‘So what is it to be? Another coffee?’
That startles me out of my reverie. Coffee? What? ‘Ah, no. Make it a glass of white wine, please.’
‘Are you sure? Wine is quite expensive here and not very good.’
‘What would you suggest, then?’
‘A nice cool beer or a cocktail for the lady.’
‘A beer would be lovely, then, thank you.’ And the waiter slips away, ponytail bouncing. I get back to admiring the beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean. How mesmerising and how soul-filling are the colours and the atmosphere.
A strange mix of feelings comes over me. I feel lonely in a place bustling with people. And I feel so small in front of such a display of nature. Both very humbling sensations. Both exactly what I need right now.
And then a mighty crashing noise comes from behind the bar and mutterings, quite clearly swear words in an unfamiliar language, are muffled by the chilled background music. A long ponytail emerges from behind the bar, and a sparkling smile follows suit
‘Don’t worry lady, your drink is safe.’
Taking barefooted strides across the wooden deck, the young man approaches the table I have been hogging for the best part of the afternoon. I have been trying to immerse myself in my book but have failed miserably. My mind wanders back to my now quite empty house back in Oxford and to the long, heartfelt conversations with myself. It is now time, I know, to leave the cover of my self-imposed isolation and embrace life again, to go with the flow and see where that will take me.
‘Are you eating with us tonight? Can I bring you our menu?’ He puts down my drink, his ponytail now a lot looser, his hair escaping at the side.
For the second evening in a row, I settle in for a long, soul-searching and lonely dinner. Listening to the ocean waves lapping on the sandy beach, hearing the music blaring from the bars all around, the sound of people laughing.
‘Okay! So, mine is a Bloody Mary!’ Cindy sinks her perky bottom in the chair in front of me and gestures to the short-haired waiter that she would indeed like to order.
‘What are you doing here?!!? Were we not supposed to meet up in Galle tomorrow? What happened?’
‘Well, I told you the meeting went well and we wrapped up the contract.’
‘Yes, but you also told me there was a nice young man who was going to show you the sights...’
‘I think I’m too old for that. I get bored too easily. I know they look handsome, but they are so uninteresting, I’d rather listen to rap music than try to make conversation with someone like him.’ And with this, Cindy breaks into her lovely smile, sits back, crosses her shapely legs and lights a cigarette. Her white dress wraps her like cling-film, she looks fantastic, and she knows it. At 42, she is all natural and all very sexy. Despite being the same age, I feel frumpy and neglected next to her.
Cindy has had to rely on herself a whole lot more than me, and that has made her more confident. Her brains, her personality and her looks gave her the strength to build her own company, and her high-flying position as an editor allows her to live comfortably in a nice part of Oxford.
The short-haired waiter approaches our table and Cindy orders and receives in return the toothiest smile I have seen in a while. I know he will be over when his shift finishes if we are still here. He wouldn’t be the first one to be incredibly fascinated by the curvy, blond, blue-eyed, mature woman who oozes sexuality and self-control.
‘So when did you get back?’ I ask, still smiling to myself at the clear effect she has on most of the male population.
‘A couple of hours ago. I got to our room, had a shower, answered some emails and got ready. I had no doubt I’d find you on the seafront somewhere. What have you been doing for the past couple of days? Been missing me?’ And she beams a pearly smile, plants an elbow on the table and sets her chin on her palm, intently looking into my eyes and waiting to hear about me.
As much as her life is super busy and she juggles many roles, Cindy is always there for me. She has been there when Kyle ran away, and my world came crashing down, and she is here now, pulling me out of the misery of my empty home. I know her questions are asked because she is actually interested in the answers. I’m lucky to have her in my life. I love spending time with her. Her presence spurs me on in my quest for myself. She shows me that I can still be what I was.
I’m lost in these thoughts, so she reinforces her searching questions. ‘What have you been doing with your time in the two days I’ve been gone? Did you join the party scene? Please don’t tell me you had early nights!’
‘Erm, no, not quite. I did go out and have dinner and a drink before going to bed.’ I blush, knowing this sounds so old and boring.
’Maddy, I know this is all a bit new for you and I know I can’t force you to bring back the sparkle that I know is in you, but I’m damned if I’m going to let you go back to the room to read after dinner. Not unless you’re reading a love letter or are going back accompanied.’ I know she means it and I know she is right.
‘I have a feeling both opportunities are a long way from materialising. I really don’t think that will happen very soon.’
‘Okay, so what gives? What do we need to do for you to be my fiery, fun friend again? What can I do to help you get there? I’m dead serious now. I want my Maddy back!’
That is said with a sulking pout and while slumping back against the chair, so atypical of Cindy that it makes me laugh out loud. The sound of my laughter is refreshing. I don’t think I have laughed for years, not the real spontaneous belly aching laugh. And because it has been such a long time and because the drink is good and the atmosphere is so light, I laugh again and again, and Cindy joins in with me. It feels good!
The short-haired waiter is back with Cindy’s drink. He makes a real show of cleaning an already sparkling table and of laying down a colourful placemat. I can see Sanka and a telephone number scribbled on one side of the placemat. The side that he purposely puts closer to Cindy. I smile to myself. How beautifully predictable! But Cindy doesn’t even notice, or if she notices, she doesn’t show it. Her attention is laser-focused on me. I know what that means. We need a serious conversation.
The young man retreats behind the bar with a swagger and looks back in the hope of catching her eye, but there is no hope there. I am the centre of Cindy’s attention, and she is not going to be swayed by anything or anyone.
‘I know things have been difficult, and life has taken a bit of an unpredictable turn for you, but we need a plan and please, please, please remember you have plenty of life left to live.’
‘I just find it difficult to let go, and I certainly don’t find I can just mingle in here. I’m out of place, Cindy, this is not me.’
‘What isn’t? The sun, the sea, the beautiful beach, the fantastic food and the drop-dead sunset?’
‘You know that’s not what I mean.’ I shrug, ‘I just feel old and a bit lost at the moment. All my parameters have crumbled, and I need some time to adjust. I’ve been an employee, a wife, and a mother for longer than I’ve been fancy-free and single. I don’t know how to do it.’
’Drop the old right now!’ She points her index finger menacingly at me, then smiles kindly.
’I understand it’s a bit baffling, but you can do it! Deep down you are still the fun-loving sparkling woman you were. That person is still in there somewhere. Bring her out! You can let go. You can be you! You owe nothing to anyone, and nobody has a hold on you anymore. Maddy, let go and have fun! Nobody can judge you!’
I can feel tears pricking my eyes. I know it’s all true. I wish I still was that carefree, brave, adventurous young woman. I miss her too. The thought of time passing by so fast and being someone else without even realising it makes me well up, for no reason other than I feel sorry for myself. A feeling I thoroughly detest!
‘Can I have another beer please?’ I tell the young waiter – his hair now completely loose down his muscular shoulders - who repays me with a beautiful smile and a nod of the head.
‘Now we’re talking! I can see you coming back to me.’ Cindy has caught me lingering on the waiter’s retreating back a bit longer than normal. She smiles cheekily and winks. I smile back, lifting an eyebrow in mock question. Yes. This time away will give me back my life.