By Howard Gaukrodger, 22.08.14
Practice: POV, writing as a woman, romance, racism, unrequited love. 1,000 words.
“Could all remaining passengers for NZ9 to Cape Town, Perth and Auckland please make their way immediately to Gate 56.” She was leaving him again, but this time she knew the whole story – the story that neither had read, but which both had written.
“Hi, do you mind if I sit here?” The shuffling of hand-luggage and duty-frees testified to consent.
Caroline was on her way back to South Africa. Awake for nearly 24 hours, she was hungry and weary. Fast food was a godsend, but oh, the crowds, the noise. It was like living in a spin-dryer.
“… last call for BA109 to Athens …”
“… so, I’ll be home by about 6 o’clock on Tuesday, Darling. Just …”
That voice! I know that voice. My brain clicked back through the years.
“… put the slow-cooker on. Yeah, yeah, we’ll have dinner together, OK?”
It was Aaron!
We’d been students at Bristol University – same groups for all three years. But there were only a few boys in the language courses in the ’80s. They could pick and choose. I didn’t stand a chance. Besides, I was always playing volleyball and doing other stuff, and he was always studying.
I craned my neck to see over the sea of bobbing heads. There! He cut a stunning figure, despite the advancing years. Maturity and calmness oozed from his form. I was always struck by his aura of control.
“Aaron,” I murmured, heart racing as I approached.
His sixth sense urged him to look up. “Caroline?” His eyes shone bright, penetrating her core.
“Aaron! What a lovely surprise!” Am I allowed to be gushing?
“Caroline! Wow, so nice to see you! What are you…”
“Must be 30 years!”
“Oh, at least. Would you like to join…”
“Yes, of course, if you’re not waiting for your… I mean, if I’m not disturbing.”
“Caroline, don’t be silly! Come and join me. Now, how are you? Where are you off to… a thousand questions.”
He hadn’t changed. Still that cocky confidence and adorable smile. But maybe she’d changed? Wrinkles, a bit of sag here and there. Was that a bad thing? Life forces change, doesn’t it? Conversation flowed. I could feel my face flushing, My hands wouldn’t keep still. I felt a drop of sweat trickle down between my breasts. How could it be? Decades had passed and still this… this… chemistry, this bond of, yes, I had to admit it, this bond of desire.
The time of our flights approached. I thought he might tell me what I had never heard him say. Every fibre of my heart twisted in agony, wanting him to tell me what I’d always hoped to hear. Should I ask? But why? What purpose would it serve? Surely, if I told him how I felt, how I’d always felt, it would just bring heartache for both of us. With thumping temples, and nervous laughter, I made up my mind and…
“Why didn’t you tell me, Caroline?”
“That you were in love with me.”
The adrenaline rush made me swoon. He was one step ahead. Always was.
“I… I… well, what good would it have done?”
No, no, no, that’s not what I wanted to say!
“Your father would have…” I continued.
“Yes, he probably would have… But, you do know, don’t you?
“What are you saying, Aaron? ‘You do know what’?”
The PA system came close to snapping the strand of harmony, but she held on.
“You must have noticed I never had a serious girlfriend in Bristol?” Aaron said. “I was always hoping…”
“But, Aaron, I thought you and Serena were…”
“No, no, don’t be silly. You were the one. Every time we bumped into each other, I wanted to tell you how much I…” His eyes fell to the wedding ring on his finger and his voice trailed off.
He was married. Society wouldn’t allow him to love another woman. My God! I wouldn’t allow him to love another woman. He wasn’t going to tell me. He couldn’t.
“Any children?” I asked.
“Four. Two from my first marriage, and …”
“Oh, married twice.”
“Yes. I was a bit restless after uni. You know, parental pressure, wanting to get out, do my own thing. I met someone when I was in Marseille. She stood for everything I didn’t have in my family cocoon in London – got married six months later. Biggest mistake of my life.”
“Must have been upsetting.”
“Well, the divorce, no, but it was tough on the kids. Anyway, what about you?”
I looked down at my own gold ring. “I’ve done well. Great family, you know… Married in ’98, two kids, both doing well at school. I’m in South Africa now.”
“South Africa? Never made it over there. What’s it like?”
The conversation wandered like a lost soul from platitudes to surges of relentless emotions. My eyes flitted up to the departures screen.
“Do you have to go?” he asked, almost whispering.
“Two minutes,” I said, but I knew that was cutting it fine. “This was very special, Aaron. Maybe next time, we can…”
“Yes, next time, we really should.”
“One thing, Aaron. Why didn’t you tell me that…?”
“What? That being black, my parents wouldn’t allow me to see you? That they think black and white still don’t mix, that society ostracises couples like that?!”
A tear fell from his deep, brown eyes – a tear of such potent chemistry, she couldn’t hold back her own repressed love, her agony of being ignored, then dismissed so many years ago.
“But we could have made it, Aaron. We could have…”
“Gone back to Eritrea? Is that what you think? You have no idea what it’s like for a woman there. The mines, the fear, the lack of independence that I know you can’t do without!”
“Oh, Aaron, Aaron, I love you so much.”
“Last call for flight NZ9 to Cape Town, Perth and Auckland. Your flight is boarding.”
In wretched confusion, I rose from my seat and took the ebony face in my hands. The tears streamed down my face as I kissed the black curly hair of the only man I have ever truly loved.
“Perhaps you’re right, Aaron, but I will never forget you.”
“Nor I, you. Wada’an, Caroline. Be well.”