The Parasol

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Alice and her parents were far from their home in America taking a sight-seeing tour of India after which Alice planned to stay on to do a surgery rotation at an Indian hospital in Bangalore. When they arrived at their Udaipur hotel a uniformed hotel porter met their car. He carried a huge parasol. The lining was deep pink and its top decorated with sequins, lace, and gold and silver thread. The decorations swirled around in a miasma of color. Somehow its decorated magnificence reminded her father of Indian trucks on which no square inch escapes adornment; while it gave Alice’s mother a chuckle as she thought of the Quangle Wangle’s hat:

“With ribbons and bibbons on every side,
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace”.

The hotel entrance began with a white loggia topped by three domes. After passing through this impressive structure you came upon a broad, vehicle-free terrace of highly polished marble. Along the side opposite the hotel structure was a decorated guardrail peacefully overlooking Lake Pichola and Udaipur’s famed lake palaces; the white Jag Niwas, where parts of the James Bond movie ‘Octopussy’ were filmed; and the Jag Mandir.

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Instead of walking directly to the hotel lobby, Alice and her parents strolled over to the lake-side of the terrace and paused to look at the lake. The mirror-like surface of the water reflected the magnificence of the two island palaces, effectively doubling their impact. The landscape beyond was shrouded in a hot haze. It was a magnificent view.

Alice was drawn to the Jag Mandir which served as a refuge for Prince Khurram, while he rebelled against his father. This was because Alice had already visited Agra and knew that Prince Khurram went on to become Shah Jahan. Not only was Shah Jahan the famed builder of the Taj Mahal he was also one of the greatest of the Muslim Mughal emperors. Under his rule the kingdom thrived and arts flourished. Alice found his story romantic and even asked herself whether such love, without an arranged marriage, would, one day, be hers.

Prince Khurram was betrothed to Arjumand (meaning princess) Banu Begum in 1607 when he was 15 and she 14. They were married five years later. Although she was not his first or only wife he is reported to have adored her above all others. She responded with equal love and was always at his side. He changed her name to Mumtaz Mahal which means “Jewel, or chosen one, of the Palace.” Throughout their nineteen happy years of partnership they were inseparable. She bore him 14 children and died in childbirth with the fourteenth. After her death Shah Jahan mourned and spent the next twenty years building the Taj Mahal as her mausoleum. Ironically this great and gifted man, who spent part of his youth in banishment, was destined to spend the end of his life under house arrest ordered by his son. His prison abode was an ornately decorated suite of rooms overlooking the Taj Mahal.

While Alice stood and gazed over the landscape the porter kept to his post and held his parasol over her. When he slightly shifted his stance she turned from the lake and looked at him. The sun was behind him causing her to squint against its brilliance. The effect was that she imagined the porter as an enticing blend of Prince Khurram and her boyfriend Lewis. His porter’s hat became a bejeweled turban and his uniform, white robes. She smiled at him tossing her head back so that her blond hair sparkled in the sun. Instead of avoiding eye contact he met her gaze and, even though his mouth didn’t smile, his eyes did. She blushed and noticed that his golden skinned hand, which held the parasol, was trembling. Had the spell of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s love infected the terrace across the span of four hundred years? Perhaps the surrounding haze-shrouded hills combined with the beauty of the lake had captured their love for eternity. Perhaps Udaipur captured it more effectively than the Taj Mahal where serenity, love and beauty is bombarded by tourists. If it had, Alice’s parents broke the spell by calling her out of her reverie. Quietly the three made their way into the hotel.

That evening Alice and her parents took a boat tour on Lake Pichola. The evening was pleasantly warm and the lake surface like reflective polished glass. They viewed the City Palace on the shore and the two island palaces from the water before stopping at a third island to enjoy its gardens in the cool of the evening. On the farthest shore you could see a flock of water birds rising and landing on the waters. Peace reigned.

Despite the beauty of the evening Alice was clearly unhappy. Her mother sent her dad to get some refreshments so that she could attempt to cheer her up.

“What’s the matter, dear?” she asked as they sat at a table under a flowering tree. “I know that the hotel has internet, and I’m sure that you used it. So, is it something to do with Lewis?”

Alice shook her head and looked at her mother. She turned towards the view to hide her moist eyes. Her mother gently patted her hand, “Cheer up, dear, we are in a beautiful place, shrouded with romance. Tell me your problem – sharing always helps.”

After a long pause Alice spoke, “It’s been several days – no e-mail nothing. So, I e-mailed his friend Charles. The e-mail works all right, Charles responded in a flash. He says that Lewis has taken a two week vacation. Doesn’t know where he has gone. Mom, a surprise two week vacation and he didn’t say a thing to me. It doesn’t make sense. What can be going on?”

“There, there, dear,” her mother squeezed her hand, “I’m sure that there is a simple explanation. Perhaps he had to go home or something – perhaps there is an emergency, perhaps his computer is down – it’s happened before!”

“But, a two week vacation?”

“Look, you got this from Charles, and we know that he isn’t the most reliable, don’t we? I’m sure that there is a simple explanation. Our trip is almost over so I urge you to enjoy yourself and put Lewis out of your mind for a few days.” Alice’s mother smiled weakly as her husband approached them carrying a tray of drinks. The refreshments seemed to cheer Alice up and by the time that they had finished their drinks she was putting on a good act. She even smiled weakly and declared herself ready for the gardens.

A young man approached them, obviously taken with Alice. They fleetingly wondered if he was the previously parasol-holding hotel porter; none of them were sure as he looked so different, out of uniform, in an immaculate open necked white shirt and pants. They momentarily accepted his interest and had him snap photographs of them silhouetted in front of the lake. After they had thanked him, in a form of dismissal, he trailed behind them while they ambled through the lotus ponds and rose beds.

The following day they took their time and so it was almost noon before they were ready to depart and stood at the hotel entrance surveying the sun-bathed terrace. Again, a porter, armed with decorated parasol, sprang from seemingly nowhere, so that when Alice stepped outside into the sun she was shielded from its intensity. She ambled over to the guardrail on the lake-side and breathed deeply as she marveled at the view of Lake Pichola.  While she was mesmerized by the view, absorbing its beauty and romance she sub-consciously heard someone approach them. Then the parasol quivered. Alice turned and looked at the hand holding the parasol above her head. It had changed; it was not the original golden skinned hand of yesterday, but a larger white skinned hand. It was a hand that she thought that she recognized. Could it be the hand that she thought that it was? She turned away from the view and looked up at the holder of the parasol. She exclaimed,

“It’s you! How did you get here?”

“It’s a long story, Alice. I missed you so. I had to come.” He smiled down at her, now embarrassed by the parasol and wondering how he could get rid of it so that he could embrace her.

“Is everything OK?” she asked when she sensed his embarrassment.

“Yes, yes,” he nodded. “I had to come. I came to ask you a very important question.”

© Copyright January 2015, Jane Stansfeld.

The Jacob / Rachel Foundation

Rosalind moved carefree and exuberant on this sunny June 5th morning in Houston. She didn’t mind the heat and humidity for she intended to spend a cool day, with friends, at her local community swimming pool. What made everything better was that it was her fourteenth birthday, and the first day of school summer holidays. She was dressed for the day in a wrap over a matching new turquoise swimming suit, a birthday gift from her mother. The modest one-piece swim-suit fit perfectly and accentuated her form as well, if not better, than a bikini could have done. She rode her bicycle to the pool and when she got there she surveyed the area. She took in the shading patterns of the surrounding trees; the brilliant blue water; the lanes cordoned off for lap swimmers; and the life-guard seated high on his perch. She evaluated options. The lifeguard interested her immensely; he was young, obviously athletic, and, she thought, intensely good-looking. His presence added interest to the day. She knew that he had to be at least eighteen but instinctively she took him to be someone whom she, and her friends, would like to meet. She selected a spot which was partially shaded by a huge oak tree while commanding a good view of the lifeguard. She wanted to make sure that he saw her so she went to the lap lanes and dove in. For a split second the cool of the water bit her skin, then she swam with ease enjoying the luxury of freely slicing through water in this park-like setting. Soon her friends arrived and she climbed out of the water to greet them. Her swimming suit shone, wet in the hot sun and she could sense, without looking, that the lifeguard was watching.

Her senses were right for the lifeguard, Justin, had noticed Rosalind and was watching. At this early hour there were only a few children swimming affording him the luxury of being able take long scans of the activities away from the sparkling water. As he watched, their age differential didn’t factor into his conscious, all he saw was a beautiful girl. He watched her talking to her friends. He heard their ‘happy birthday’ exchanges. Over the shouts of children he could also hear crickets humming and beyond the faint roar of traffic but none of these sounds interested him, for his attention was focused on Rosalind’s party. He could see that she was the soul of the group and sensed her captivating vivacity. When they swam he watched them enjoying playing ball in the water together. Later he saw her settle down to read in the shade of an umbrella, while her friends lay motionless, sunbathing on deck chairs.

To Justin this girl, in a turquoise swimming-suit, exuded everything which he saw as good in a woman; beauty, spirit, joy, and the ability to quietly sit and read. When he blew his whistle for the obligatory ten minute out-of-the-water break; he didn’t join the other lifeguards from the adjacent pool, instead, he climbed down and approached her. His skin shone with a healthy glow acquired from sitting outside surveying the pool. His muscles rippled as only those of a fit eighteen-year old athletic young man can do. He looked good and knew it.

He crouched beside her. “May I join you?” he asked as he gazed at her with an affectionate glow apparent even in the intense tropical Houston sunlight. She looked up from her book. Her dark glasses hid her eyes but the rest of her face gave him a half hesitant sweet smile. She was surprised by his attention even though this had been the focus of all her activities that morning. She responded with a slight nod and he immediately pulled up the adjacent lounge chair.

He spoke again, “You look engrossed; it must be a good book. What are you reading?”

Middlemarch,” She held it up so that he could see the cover.

“George Elliot!’

You’ve read it?”

“Yep, it’s quite a long tome with several interwoven plots!”

Rosalind gave Justin an encouraging smile, ‘Well, since you have read it, tell me does the story turn out Okay; – all those dysfunctional relationships?”

“Sort of,….” Justin was about to go on, but she smiled and held up her hand.

“I shouldn’t have asked so don’t tell me. It might spoil the tension of the story. I have already deduced that there is some kind of happiness in store for Dorothea – after all, Elliot gave a happy ending to Silas Marner didn’t she?”

Justin nodded thinking to himself ‘This girl is amazing, she shares my love of literature.’ He waited, while he savored the moment, the innocent, beautiful girl before him, the sun beating down on his back; its warmth equaled by the warmth coming from the inside. “I’m Justin, what’s your name?”

Things were moving faster than she had dared to hope: she stretched out her hand. “Pleased to meet you; mine’s Rosalind.” Both their fingers tingled when their hands met; they smiled happily and laughed to relieve tension.

By now the rest of Rosalind’s group had noticed Justin’s presence and gradually began to drift up to join them. No-one wished to be left out of the fun. They exchanged introductions and disclosed that it was Rosalind’s birthday. Midst giggles and laughter they filled the rest of the water-break with gossip. When Justin majestically returned to his post, and blew his whistle both his and Rosalind’s hearts were pounding faster than normal. Instinctively they recognized a strong attraction. Rosalind tried to read and ignore Justin but every now and again she stole a glance in his direction, and, if he wasn’t looking toward her, she stared unabashed until he turned and met her gaze. Then they both averted their eyes even though they both knew that the other was stealing glances and found the thought invigorating.

From then on Justin spent all his breaks at Rosalind’s side, and she planned her visits to the pool to coincide with his shifts. He discovered that she lived, with her parents, in the modest housing on the north side of the park and she, that he lived with his mother in the low-rent apartments to the south. One day in early August he invited her to go to a movie with him, naturally she agreed to the date.

Justin called at her house to pick her up and was met by her mother; a talkative woman with blond hair and features similar to an older version of her daughter; except where Rosalind’s features were soft and loving; her mother’s face was hard and worn. They stood and surveyed each other. Rosalind’s mother inquired about Justin’s family, and gradually became decidedly less friendly. Justin recognized her displeasure to be horror at his origins and financial status, or lack thereof. She deftly parlayed her snobbism and disapproval into comments about Rosalind’s age and the fact that she considered Justin, at eighteen, with an optimistic interest in gaming and computers and no college prospects, as a poor match for her daughter. Both parents had plans for Rosalind and they most assuredly did not include a liaison with an older apartment-lad whose only prospect was a computer game.

The date went off as expected with Justin gentle and responsive. Rosalind gave every indication that she wanted to be kissed. Justin held her in his arms and obliged. When they blended into each other they both knew that something lasting and special had taken place. They wanted the date to last forever but Justin managed to deliver her home before midnight. At her door they were met by her father, who told Rosalind to go to her room, and Justin, that no more dates were in order. Justin attempted reason but her father wouldn’t discuss options and soon dismissed Justin by closing the door in his face.

In the days before electronic media Rosalind’s parents might have been able to instantly curtail the young couple’s contact with each other, but they both had cell phones and I-pads, and so communications went on with increased intensity. In addition they managed frequent meetings at the pool. By the end of the summer they were committed. Justin told Rosalind about his computer game and his dream of starting a business based on computer games. He spoke of the time when he expected to be affluent enough to be able to get married, a time, which he confidently predicted, to be when Rosalind was old enough to do so. Up until then Rosalind’s parents had always dictated her future; but now she luxuriated in Justin’s plans. She found them exciting, convincing, stimulating, and good enough to be written into a novel.

At the end of the summer, her mother discovered that Rosalind and Justin were meeting at the pool and communicating electronically. She talked to her husband and made her ultimatum, “This young man is far too old for you. You are only fourteen. Your father and I insist that you immediately cease all communication, and don’t think that you can go behind our backs. If you try we will permanently ground you.”

Rosalind thought the ultimatum to be unreasonable and cruel. She was tempted to argue with her parents that fourteen is not too young for love and a mutual attraction with a man only four years her senior. She even considered pointing out that Priscilla Presley was fourteen when she and Elvis first met. She could remind them that it took several years until Priscilla was old enough to get married. However, she didn’t bring up her objections for she could see from her mother’s face that decision was inflexibly made. Instead, she humbly begged for, and was given, twenty-four hours to ‘wrap things up.’ She shot off an e-mail to Justin asking him what to do. He responded that, at present, she needed her parents more than she needed him and that they should oblige by ceasing communications until she was old enough to legally make her own decisions. He told her that it was best for he intended to move to Austin where he could better market his game. He suggested that his move would make their temporary separation easier. Rosalind didn’t like Justin’s response. She cried all night. She wanted Justin now. She knew that she loved him, but she was realistic; and he had not offered an alternative. At times she even told herself that his response was a brush-off and that he obviously wanted to break-up with her. Facing this sad thought, she calmed down. At dawn she capitulated.

The next six months passed quickly with Rosalind focused on her school work. Her dedicated studies didn’t help her to forget. Every time she opened a book she thought of Justin. Every time that she went out she sought his image. Sometimes she would see a shadow or a profile which she thought might be his and her heart would beat faster while she rushed to investigate. Once she had spent an hour trailing a young man in the Gallaria because, when she first saw him skating on the ice she was convinced that he looked like Justin. Every few days she searched the Internet for his name hoping to find something, anything, but nothing came up. It was as though he had vanished from the earth. The following February she received an anonymous Valentine’s card with forget-me-nots on the cover. Inside was handwritten:

One who cares

On the back, in very small print was a note:

Handmade especially for you.
The Jacob / Rachel Foundation.

Rosalind’s spirits rose for she knew that the card came from Justin and reconfirmed his love. She fondly read and re-read it. Then she took down her copy of Middlemarch, and slipped the card into the back of its voluminous pages. Her mother, who routinely inspected all Rosalind’s mail also saw the card and deduced that it came from one of Rosalind’s classmates, probably Tim whom she considered eminently desirable. The following year a second card arrived. Again the front image was forget-me-nots. The message inside read:

One who waits

Rosalind hid the second card in her book while her mother wondered what Tim could be waiting for. She gently began to point out Tim’s credentials and assets to Rosalind. The next year, Rosalind’s high school junior year, two cards arrived. Her mother way-laid them while Rosalind was at school. She opened them, one was clearly from Tim who signed his name. The other read:

One who cares and waits

Rosalind’s mother deduced that One who cares and waits came from Justin. She told herself that it had been sent in disobedience to her explicit instructions and took this as ample excuse for her to withhold it. She watched Rosalind read Tim’s card and obvious disappointment at there not being another card. Rosalind’s reaction confirmed her mother’s suspicions. She decided to attack head-on,

“What are you moping about?”

“Wasn’t there another card?”

“Nothing else.”

“But I thought…”

“What did you think?”

“That there might be another card?”

“You mean one from that loser Justin?”

“Well yes, from Justin. But he is not a loser.”

“Since you didn’t get a card from him I’ll overlook the fact that you agreed to no communications.” Her mother put her arms around Rosalind, “Come on dear, did you really expect to get a card from that game-designer-loser, Justin? Be realistic he is four years your senior and off in the business world. He has probably got a real girl-friend by now.”

“But Mom, I am real. Why don’t you see me as real? And, Mom we were, no, are, in love,” sobbed Rosalind, “he said that he would wait. He said that we should both wait.”

“Pooh, that sounds like a man. Typical man wants you to do all the waiting while they have a good time.”

“I, I don’t think so.” Rosalind stammered miserably, “Perhaps the card got lost…”

“Come on, be real, Rosalind, he has obviously forgotten you. It is a subtle message to you to move on.”

“Move on?”

“Yep, start dating. What about that neat boy Tim?”

Rosalind was sad and disappointed and decided to take her mother’s advice that ‘life has to go on. She began to date Tim. His family were relatively well off and her parents, especially her mother, liked his prospects. They encouraged the relationship. By the end of Rosalind’s senior year she and Tim had settled into an easy relationship. That was also the year that Rosalind’s father lost his job and they had to give up their home. They moved into an apartment. Rosalind’s mother was devastated by the move and so Rosalind did not tell her that the apartment was the one which had been Justin’s home the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Rosalind found comfort in the place for she felt that it connected her to Justin. Sometimes when she lay on her bed with her eyes closed she could almost feel his presence. She continued to date Tim because it pleased her mother and stopped her incessant nagging. When Valentine’s Day rolled around her mother again made sure that she hid the next valentine’s card from Austin. It read:

One who watches and waits

At the end of their senior year both Rosalind and Tim were offered places in several University programs. Tim suggested that they should go to the same place so that they could be together. Rosalind was not so sure but she didn’t nix the idea. Now that she thought that she had lost Justin her emotions were numb. She filled in multiple applications for financial aid along with her college applications. She and her parents knew that they needed to find some way for her to afford to go without her having to take out a debilitating student loan. Then, one day in May, both she and Tim received letters from The Jacob / Rachel Foundation. Neither could recall having applied to such a foundation but both rationalized that there had been so many applications that it could have happened. The Foundation offered a full scholarship to Rosalind for The University of Texas in Austin and to Tim for him to study Architecture at Texas A & M. The families were thrilled by the generosity of the scholarships although Tim expressed dismay that they would have to be separated. Rosalind’s mother shared Tim’s disappointment although she reminded them both that Austin and College Station aren’t too far apart and they would both be home in Houston for vacations. Rosalind remained ambivalent.

That summer Rosalind took a position as a lifeguard at the local swimming pool. It began with weekends in May and, after her eighteen birthday, promised to go full time until she left for university. During the May weekend sessions she donned her swim-suit, always a turquoise one-piece, and mounted her post nostalgically making sure that she was assigned to the pool where she and Justin had met. She sat in a new lifeguard platform with a large umbrella. It was in the same location that Justin’s had been four years ago. She nurtured a sense of connection as she sat in, what she still considered, to be his perch. Now she was the eighteen-year-old surveying the activities; the eighteen-year-old who lived in the apartments, perhaps even the eighteen-year-old on whom the parents of the fourteen-year-old boys would frown. She didn’t dwell on this last fact; she concentrated on her job and luxuriated in memory of the summer of her fourteenth birthday. Sometimes she studied the adolescent fourteen-year-old boys watching them swagger and show off jumping off the diving board. Some of them had adult bodies but they all retained their youthful demeanor.

‘What,’ she wondered, ‘what did Justin see in me? I understand why he has forgotten. I was so young. I do wonder why he had to hurt me so much. But no,’ she always concluded, ‘no, he gave me a memory, a precious memory to carry with me throughout my life, the memory of a perfect man. Love is always good even when it is in vain. I cherish our love and shall always do so.’

By June the school holidays were in full swing and one hot June day, her birthday and the anniversary of the day that she and Justin had met she noticed an athletic young man dive into the water and swim laps. He swam like an Olympian slicing through the water and making smooth flip-turns at the end of each lap. Her job was to watch the young swimmers not the lap swimmers and so she missed seeing him get out of the water. When she next looked he was lying on a lounge chair reading. Rosalind did a double take, viewed from where she was sitting he looked very like her memory of Justin. She calmed herself with the thought that, over the years, especially at the beginning, she had often imagined seeing him, only to be disappointed when she got a full look at close quarters. However, when she blew her whistle for the obligatory break from the water she climbed down and walked toward him. He seemed to be engrossed in his book. She stopped beside him letting the sun cast her shadow over his body. By now she was almost speechless with emotion. She didn’t know how to address this person who so resembled her love of four years ago.

Her voice quivering she managed to say, “Excuse me, do I know you?”

He looked up, removed his dark glasses, and smiled merrily, now there was no doubt. He said, “Of course you know me Rosalind. Here, sit down and let’s talk.”

“So, what are you reading?”

Middlemarch, did you have to ask? You even know why I read it today.”

“Yes, of course. So you came back?

“I told you that I’d come back. Didn’t you believe? Surely you received my Valentine’s cards?”

“I received One who cares, and One who waits but after that nothing. I assumed that you had stopped caring and waiting. Besides that is when Dad lost his job and we had to move into an apartment. I even wondered whether it was because of the move.”

“So you didn’t get One who cares and waits, and One who watches and waits?”

“No.”

“That’s odd. I bet your mother intervened. I know that she disapproves; but Rosalind, now that I’ve made my million don’t you think that she might accept me?”

© September 2014, Jane Stansfeld

 

An Unanswered Letter – part 4 – America – a short story

Now that we were in New York harbor, Mike again took the role of guide and observer. He kept asking me how I felt and what I thought about what I saw. I recall that I had nothing profound to offer. New York was in the midst of a heat wave and the air was hot. I had never experienced such air. It was like putting one’s head in an oven. Over and over I commented on the air but Mike had experienced such torpor before and I don’t think that my comments impressed.

Looking back I think that he wanted something profound relating to an awed response to the Statue of Liberty and the symbolism of New York’s harbor welcoming immigrants into its arms.
The morning of our arrival he wore a crisp blue cotton shirt the exact color of his eyes. The sky blue hue accentuated their depth and picked up a glimpse of color from his class ring. During our voyage I always loved how he looked in blue admiring the old blue sweater which he wore when it was cold, the one he was wearing when we first met. I’d also seen him in greens and light tan clothing and thought this suited him well but not as well as the blues.

At this point I was desperate and almost paralyzed by a deep sadness which I attempted to disguise. In accordance with my upbringing I thought that if we were to ever meet again the initiative had to come from Mike, the man. I kept telling myself that such romances aboard ship were commonplace and that I should not spoil it by asking for more. I tried to appear distant and not engaged, ready for my American travels. He, doubtless, was waiting for me to be ‘American’ and to give him some encouraging comments.

The State Department employees with their passport booths set up in dining hall. They were set up to process us on board with a barrier between the US citizens and everyone else. Our parting was hasty as we separated into our appropriate lines. As I stood in my line I mused about everything that I had heard about ship board romances. Ours certainly fit the description. But we hadn’t made a rendezvous not even an exchange of contact information. We had just parted with, no meeting in a few months on the Empire State Building, just a fleeting hug, no memento, no promises, no exchange of addresses, no souvenir. I thought that we were to become strangers again separated by time and tide.

He was, of course, in the short fast moving line of Americans while I was swallowed up into the long slow moving line of Europeans. When I emerged I paused at the top of the gangplank and looked down to scan the crowd for one last glimpse. That’s when I saw him moving quickly towards his Mom and Dad. His Mom waved frantically and his Dad stood beside her. I could just see him taking his Mom in his arms and then his turn as he gave a man-hug to his Dad. They patted each-other on the back. By now I was on the pier and lost sight of them in the throng of people.

They had told us that our quay was New York’s newest (ergo “best”) but I found it grim and grimy perhaps because this was where Mike and I separated. I paused beside the ship which loomed above me asserting its presence. I looked up at it letting the experience of the last nine days race through my head. My heart pounded, at the pain of saying goodbye. Then I saw him again. He was running upstream towards me, his face anxious. I thought that, perhaps, he had come back for an address. The address which I, desperately wanted to ask for but didn’t because girls of my upbringing don’t make the first move. Looking back I am sure that he wanted me to respond as an American might and to ask thereby saving him the first step. But I remained mute. He took me in his arms and pressed us together in a long embrace. “Good bye,” he murmured in my ear, “good bye. We had a great time didn’t we?”

I nodded, “Yes, it was a great pleasure.” He seemed to wince. I’m sure that he was thinking, as I thought afterwards, what a stupid understatement I had just made. Those were probably the words which finally severed and sealed our parting.

He kept his arms around me and said, “Good bye. Have a great trip!” not the words which I had hoped to hear “I love you and want to see you again.”

But, this time I was able to respond with warmth, “Good bye, Mike, meeting you has been very special, Thank you for everything- have a good life.” My voice trailed off as he turned to see his parents coming back up the quay. The crowd swelled thicker as he left me and ran towards them to be lost in the milling mass of people. He didn’t look back but I stood and watched until I was almost alone on the wharf. Then I took up my bags and walked slowly into New York.

Outside the docks I took a taxi to a preselected hotel. It turned out to be a ghastly place, a grey gloomy hole which matched my mood. Its only redeeming feature was a lovely “blue room” reception hall. I changed into light clothes and quickly left my dismal room, to brave the heat and walk the city streets. The streets which I trod were garish, streets of bargains and food, of neon signs, of questionable businesses, of people, of rubbish or trash as Americans call it, and of heat so torpid that it radiated up from the sidewalks,. The building rose almost unconnected, grey and grubby, into the hazy air, only their tenuous bases planted in the street podium of garnish activity. I walked for hours trying to find peace in this jumble of humanity and dirt but eventually returned to the hotel to sleep. The City had done nothing to improve my mood.

I was dejected and sad even though I arrived with two fantastic deals in my pocket. Through the National Union of Students for $99 I had purchased a Greyhound ticket which was good for anywhere, any ride, for the next 99 days. I also had invitations from four People to People families with whom I was to stay. I had already set up the stays so that I could start in New Jersey and travel in an anti-clockwise motion, up the New England coast, across the north via the Great Lakes, then eventually get to the Pacific where I could turn south through California and then back east to take in part of Texas and round up the Atlantic coast back to New York for another nine day cruise back home. Call it an American sampler designed to give a taste of America of 1966.

The next day another cab took me to the Greyhound station where I began my ninety nine day travels. My recollection of my travels has faded over the years; that is all, except those relating to Michael. I vividly remember my day in Boston which I spent in an anxious state of morose anticipation, not looking at Boston, but looking for Michael.

I remember that the bus arrived in Boston in the middle of the night and so I found a place in the terminal ladies toilet where I lay on the floor, undisturbed, and slept. I slept the soothing slumber of youth until I was awoken by the cleaning crew who seemed none too pleased to find me curled up in this public place where people are not supposed to sleep. I won them over when I apologized and humbly asked directions to the river.

I knew Boston to be Mike’s home town and that he was somewhere in this city. Naively, I thought that I might run into him but didn’t know where to put myself for this chance meeting. Indeed, I had no plan or thoughts on what I’d say if we did meet. I spent the day looking for him and then saddened, but not surprised, returned to the Greyhound station to continue onwards to Chicago.

From Chicago I went on to Cleveland then across South Dakota to the Black Hills and on to California. My People to People assignment in California was in the Central Valley with Dr. Guy Grenier and family. From the father’s name I expected a French speaking medical doctor. I was surprised; Dr. Guy Grenier was neither French speaking nor a medical doctor, his link to me was through architecture. He, and his family, had selected me as their student because he worked as a coordinator between architects on one side and educationalists on the other, and felt that this created a special rapport. Initially I judged him authoritative and proud, but as I came to know him I saw much to admire and dismissed my first impression. He had a spirited persona and could talk knowledgeably on many subjects including literature, music, lingos, and people. At the hosted People to People picnic I amused him by telling him that my father made a mean “Martini”. I gave the recipe as; one third gin, one third Italian Vermouth, and one third French Vermouth mixed with a drop of Angostura bitters, a twist of lemon and cube of Ice. He was delighted by the recipe and, grinning from ear to ear, introduced me to his ‘boss’, Dr. Garsy, so that I could tell him the recipe. Dr. Garsy smiled with equal amusement and thanked me adding,
“A national capable of perpetuating that deserves to lose its empire!”

Of course the most important event which occurred during my visit in Modesto was my receipt of Michael’s letter. It arrived enclosed in a People to People envelope. He had written to them imploring details of my itinerary and information on how he could contact me. I wish that I had kept this precious letter but I didn’t; suffice to say that I remember exactly what I was doing when the letter arrived. As humans we seem to be blessed with the ability to remember what we were doing and where we were at the most pivotal moments of our lives. In my case I was outside on the Grenier’s patio sunbathing. They were inside discussing the axiom ‘Mad dogs and English men go out in the midday sun’. Michael wrote that he needed to make contact with me and asked People to People to assist him. I immediately wrote back giving my address in Kansas as my next visit.

Soon I was traveling onward to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Grand Canyon, and finally Kansas. Here I found Michael’s next letter waiting for me. He proposed that we meet in New York August 12, 1996 at 8 PM at the intersection of MacDougal Street and Washington Square; half way long the section of MacDougal which borders on Washington Square Park. I wrote back that I’d be there. The rest of my travels into Texas, to St Louis, Philadelphia and Washington DC is a blur eclipsed by my longing for New York and my pending meeting on MacDougal street.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, January 2014