Here we are, seven days since I signed a contract for a new place to live. Most of the activity so far has been seeing new people visit what has been my home for 18 months, and discovering that I had six bottles of wine and some gin. There's been some shopping and the arrangement of a man with a van for next Monday, but mainly it's been waiting, working, and trying to get you up to speed.
So without further ado, we last found me trying to use a pen and waiting for the next day, when the girl in my head would be the girl in the coffee shop.
The Ronda Bar was half full. I pretended to read my book, looked again at my handwritten note and wished it was more clear. She's Russian. I'm English. I wrote the inscription and even I could barely make out what it said.
It was five minutes past noon. She wasn't coming. I sipped my coffee. People looked at me as though I were a man waiting for a married woman who had become the world and all that's in it. I was so glad I was in a place that no furtive couple would ever choose; it gave me the strength to wait. I picked up the book again and through the window, there she was.
There she was.
She walked with a determined stride toward the cafe, unravelling a scarf in preparation for the warmth of a coffee bar.
I want to tell you how I felt at that moment, and I've been thinking about my choice of words but there seem to be too many, or too few. I was excited, naturally, but also there was a strange calm. She was real. That is a strange thing to say but it's oddly true. The image of her in the bell tower had morphed into some kind of total immersive experience. To see her walking toward the cafe made her the girl I admired from afar once again, the girl in the cow shed, the girl on the bike, and that was such a relief. But it was also her. HER. The-Girl-In-My-Head. And she was coming to this cafe specifically to see me. ME. It was surreal and exciting, calming and good. So many things.
She entered, I stood, she smiled that smile, we said hello, she took off her coat, settled, ordered coffee, asked if I'd been waiting long, caught sight of the book, smiled again and something passed between us that said this wasn't just about the book. There had been emails. Contact. Hints. Geoffrey Chaucer and his magnificent seven levels.
A little small talk and coffee and when she looked again at the book I slid it toward her. She grinned.
"Did you do the cover too?"
She flipped it open to read what I had written.
Who lit up the sky,
And caused all the bells to ring.
She flipped the pages, closed it, squared it up in front of her and ran her hands over the cover as though it was something more than a book. Her smile made me happy.
And then Don arrived!!!
Don arrived with the daughter of his adopted Slovenian family and they sat in the seats right next to us. Don, the man to whom I had so recently poured out my feelings and sworn to secrecy. Don, the man who did not know the secret identity of the woman who had so completely dominated my every waking moment. Don. In the seat. Next to me. A foot away. Don, the man who had told me to enjoy the memory and walk away.
"Hello," he said. He took a look at my coffee companion and was good enough not to say Aha! I know exactly how he feels about you! He's head over heels in love with you! I know. He walked up a mountain in the middle of winter to tell me and didn't sit down even when eating dinner.
No, Don the Gentleman smiled politely and left us to talk, awkwardly, not two feet away. I cannot tell you what we spoke about in the remaining 20 minutes because I felt supremely awkward. I do remember when Tatiana said she had to be home to make lunch for the kids and I went pay the bill while she put on her coat. On my return she was chatting to Don and I introduced them properly before we made our escape.
Tatiana had to go into the post office so I stood outside and waited for her. Don came over while I waited and said, "I assume that's the lady in question?"
"It is," I said, simply.
Then I walked her home.
I'm not sure if I had decided previously to do this, but I had a burning desire to tell her how I felt. I hadn't done so in an email because we were still on Chaucer Level Two and dancing around any mention of feelings, but I was worried that I would never see her again, would never mention such things in an email. The word "never" loomed large on my horizon. I was convinced that this cup of coffee -- her acceptance of my book -- was a form of closure for her or worse still, an apology. A wrapping up of whatever that moment in the bell tower was. It was a small kindness on her part, and this would be my only chance.
She was quiet as we walked. I told her that the opera invitation was never meant to be anything other than wanting to go with the most incredible person possible. To be there with someone I was proud to sit next to. It was never meant to be an overture for something more. But the bell tower? That moment in the bell tower? I hadn't recovered and it was likely I wouldn't recover from it for a long time. The book was just about seeing her again.
We got to her house and she smiled, said goodbye, apologized for not having more time, and I walked home.
January was a long month. I hadn't kissed her on New Year's Eve because something far more important was at stake. I was certain of it at the time. I don't know why, but I was certain. To kiss her would mean the story would end, right there, right then. Now I wasn't so sure about my premonition. The month dragged on without bells or fireworks. The church glared at me from my one window. Mocking. A constant reminder that I had been given one chance and I'd blown it.
She wrote to say she'd been offered a job in Ljubljana dealing with private planes for the uber-rich. I wrote back to congratulate her, but my undocumented reaction was that now I would never see her. When she spent all day in the same village I hardly saw her. Now she would be in the city, surrounded by tall dark handsome sophisticated uber-rich city types. I had no clothes. These people had private jets. I had lost her.
Could I just go back in time please?
I sat on my balcony, looked at the church, and made a wish. This wasn't just a throwaway casual wish, you understand. This was a massive full-throttle give it everything you have wish. I put everything I had into it. Every thought I'd ever had about her, every emotion, every regret, every desperate yearning and what-if and why-didn't-I and this-girl-is-the-world-and-all-that's-in-it desperate certainty went into it. I asked to turn back time. I wanted as I've never wanted anything to be back up that bell tower and change things. I wanted that moment again with a life-threatening desperation. Up the bell tower I had seen the future, and the future was clear. Now it was growing thin and uncertain as if she were a boat drifting slowly away. I wished for a chance to start again.
I gave it all I had. All I had.
A few days later, on January 27th, in the middle of a chatty email about her first day at work, she wrote:
"I've found out that I don't have your phone number. I have your brother Frank's but not yours. They approached me once saying someone had told them we were looking for a house to buy (but we weren't). Lots of people want me to either sell or buy their property simply because I'm Russian! It's good that you don't have a house to sell. But it isn't good that I don't have your phone number."
I put hers in my phone for the first time ever, under the name of "Spy." I never thought it would ring. About four days later it made the noise it makes when a text comes in and I assumed it was Sabina. It said "Spy" and I literally yelped.
"I'm drinking tea at the Trypich if you'd like to join me."
The Universe hadn't given up on this. I had asked, and I had received. Cartoon-like, I was out the door and heading toward my second chance.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things