He sits outside and gestures for the waiter to bring him his usual espresso coffee and sparkling water. The café’s terrace if full of tourists – of course at this time of the year the island is even more crowded than in the summer, because of the mild temperatures and the brilliant celebrations of New Year’s Eve…even so, he enjoys sitting here on sunlit days, feeling the sun warm on his face and gazing at the blue sky and not thinking about anything special, just enjoying a moment of solitude.
He looks distractedly at the crowd walking past and all of a sudden a figure stands out, vaguely familiar. He adjusts his glasses – no, it cannot be; he looks again and realizes it is unmistakably her, the woman he hasn’t seen for over thirty years, come back from the past to haunt him, as she so often has in his dreams.
Now he cannot take his eyes off the figure slowly approaching. She is by herself, walking without hurry, looking around with a trace of a smile on her lips and staring at the lights and Christmas decorations as if in wonder, stopping now and then to take a photo. He is amazed at how little she has changed: the same slender body, the same long strides, the same medium length hair even if with a different style and a lighter colour…now that she is approaching he can see the slight lines on her face but he thinks oh my God how well she has aged…and he suddenly feels a bump in his heart – will she think the same about me? He knows he has gained weight but he still has all of his hair even if it is mostly white nowadays…
She stops by a window shop and looks at the shoes inside. He smiles to himself “Still vain” and as he continues looking at her suddenly she turns – maybe feeling the intense scrutiny of his gaze upon her – and looks straight at him and he can see the surprise in her face as her eyes open wide and her mouth goes “ooohhh!” in a circle: “Is it really you?”,
By now he has stood up and they are walking towards each other. There is no need for him to answer as they literally fall in each other’s arms like two friends who haven’t seen each other for a long, long time. It’s like a dream, he thinks as he kisses both her cheeks and feels his nostrils invaded by her perfume – a different one than the one he remembers – and the moment is perfect but it is over only too soon as she pulls away “My, what a surprise! After all these years coming here, I finally meet you. Where have you been hiding?”
So she thought of me all these years and hoped we’d meet, he thinks. Then he remembers the deep black hole she left in his heart and stops himself from being silly. She hoped to meet him as a long-time friend, that was all.
He invites her to sit down with him. His coffee has long gone cold so he orders two more – he still remembers what a coffee lover she was. They talk about their lives since they last saw each other, how he is still married and she is divorced, about their children, about their careers…time flies and they don’t seem to notice it but then his phone rings and he is reminded of his life, his engagements, and he regretfully looks at his watch and tells her he must go.
She smiles and tells him it’s all right, it was so good to have met him and to have been able to catch up after so many years. She says she will be staying on for a few days longer and who knows maybe they’ll meet again, and he says yes, even if they both know it will not happen. And then, as he asks the waiter for the bill, she lightly touches his arm and asks him a totally unexpected question: “Do you remember once telling me that I would never find anyone who loved me as much as you did?”
He nods, unable to speak – he remembers it only too well, that terrible moment when she told him she did not love him anymore and wanted to end their relationship.
“You were right, you know. At this point in my life I can say no one has loved me the way you did” and, trying to break the tension with some humour “nor did anyone ever dedicate to me the most beautiful romantic songs like you did!”
And you threw it all away and stepped on my heart, he thought, but again he says nothing.
They stand up and kiss goodbye. She turns and walks up the street and he just stands there watching her for a few moments. He does remember the many songs he dedicated to her, and now one of them comes to his mind. One evening during the summer holidays he had taken her out to dinner and as they were driving towards the restaurant, the orange-pink light of the sunset reflected in the sea below the steep slopes of the mountains of his island, he had put on “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton and told her as in the song “my darling, you look wonderful tonight”; she had replied she had made herself beautiful for him, just for him. Ah, he thinks as he sees her disappear among the crowd, life may have changed you but not in my eyes – wonderful then, still wonderful today.