the scent of flower shops and of pastries coming from the boulevard cafés, whose terraces were filled with Parisians enjoying the fine weather.
After receiving VIP treatment at the shop, she left with a beautiful, patent black mid-heeled pair and crossed the street to the nearby Ladurée, the most famous confectionery in Paris. As she sat down, looking around at the exquisite Art Nouveau décor, she sighed pleasurably – a slice of their delicious tarte tatin with crème fraiche, her favourite dessert in the world, was the only thing left to make that a perfect day.
But it was not to be, as the waitress informed her it was on the winter menu, no longer available until late September. She settled for an ice cream, a poor substitute.
Even so, she left Ladurée in great spirits, taking a taxi back to the hotel. She had to get ready. Tomorrow she would be attending a conference, and the organizers had invited a few of the participants to dinner. She didn’t really know anyone who would be there, but that is was very usual in business and, after all, they all had one thing in common – the sector they worked for. In addition, she never had any problems socializing, on the contraray. Speaking several languages, French and English among them, communication was never an issue.
She put on a smart but discreet dark green dress and, of course, her new shoes. My God, they were gorgeous, she thought. Another cab took her to the restaurant, where she was immediately taken to her hosts’ table, and warmly received by the conference organizers.
After she sat down at the table, a man came and took the seat on her left. He introduced himself, an Englishman, working for the hosting company. She told him she came from Portugal and he immediately said he had been to the Algarve several times. Always the same with Brits, she thought. They all seem to relate Portugal to the Algarve, and little else.
Conversation naturally flowed. They discovered they were both divorced, almost the same age – she was in her early fifties, he some five years younger – both loving parents, both in a second, long lasting relationship. He told her he was actually getting married that summer. They talked about their careers, their hopes, their dreams; then, out of the blue, he told her she was great at telling stories, why didn’t she write? She laughed, and confessed she was writing a book He said he would love to read it. Ok, she promised, I’ll let you know when I publish it.
It was a lovely evening outside and most of the attendees were staying at a nearby hotel. Gallantly, they walked her to the taxi stop, and on her way she could not help thinking how long it had been since she had had such an interesting converstion with a complete stranger. Looking back, she could not say he was handsome, but he was tall and slim, and his eyes burned with the fierce intensity of someone who is passionate about life.
The following day they exchanged pleasantries at the conference, exchanged cards and promised to stay in touch. She said she would drop a word if she went to London, and that was all.
Somehow they found themselves exchanging emails, that became more and more frequent. They told each other about the children, he mentioned how his marriage plans were going, she told him about her writing, the books she was reading… and then, one day, he simply stopped replying.
After a few weeks without news she worried he might have been taken sick or something, and wrote asking him if anything had happened. To her surprise, he replied, telling her he had stopped writing because he had began to feel too involved with the idea of her, looking forward to her news with a bit too much anticipation, wanting to discover more about her; something he felt was not fair to the woman he was about to marry. He told her he found her a beautiful woman, very attractive and bright; but he went beyond external appearance, saying he also found her extremely intelligent, thoughtful, highly independent, funny, a woman of great experience in the world, adding that chatting with her had been very enjoyable – too enjoyable, in fact. He was confused and thought the best thing would be to stop being in touch, but then she had worried about him and he simply had to open up to her. He ended by saying he hoped she would not be mad at him.
Now, she was not mad – rather surprised. Although she had really enjoyed meeting him and their conversation, the fact that she was in a relationship –albeit one that had seen better days – and most of all that he was getting married, had stopped any possible romantic notions invading her head. After all, she was not twenty anymore – neither was he. Still, she had to admit that, had they met in different circumstances, both of them free, something might have come out of it – there was undoubtedly an attraction, more than physical, intellectual and maybe even emotional, but as things were her practical self would not pursue it.
She wrote back to him, saying she was not mad; on the contrary, she felt very flattered that he paid her such compliments, such as she hadn’t heard in a long time – too long, really. His words had felt so good. Still, she said, there was no reason for them not to continue being friends. Sometimes, she added, you meet someone that, if things were different, might come to play a very special role in your life. But many times you can’t, or you won’t, change your life, and this little spark may turn into a good friendship, and not be lost entirely. It has happened to me before, she wrote, and we have managed to stay friends. Why not us?
So, friends they stayed. They kept in touch over the years, not as frequently as before, but still shared news about their lives. He told her about his wedding, and how happy he was, and she felt happy for him too, even as her own relationship soured. They even met once again, for lunch in London, and it was bittersweet, the meeting of two friends who might have been something more had they met at the right time. But no regrets.
For a long time, she knew nothing about him. The long pandemic winter came, almost making people forget about distant friends.
When her book came out, she told him about it, but no reply ever came. This time, she didn’t insist, even if she would have loved him to read it.