She was ten. Only a girl, little more than a child, really, but she liked to say she was a “pre-teenager”. She knew she looked older; she was tall, with long legs and her brown eyes shone in her cinnamon skin, tanned by the tropical sun. She had long, straight dark hair that came to the middle of her back and a ready smile.
She was full of romantic dreams; in a time without television the evenings were long and she read. She always had a book on her bedside table and she enjoyed beautiful heartrending love stories the most. From Tristan and Iseult to Romeo and Juliet, from Wuthering Heights to other forbidden romances like Lancelot and Guinevere’s; she read them all and dreamt of one day finding her knight in shining armour, someone who would sweep her off her feet and love her and make her happy for ever after. She knew it would come one day, so for the moment she dreamt on.
She had many boys as friends. She was a sort of tomboy, in fact. She ran faster than all the girls so she liked to race the boys, and she often won; she was a good swimmer, rode her bicycle very fast and loved to go up the huge tree in her garden and just sit there on a branch looking down at the world below. She played with dolls as well, but preferred to be outside, under the eternal sun. She also went to the occasional movie, and she sighed when (in the very few romantic scenes then allowed by the strict censorship) the beautiful damsel in distress and the dashing hero, finally overcoming all obstacles, fell in each other’s arms for an intense – or so she thought – kiss, and wondered how it would feel to be kissed like that. One day, she promised herself, I will find such a love and it will be just as perfect.
Then one day some friends arrived. They were the children of her father’s business associate and they were foreign and so different from her friends at school. The elder brother was some two years older than her and she was flattered that he paid her a lot of attention, but then she looked older than her years… she liked his big expressive blue eyes and his freckles and his slightly naughty smile.
Somehow they would manage to escape from the rest of the group: when all the others were playing cards he would ask her to show him her comics collection and they would sit together and go through her most prized books; when the rest of the group was swimming and she came out he would follow and they would lie under the sun and he would tell her about his city so far away with its long cold winters, about his school and his friends and his life; when they were all playing hide and seek he would grab her hand and lead her to the most unpredictable hiding places, such as on that evening when they had hidden under his parents’ car that was parked in the garden; they had laughed to tears as the other children had looked for them and cried their name, finally giving up and leaving them there for a long long time…that seemed to be over in a minute, for it felt so good to be with each other away from the rest of the world…
As the end of the holidays approached she felt a strange anguish in her chest, as if she knew something would be taken away from her, never to be returned. When she saw him her heart beat so much faster she thought she might faint…she never wanted him to leave, she wanted to be with him at all times, she always wanted to know about him, where he was, what he was doing, when would he be coming over…
The day of his departure she went to see him and his family off at the airport. Both families took their farewells and when it was time to say goodbye to him she couldn’t say anything, she knew she would burst out crying if she did; she only managed a sad, shy smile and let him kiss her on both cheeks.
As she saw him walk away – still turning back a few times to wave back, to her she hoped – it suddenly hit her like a lightning bolt; this strange feeling, this strange sensation in her chest, this bitter sweet taste in her mouth, this longing…could it be that she was in love – that emotion she had read so much about but never experienced – like the heroines of her romantic novels? And then she simply knew the answer. Yes, she was in love for the first time.
She loved him in the distance for what seemed to her a long time. He was not a keen writer, and what she would have given for a few letters from him! In her innocent, romantic mind the only purpose of her love would be to know she was loved in return – she would have needed nothing else at the time, but she was never sure, although some hints from grownups made her thing he was not indifferent to her either. She never really knew, but somehow this love lived on inside her, kept alive by some photos, very few postcards, and above all by her memories, that she kept intact. But time went by, inexorable, and she became a real teenager and her readings became more realistic and there came a day when she fell in love again and was loved back and she experienced her first real kiss and forgot all about her first romantic dream.
They met again some seven years later, when they were little more than strangers to each other. He came with his father, who was visiting his former business associate, and of course she greeted him warmly and they talked about their present lives, their studies – both being already at university – and other things, but no feelings had remained and they meant absolutely nothing to each other in the present. As she said her second goodbye to him, so different from that of long ago, she smiled and thought that, even if they no longer had any interest in each other and would most probably never see each other again, somehow they shared something that would remain with them for the rest of their lives: the memory of the first love, so innocent, so unique, so naive, and because of all that – so utterly unforgettable.