She did not know where the meeting place was supposed to be. At the back of her mind was the thought that it was somewhere near a pizza parlour. But there were so many of them. If only she had got his number then she could just phone and ask. How stupid was she?
She didn’t even know what he would look like. Bloody blind dates! What was she thinking letting her best friend Janine talk her into it. Why do attached friends think that to be single is a bad thing? She hadn’t chosen to be alone. John had died in a tragic drowning accident three years ago while they were on holiday in Ibiza. They never found his body.
Her mind slips back to the white beach and blue skies. She can still remember his last words. He said, “Are you sure you won’t come for a swim, the water is so clear. I remember replying that it may have been clear, but it was freezing. I amended the famous Maggie Thatcher line to, “you swim if you want to. This lady is not for bathing.” We both laughed and he said, “Ok, I’ll see you in a bit.” I watched him disappear over the sand and then fell asleep to the most relaxing imaginings. Most of them featured John in various stages of foreplay. Who could have known that this man of my dreams would be swept out to sea and lost? I still couldn’t figure it out all these years later.
The sad recollections come swift and fast. So much information delivered so cruelly and clearly in split second reverie. The Police interviews, the consular and hotel staff and worst of all the sympathy of the fellow holidaymakers. After all, a disappeared husband with no body made me the perfect prime suspect. It hadn’t helped that it was some hours before I noticed he was missing. I remember waking up on the beach and wondering where he was. The towel and his possessions remained where he had left it so I just assumed he had gone back to the room for something.
After a few hours I packed up our stuff and headed back to the hotel. There was no sign of him and I began to get anxious. I didn’t want to be on my own too long as I had noticed a handsome Spanish guy seemed to be always on the scene whenever John wasn’t around. Perhaps coincidence, maybe even some wishful thinking, or just the mind just playing tricks but I had an uneasy feeling that he was kind of a mini stalker or worse. Anyway he was nowhere around today luckily.
I do not really believe in intuition, but I knew something was wrong. I voiced my concerns to the hotel reception and they advised me to contact the police. They phoned the hospital to no avail and shortly after the police arrived.
Looking back it was a nightmare to be both widowed and accused all in the same day. Things might have gone badly at that stage if a local sailor hadn’t reported that he saw a man out in the water heading away from the beach. The sailor Raoul had warned him in his heavy Spanish accent to turn around but John had taken no notice. That was so typically my confident John that my heart knew it had to be him.
I can’t think of it any more for the moment. The world around me comes back into focus and I am standing outside the ‘Slice of Nice’ Pizzeria on Main Street. It has now begun to lightly rain and there is nowhere to shelter. It has changed from sunshine to dark clouds in only minutes. Ah, Eastbourne in June is just perfect! I think to myself to just let it slide and head off home when a deeply cheerful voice calls out. “Hey Helen, it is so great to meet you at last.” I turn around to see the most handsome man coming towards me. He has a huge smile and thick dark curls around his broad tanned face. For a split second I almost thought I knew him.
He holds out his hand and says, “Janine told me what you would be wearing. I guess she thought you might do a runner, or just plain forget where we had arranged to meet.” In shock I shake his strong hand. It is warm and I can feel the hairs and the deep creases on his fingers. He looks Mediterranean but there is no trace of any accent that I can discern. He continues, “I am very pleased to meet you at last. Come let us go inside and get out of the rain.”
Despite the name the pizzeria is quite swish; elegant even. He has had the good sense to book a table and soon we are sitting in the window watching the raindrops trickle down the glass pane. Am I nervous, unsure, even a little exhilarated, perhaps? You bet, but there is something so powerful in those steel grey eyes nestling under thick brown brows that keep me transfixed. His face reminds me of a new holiday vista. It is a rugged and powerful landscape and I realise I cannot take my eyes off him. Before we have even ordered any food we are on the second bottle of Chianti and my whole sad story has poured out like a tidal wave of ill fortune.
At this point I expect my date to make some excuse and go. Tragedy plays out so differently in retrospect and I imagine most men see me as some fatalistic black widow character. But no; he sits and listens and I even think I see empathy and understanding in his attentive gaze. Time to learn a little of him so I ask, “Are you originally from England?”
I detect a momentary smile, but he replies, “No originally I come from Spain. I came to Britain a little over two years ago looking for love and set up a boat repair business. I realised my English was not so good so I have been taking lesson at college. Pretty good, no senorita” I laughed at his slip back into his native accent. My name is Raoul Javier Baleras and I knew your husband briefly. He once asked me for help when he was in trouble and I pointed him in the right direction.”