She was sitting alone outside the old church in the main square of the small spanish town. She was not literally alone as the square was full of children and parents, lovers, and tourists. The clock had just struck 9 in the evening. Shops were closing their shutters, and music from bars was getting louder, street vendors had finished packing for the night but fountains were still dancing. Children were playing and and street performers were still around. There was one more hour to go before the crowd would begin to disperse.
But she was lonely. She had just had a squabble with him while they were exploring the streets outside the main square. They parted ways after the quarrel and since she had left first, she had no idea where he had gone. As she was walking away from him, she had considered going back…after all, how would they find each other? They were not carrying their cell phones and it was pretty busy in the main square. But she was too angry to think logically. She wasn’t going to give in this time. Now it was his turn to woo her, she thought.
Thankfully they both knew how to get back to their hotel in this new town they had just arrived at this morning. But he had the keys and it was too early to head back. They had not had dinner. She was starving. They had wanted to go for dinner to a cafe nearby that they had both liked. It was right there, facing the main square on the right side of the church. She could still go. But she didn’t want to go alone as she knew he wouldn’t go without her either…which meant they still cared about each other. The day either one of them went alone to a place where they both had wanted to go, that special connection would be lost forever. They both cherished this unspoken rule. So she found this spot outside the church which was away from the crowd hoping that he would come looking for her and would be able to spot her here more easily than elsewhere.
She noticed the woman selling balloons, old man selling ice-cream, kids everywhere like pigeons during the day, the local business owners walking back home, families taking pictures and lovers in middle of embarrassing public display of affection. The warm breeze blew softly and her tears started drying. Almost 10 minutes had gone by and he had not come. She kept looking in the direction from where she had walked out on him. She had hoped that he would follow her, but there was no sign of him. He was never the normal types, he always took her by surprise by his lack of understanding (or was it disregard?) of the norms. She wished he wasn’t that way, but he was and that’s why he was different. He was not the type who would follow her anywhere she went or do anything she said. He believed in truth and honesty, even of the emotions. That is why she was with him.
Maybe he was more upset than she had assumed him to be. Or maybe they were just falling out of love like couples do. She couldn’t recall what they had argued about any more. Then what was she so upset about? That maybe he was right. That she wasn’t trying hard enough to change. But she was always like this, had he ever considered that maybe only his view had changed.
This was unbearable. Maybe the only solution was to separate. Her heart sank at this thought. She recalled the days when they had just started going out and were crazy about each other. She would have never walked out on him then, but she had now….was this an indication of loving less than before? She recalled how her silliness used to make him happy. She could imagine his smiling face. As her anger began to diminish, she thought that she had let him down. It was her fault, yes it was indeed her fault. Her heart sank even deeper and a chill passed through her spine.
He was right that she was not earnest in her effort. She went to him every time she got into trouble, but how many times could he be her guardian. They both were paying for her faulty choices. The root of their altercation was not today. The root was in her choices and not doing what she should have over the past several years.
She began to feel hopeless and wanted to desperately weep. Warm salty tears began to roll down again. Her stomach was growling, her head ready to burst and her body wanting to lie down. She was absolutely, crushingly depressed. Where was he? she painfully wondered. Just then she saw a man walking towards her. In the darkness of the night and the yellow street lights, she could only see his figure. He was most certainly headed in her direction but didn’t look like him.
Juan had a disarming air of friendliness. He was a tall, good looking and carried a big smile. He walked up to her and flattered her…You are the most beautiful lady in this square. She hadn’t heard those words in a long time. In her state of depression when any consoling words would have made her feel better, these unexpected words were like a drug that could have saved a dying man’s life.
He seated himself next to her facing the main square with feet dangling and conversing. He said he was a barber and ran his own business. He talked about his family. Then he asked her…who she was, where she was from, what was she doing here, how long would she be here. She was indeed taken by surprise by this unanticipated but a pleasant conversation. He was casual and smooth, it was hard to turn him away. She should be looking for him but this fellow had appeared like a silver lining in the sky. She wanted to hold on to it just a little bit longer.
Soon they realized that he knew only little English and she knew even lesser Spanish. Their limited vocabulary of the other’s language was imperfect and their pronunciations wrong. He became she and cousin became aunt, India became Indiana. Sentences became funny exchanges and they both laughed heartily. She had not laughed like that in a long time. As she giggled with Juan, she was reminiscent about those days when she had earned herself a reputation for being able to laugh endlessly and tearfully on jokes.
As both eased into each other’s company, they began to converse in their own respective language. He in Spanish and she in English. They could not understand each other but they continued to chatter. Soon they were joined by Juan’s friend who knew slightly more English. The friend became the translator. As he translated to Juan that she was waiting for her beau, she realized that she could never verify whether he was translating correctly.
Juan had lifted her spirits. And he was also noticeably flirting with her. He had taken her hand in his own and held it. Had she been single…she stopped her thoughts…she wasn’t. How much time has gone by? she thought feeling guilty. She looked at the watch and got up urgently, taking Juan by surprise. Fifty minutes had gone by since she had been waiting outside the church. Juan who was trying to convince her to stay soon realized that her eyes had started to wander in the crowd. He had lost her. She was thinking…Where was he? She should look for him.
The friend tried to take a picture of Juan and her knowing they would likely not meet again. But in the dark the picture turned out awful. She knew in her heart that these bittersweet moments were best etched in her memory forever…when she would recollect this evening later in her life, it will be sweeter without the picture. This was serendipity. So she deleted that blurry photo and bid goodbye to Juan. He kissed her on her cheek and said…You are gorgeous, I wish you be my friend. She smiled knowing the precious healing he had provided to her self-esteem and returned the peck on his check and muttered thank you.
She decided to start her search with the café. He was standing just around the corner in the shadows of the café, sobbing quietly and shaking his head. She was greatly relieved. He was a big man, but with the heart of a child, she thought. As soon as he saw her, he opened his arms. He held her longer than usual until the tears stopped and his breath steadied. He apologized and admitted that after she left him, he had meandered around a bit more in anger and then forgot where they had split paths. He had gone up to their hotel looking for her. When he could not locate her anywhere, he decided to linger around this café hoping that she would turn up. He was starving but did not want to eat there without her. He had been waiting for the last half hour. But it didn’t matter anymore. They must make the best of the rest of the night there.
He put his arm tightly around her waist like he used to in old days and took her for a stroll around the main square. It dawned upon her that he was still as much in love with her as he had always been. He was still the same. Only she had changed.
This is copyright material of Chandni Sheth and must not be re-published or printed or used in anyway without permission.