Eugene sat on his bench, he had claimed this bench from the first day he arrived. It afforded a view along the front. The beach with its sand and small waves a few dozen metres away. Behind him the pedestrian traffic, sparse at this time of the morning.
The wind was blowing from the seaward, bringing an occasional taste of salt to his lips. The breeze not strong enough to worry him, but ‘fresh’ as he described it to himself. He had his Gabardine coat buttoned to the very top and the collar turned up. He wasn’t wearing his coat in this manner to affect a look, he did so on doctors orders.
‘Stay warm, but be sure to get as much fresh air as you can.’ That was about the only advice his GP had offered him before he gave Eugene his OK to travel. Eugene was trying to remember if the doctor had barked anymore instructions at him, as he scribbled on the prescription pad. Oh yes.
‘Don’t forget to take these pills three times a day, after meals as prescribed. They will help stabilise your condition.’
My condition, Eugene thought, there would be little change, no matter what I do. However, he would do, as instructed.
Each morning he had noticed that there was a woman who would sit on the next bench along, it was 15 paces away. Eugene had counted the number of paces on his way along the front. He would of been near enough to hear her talking, but she sat alone . She didn’t look lonely though there was a sense of her being on her own. In need of someone to talk to Eugene was wondering how he could approach her. Today being the third day they had sat at this proximity to each other, he knew it would be best to make his move sooner rather than later.
Eugene uncrossed his legs rose slowly from the bench and made his way towards the other bench, counting the steps as he went. Knowing that as he arrived at 15 paces he would be opposite her and needed to be ready to make his pitch.
‘Do you mind, if I join you?’ He said indicating the space on the bench next to the woman before him. She shifted her weight and made to make room for him to sit down.
‘Of course,’ she said a hint of a smile played around her mouth. He nodded, if he had been wearing a hat it would of looked as if he had lightly touched the rim.
‘Fresh, isn’t it? A cold wind coming in from North sea.’ Eugene looked at her and put his hand out. ‘Hello, by the way my name is Eugene, and I am here on holiday, from England.’ His hand held her small cold hand. She smiled back.
It took only a short while and both Eugene and Jan were enjoying the banter of newly found acquaintances. The weather was dispensed with quickly, both of them came from a culture where the weather is always a topic of conversation. It has to be dealt with. It is part of the how do you do shake hands ritual. Other areas of conversation can progress after this initial “Breaking of the ice”.
Both Jan and Eugene were there on holidays. Well he called it a holiday and she described hers as a vacation. He was trying to pick her accent, maybe she wasn’t from Belgium maybe she was from America. There was definitely a twang from across the Atlantic hidden in there somewhere. Jan had an excellent command of the English language and soon the pair of them were telling stories and exchanges jokes and observations of a more personal kind.
This was like a tonic for Eugene who had not had an engaging conversation in so long. They seemed to hit it off. So much so that Eugene took a gamble and offered to take Jan out to lunch, it was drawing near to midday, how the morning had raced past.
‘I couldn’t, you are too generous.’ Jan replied to his enquiry. ‘In any case I don’t think anywhere around here would be serving lunch at this time of year. It is still so early in the season, in fact it isn’t the season yet.’
‘We could go Dutch.’ Eugene smiled at his little joke,
‘ I have seen a place, a Bistro, I think, they have tables outside, just along a little way. We could choose whether to eat el fresco or inside. Come lets us walked together’ He offered his arm, which Jan took as they stepped out along the beach front. As they approached, they could see the tables arranged in front of the Bistro.
‘Inside, outside, inside, outside.’ Like children they argued over the seating arrangements, finally agreeing to eat outdoors as the watery sun at that moment had come out from behind a cloud and the wind had lost some of its chill.
As they sat down Eugene felt like a young man again. He was back in his early twenties enjoying a bohemian life. A time when you could meet a woman in the morning and be lovers by night fall. Where you shared intimacies as easily as cigarettes. He had often been too afraid to really let go and roll the dice of life. Maybe now he could correct some of those missed opportunities. Initiative that’s it take initiative.
However with the choice of food he decided to err on the side of caution and chose the grilled fish with salad and no chips. He did love his chips but on doctors orders he had sworn off them now for a few months. Jan on the other hand decided on the Veal Scaloppini. When it arrived it smelt delicious and tasted divine.
Eugene ate slowly, trying not to be seen counting the number of times he chewed his food. It was a terrible habit, he knew that, it was something he had inherited from his father, a ruminator by choice. Across the table from him Jan wasn’t holding back, she shovelled it in. Slurping up the sauce with every mouthful. The conversation had slowed, food had taken over as the main activity. Even so an idea was forming in Eugene’s mind. He liked Jan he felt he had clicked with her, two souls adrift but aware of each others needs. She had a lovely smile and her sense of humour was helping him forget himself and enjoy the moment. Already Eugene knew that Jan was a broad minded person. She had that air of ease that hinted at a full life, mixing the lows with the highs and enjoying a few raunchy jokes on the way through.
He put his knife a fork down, Jan did the same smiling at each other over the plates of food glasses of wine and misplaced napkins, their fingers touched, just the tips to start with. They played with the idea of touching each other. Now they held hands, softly enjoying the lightness of touch. Exploring the unfamiliar texture and shapes. Eugene looked up, slightly embarrassed, he saw Jan’s smile and smiled back. They held on to each other, for an eternity, their eyes smiling happily across the landscape of table, napkins and plates.
As Eugene placed the fifteenth forkful of fish into his mouth and started to count in his head. He knew that the remainder of his holiday would be filled with love and surprises. He was feeling better already, in fact he felt a little light headed and a tune had started to resonate, along with the rhythm of his jaw.
On completion of his twenty fifth chew, he swallowed, looked up and asked in an distinctly squeaky voice, laced with emotion.
‘Would you like pudding and a coffee before we go to bed’
He held his napkin to his mouth to cover his reddening face. Jan smiled and reached out her hand again.
‘I would love some dessert and a coffee. And your other offer sounds wonderful.’
Eugene removed the napkin and lifted Jan’s hand to his lips and gave her the lightest of kisses.