First days of September. He is driving his motorbike and he is going fast. He is meeting his girlfriend of many years ago, now with the comfortable status of an old friend, for lunch. He parks in front of the restaurant and he is leaning against his bike when he sees her at the bottom of the street. She looks almost the same as before – the same slim figure, the same dark hair – only not curly now, as it used to be; now it’s fashionably straight. As he sees her coming up the street he smiles and waves.
Falling in love
They met at a café in Lisbon, introduced by mutual friends. It was a hot month of June and she was studying hard for her exams. He had a lot of free time of course as he had failed his Maths exam, and he didn’t really know what he was going to do with his life; she was the opposite, driven, hard-working and focused – and he had admired that in her from the first moment.
In the first days she seemed quite sad and drawn, and someone told him she had recently broken up with a boyfriend, but each day he found her in a merrier mood and soon they were having long talks and she was laughing at his jokes and all traces of sadness had disappeared.
Then her exams were over and she was free to spend more time at the café, with him and their group of friends, and she looked relieved, as if a weight had been lifted off her chest. She told him she finally felt free. They all went to the beach and he couldn’t take his eyes off her, he found her so graceful and elegant – all the other girls looked clumsy in comparison. They sat on the wet sand by the sea, and talked for hours while looking at the waves. They forgot themselves, and the world, and by the time they came up to join their friends there were some sarcastic remarks that had irritated him. But his birthday was approaching and when he decided he wanted to spend the day with her, just the two of them, he had to face the truth: he was in love with her. And suddenly he was eager to ask her to spend his birthday with him, and if she said yes he would know she also had some feelings for him.
She accepted his invitation, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and it turned out to be the best birthday of his life.
He had picked her up in his father’s Ford Cortina, as she was then staying with her mother and stepfather on the coast of Estoril, a few kilometres from Lisbon. After lunch he told her he had a surprise for her – he had told her much about his passion for planes and his dream to become a pilot, so he took her to Tires airfield, and they stayed there watching the small planes take off and land. He taught her many things about planes, particularly describing the manoeuvre called “touch and go”, when a plane lands just to take off immediately again. They talked for hours and not only about planes but about their lives and their thoughts. And they talked about love and relationships and the way they saw things. When it was about time to take her home he suddenly put his hands on her shoulders and, facing her, simply said: “I like you so very much. Will you be my girlfriend?” and she had looked him in the eyes and he could see she was filled with emotion when she said “yes!” And then the world had stopped and she was in his arms and he was kissing her for the first time.
They spent the following day together but then they had to say goodbye as he had to leave for the Algarve on holidays with his parents and soon she would be going away with her family too. But they wrote to each other – he, who never wrote! – and however hard the distance they knew they would soon be together. September arrived and it was their month – he would get on the train to the coast, where she was staying, and meet her there. They went to the beach together and lay in the sun for hours kissing and whispering endearments; or they would just stay at home entwined on the couch simply feeling the sheer joy of being together. She put on music, romantic songs that she loved, and one of them he would never forget, because it was very appropriately called “September morn” – a beautiful song by Neil Diamond (a singer not among his favourites, until then) whose words seemed made for them:
“September morn/ we danced until the night became a brand new day/two lovers playing scenes from some romantic play/September morning still can make me feel that way”.
That had been, by far, the best September of his life.
Months went by. She loved him but she was like a wild untamed being that needed to be free. He wanted her all for himself but for her life had many facets and she wanted to have them all – love, studies, family, friends…she was his only purpose in life, but she had many other interests in addition to him. Their different ways of seeing life brought many quarrels that usually ended in passionate reconciliations but gradually he began to feel she was becoming more distant. And one day, a year after it had all begun, she broke up with him for the first time.
She came back to him several times, and always he was there for her. Theirs was in intense relationship, and even if their minds did not agree with each other their bodies did, there was this huge chemistry between them. Of course on his part it was so much more than that – he wanted her to be the love of his life, he wanted nobody else, he wanted her to belong to him forever – but soon he understood this was not to be…maybe she was not ready for it yet or she was too independent and she would never really belong to anybody else. So for some time – and months turned into years – he accepted whatever love she could give him and tried to postpone what he already knew was inevitable – the loss of her.
…And one day it finally came. After a time of separation, when she found someone else, still he had patiently waited. As usual, she had come back to him. Then she was full of doubts again and one dark autumn day she faced him and told him she could not go on and he knew that she had decided for the other one. She said it was not fair to him and that he should be free of her to find someone who would love him as he deserved, since she was not able to. She said she was not the woman he needed, because she was not ready to settle down in a serious relationship as he was, she would not devote herself to him, she wanted to go out with her friends, and so on, and so on. So many excuses, he thought, why doesn’t she simply say she doesn’t love me anymore? But she didn’t say it, and she left him there, limp, exhausted, empty.
He was mad at her for a long time. He avoided her and turned his face away when he saw her on the street. He could feel her surprise but he just couldn’t bring himself to look at her, much less utter a few words. After finishing his military service he found a job in another city and he moved there for some time. Some years after he met a girl he liked who helped him close the festering wound in his chest. And he never saw his former girlfriend again.
A lifetime after
Until, two years ago, his brother told him he had discovered she was working in the same group as he was. He had reached her through LinkedIn and she had been happy to get in touch – and had immediately asked about him. By that time he was divorced and in a new relationship. Many years had passed and he was no longer angry, on the contrary, he kept the memories of his time with her in a cherished corner of his heart so he said yes, he would like to, when his brother suggested they all go to lunch together.
When he saw her after all that time he felt an intense joy. She hadn’t changed much, he would recognise her everywhere. He knew the same couldn’t be said about him: he was broader (if not fatter), with a shaven head (even if he had always worn his hair very short, like a soldier), but he knew his eyes, his freckles and his grin had not changed. And as she came near him he found himself giving her a bear hug; all resentment was forgotten at that moment and he was so happy to see her again. And he could see she was glad to see him too.
After that lunch they went on having lunch together occasionally, just the two of them – they talked about the past and the present, and one day he told her she had hurt him very much. She looked at him and sincerely said: “I know, and I hope you will forgive me”. And he said yes, it’s all past and gone. He could see she understood how hurt he had been, but he also understood it could not have been any different.
Lunch time flew by as usual and soon they had to leave. They had laughed a lot over some old photos she had brought – she had promised to – of a long ago day on the beach. He said he would like to keep one, she said she would make one for him and promised to bring it along for their next lunch. She kissed him on both cheeks and hurried down the street. Again he sat on his motorbike and looking at her he grinned and sang to himself: “September morning still can make me feel that way”.
Starting his motorbike, he rode away.