Her eyes were bright, deep, big. Luminous.
That is all Frank could see from the distance and through the haze. The Albert pub on Victoria Street was crowded, noisy, filled with people discussing the usual dull subjects. He suddenly noticed somebody staring at him; he lifted his eyes from the conversation, and sure enough, there she was, walking by, a couple of meters away, with a glass in her hand.
Their eyes had met for less than a second, although, in his own grand scheme of things, it was more than enough.
Frank did not know her. As a matter of fact, apart from a couple of old friends and some business partners, the whole crowd was oblivious to his mere existence. Frank was a businessman in the naval industry, and he had traveled to London to attend a conference near Westminster Abbey, an occasion which would always feature satellite events happening all over the pubs surrounding the conference center. Perfect moments for networking, arranging business deals, meeting new people, the usual stuff.
But as soon as he saw her, she disappeared behind the crowd. He glanced on top of the shoulders of the people around him, but she had just vanished. Something was strange and special about that look; had he met her before? The conversation was still going on, so he kept on hearing some anecdotes from his old friends. They had not met in almost a year, so it was time for catching up.
His attention, however, had shifted completely.
The glasses were already empty, and Frank offered the next round of pints. He got up and for the next couple of minutes he struggled to approach the bar, apologizing to almost everyone on the way.
She was next to the bar. The pale, dim lights of the bar were not apologetic of letting her shine through her blond hair. She was waiting for the barman to fill her glass with a vodka tonic, and as Frank arrived, they exchanged a second glance. She smiled.
Her eyes were green, but not the usual green; this was the kind of color that you only see in pictures taken at dusk, on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
The ocean. For a second he remembered a story written by a friend of his, about a man erring from one hotel to another, desperately looking for a room available with view over the sea. He just wanted that, and of course, he could not get it. The sea.
Frank tried to remember how to engage a conversation with an unknown woman in a bar. It had been a while since the last time he had been in such a situation, and in any case he always managed to suck at it. Mix of shyness and insecurity. And now, married, things were more complicated in his head. It was not that he was unhappily married; he loved his wife and kids above all. But there was something in this situation that reminded him of past battles. Men are conquerors by nature, he thought, remembering the words of another friend. But he was not a soldier.
“Hi,” he said, trying to conceal a trembling tone in his voice. “My name is Frank.”
The noise from the crowd clearly was helpful in this camouflage operation. Or so he thought.
“I’m Lynn, nice to meet you,” she said with a warm smile.
They shook hands. Frank ordered three pints of lager as they started talking.
“So what brings you to London, Lynn? Are you attending the conference?”
“I know, kinda dull as a conversation starter,” he thought.
“I am, I represent this company, maybe you’ve heard about us before. We’re located in Anchorage.”
She handed him her business card. Frank had not heard about her company, but he smiled as he thought, very quickly, that he actually cared more about being in her company now. Frank was into this kind of silly word games. Kind of a mental hobby. If Lynn detected the smirk, she did not pay attention to it.
The drinks finally arrived. As Lynn was about to handle her credit card, Frank stopped her.
“Let me offer this to you.”
Little did Frank know that this would be the one and only drink he would ever offer her.
The barman shrugged, got Frank’s credit card instead, and disappeared behind the counter.
“Thanks,” said Lynn.
For all practical purposes, Frank later realized that, at that precise moment, time seemed to stop inside his head. They started talking about business, but the minute after it was all about travel, and the next moment it was about life. Subjects kept popping up, and the loud music and the surrounding noise forced them talk closely to each other, so close indeed, that Frank could study in detail her eyes. They had darker rings on the outside, and were made of the purest shade of green available on Earth.
Her perfume and her voice were both soft and delicate.
She was, simply put, stunningly beautiful. Sophisticated, elegant, yet with a “girl next door” touch. A strange crossing of the green eyes of Emma Stone or Susan Coffey, with the womanhood and attitude of Romy Schneider.
She wore a slight smile as he explained to her his life in Dubai, about the heat and the traffic, and somehow he thought for a second that she was glancing at his lips (he definitely was staring hers every so often.) She told him about her life in the Arctic Circle, a place which, at least temperature wise, was the exact opposite of Dubai.
“How cold can it get?”
“You get used to it. But I remember winters with -30°. You don’t go out without gloves. Or vodka.”
This was her first trip to London, more precisely her first trip to Europe, ever. Lynn was the younger member of the marketing team at her company, continuously living in an eternal state of wanderlust, craving for stories about exotic places. Frank thought that she might have been around 25 years old, which was 15 years younger than him. Yes, he was almost 40, the gradually white hair in his forehead did not lie. And he had traveled quite a bit, particularly thanks to his job, and so he had some stories to share.
The beers, by this time, had almost lost any foam on them; Frank realized this and told Lynn to stay there, just the time to hand them to his friends. Although, in all fairness, Frank could tell that they had not even noticed his extended absence; they were still busy remembering stories from another time. Frank left them the drinks and returned to the bar. As a matter of fact, the whole operation went almost unnoticed by his friends.
There she was, sipping her vodka tonic near the bar. A bright smile popped up as he approached.
He made a mental note to his future self, not to ever, ever forget that smile.
How much time had passed? One hour? Two hours? Ten minutes? Their conversation kept on going, jumping freely from one subject to another, as the customers were passing by them, getting their drinks and disappearing in a uniform crowd.
For a couple of minutes, only two people existed in the world.
“I’d love to see you again,” Frank said to her before leaving the pub.
She smiled, looked down her glass, and looked back at him, without saying a word.
“The eyes are the mirror of the soul”, used to say another friend of Frank. He had lots of friends with memorable quotes. He often told himself that one day he would write a story filled with those.
If Lynn’s soul could be seen through those eyes, she might as well have been the wife of Poseidon, an abyss of mystery and contemplation. He was fascinated. The walk back to the hotel was longer than expected.
He had to meet her again.
The conference passed and went. Among a myriad of sessions, workshops and thousands of attendees, Frank and Lynn did not bump into each other again. He had not been able, however, to get her out of his mind, and finally decided to send her an SMS to wish her a good trip back home.
Her response was quick: “I’m going to a party, but we could meet later tonight, if you have time”. Frank had a business dinner around Stoke Newington that evening, but he was planning to leave early anyway. He was pretty tired after a whole week of events.
“Sure, what about around 11pm at Trafalgar Square?”
His heart rate went up.
“I’m on my way, will be 10 min late”
In the cab to Trafalgar Square, Frank put his cellphone back in his pocket, took a look at his left hand, and saw a golden wedding ring. He slid it out and put it away, too, all while asking himself why he was doing that.
The taxi arrived in front of where Frank was waiting, and two people came out of it.
Two people. Lynn and another guy, completely unknown to him.
Frank at first thought that they had shared the cab, but after a few seconds, and given the look in Lynn’s face, he realized that she must probably have not been able to get rid of this guy as she left the party. The three of them, thus, went to the first pub they found in a nearby corner.
The situation could not have been more awkward. The hapless chap probably never understood what was going on there.
After a few minutes, Lynn excused herself and Frank tried to maintain a meaningful conversation with the guy, without success. This bloke was as boring as he could possibly be. Frank’s phone buzzed.
“I didn’t mean for the 3rd party to join sorry about that.”
As she came back, they realized that the pub was about to close. Given the strange situation, the fatigue in his eyes and a general sense of awkwardness, Frank excused himself and called it a night. The group disbanded, and Lynn and Frank found themselves waiting for the same green light to cross the street, while that poor guy was walking in another, opposite direction.
“I’m going this way,” she said.
“And I’m going that way,” he said.
They stayed a couple of seconds, looking at each other, until she said to him:
“You’ve got a green light.”
He glanced the traffic light, amused and embarrassed. Looking back at her, he asked:
“May I walk with you to your hotel?”
No, that is not true. Frank actually thought for a second about saying that, but for some reason his shy and insecure self decided otherwise. Instead, a much more politically correct question popped out:
“When will I see you again?”
Question which, to this day, remains unanswered and unfulfilled.
The last time he saw her, she was heading to her hotel. She was walking fast, head down, her arms crossed. Frank thought twice about following her. He always thought twice, about everything. It was a distressing habit of his. He was sick of it.
The following week she went on a small tour of Europe, to satisfy her eternal wanderlust. Barcelona, Paris, Zurich. She returned to Alaska ten days later.
Weeks passed. Frank returned home, to his wife and kids, but the image of those green eyes remained in his head. Lynn returned home, a long trip during which she would drop Frank the occasional SMS with news. Frank would respond with the occasional link to some video with classical music. Debussy, Liszt, Einaudi.
Frank, in the meantime, was feeling a steadily increasing sense of guilt. Was he cheating his wife? Had he? Would he? If yes, why? At the same time, he found, during these internal elaborations, several small answers to some very old questions. The whole “Lynn” affair had opened many different little doors in his head.
Frank was not the same, at all. He had changed. Lynn was probably not even aware of all this, but she had been the trigger of many different things in his life. All in a small encounter, in a foreign city, after their eyes crossed.
So much, that Lynn became an obsession for Frank.
“I had an idea for a movie plot, you know,” he texted her one day. “It happens in London, at a bar near Trafalgar Square, and it involves some comedy.”
He continued writing with a smile:
“three people sitting, waiting for service; the girl leaves for the toilet. One of the guys goes to the bar…”
And one last SMS for the wannabe movie plot:
“… but actually rushes to the exit where the girl is making frantic signs, and they run away together. The third guy? Good question.”
Her answer did not take long:
“Funny, I wonder where the idea came from :)”
One day, Frank fired another SMS: “Can’t sleep.”
“Why not?” she replied a couple of seconds later.
“Don’t know, many things in my mind, the hot weather kept me up all day, and the glass of whisky is still half full :)”
“Watching stars with a glass of whiskey… :) you know what you should do? Write a poem.”
Her answers were never falling too far away from him.
“Sometimes I get the impression you know me too well”, he answered.
“I find something very familiar in you. I think it’s wonderful to feel alike to someone from another side of the world, makes me feel safe.”
Her words were magical. Frank sighed.
“I also find something very familiar in you. Thats the word. I would also have loved to know more about you. Next time maybe.”
“Absolutely, find some random guy and go out, just the 3 of us”
A shiver went down Frank’s spine, just as he erupted laughing as hard as he could.
Exchanging their favourite music became a hobby.
“Franz Liszt, Evening Harmony in D flat major; as the name implies, to be listened in the evening.”
Lynn replied a couple of hours later.
“listened to it 3 times before going to bed, reminded me of my thought process when I try to fall asleep :)”
Frank’s cellphone buzzed. It was Lynn again.
“Prelude in C Sharp Minor, op.3 no.2, by Rachmaninoff.”
Colourful, powerful, remote and mysterious. Just like her eyes.
Frank opened a beer at the end of another really hot summer day of work. In Dubai, it did not matter that this was a summer day; every day, all year long, heat and humidity were the rule. This time though his wife was not home, as she and the kids were visiting family in the USA.
Air conditioner at full throttle. His cellphone buzzed. It was Lynn.
He made a quick math calculation and figured out that in Anchorage it must have been around 5 AM.
“I had the weirdest weekend… Voices in my head won’t shut up.”
“What do those voices say?” he asked.
“They say u know nothing about life and less about men”
Ah, I know the feeling, thought Frank.
“If it can be of any help, I usually get the same comment by my own neurons. You’re not alone in that dialog. (monologue?)”
Not the best answer, he thought, but sometimes feeling that one is not alone helps. And if it can pop up a smile, the better.
“Every time I feel something I forget all I know”, she answered.
“Something like what?”
“Interest, affection, curiosity.. You know. When the war is about to start but you still are not sure if you want to fight.”
Wow, this is a big deal. A war. Frank understood why she could not sleep.
“Whoever the other person is, he or she is really lucky methinks. Go for it. Never say no to such a fight. It’s like wanderlust, you only live once, remember.”
“In my case he or she is married and I’m not going to fight. But I’d really like to know what’s in his head and how it works”
Lynn’s answer left Frank paralyzed. It took him another beer and a couple of minutes to come up with a proper answer. In any case, the “his” in her reply removed the need of writing “he or she” in every sentence. It was definitely a “he.”
“It’s probably complex. Weeks of turning things around in his head, looking for answers, kind of things novels and screenplays talk about. You don’t leave people indifferent, and that’s why this person most probably can’t get you out of his head, just like you can’t.”
She took some time to read this answer, and to write a final message.
“It’s a very nice thing you said :) thank you. I’m going to obsess some more and fall asleep hopefully. Its 5:36 am here”
Frank pondered about this last exchange during three more beers. Was he the “he” she was taking about?
Frank dreamt of Lynn three times during the following weeks. First, covered in gold, like a jewel, with her blond hair falling over her body while she looked upwards, smiling, towards somebody else, who was surely talking to her. Then he dreamt of her looking sideways, in a city at night, the lights of the cars in the background, as she pondered on her wanderlust, with her hand on her chin. Finally he dreamt of her in a summer day, with a beautiful hat and solar glasses, with haze and mystery all around.
She was never looking directly at him in those dreams. She was, indeed, looking elsewhere. And he believed in dreams. He remembered his dreams, at least those with her.
And according to those dreams, he was not the “he” Lynn was talking about. It was pretty obvious.
In any case, she was in Alaska and he lived in Dubai. 12 timezones and 15 years of difference. The other side of the planet. The chances of seeing her again were dim, ridiculously small. Maybe only at the next conference, the following year. Maybe never again. Maybe he should stop texting altogether. Maybe that is how things should unfold, after all.
He took the decision of getting rid of her image. Of getting rid of this obsession on her. He thought it was not only the best for him, but also the best for her.
He had to. It was the only rational thing to do, no matter what his heart would tell him at night, no matter how beautiful those dreams were.
After many years, no matter how hard he tried, those Indian Ocean green eyes and that smile stayed forever in him, defying all of his rational thinking.
Lynn and Frank never met again.