She stood at the ship’s railing and looked out at the open sea.
Wisps of brunette hair had escaped from the chignon under her hat and drifted lazily in the breeze. Her grey wool suit was well tailored and cinched at the waist with a thin belt, the skirt fell to mid-calf with a kick pleat in the back. She wore black pumps with a sturdy heel on her feet and silk stockings with a dead straight seam. Her clutch, which matched her shoes and belt, was clasped firmly under her arm and she wore grey kid gloves on her hands. A red and white polka dot scarf tied around her throat finished it all off and was the only splash of colour in an otherwise sombre outfit.
It was quiet, the only sound that of the ship’s hull slicing through the waves. The sun slowly dipped below the horizon turning the sky pink and purple and as I stood there watching her, I couldn’t help but wonder what her story was.
I looked down at what I was wearing and felt frumpy beside her. My black leggings and oversize shirt with a stain on the collar where not the height of fashion; I had simply put on the first thing I could lay my hands on that morning. This woman’s outfit was no mere coincidence, a happenstance of fate; no that outfit had been planned with care. I wondered again what her story was.
Was she waiting for someone? I didn’t think so, she looked too sad. Well, I couldn’t see her face, but her posture made me believe she was unhappy. There was an air of loneliness about her as if she were saying good bye to someone she loved.
I wondered where she came from; where she was going. The journey was a long one, as there was no land in sight; just the unending expanse of the ocean. Was she leaving a lover behind?
I imagined her smiling, sunglasses on and a broad brimmed sunhat on her head as she held on to a tanned man piloting their Vespa around the sun drenched streets of Tuscany. A summer holiday in Italy, a summer romance. A beautiful Italian man with sun kissed skin and toned muscles. Halting English and a delicious accent, declarations of love in the language of romance. Stolen kisses and tender looks, the accidental brushing of hands as they walked along cobbled streets in the twilight. I imagined them picnicking among the grapevines of a picturesque vineyard and sharing an evening meal in a secluded corner of a restaurant. Long looks over candlelight as they sipped dark red wine and picked at the olives and cheese between them.
Or maybe it had been a Frenchman in Paris. Him showing her the sights, bribing a guard so they could visit the Louvre after closing. I see them lying on great white beach towels soaking up the sun as the waves gently lap the shoreline in the South of France and walking the streets of Paris, arm in arm. She is wearing a white halter neck dress with red polka dots, red lipstick, her hair flowing free and a large straw hat to protect her delicate skin. They share croissants and coffee in a corner café, he feeds her plump red strawberries dipped in chocolate. As she takes a bite, the juice runs down her chin and he wipes it away with a crisp white napkin.
Perhaps she is not saying good bye to someone, but rather looking for them. A husband, a lover gone away in a desperate attempt to realise a dream or seek their fortune. She has had no contact for far too long and is worried about his fate. She sets off with the determination to find him, to tell him she loves him, to help him make his dreams come true. To tell him that he is enough.
Then again, it could be she that has set off in search of her dreams. Travelling alone to an unknown country, spending the last of her savings and forsaking all for a brighter future. She is strong and capable and is bigger than the box they put her in so she is striking out, breaking through and stamping her independence on the world. She is determined and she has a well-defined sense of who she is, where she wants to go and what she wants to achieve. The hardships that she faces are mere obstacles to be overcome, they will not stop her, they will not hold her back. She is on the voyage of a lifetime and determined to prove everyone wrong. She will succeed; she will be triumphant.
“’scuse me maám,”a voice says as I am jostled out of my reverie.
Looking around I see the humdrum hustle and bustle of the shopping centre and my life snaps back into focus. I look at the woman standing at the railing. The canvas is life-size and captivating. The pose of the woman, the atmosphere of the background, it is a beautiful piece of art. I squint through the glass at the price.
Alas, she will not be coming home with me.