At The Next Till


He's here! Oh, my God, he is here.

An unknown woman's voice at the till just behind me. A man answers. I freeze.

It's Hector.

It's Hector, alright. I find myself along with Luce on a Greek island – one of the less-known ones – for a short summer holiday. We're staying at a little studio at the outskirts of the little azure and white village. We run out of groceries. We draw lots. I lose, I get to do the shopping. I enter the small-sized but quite cluttered store. Decide to breakfast Greek-style: tomato, feta cheese, barley rusks, hard-boiled eggs, home-made fig-jam. I'll pass the goat's milk. I get everything, I go to the cash register. I lay all items before an unsmiling dark-haired girl (jeez, she's smoking, do they allow this?). She very leisurely scans them. The prices pop-up electronically on the LED display. More than a bit expensive. Next time we'll try the low-season. Dear God, it's Hector!

I don't have to look back. I can guess, I know every move of his. I've been there before. He's juggling with the packets, joking with the prices or the ingredients of the products. Everything's the same. Only I'm not there. Another one is. She occasionally laughs, they share a joke, like we used to. Way back when.

Will he recognise me? Do I hope or do I fear? I haven't really ever been a style freak, no dramatic changes in my choice of clothes or my hair-do's. I'm almost certain to be recognised instantly, even seen from the back. He'd recognise me, he'd often helped me with combing my hair or putting a necklace on, with my blouse snaps at the back, occasionally with my bra, he'd know. And anyone else would notice, I'm being conspicuous. From the slight tremor that took over me, from my nervousness, fidgeting with the coins in my hand, adjusting my sunglasses.

Do I hope? Since when has re-establishing affection been a sin? I loved him, I still feel for him, he loved me, he loved me to the last moment, to his last fond kiss, a kiss of kindness and magnanimity. If I was to turn around, he'd greet me with a "hey, hi, Rach, weirdest thing, to meet you here of all places!", he'd laugh, he'd introduce me to his companion. He'd let nothing resurface that would trouble me. "Cause of happiness".

Do I fear? It's been almost four years. Haven't I finally come to terms with who I am, haven't I re-established and re-defined myself? And would he embarrass me, call me names or look daggers at me? Yes, I have. And, no, he wouldn't.

Fine, I turn around. And then what? Amenities? Little white lies? A façade of interest? "How's your book doing?", "Jolly well. Has already been translated into seven languages. And how's 'H' doing?", "Growing up fast. Still having questions to ask".

I have questions, but I wouldn't dare ask them. I wonder, does he still take his tea the way he did? Can he find his favorite English beer wherever he travels? Or hot-dogs the way they make them in London? Has he learned to cook? Or does she cook for him?

Does he reminisce? Does he still remember me?

His comments trail up to my ears. It's not eavesdropping, I know most of what he's going to say before he actually does. That's not strange, we'd been as close as it gets before we got married. That explains my precognition, but doesn't give a clue as to why we went our separate ways.

I reflect: these little spontaneous mannerisms were his alone, the way he jingled the change, the way he raced with the shopping-cart through the multistore corridors, fooling in general. He wasn't doing it for my benefit, sometimes I'd tell him off, I wasn't enjoying it all the time.

But that was him. That was like him. That doesn't change. And I loved him for what he was. He'd said he couldn't stand me loving him less than someone else. Didn't I love him enough?

How much is "enough"? Do you count it in flower bouquets and evenings out, in kisses and tears? Or do you count it in the dizziness you get when you "take the plunge" or "cross the street"? Do you count or do you feel?

It'd be a lie to say I've ever counted. But wouldn't it be a bigger lie to say I know what it's like to really feel? I always felt I was happy with what I had and all of a sudden I wanted something I thought I couldn't have. Which is a vicious circle, because, as it turned out, I could have it and I have had it. And all over again: I'm happy with what I now have, I think.

Verdict passed: I neither count nor feel. The winds of life blow and I'm carried along. We all are. And occasionally we end up on the same Greek island.

A lump blocks my throat. My light tremor is giving way to a visible shivering. The girl's leisurely moves almost infuriate me. Be done with it. According to a clock overhead I'm at the till for thirty-five or forty seconds. They seem like hours, time is molten.

Be done with it! Why do I feel that whatever I'd choose to do would hurt me? Ignoring him would hurt, talking idly with him would hurt, too, taking the initiative, oh, I don't think I could pull it through.

But the thing that will absolutely kill me is the possibility that he has recognised me, but chose not to speak. Chose to hold his peace forever. To not let the least quaver enter his voice or halt his flow of speech. For love of her. For love of me.

And we're on a tiny island. Won't we bump into each other presently? We might. Will I have to go through this again? I don't know. Does that mean that I haven't actually reconciled myself with the new 'me'? I don't know either… Oh, now I understand my little sister. There'll be questions forever.

The bill and the change received, I stuff all things in a bag, mindless of the egg-carton overturning, and rush out of the shop, into the fresh insular air, into the street, away from where pain comes. I take the steep-ascending alley towards our studio, towards where pain will diminish.

But will never go away, will it?