It was well past midday when she reached the airport. Taxi drivers stood in batches smoking and chatting in mixture of exotic languages. African, Arabic, Russian. World at your service.
She walked into the bathroom and stood in front of a large mirror. A tiny Vietnamese woman was mopping the floor. She smoothed her dress over and smiled at the Vietnamese woman. The woman did not smile back.
In the arrival lounge people were gathering around the luggage-belts. A toddler was trying to climb on it. She was trying not to look nervous.
She saw his forehead first. He was walking towards her with the long strides of tall-people. And then the eyes. As blue as she imagined them to be. Smiling. He greeted her with the embrace that was friendly rather than longing. But then she could never be sure. The words of the poem she wrote months ago whispered into the air around her lips. Dust silvered into stars.
Outside, the Indian summer was cradling the day into afternoon. A breeze lifted the skirt of her dress. She quickly apologised and held it down with both hands. She knew she was blushing under the make-up so she kept on chatting.
In the shuttle they sat next to each other and their hands brushed for the first time. Her fingers touched the skin where it brushed against his. She was hoping he would not notice. She kept on chatting and smiling. Talking about the city unfolding outside the shuttle window. Tall houses with ornate verandas dotted along narrow streets. A speck of harbour in the distance.
His brother lived in that city many years ago. Before he went back to Ireland, the original home-land. Eire. She remembered the name in Irish from a book she was reading. She thought how the country she came from also has the original name used only by its people. But she did not say anything.
They disembarked in the city’s centre and she showed him the tall building where she worked. With its large entrance and marbled corridors it looked important. She wanted him to know that she could keep a job in such a building. In a city she hardly knew.
The sun was high above the streets lulled into a temporary stillness between the lunch-hour walkers and after-work commuters.
They walked towards the waterfront. A couple of students and a young woman pushing a stroller with a sleeping baby passed by. A lone seagull cried over the glistening water and swooped down to snatch scraps of food off the rocks.
Her hands were starting to sweat. She was worried about walking too close to him and talking too much. And not finding the popular café with expansive harbour views she has chosen weeks ago. He told her there was a flower with that name.
The place was almost empty. She regretted choosing it at once. It seemed wrong for the time of the day. They ordered drinks and chatted about how lovely the city is on a nice day. She noticed how his face lit up when he smiles. He told her she is beautiful and she felt as shy as a girl of 16.
Along the outside deck a few lounge chairs and coffee tables were arranged in small semi-circles. Young couple sitting in one were laughing and feeding each other French fries.
She wanted to ask him whether he remembered the letters she wrote to him the last summer and the summer before. But she reminded herself that it is getting late and he is probably tired and hungry.
They walked a few blocks to an Italian restaurant where they serve pasta and red wine on the plain wooden tables with a single candle and water decanter placed in the middle. The waitress could not speak a word of Italian.
Their table was beneath a framed map of Italy. The Adriatic Sea behind his eyes. The image of a small, white-stone church hanging from the cliff rising from that same sea entered her vision. She thought she might cry and excused herself to go to the ladies’.
The night was rich and warm when they walked to a late-night cocktail bar with soft leather couches and green card-tables. Before they reached the place he took her hand in his. It was a strong, safe hand. She was hoping her hand would not tremble.
It was almost midnight by the time they reached her place. The full moon was hanging over the wattle tree in her garden. The last train to his destination long gone. She felt embarrassed for not keeping a better watch on the time. And because her place was so small. She opened the bottle of wine thanking God she had saved one.
When he kissed her, tiny particles of her soul started to grow wings. She read somewhere that dreams are unfinished wings of our souls. She dreamt of that kiss for so long that all she could think was whether he now feels compelled to kiss her. In such a small space where limbs practically touch each other. In a city far away from open skies of his home. ‘Back home’ he calls it. She worried whether she somehow tricked him into her dream. Unwittingly.
He touched her hair and thanked her for letting him touch it. She placed her head on his chest and when large, salty tears arrived she said she was very sorry. For exposing him to her crying.
The whole night she listened his heart-beat and slow, steady breath of a man in a deep sleep. Long ago she wrote that it is all she wanted. She slipped away silently to make sure he has enough space.
When morning arrived she worried about his business and how late he was going to be. She made him breakfast of what was there which, she knew, was not much and noticed his shirt needed ironing. She was glad of it. He let her do it. She pressed each part of it for as long as possible. It had been years since she ironed a man’s shirt.
She thought he looks very handsome in his suit and tie.
His taxi was waiting.
She returned to her room and saw it all; breakfast dishes, the still warm iron, unmade bed. Her legs felt like they were made of iron ore. Slowly she slipped into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. The scent of him was bursting her lungs open.
In the days that followed dreams arrived in waves.
Sometimes she dreamed a horse as black as the deepest summer night was galloping over the sun-drenched meadows at the bottom of an island. The horse had a white star on its forehead and was trying to tell her something but she could not understand it.
The other time it was a bride walking into an old wooden church dressed in the palest yellow silk carrying a large bouquet of mimosas and spring snowflakes. Before each step she felt the space before her and flowers slipped from her hands like a floral water-fall. She was blind.
Each morning she touched her face wet from tears and prayed. The morning she found her face covered in tiny crystals the colour of blood, she knew he is not coming back.