Sunday, 3 March 2013

The last Etruscan

For many weeks, before Christmas, there was a young woman who got on the bus a few stops along from me who, despite her softly rounded features, neat plaits and pink hair clips, always seemed regally self-possessed.  Perhaps it was something in the straight-shouldered way she carried herself, or her complete lack of interest in the other passengers.  

Her interest was always outside the bus, at least for the first few yards, when she would be looking intently out the window for the skinny young man with the sparse moustache who would be waiting at the B&B just along the road from the bus stop.  On dry days he would be on the steps; if the weather was very wet, he would be standing inside, looking out the bay window with its small sign hanging from a chain that always said: ‘vacancies’.  

Every morning she was on the bus, always sitting on the left-hand side, he would be waiting to wave as the bus passed. she would always make some small signal--not as much as a wave--but raise her hand as if to wave, then casually tuck a strand of hair behind her ear.

They both looked absurdly young and I wondered if they were guests at the B&B, or if it belonged to family or they had perhaps taken it over (I had noted that the display of dusty plastic flowers in the window had recently disappeared).  

There was something touching about the way he always waited; about her studied nonchalance.  I always assumed from the eager way he waved, set against her evident embarrassment and the small smile of satisfaction--an expression that I have seen on the faces of ancient Etruscan sculptures--that she was the more loved, he the more loving.

But one morning he was not waiting.  She looked intently out the window,  turning in her seat as we passed, but there was no sign of him.  She lowered her head and stared at her phone, fiddling with it,  still studying it as she got off at her stop as if she were willing it to send her a sign.  The next day, and the next and the day after that he was not there, though every morning her head turned.

I was away for two weeks or so and after I returned I did not see either of them, though like the girl I found myself looking in the bay window of the B&B hoping to catch a glimpse of one  or other of them...or perhaps to see them sitting down to breakfast together at one of the white-clothed tables with their bud vases and matching cruet sets.  

After a while I stopped looking, stopped wondering, until a week or two ago when the girl reappeared at her old stop.  She got on the bus and took her usual seat on the left-hand side, though she stared straight ahead for the whole journey.  Each weekday morning she has been on the bus, though there has been no sign of the young man.  She no longer looks as the bus passes the B&B.  She does not wear her hair in plaits with pink hair clips, nor do her lips curve in the secret smile of a woman who knows she is loved. 

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