The awkwardness of the moment was lost on neither of us. Both of us sitting there, not for ourselves, or maybe really, just for ourselves; fulfilling a promise we had never even actually made. It was a particularly hot day, even by Caribbean standards, and though I had just come from the shower maybe half an hour ago, sweat was already running from all parts of my body, making me long for both the shower and the air-conditioned coolness of my hotel room. Neither of us could quite meet the otherâ€™s eyes, but I could feel her sizing me up occasionally as she sipped at the Black Label/Sprite she had called for before sending her waiter away for the afternoon. I was glad I had decided on the white sundress and slippers, since they gave me the confidence to outlast the heat and the moment. The only relief, from both our awkwardness and the weather, came from the ice cold Heineken I was holding onto for dear life. She had specified that the waiter bring one from the very bottom of the cooler, (the family section, she had said) and that he make sure it had a full jacket, but no ice in it. I was barely drinking it, content to enjoy the chill it provided and the feel of the melting moisture on my hands.
Up close she looked very different from what I had expected. All I had heard about her had led me to believe that she would look older, but even though the strain was showing on her face that day, she still looked much younger than I knew her in my mind to be. As I watched her out of the corner of my eyes I could see the slight tremor in her hands as she lit another Marlboro and tried to toss the match out to the sea. It fell far short, landing in white sand, rather than the blue water.
â€œI had got down to one pack of lights a day, but now Iâ€™m back to two packs of reds. She wouldnâ€™t like that, but she would understand.â€
She inhaled deeply and looked out at the water, giving me an opportunity to study her further. Her barely-there hair was a brilliant blond and accented the color her skinned had been tinted by the sun. I had heard that she had been wearing her hair near bald for years now, as a sign of her finally coming into herself. If she had been meaning to make a statement, her hair alone would have done just that on an island like this one. But her statements did not end with her hair. The bathing suit and short trunks she was wearing revealed more tattoos than I had ever seen on one person. The bright branches and flowers of a flamboyant tree covered her entire right shoulder blade, disappearing into the bands of her top and stopping just short of her bicep, where she had put an African tribal band of some sort, which featured several interconnecting symbols. Below that band was another, thinner, darker, barbed wired one and then a newer tattoo of two hands clasped in prayer, the slightly shaded boxed area beneath it where deceased names were usually place, was still bare. She had had her name inked into her right thigh, just where her shorts ended and had had a dragon cover the remaining area. She had even tattooed an image of the sun on the area before her toes. I knew for a fact that the left side of her body was equally decorated, starting at her neck, where she had the word G.O.A.T. tattooed in elaborate cursive.
â€œIâ€™m going to have her face and name done next, Iâ€™m thinking on my lower back since itâ€™s the only place I have left. And of course her name goes under the hands.â€
For the first time our eyes actually met and held and for a second we recognized each otherâ€™s pain.
â€œShe would have liked that, would have thought it very flattering.â€
â€œNo, not really. She probably would have thought that it was too much.â€
She reached over and grabbed her box of Marlboros, lit another one and made another attempt to throw the match out to the sea. It landed in the sand.
But this gave me another few seconds to watch her and so I studied the row of gold earring studs that she had running up her earlobe. She was certainly different, more different than anyone I knew.
â€œSo what are we suppose to talk about?â€
I did not have an answer. Just wrapping my brain around the events that had led us both to this moment was difficult for me.
â€œHer, I suppose.â€
Her, my freshly laid to rest wife, who had died in her arms, not mine. Who upon learning that she was definitely not going to win her fight against cancer, had spent a week cleansing our home of her presence, packed up and moved back her Caribbean home. Her, who had forbidden me from following her until she permitted it and then had return to the comfort of her first great love.
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