There she was, nervous like when she just a little girl. Of course she was nervous; she hadn’t seen him in fifty years. His family had moved to her neighborhood when they were about fifteen years old and, from the moment she saw him, with his blond curly hair and his dark blue eyes, she knew what love was. At first he didn’t seem to notice her; in fact it was like if she was invisible. All he cared about was hanging out with the boys. Not until she turned eighteen, and her body developed turning her into a beautiful young woman, did he look at her. Yes, she had been beautiful once. But now she was old, with wrinkles all over her face, hiding her dark brown eyes.
There was a time when he fell in love for her. First he asked her to take her home from school and then he started carrying her bags. Eventually, he wrote her love letters. Everything was new, everything so magic.
But her older brothers noticed them and told her parents, and they forbade her from seeing him without further explanation. He was simply not good for her. She did not understand that and, what had been magical became secret. For the first time, she lied to her parents, which she did not regret, not even for a moment. He was the first boy ever to touch her, to kiss her, to hold her. Their love was intense yet quiet, strong yet smooth. Sometimes they went for a walk in the woods and they would talk for hours; other times conversation was not needed, as higher matters would arise.
Then, one day, his entirely family moved away. Just like that, without previous notice, without a last kiss, without long last promises of return. ‘They were bloody communists’, she listened her father saying. What were communists, daddy? ‘There is no need for you to know it. They are not good people, they are evil.’ But how could her lover, that gentle boy, be evil? That made no sense. She was grounded, when her parents discovered she had been lying. She was grounded for weeks, no months, but she did not mind. She cried, she cried a lot, but in silence. Her father would not let her suffer inside the house.
She did not know where he had gone. He had just vanished from the surface of the earth, so she started writing him letters. At first, she asked him for answers. Who was he? Who were they? Where did he go? What was communism? Then, as she grew up, she started to understand all those reasons. But there was one thing she did not understand: what did love had to do with such matters? She sent all the letters without a destination. The old post man always asked the same question, but she simply did not know the answer. She just had to send them; they were too heavy, and too dangerous, for her to keep them.
A few years later, she married a man who had business affairs with his father. Her parents thought it would be the best way for her to forget the despicable rat. She married a strong and very nice man, who treated her in the best way he could. He was a competent lover, and a loving father of four children: three boys and one girl. One of the boys died of tuberculosis when he was a child, and the rest of the children grew up.
They also got married with nice people and professional reasons made them change to other cities. The all family would get together for Christmas and, sometimes, summer vacations. The boys were loyal children, and turned out to be honest men. Real problems came when the girl grew up.
The girl considered herself to be an artist, and an artist could not develop her artistic skills among a wealthy middle class family. Her husband was shocked with those ideas and locked their daughter inside her room. So, she ran away. After several months, and one of the biggest police investigations in that region, they received a letter from her daughter saying that she was fascinated with communism, and that her intention was not to hurt them; she just had to live her life. And that was the last time they heard from her. Her husband did never recover from that loss. She was not family anymore and he forbade them to even mention the very existence of that ungrateful girl.
With her children abroad she started feeling very lonely in that old big house. Her husband was always working, but she knew what he was actually doing, perhaps with a younger, more beautiful woman. In the beginning, she suspected his secretary, but then, she realized he had several women following him. Yes, he was a handsome and successful middle aged man. She could easily understand his power over younger, ambitious women. But she was surprised when she was not jealous, not even sad. In fact, knowing it was a relief.
Not long ago her husband died. It was a heart stroke, and the doctors told her he did not feel any pain. He had died when he was leaving the house of a girl, with whom he had a professional meeting. Or so, that was what she was told. Was this man so powerful, that he even controlled the police? That did not matter. He was dead, and, for the first time in fifty years, she was free. And that made her afraid. What would she do with that unexpected freedom? She did have neither children nor grandchildren to take care of. She did not have friends, because her husband did not like her to leave home, except at Sundays, for Mass and an occasional tea at the Cafe Central.
On a winter rainy morning, several months after her husband’s death, she received a letter. ‘For you’ was the only written thing on the envelope. Reluctantly, she opened it and started reading. As she realized who the writer was, her heart beat faster, to the point she almost fainted. Her eyes became wet and her mouth very dry. Was he still alive? Yes, he was. Apparently, his family had been persecuted and, eventually, migrated. He was called for battle but he did not want to write about it. He was the father of two boys. There was not even one word about her wife. Was he married, or was he a widower like her? The letter ended with sincere condolences for the death of her husband, but how did he know? In a brief post scriptum he invited her for a coffee. If she were in agreement, then would meet precisely one month later at the Cafe Central, at 11 o’clock am.
Of course she wanted to see him. What would he look like, after all these years? Had time been pleasant with him, or had it been dreadful, like it had happened with her? Who was this young boy turned into an old man? After all these years could they be, once again, the young lovers they once had been?
One month after, she put on her best dress, a pair of pearl earrings from her mother and a black purse, almost empty. She looked tired, as she had not been sleeping for a month, so she was wearing subtle make-up.
She left the house, and calmly headed towards the place he had told her. She was forcing herself not to run, but she was anxious just like a passionate woman that is about to rediscover her sweetheart. She confirmed twice that the letter was in the purse. It had been at her bedside during all that time, and it had been read dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. She memorized the letter, its smell, his handwriting, and even the paper weight. She knew the verbs he used, the adjectives he preferred, and the sweet way he used to address her.
She entered the Cafe, sat in the corner table and asked for a green tea with herbs. She avoided the central tables, where she used to sit with her husband. He liked to be seen, to be the center and to tell jokes to all his friends, but she preferred to be discrete. Today she did not want to be seen, actually. She was feeling guilty, more like a guilty pleasure, like when she was forbid to date him.
After a couple of minutes a man passed through the heavy wooden door. It was him, she had no doubts. He was taller than she could remember, and stronger. It was him, she could easily see, but at the same time that old man could not be the little boy she was once in love with. She could not remember his face, or his smell.
He looked at her, recognized those dark brown eyes and immediately smiled at her. As he approached her, the anxiety increased. Her body was electric, more than ever, more than she could remember. And it was heavy; she could not move one single finger. She had the feeling that she was glued to that nineteenth century chair.
His voice was deep and the accent different from what it used to be, maybe because of the time he had been in exile. The expression in his eyes was liquid. He spoke in a calm, steady voice, as if he was tired of the world. She was not paying much attention to the words coming out of his wrinkled mouth; she just could not take her eyes out of him. Who was he, whom had he became? Time had treated him kindly, he was so lovely. She had an urgent will to kiss him, to feel his taste, to touch her body even over those heavy winter clothes.
‘I’ve noticed you are drinking tea already’ – he said playfully, just like he used to do when he talked about her hair. ‘I’m afraid I will have to order something as well. Where is that waitress?’ He called her, with his finger in the air, and she noticed his strong arm, full of scars. Perhaps he had been burned, or torn to the bone. She felt an incomprehensible desire to treat him, to give him comfort.
‘Hello miss, I want a glass of whisky, old and strong, just like this old man in front of you.’ He used an even deeper tone in his voice, making him more serious. ‘Oh and another tea like the one this lady is drinking please’. She thanked him, but she did not need another tea; the cup was still full. ‘It is not for you Brigitte, it is for my wife. She is outside, trying to park the car. Since my accident, the doctors say I am not able to drive a car, can you imagine? I wonder if they think I do not please my wife as well. But she insists on fulfilling the promise I made to the doctor, so she is in charge of that old machine now. I feel such a useless old man. She is also from near here, you know?’.
But her mind was thinking too quickly for that, almost exploding in fact. So, he was married. What was she doing there then? What did he want from her? As these questions arose inside her neurotic brain, she felt betrayed, lonely, pulled out of that body, like a soul when it leaves a dead corpse. And, above that, had he brought her wife to meet her? She could not say a word. ‘Has the cat got your tongue? We have not seen each other for fifty years, and now you do not speak?’
A woman entered the Cafe, but the sunlight was hiding her face. Apparently she was much younger than her, maybe blond. She was looking to the other part of the establishment.
‘Where are you looking at? Oh it is my wife! In here, just turn around and come meet this special lady.’
When the woman turned his face towards the voice of her husband, she felt her heart shatter, like a frozen glass thrown into a concrete wall. The woman standing in front of her was his daughter.