It was an opportune meeting. It was a bar at the far end of the beach side strip. Away from the bulk of the tourist restaurants and tourist bars, away from the gimmicks. It had a more local flavour – the clientèle weren’t so much locals, but foreigners who made a living there.
She was queued in a narrow corridor for the bathroom, a single stall, lit by tea light candles, like the whole thing was an afterthought, tacked on in order to comply with someone else’s statutes.
I joined her, and she mimed ‘it’s occupied’ followed by a shrug that I took as ‘what can you do?’. She waited. Still. Not impatient, not agitated.
The door was pulled to, but not closed – the flickering candlelight making it hard to spot in the dancing shadows. There was no movement under the door.
“You sure there’s no one in there?” I asked in English, because that’s what tourists do, because they think the whole world should adapt to them.
She shook her head.
I tapped the door, slowly pushing it open. It was empty. Not empty, obviously, there was the toilet, a cheap plastic brush in a cheap plastic holder with a crack in it, the toilet roll holder on the wall, a stack of spares on a high shelf. Cheap stuff, even in the half light.
I held the door open for her like it was a ballroom and bowed like a good servant.
“Takk.” She said and her smile carried through in her tone, even if I couldn’t see it. A blush, possibly, but a simple mistake.
It was later in the evening when she joined me at a table on the promenade. Her group had broken up – a mixed bag of nationalities, retiring for the evening after too few drinks. Eighties music, played on vinyl drifted out, danced with the soft crash of waves. She sat without asking and joined me in staring out into the ocean. The running lights of a sail boat drifted past. Thirty, forty foot would be my guess. The waitress, a woman who could not have looked more clichéd Scandinavian brought over three shots of ouzo. Maybe she thought we were kindred spirits, travelers, but not tourists. Maybe not. I’d tipped well, and not hit on her, maybe she just liked being treated as human.
“They say,” she spoke in accented English, “that on a clear day you can see Crete from here.”
She put the glasses down in front of us, took one for herself.
“Inga.” She said by way of introduction.
“Bodil.” Said the woman from the toilet.
“John.” I said.
We charged our glasses, downed them like professionals. The waitress gave Bodil a wink and walked back in. Roy Orbison drifted out.
“You think it’s true?” Bodil asked. She spoke in a precise English that suggested it was a second language.
“The Crete thing? No. It’s about a hundred and fifty clicks away… you’d need to be, about a click and a half up to get past the curvature of the earth.”
“Huh. I always wanted to visit there. I grew up loving the Greek myths – Knossus is probably the basis for the labyrinth.”
“The David Bowie thing?” She gave me a hard look. “I watched Disney’s ‘Hercules’…”
“The labyrinth – with the minotaur.”
“The maze. Designed by Daedalus.”
“See! You do know.”
“It was in the spin off cartoon series…” She gave me a long look, light blue eyes appraising me, judging me.
“I think,” she said, narrowing her eyes, “that there are things you aren’t telling me.”
She was right, of course, but that’s almost always true. She never told me why she travelled on an English passport, why she never carried her phone, nor why she had the gear that she had…
Admittedly, I didn’t ask. We were, a little occupied, as it were, when we returned to her place, a semi-detached unit. A large duffel bag was packed ready to go by the back door, padded camera bags in bright hiking colours, a directional parabolic microphone and a long sports style telephoto lens in pre 2000 Swiss woodland camouflage.
She was a journalist, for some investigative website that propounded the reality of the failings of both the borders and the system that theoretically governed them. A kind of one world theory that started with environmentalism and by necessity was moving towards politicism.
Allegations of government corruption, old money and mob connections connected with Thera and the airport there. Intel said drugs, an empire expanding out from the Mediterranean.
She was investigating. But playing tourist. And we played it well.
A few days later, our itineraries diverged, and she was a note in my little black book.
I did not expect to see her again.
It was in Mexico, Cancun. Gone were the New Age flowing dresses, the cascade of brown hair that tickled her shoulders, replaced with Spring Break swimwear and her hair pulled into a functional ponytail. She was with a group that could’ve almost have passed as a group of college friends, if you could ignore the distinct lack of fun emanating off them. Most did, the party went on around them.
Bodil’s last piece had been exceptional. Well researched, well documented, well written. It had garnered mild media attention before slipping behind whatever was trending that day, lost in a sea of petitions that could be signed without leaving the comfort of your chair, without closing the myriad of still open tabs… She’d ruffled some feathers, but hardly made waves.
She had a fire, a passion, and that made her stand out.
I should’ve let the past stay where it was, but I wanted her to see me. I wanted her to notice.
She did. One dusk. Again, the beach, again, the staring out at the ocean – this time the Caribbean. A Corona stuffed with a slice of lime. A Cuban cigar, unlit, because there were still other people around.
An American couple were ignoring their child by the water’s edge, they were busy drinking cocktails made from husks of a pineapple, empty shells filled with booze, long straws and tiny paper umbrellas. Every so often a group of tanned and buffed college kids would stroll by, going somewhere, returning somewhere.
The ignored child was flinging wet sand into the ocean. Or trying to. It was scattering shrapnel across it’s arc. Bodil caught a splatter on her bare legs. Still too pale to blend in, if you were looking – but it was wiser to sacrifice some cover to minimise melanomas. She looked around for the negligent parents. She noticed me, noticing her. I took off my sunglasses, inclined my head.
“I…” the smile was genuine and carried through to her voice, her eyes, “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I know, right?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.”
“But there’s no rain.” She didn’t get it. “And that’s not a Pina Colada…”
I asked her out to dinner. Anything she wanted. Get changed, meet me in the lobby in an hour.
Tørrfisk, wine, krumkake.
We sat on the promenade, outside a bar at the end of the strip. It was a more family affair, but it was tourist, just tourist of a different flavour.
Two youths were passed out on recliners on the sand. The sounds of drinking and motor boats drifted in over the cool breeze.
She was excited, energetic, fidgety. There’d been a breakthrough, something big, something that she felt would change things. She wanted to tell me, I could tell. She didn’t.
“I should go.” She said. “Big day tomorrow.” She smiled as she said it, to make it feel less like I’d been rejected. She didn’t need to. “Thank you for the lovely evening.” It lit her eyes. She leant down and kissed me on the forehead the walked down to the water’s edge and out of sight.
And she disappeared. Never to be heard from again.
Such were my orders.
And that’s why I left.
This is really a first draft, and as much as I like how it turned out, I realise that there is a lot of story that is untold, as well as a lot of story unsaid, and I wonder if it is a little concise.
It turns out that I’m not really a fan of the title either, but it’s functional. I’ll change it at some point.
Normally, I’d like to set things aside for a couple of weeks before revisiting them, but it felt good to put something up early in the year.
It also feels like it desperately wants a follow up story, and I’ve had ideas kicking around in my head – but I also feel that a follow up would diminish this story and it’s end… Realistically, I’ll probably write it, and then regret it.