She was lovely. More than that. She had it all. Dusky good looks. That smile. "Esperanza is my name", she said earlier in an accent that just shivered me. Lips made for kissing – a line I'd overheard and remembered long before I understood the meaning of "cheesy".
I was in a foreign country. Alone in the moment, without complications and the usual reporting lines. It was sunset. It seemed right.
We had met earlier at dinner. Both of us at adjacent tables surrounded by chattering and eating. Couples lapsing into those silences which others observe as either comforting or the product of a splendid indifference aged over time. Old familiars being strangers in their own way.
Our eyes had engaged and then with a staccato rhythm the glances led to the awkward words on the way to the toilet when the inevitable chance meeting was mutually engaged. That she couldn’t speak a word of English became as immediately apparent as the inadequacy of my faltering school boy Spanish. And yet a bargain had been sealed and we both knew when the others were having after dinner drinks and indulging in yet more boring reminiscences we would meet outside in the garden. The hour arranged with fingers more urgent than a deaf person at the bar at closing time.
When you are waiting time always drags. The imagination kick starts and the journey of fears and fantasies begins. What to talk about? How to behave? Listing things for idle chit chat. Doing that adolescent contortionist thing of trying to see if you smell ok.
A kiss? The seemingly unachievable, out of reach, tantalising and forbidden. A prize which only other people seemed to win in this exotic country – or so they said. Could it be me? Would it happen? Questions, doubts, urgent. Don’t!
But they were gone when she disappeared out of the door with the most discrete backward glance. The brief gleam of her eye like a signal to follow. I couldn’t not. Catholics always "couldn’t not", a sentence construction for the congenitally guilty.
Then we were alone. Unable to talk yet mumbling in half words of each other’s language. Yet communication was there I thought.
This is it. Hopes and fears. Oh my God. Gazes fixed on each other I made the move I had rehearsed countless times in my head. It was to be smooth, sophisticated, seamless. The Kiss. And yet as I moved, she turned her head, seamless gave way to lunge. I missed her mouth. She drew back. Saw me for the amateur I knew I was and as my face coloured to the roots of my hair she gave me a look of pity that was worse than disdain. Come back later little boy was the torturing message. I had blown my first kiss. Blown it.
So what is going on? Here I am 40 years later walking on my own enjoying the fruits of a successful career, relationships under the bridge. Mature, confident. Oh really? Then why still blush at that memory? And why has it come back now? And when it comes it brings friends. Other life events to relive like watching an old movie. Only in this production I’m sometimes the one that is hurt and I have to admit the one who is often the author of the hurt. Ouch.
But the pilgrimage has its own way of dealing with these times when the past calls a little too loudly. It may be the fellowship of other pilgrims, the welcome of the people but mostly it is just the walking. The thing I have learned is that the simple action of one step in front of the other creates a meditative rhythm, a oneness with the moment. And rather than thinking the deep thoughts of failure and hurt, of ambitions achieved and desires still to be made real, somehow a sense of contentment descends. Scenes are relived with diminishing embarrassment. Now the strong, over achiever and the wee boy who couldn’t kiss embrace.
They no longer hate each other.