A love story of pain and emptiness
The first thing he noticed was the street cafes, Mediterranean style, with multicoloured umbrellas, together with plexi-glass enclosures adding sophistication to the place. And flowers in large wooden boxes alive with every colour imaginable. And trees, saplings really, thick with foliage growing tall and straight within cast iron railings.
He sauntered on passing a familiar shop, once an ice-cream parlour, now a Burger King, a nightclub now a fashion boutique, and a tavern, a favourite haunt, transformed into a Government Tourist Bureau. There were lots of memories here, not so much bad memories, just lots of sentimental stuff which until now he'd never given much thought. It was queer how it all came rushing back to him, as if he'd never been away. Up there by the corner was once a little cafe with small blue windows run by a large fat man. That's where he took her on their first date. Yes, on the right as you walked in, tucked away behind the window -- that's where they sat, and became known as 'their little place.' God it was all so clear to him, so vivid. He stopped outside the shop and visualised her sitting there with him laughing, sipping her tea, looking gorgeous in her long maxi and beret, hair falling around her shoulders. How young he was then, just out of his teens, with a head full of ideas, and a reckless impatience. He grinned, looked up at the sign above the shop front: Wang's Chinese Takeaway, and strolled on.
It was nice to be back again, but how the years had passed. Was it really thirty years since he walked these streets? And whatever became of her? She probably married, like him, and left. Well, it was all very nice to travel down memory lane, he thought, but he was strictly here on business, and the sooner it was completed the sooner he could fly back on the late afternoon flight. He glanced at his Rolex. It was time he visited the property.
A twenty minute drive allowed him to reflect on the past, and her. He had loved her once, and she returned that love, in fact she adored him. But then, that's the way she was, especially with him being her first love. And those four short months they shared, were they not some of the most pleasurable moments of his life? Images of those months came to him. Images of their love-making, the plans they made for the future, and his departure. And what would she think now? Top consultant and art dealer of a renowned international antique company. She'd be surprised, or would she? She was always telling him that he was overly ambitious, and much too impetuous.
"You will always do well in business, John, but don't let it cloud your inner feelings. They're much more important."
He nodded in contemplation. Her advice was always sound, intelligent, much like her personality: calm with a deep quiet strength.
He was still thinking of her when he turned into the grounds of the property, where stood a grand old Victorian mansion. A large ornate fountain was sprouting water in the sun, like a welcome gesture. He drove passed it before coming to a halt on the white gravel entrance alongside another vehicle and a removalist van. He got out of the car, took a look at the place and thought, I wonder what interesting stuff awaits me inside? Then with briefcase in hand, he walked towards the steps of the mansion, where he was met by a middle-aged man of balding appearance and, after introductions were completed they entered the premises.
For nearly three hours he assessed the various pieces: paintings, furniture, books, firearms, and even a rare Victorian water closet. There were lots of other items as well which he deemed did not quite fit the company's high standard, but could easily be snapped up by a local dealer. He then oversaw the removal of the pieces, making sure that the correct freight and handling was in order for the journey to the company's main office. Finally with his work completed, it was now time for a good meal and a quiet drink before departing for the airport. And so, content with the thought that everything had gone so efficiently, he bade farewell and left.
Down the entrance steps he skipped, the warm afternoon sun on his shoulders, and headed for his car. There was a woman walking towards him carrying an attachcase, fortyish looking, well groomed with short cropped hair. He watched as she drew nearer, his curiosity getting the better of him. She glanced and smiled as he passed. He stopped and turned around. She was thick around the waist from age, but her beauty was still visible, and it wasn't hard to imagine how she must have looked twenty years or so. Standing there watching her walk on, he heard himself say: "Err...excuse me."
She turned round. "Yes?"
"Look I know this might sound silly," he said, feeling rather awkward, "but you remind me of someone I once knew."
"Oh, really?" Her eyebrows arched, waiting for him to continue.
"Yes..." He hesitated and studied her face, her figure, the way she stood there looking
so elegant, sexy even, without really trying. "You do." Suddenly feeling embarrassed he let out a little forced laugh, and shrugged, "I don't know why, but you do. Someone I once knew years ago...you remind me of her, that's all. Sorry if I've--"
"What was her name?"
"Did she come from around here?"
"Yes, she lived locally, inner suburbs. We dated for a few months or so, and then I went east. This is my first time back in thirty years. Funny, but I was just thinking about her this morning while strolling around the city centre." He laughed again in an attempt to hide his embarrassment, for he realised he had said too much too soon. "Crazy, isn't it?"
She smiled. "You must have loved her very much or she wouldn't have left such an impression."
"No, no, no." He laughed again, make light of the situation. "We were both young and immature, wanting different things. Actually to tell you the truth, we were more friends than lovers."
"What's her surname? If she's still single I might know her. I know an awful lot of people in this city, you know."
He cocked his head to one side. "Hmm, now you got me. Was Dutch sounding, that much I do know. Van something or other; that's about it really. You know..." He stared blankly at her. "I never once gave her a moment's thought until I arrived here. Strange, isn't it?"
She pulled a face. "Well...I suppose it's understandable, but more interesting is the fact that I look like her. Was she pretty?"
She hunched her shoulders. "Sorry, but without a surname I can't possibly be of any help."
"Oh, it's quite all right," he assured her. "I don't want you to find her. It's just...well, you remind me of her, that's all. Who knows, before I leave today I might very well run into a dozen women who remind me of her."
She smiled back. "I see."
He glanced at his watch. "Look, must be off. Got a plane to catch."
"Of course, you must go. Sorry I wasn't of any help."
"Oh, it's not important, none of it is. Frankly I don't know why I ever brought it up. Doesn't mean anything to me. Bye."
He turned and hurried towards his car fuming with anger. Stupid! Stupid! What a bloody waste of time. Me and my big blabbering mouth! Stupid!
She watched as he got into his car, watched as he drove out of the gates of the property and into the traffic until he was gone from sight. Only then did she turn and walk towards the mansion, up the steps and through the main door.
"Lynette!" cried a male voice. "Glad you could come. A Telford rep has just been, assessed what he wanted and left the rest for you. But I think you're going to be pleased
with what's left though."
"Kyle, do you mind? I need to visit the ladies room."
"Of course. See you later in the main dining room; we can start from there."
In the ladies she stared into the mirror above the hand basin as if transfixed, as if she could see the distant past of thirty years. And there he was swearing his undying love, telling her that he couldn't live without her, promising to return. She saw herself embrace him on the platform, weeping, the piercing sound of the train's whistle, and him shouting over and over as the train pulled out: I'll be back in a year, Lynette! Wait for me! Wait for me!
A sharp pang stabbed at her heart, catching her unaware. She pulled herself together and shook her hair into place, refusing to let this momentary lapse get the better of her. In the mirror the past returned like a tormenting spectre, bringing with it his words spoken in a genteel carefree fashion. "No, no, no. We were both young and immature, wanting different things. Actually, to tell you the truth we were more friends than lovers. You know, I never once gave her a moments thought until I arrived here. Strange, isn't
it? And. "Oh, it's not important, none of it is. Frankly I don't know why I ever brought it up. Doesn't mean anything to me. Bye."
Unable to stop the trembling, she threw her hands up over her face knowing this time her momentary lapse had got the better of her.