We had only just returned from cruise number eight but no sooner had that cruise ended than cruise number nine was booked. And each time, I'd ask myself, 'Why?' Why do we keep sailing the seven sees in a metal box the height of a three-storey building filled with a city of people? Some of whom, I hasten to add, may well have passed on the streets of our hometown without a momentary glance! But the reason is always the same - it's that love/hate relationship. It's like a drug. Like the looping and linking of the paper strips in a Christmas paper chain kit. We finish one cruise and prepare for the fix from the next. An Introvert's Gehenna There's an unspoken word that applies to cruises that does not seem to apply to any other type of holiday. I'll give an example. Stayed in resorts for days, and the only persons spoken to are the bartender, concierge and maybe if I feel like it, travel companions! Lol! But on a cruise, it's a very different deal. By some form of a cruise spell, we automatically say hello to everyone and move in and out of conversations as quickly as a Singapore thunderstorm. At check-in you have already met: - Birgit and a most shockingly beautiful pair of Birkenstock on foot who proceeds to let us know their pre-booked transfer from the airport to the cruise terminal was a no-show! - In the waiting lounge, Dana from the Midwest (America) shares with us (or rather the entire lounge (such is her unbounded enthusiasm)) that it is her first cruise! And on detecting a slight hint of Britishness in my accent suddenly sounds like all Miami is Dana's captive audience. - Then there is Jai whose niece Meera (we discover) attends the same school as my daughter. Jai has been to a handful of the school's social gatherings, but we have never before seen him. Yet here we all were in conversation, exchanging room numbers, discussing shoe sizes, detailing tour excursions booked and how many leaves of lettuce we usually have in our salad and all before crossing the ship's threshold. Family Saloons You've spent all year running around and picking up after your kids and your partner. Honey why have we got a letter from the insurance company about the policy not been renewed? I thought you renewed it. Was the reply back. Why would you think I did when I specifically told you on Tuesday morning that you need to do it because I won't have the time. Is that what you said? Was the reply. And your left wondering who the bloody hell you speak to half the time? Kids we are going to be late for school lets go.' Mom, I can't find my school shoes. Standing at the top of the stairs and staring at the same spot you've been staring at for the last five minutes will not help you find them. No mom but I don't know where they are. Listen kids, the school shoe fairy has not been in town for three weeks now, please find your shoes and let us go. Mom can you help, please. Definitely after being everyone's personal assistant, secretary, doctor, therapist, teacher, chauffeur, detective and shoe finder, indeed you take a holiday to get away from all of that. Or not. Take a cruise, where you not only take on your family but everyone else and their extended five living generations. But unless you lucked out on the inlaw lottery, you could well return one family member short or nine months later add an additional member to the family. Gastronomy Cesspools Three months leading up to your cruise sees you joining a food convent. Religiously denying yourself of any morsel of gastronomical pleasure. The gym fast becomes the third party in the relationship and soon discovers body parts and contortions not even your partner of seven years was aware of. But everyone is happy because you can now fit into that bikini which is one size down. And those hot pants you bought in the Christmas sale which are mystifyingly two sizes down actually fits like Kylie Minogue's gold pair. All of which you become compelled to wear within the first three days of boarding the cruise. Because after day three eating everything from garlic butter grilled steaks at breakfast to Yuzu-cured pork belly at dinner and participating in wine-sipping escapades from nine until nine, it's inevitable you'll disembark the size you were - three months prior. It's Destination Speed Dating For some time, you've been making eyes at those white-on-white cliffs of Santorini. You've wanted to be all over those beaches licked by the turquoise waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands. And you are therefore, undoubtedly seduced by the cruise itinerary that includes one of your idyllic places. The cruise docks, you are finally there, the excitement is much too much. You have time for a skinny latte and a philander all while discovering what's turning out to be your new favourite place. You roll from a latte into lunch. And as the last of the destination's sun smiles on you, you want that lunch rolls into a romantic dinner. But that never happens. Why? Because your time has expired, the ship calls, and it is onto the next place. And with each dock in a new port is another little dalliance that never materialises into anything more serious. And your left feeling a little short-changed. The reason I'm sure speed dating went out of fashion. Social Media Deficiency After spending nearly as much of your moolah on your wardrobe as you did on the cruise holiday, you understandably want your Instagram runway. And after sweating blood and tears in the gym for three months, you undoubtedly need to flaunt your Tiktoked swagger. Except the Internet/Wifi even where complimentary appears to be the only thing on a cruise ship in scarcity. So much for your social media credentials because 'if you didn't post it right away, it didn't happen!' As someone who loves cruising, please note I wrote this with my tongue in my right cheek. It is not intended to turn you off cruising; instead, it is the opposite—all, of course, when it becomes safe, and we feel happy to do so.
Victoria Station tomorrow xxx. Was all his text message read. (Loren felt the nerves slightly churn in her stomach.) She hastily locked her phone and tossed it into her handbag as she sprinted across the station's forecourt. With seconds to go, she leapt through the last open door of the first carriage she came across. Just as the whistle blew. Having now made it onto the 21:23 from Euston, Loren was pleased she had taken the extra minute in the office to swap her heels for trainers. The train was rolling out of the station before she'd even start to make her way through first class and towards the less pretentious section. She'd have loved to just take a seat where she was but imagined she'd need to be on her manager's, manager's salary to be able to justify that. Still, she was pleased with herself as it meant she could be home in forty minutes instead of the one hour and fifteen minutes the next train afforded. Moreso she was delighted with the fact she had finally received a signature on the £55,000 contract for a conference she had been negotiating. That in itself was an early birthday present. And so she mentally tossed it into the bag of things she had to celebrate that week. Speaking of bags, her hands were full of them. And as Loren moved along the carriages, she lovingly held on to them. Trying her best to save them, notably the Tiffany's, from being smashed into the sides of the seats as the train hurtled towards her home station. After four years working at the hotel, both her colleagues and regular clients knew Loren did not work on her birthday. LL Cool J would have to be in residence for her to do so, and since that was not the case - she was out of the office tomorrow. In the meantime, her own LL wanted to meet her at Victoria Station tomorrow. Finally, she made her way into every day 'Joe Bloggs' carriages. Pleased to find there were available seats, she plopped herself onto the first two on the right-hand side of the carriage. It was definitely a perk of commuting at this time of the day or instead night. Relieved to be finally seated, she placed the bags in the window seat, threw her head back and closed her eyes to catch her breath. It was a series of incoming text whistle alerts that drew her attention. Unperturbed, she finally opened her eyes, to see the passenger sat diagonally across the aisle from her checking his phone. It turned out, it was him and not her who had received the messages. (These darn Samsung phones. I should change my message alert. ) She thought to herself. And then Loren remembered her earlier text message, she sighed profoundly trying her best to blot out the text and indeed the sender. As she had not yet dared to face him. She reached for the bottle of lemon-and-ginger-infused water, the head chef had prepared for her during the day and took a sip. Compared with when Loren first started at the hotel, the relationship between herself and Chef Handerson had simmered immensely. From that of a spitting fat pan to a simmering, flavoursome jus. So much so, he made her fruit-infused water on the days he was in. And just then Loren had a thought. What if he was slowly poisoning her? She dismissed her line of thought and laughed at the concoction. She peeked into the Tiffany gift bag, but that revealed nothing. She, however, recognised the handwriting on one of the envelopes and instantaneously knew it was from one of her longstanding clients. And most likely contained Selfridges gift vouchers. When the pull of the text message became too much, she gave in and picked up her phone. There was a text message from Ted, her colleague in the revenue department. Sorry, I didn't get a chance to give you your birthday hug before you left xxx. Unlike Chef Handerson, Ted had been very welcoming to Loren from her very first day at the hotel. An extremely humble and modest guy, he got on with everyone. He appeared to be the first in, in the mornings and last out at nights. That was until one early morning Loren spotted him and the live-in duty manager wrapped around each other like mallow twists just outside her room. And it was Ted who had supported her when she challenged Chef Handerson about the toxic and hostile way in which he always spoke to her. And as a result, the virtual pots, pans and knives no longer lanced between Chef Handerson and herself. Or could it be down to the fact she had on three separate occasions bumped into the General Manager and Chef Handerson coming out of one of the corner suites? And on each occasion, it was just after lunch. Touched by the kind sentiment of his text, she patted her chest and smiled back at her screen. She texted him back. Ahh hun, so sweet! and three warm hug emojis. There was another text message, this one from Aidan. Loren had been working at the hotel two full weeks before she met Aidan. He was away on a two week holiday when she started. But on his first day back, Loren felt his eyes, sparkly and blue as topaz tracking her as she walked into the office that morning. She stopped dead in her tracks next to where he stood at Ted's desk. Aidan walked out into the aisle where she stood, reached out his right arm and spoke. Hi, my name is Aidan, pleased to meet you. And then his Irish accent poured over her like the original Irish Cream itself. Loren outstretched her arm, her gaze unwavering. You have the most gorgeous eyes I have ever seen. Needless to say, Loren and Aidan got on very well after that. Her accounting queries got addressed right away, and any clarifications he needed regarding events, rooms conferences; she became his go-to girl. Although they sat an office apart, there were days they chatted on the phone for fifteen to half an hour at a time. It usually started off as a work query and gradually worked its way to harmless flirting. And on those perfect days, it would start with flirting and end with flirting. You always knew when Loren was speaking to Aidan, she laughed a heck of a lot. If you change your mind, the offer still stands for coffee tomorrow. Loren smiled wryly because Aidan was a factor in her present lover's tiff. Back in March, she had stayed late at work managing a client's residential conference. At the same time, Aidan, who is the financial controller, was also working late on the hotel's year-end accounts in his next-door office. They waved at each other as they always did. I take it you have a room booked tonight! He surmised. No, I'm catching the last train home. By the time you arrive home, it will be time to get back. Aidan chuckled. But why aren't going to your other half? We are sort of going through a break. A wry expression painted itself across Loren's face. Aidan took his glasses off. What was it this time, or should I not ask? Phoooo, the usual, he wants to get married, and I don't. But isn't that usually the other way round? The woman wants to get married, and the guy doesn't. It was this conversation that led to the opening of two bottles of red and the use of a hotel room all later charged as staff expenses. The morning after, Loren tried to continue as usual except she could not. For one, she had a headache from the red she had been drinking. That compounded with the unanswered twenty-one missed calls and text messages from her other half. He was at the hotel waiting to take her back to his after she had finished work. Loren mentioned none of this to Aidan, but there was no way to explain her disappearance to Reiss other than, to tell the truth. Everyone thought she had gone home and with the room charged under Aidan's name, Loren was just not in the hotel. She finally revisited the message that caused her to pick up her mobile in the first place. She re-read the text. There was no 'Hi' no 'Hello' no 'How are you?' No 'I miss you.' Okay maybe not the latter but at he at least wanted to meet up for her birthday. As the train pulled into her station, she yawned, feeling as tired as hell but relieved knowing she could sleep a little late the next morning. Minutes later, Loren was hurriedly turning the key in the door to her apartment. He mobile was ringing off the hook, and her bladder had lost all patience with her. Slamming the door shut, she dropped everything and got to the bathroom just in time. An egg sandwich and a bottle of J2 later she stood at the kitchen counter trying to figure out what the catch was with Victoria Station. But other than the fact that trains to Gatwick Airport from there - nothing stood out. He didn't say to bring a weekend bag, although she had ample clothing at his, to furnish a mini getaway. But neither had she booked any time off outside of her birthday. Enough pondering over that she thought as the Tiffany bag caught her eye once more. In the bag were two birthday cards, one signed by the conference and events team and the other by the accounts department with Aidan's signature taking up almost a quarter of the inside of the latter. What she hadn't realised was that there were two gift boxes inside the Tiffany bag. She untied the smaller gift box first, and it revealed a pair of silver earrings. In the second gift box was a matching silver bracelet. Looking at the items, she surmised it was Aidan who went out shopping - he also previously worked at Tiffany's. She messaged him back. Thank you x 2. Will let you know regarding coffee. In another gift bag was an elegant, print scarf - perfect for those cooler summer nights. In another, some chocolates, wine and spa vouchers. And in the envelope, just as she thought some Selfridges gift vouchers from Mr and Mrs Cohen. Mrs Cohen and her husband have been regulars to the hotel over the years. An American couple now in their early seventies, they'd visit London every October and occupy one of the corner suites overlooking the square for three weeks at a time. Mrs Cohen had actually met her husband in the said hotel nearly fifty years ago while attending a bar mitzvah. They'd stopped visiting the hotel entirely when it fell into disrepair. But now fully refurbished and under new management, the hotel had won them back as regular guests. Loren happened to be the lucky soul who picked up the phone four years ago when Mrs Cohen called to make their reservations. As someone who had seen the hotel transform over many years, Mrs Cohen had a lot of stories to tell. Some of which Loren have related to prospective clients on show rounds to sell the property. Because who doesn't love a good story? Loren supposed she should at least acknowledge receipt of the text message and so picked up her phone to respond. And as she did a video call came in. It was Reiss. She inhaled, composed herself and answered the call. Reiss laid in bed with the duvet across his bare chest, his right arm holding the phone, his left arm behind his head. Loren recognised the double corded, navy blue and white duvet and pillowcase set she had bought last Christmas on the bed. He looked a little tired but rousing none the less. She had shied away from that bed since March, and suddenly she wanted to be there. On better terms, she'd be assured of a full West Indian at breakfast, at the least she could have asked for an under duvet camera dive. But at this particular time, she felt it best to keep the conversation above the duvet. - Oh hi! I was just about to message you. He paused his expression, that of amused puzzlement. Calling to wish you a Happy Birthday! She was about to say It's not my birthday ye... When à quick glance at her phone said differently. It had just gone 00:01. Thank you! Her voice almost clipped and she was unsure why because if anyone should be upset, it should be him. What were you about to call to say? The air was slightly terse between them. And Loren knew the reason all too well. Further, she had not yet gotten around to explaining herself. But Loren had no explanation to give. Saying her eyes became entangled with another pair of eyes in the office was just not going to cut it. I was going to say see you tomorrow. By the way, what time should I meet you? Loren asked. Ten o'clock on platform two. Loren chuckled, her face now a genuine delight. Is it Harry Potter tomorrow and should I wear a T-shirt and jeans? You're not a T-shirt and jeans type of birthday girl! She smiled a sincere smile at the man that knew her all too well. And that's Kings Cross! Platform 9 3/4 What's Kings Cross? She asked. Harry Potter. He replied. They both went quiet. Loren with a puzzled look on her face while Reiss watched on while her cogs turned. And then it clicked. Judging by how slow she was then, she guessed it must have been a turtle egg sandwich she had been eating, and she laughed at herself.
What Happens on a Cruise, Stays on the Cruise - Part 4
Moving his lips around to meet hers, he covered her mouth with a kiss. His tongue gliding threw her parted lips. Slowly he ran his fingertips just inside the waistline of her silk underwear. Her body weakened from his scent, from his hold, from his tone from his touch. Her chest heaved. Her knees buckled. Her breathing intensified. Now she wrestled with him to release her arms that were still in his grip so that she could hold his body and they can play a fair match - Harry held her firm. He finally releases her arms but only to spin her around. She was now up against the wall where Harry hoisted her by the hips. She looked down at him, her eyes glistening. His eyes, dark and intense. She tilted her head towards him, cupped his face in her palms and played for those lips that had roused her all day. Harry was quick and rebutted, resting his forehead against hers, nostrils exchanging the contents of each other lungs, but their lips stayed apart. Harry! She whispered panting. Lemaruh, let's go to dinner before I do to you now what I have been doing to you in my dreams. (He uttered under his breath) Anything else from either of us will end up causing thunderstorms in our centre courts. He brought her back down on her feet, buried his face in the nape of her neck, held her close, inhaled long and deep and whispered. You are like fire on steroids! As Harry relaxed his hold, she rested her face in his bare chest. Neither of them able to move. Lemara sensed it was taking every ounce of restraint from him to remain in the position he was. As she relaxed her rigorously tense body and allowed herself to acknowledge that rain had indeed poured within her centre court, the guilt trip started, and the entire mood of her body changed. Harry sensed it and stepped back, eyes firmly on hers that were now turned towards the floor. I'm all ears! Lemara looked at him and back towards the floor but said nothing. Lemaruh. Look at me. What is it? She glanced at him, and tried to hide the torment she was sure was now visible on her face; by turning her body away. Lemara could feel her stomach churn, and she dashed for the bathroom shutting the door behind her. She stood over the sink, face buried in the palm of her hands, heart racing back and forth between London and the man now knocking on the bathroom door. Does my Egoiste smell that bad? Harry could hear Lemara suppress a laugh from behind the door. Let's get some dinner. Harry called out from behind the door. And realising how hungry she was, opened the door and came out. Let's! She responded. I am going to suggest we sit at our respective tables; otherwise, I won't be responsible for what I might do to you. -------------------------------------------------- A squirt of hand sanitiser at the entrance of the main dining room and the waiter directed them to their respective tables. The dining hall was split over two floors. Lemara's table was almost in the centre of the dining hall on the ground floor. It was a table for ten guests. Harry was at a table on the balcony, overlooking the gigantic hall. The hall was awash with light from the orange and yellow panels in the ceiling. The atmosphere was charged with excited chatter. The cutlery tap-dancing on plates competed with the clinking of wine and champagne glasses greeting each other. It was contagious. I'll walk you to your table. Was more a statement than a gesture from Harry. Ahh, you don't have to do that! She responded quickly. Did I not tell you that as long as I am around... 'Harry,' She cut him off jokingly - 'the table is just there!' Lemaruh, there is also a method to my madness. I get to see the faces of any suitors sat at your table. His lips were curling into a dark smile as he caught her eyes, his right palm on her lower back in a way that denoted ownership. She chuckled in amusement. Then should I be visiting your table - see what femme fatales... Lemaruh, (cutting her off) as crazy as the next statement may sound, I only have eyes for you. I cannot say the same for you! Haha! True. I do not have eyes for me. Harry looked across at her, Lemara did her best to suppress her giggle, but that only resulted in her cracking a smile. By this time they were at her table. Nine guests were already seated, and indeed there was an empty chair waiting for her. She said good evening to the group, and their conversations stopped. A middle-aged gentleman seated directly across from her piped up. Are you the lady who was missing at dinner last night? Before she could answer a lady at an adjacent table tapped Lemara on the arm to declare her love for her dress. I couldn't wear that sort of thing anymore, she said. However, my husband would have loved it. Holding on to Lemara's wrist and tapping her husband on his arm who was genuinely more interested in the salmon on his plate, all while she said this. Thank you! Was all Lemara could think to say with a smile on her face. I'm Jennie by the way, and this is my husband Rawb, and this here is my brawther... And as the Texan drawl took over Lemara's brain, the names went over her head. That was until she got around to her son Justin who Lemara noticed sat almost riveted for the entire introductory session with a gaze that revealed his interest. I'm Lemara nice to meet you all! Conscious that she may be delaying her table, Lemara smiled and waved in an attempt to close the conversation. But Jennie had different ideas. Lemara! That's beautiful! Where is your name from? Nothing special, my dad wanted to call me Lara, my mom preferred the name, Emma. I suppose this was the compromise. And is this, your husband? Jennifer, let them sit and have dinner. Jennie's husband, who had been quiet until now, suddenly piped up. A glance on his plate now void of food confirmed why. Take your seat, my dear; my wife can go on a bit. Rawb, I am only trying to be friendly. They're that couple we saw in Mallory Square today. The entire saga took less than a minute, but it felt like a full-on theatre production, and all that time, Harry stood waiting, chair pulled out for Lemara to sit. See you after dinner. Was all Harry said, but it seemed a bit colder than usual and colder than the salmon ceviche Rob had just eaten. None of the warmth or affection or jest that Lemara had become accustomed. The waiter was now laying the dinner napkin across Lemara's lap. She looked up to say thank you, and to her absolute surprise, it was Edwin. Ahh hi, Edwin! Even the guests two decks below must have heard her. Did you have a good day in Key West today? He asked. I sure did and you? Yes myself and the two other crew went to the beach, spent the afternoon there. He took her dinner choices and turned to leave, and there it was - that sparkle in his eyes. She watched him walk away. Suddenly she remembered Harry and looked up to the balcony where he sat in time to see him cast a look in her direction. She waved at him. Why aren't you and your husband sitting together? Asked the lady on her right. He is not my husband. And as the statement dropped, Lemara realised the Pandora box she may be opening. We saw you in Mallory Square today. Occupying the dinner table was a Mrs 'Chatterbox', whose eyebrows remained perpetually raised throughout the entire dinner. It was as if something or someone at the table had put her in an indefinite state of shock. But listening to her speak, it was becoming a game trying to work out what was real and what was a tale too tall. With her were her husband Mr Quiet who appeared to be suffering from trapped wind or was he waiting for the Mrs to shut up or dinner to finish so he could escape and their two daughters. Mrs Chatterbox was quick to point out Lemara was the one missing at the dinner table last night. Pretty sure everyone else figured that out. Never the less having discovered Lemara was on her first cruise, Mrs Chatterbox dropped another headline, herself and her family had made twenty-six cruises. The couple immediately to her right was celebrating their honeymoon (Mr and Mrs H for honeymooners) and Mr H buried his head into the glass of wine he held as Mrs Chatterbox restarted her chorus of travels. Mrs H stroked the side of her husband's face with one hand but an eagle-eyed Lemara spotted her doing a lot more with the other hand. On Lemara's left, a single mom and her two daughters, one in her teens the other celebrating her 21st birthday. As the table became disenchanted with Mrs Chatterbox and her tales, it freed up conversations between others, and Lemara soon discovered the family of three were also from London. Mrs Chatterbox realising she no longer held the floor turned to her suffering husband and was almost purring. Disconcerting, to say the least. Whatever would happen with dinner that night, Lemara was grateful she didn't have to pay for it. She pondered at the person, whose role it was to select which guests got lumbered with whom at the dinner table. Suddenly she wanted to be anywhere, but at that table, she glanced up to the balcony where Harry was sitting. Harry was engaged in holding court. Mrs Chatterbox, no longer content with the imaginary attention from her husband, turned her attention back to Lemara. Lemara, how old are you? I am twenty-three. No one would think it possible but Mrs Chatterbox's eyebrows were now forming parts of her hairline. Twenty-three? She retorted. How can you afford a cruise? The last of Lemara's West Indian breath left her. She smiled and held onto the cutlery she was using to cut into her rack of lamb, then with utmost grace, looked Mrs Chatterbox in the face and asked... Now, which answer would you like? The truth or the one best suited for poolside gossip? For the second time that evening (the first was to say hello to Lemara), she heard Mr Quiet speak. Looking at Lemara, he said. Please ignore my wife. Turning to his wife, he asked. What kind of question is that? Lemara tried her damndest to enjoy the rest of the meal, but the truth was that woman sat across the table had just insulted her. Her thoughts returned to Harry, and the fact that she would have much preferred to have been enjoying his downpour. Once again, Lemara glanced up at the balcony, and this time caught his eye, he curled his lips into a smile, and everything felt better. Two hours later, after a four-course dinner of beef carpaccio, spinach and bacon salad, rack of lamb and creme brulee, Lemara was now walking hand in hand with Harry to the nightclub. Walking down the stairs, Lemara could hear one of her favourite songs playing, that quickened her step so that she was now ahead of him. As she got to the bottom of the stairs, she turned and stopped in front of him, still holding his hand. Wanna dance? Lemaruh, I have many talents, but dancing isn't one of them. I wouldn't know! With a devilish grin, she cast a glance in the direction of his centre court and said... But something tells me I will soon find out exactly where your talents can be found!
What Happens on a Cruise, Stays on the Cruise - Part 3
And to provide some distraction from her breathing she bit down on her lower lip. Had she been walking around next to these all day? Trying to give herself a clean break, she raised her gaze only to now lock eyes with the authority behind those lips. Harry was smiling down at her, and if she hadn't known better, she would say it was one of those knowing smiles. As compelling as this is becoming, that is not what's going to happen here! His hold was very much that of a man in charge as he led her through the thick mire of sunset revellers - confident and firm. Lemara didn't flinch, neither did she try to pull herself away, of course, there was nowhere for her to go, and there was just something about being in his hold that just felt right. His body's contour against hers and that scent of his created such intensity; she now garnered unsolicited thoughts. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but he certainly had a flair of authority about him. And it was the way he would take charge without being condescending that was beginning to play a harmonious chord with her - the luggage cases yesterday, the shrimps not too long ago and now this. Lemara could not quite believe it, but just then she felt she was falling for him. This was an unexpected turn of events for her. When she flew out of England two days ago, the only thing on the agenda was topping up her melanin, joining the cocktail-sipping nine to nine escapades, inhaling the fresh air of the Caribbean sea and in between all of that take in the photo-ready destinations on the itinerary. And of course, there was the matter of the one she left in London. This time away was to help her navigate that landscape; she was not sure she anymore wanted. Instead, the only navigation been done was her fixed stare on the frame of the man now leading her by one hand out of the crowd and into open space like something out of a Hollywood film. They walked back onto the ship together and to her room, the airconditioned hallway offering a distracting respite. It was only now that they had arrived at her door that they released each other's hands. And as she unlocked the door, Harry reached over her left shoulder with his right hand, gently pushing the door ajar. She could sense his body very near hers. And she turned to find herself once again, thoroughly arrested by the immediate closeness of his body. And now, even in the coolness of the hallway, could feel the heat of his body envelop her. She exhaled sharply releasing some of the electricity they had generated earlier while walking through Mallory Square. Harry smiled a slow, sexy smile. His left hand was tilting Lemara's face up to his. His eyes now searching hers as if for some answer. The ship's horn blasted signalling their departure from Key West, as the captain manoeuvred it away from the dock. And while Lemara was slightly caught off guard by the rolling sway of the ship, Harry kept his dominating composure throughout until his mobile phone went off. Dinner in an hour and a half! Was all he said as he answered his phone and turned to walk back down the corridor towards the elevators. Lemara's breath slowly exited her body, as she stood watching him stride down the hallway, her eyes piercing the curve in his back until he disappeared into the elevator area. A little lightheaded, knees slightly buckling, she walked into the room, flung and splayed herself across the bed, face down. The sudden, sharp jolt broke the band that held her braids in a bun all day, and as it broke, sent her braids flaring across her face. She outstretched her arms under the pillows, and as she did, she could smell him in her dress. She inhaled, long and deep, closed her eyes and moaned his name out loud three times. Harry! Harry! Harry! Lemaruh! Lemaruh! Lemaruh! Was the response that came back to her, and it did so from above her head. There was only one person whom she knew pronounced her name that way, and it was the man whose name she was just calling out. But that was not possible, she had just watched him walk to the end of the hallway. Just then, she sensed the presence of someone. Her body now gripped with rigour mortice at the realisation that he had heard her calling out his name so sensually. I wished you'd left your door opened last night! It'd have saved me the call to the US Coast Guard! She could hear the amusement in his voice, and so she cleared the braids off her questioning face to see Harry standing over her. With a subtle flick of his head towards the door, You left it open! Now more concerned about the fact that she had left her door open, she rolled onto her side and bolted upright to look at the door. It's locked now! Winking at Lemara, as he said that and walked around to sit on the other side of the bed with a pleasing smile on his face. A smile that made Lemara smile back. Listen! He said and then paused. I walked away prematurely. It wasn't the first time for the day he had walked away prematurely, but Lemara was not about to mention that now. Instead, she saw this as an opportunity to open the closet on his phone calls. She stacked some pillows on the bed and leaned back unto the wall, with her right foot resting on the floor, left leg akimbo on the bed. Why was that? She asked. But the only thing he said was, he needed to take the call. Lemara felt a little short-changed on the answer and to mask the miscalculation she got up and walked over to the minibar. She picked up a wine glass in her left hand and motioned it in Harry's direction. I'll have whatever you're having! Lemara took an unopened bottle of wine from the fridge. Harry was now standing next to her motioning for the bottle, which he swiftly uncorked. Lemara stood back, tilted her head sideways at Harry. I could have done that you know! Lemaruh, I don't doubt that, but as long as I am here, I, am happy to do it for you! Is that so? Lemara asked as they clinked glasses. Try me! As he raised his glass of wine to his parted lips. Her eyes were once again glued to those hallucinating lips of his and as he tilted his head back. Don't. Don't what? She asked. Whatever you are thinking of right this minute, don't. How would you know what I am thinking? She asked with sarcasm in her voice. It's been written all over your face since Mallory Square except your eyes tell me you are holding back something. Aren't you the perceptive one Mr...? Actually, what is your last name? Young lady, do you make a habit of walking around foreign countries all day with men whose names you do not know? Gently tapping the tip of her nose with his glass as a sign of disapproval as he said it, causing her to chuckle. I know yours Lemaruh. Just like I knew I wanted you ever since I laid eyes on you in Fort Lauderdale. But when I have you, it is going to be one hundred per cent of you. Fuck! (Was all Lemara could muster as her breath caught in her throat). Ah, that is indeed going to happen, just not this moment. And he clinked his glass with hers and that all too familiar authoritative air about him. Lemara definitely loved that about him, that and his perceptiveness and the absolute ease with which she felt when she was around him. Right now young lady, I need to leave you to get ready for dinner, which is now in an hour. Looking at his watch as he said this. He finished his wine and strode towards the door. As he passed her open wardrobe, he said. And wear that red dress, it's 'Evening chic Night!' Three red dresses were hanging in the wardrobe, but Lemara instinctively knew which one he meant. One hour later. There was a knock at the door, and having lost track of time, Lemara walked half-dressed to the peephole. It was Harry, in a midnight blue tuxedo, the top two buttons of his crisp white poplin shirt undone and a pair of calfskin Oxfords that outshined the diamante studs she had just put in her ears. And once again, looking like something out of an RL Mag. And even through the peephole, she could distinguish the tux was sophisticatedly tailored, she'd also go as far as saying it was bespoke and made for him. Shit! Shit! Shit! Lemara, I really hope that's not what you're doing at the door! Joking from the outside. Sorry, hang on! I wasn't expecting you back so soon. She dashed back to the bed, where her dress was laying, slid into it and got the zipper most of the way done by the time she got back to the door to open it. It is 19:50... And Harry's voice trailed off. Wow! You. Look... Whoever the man is walking next to you tonight is very fortunate! Ah, that just happens to be me! Thank you, you do look dashing yourself, but this is not the dress I am wearing tonight. Is this another of your jests, young lady? Lemara laughed in acknowledgement as she turned to walk back into the room, he now had a full view of her naked back and some of her lacey intimates that peaked above the partly zipped low cut dress. Harry following closely behind, closed the door but could scarcely contain himself, transfixed by the vision in front of him. His fragrance lit up the room as if it was a sales counter for Chanel beauty products. Recognising the scent, she stopped dead in her tracks and spun back around to him. Platinum Egoiste! You are wearing Chanel Platinum Egoiste! I think you will find I am wearing a lot more than that Lemaruh because if I wasn't, we would certainly not be standing a foot apart at this moment. And which foot would we be referring to? Taking a teasing step closer to him. Harry reached out for both her wrists and kept her at arm's length, wholly absorbed by the woman in front of him. Spaghetti straps held the barely-there low cowl neckline in place, and his eyes traced the rest of the dress over the incredibly feminine silhouette of her curves down to the floor and back up to her eyes. Lemara could feel the heat of his eyes down her body, and it made her tingle. Once more, they held each others' gaze. Harry took both her palms in his left hand and moved them closer, her hands were now touching centre court. She exhaled sharply at his unsuspecting game. With his right hand, he reached around her back, and slid his fingers down her spine, pausing to splay his fingers so that the tips now rested just at the top of her intimates bringing a wave of arousal to the game. His left cheek now caressing the right side of her face, he nips on her earlobe and murmurs... You make me VERY hard... Tempting every fibre of my resilience.
Jaden Sun ferry pulled into the port of Little Bay just going on nine in the evening. Its arrival into the port is timely though not so coming out of Heritage Quay in Antigua. I consider this a plus as we don't tend to do clockwork in the West Indies, at least not last I knew. It's dark now, but even in this level of darkness, there is no way of missing the looming cliff sides that tower over the port. As the ferry docks, the chatter increases in as homegrown a dialect as it will ever get, I suppose its the excitement of being back on home soil. But for me, it is very much the opposite - I am actually filled with dread. As a matter of fact, I now want to swim the Atlantic back to the UK because that would be the only way of leaving at this time of the night. Back in England, I refer to this little island as home, but now that I have stepped foot on the concrete jetty - it no longer feels that way. But don't get me wrong, I am still pleased to be here, if not for myself, for the mini version of me who keeps asking what it was like growing up here. I'm in the Immigrations office now, the immigration officer cannot find any details relating to me. My brain goes into overdrive, is this a good or a bad thing? She issues a couple of sentences, and although its English all be it buried under another West Indian accent, none of it makes sense to me. The expression on her face does nothing to alleviate my concerns. And I begin to wonder, is this where I get 'DENIED ENTRY' onto my own island? Because, well, it is! I'm amused now as I type this, when in contrast, I was waiting for some axe to fall. Must have been the jet lag because why would I be denied entry. Anyway, she hands me back my passport, and I hear her say twenty-two years to her colleague. And then it clicked, twenty-two years? Had it really been that long since I stepped foot on this island? My brain tells my eyes that the tall, dark guy standing at the back of the office looks familiar, but it holds back his name. And we look at each other with that 'I know you know that I know you!' kind of look. Bev, a yu dat? He asked, with an inflexion at the beginning and end of his question. To be fair, its more a statement than a question, but I respond either way. Yes, it is! In the formal English I've honed speaking to la-di-das in my last job, while at the same time minimising being drawn into a conversation I fear would have me produce his name. But inwardly, I was doing cartwheels, because even if the IT system had no data of me in its memory, this guy did. As my luck would have it, he was also in the customs area and told his colleague to waive the duty charges on the excess whisky and wine, I'd been labouring with for nearly twenty-one hours now. As they say, "It's not who you know, it's who knows you!' That same who knows you landed me a job with the local travel agent back in the day. #grateful Or was it just island life? But that same 'Who knows you' has landed me in trouble growing up. Like the time this woman saw me at a party, I had no permission to be at, and she told my parents. I got a proper West Indian punishment when I got in. Or the time I said to the primary school head that I didn't like a line in a poem I was reciting, and therefore didn't want to say it. The head made me stand on one leg for the rest of the afternoon at the front of the school. To this day, I still have not said the line. That was something else! On top of that, someone told their parents who told my parents, and of course... Well, I don't need to expand on what happened next. In Class 1, we had a truly strict teacher called Teacher R. He, was particular when it came his Maths lessons which were often held on the school lawn in the shade of a flamboyant tree. We would sit in a semi-circle with him sat facing us holding a half a metre rule. Time table testing was his favourite, darting questions at us like a misfiring piston. And if you got the answer wrong whether due to you not knowing the answer, not remembering the answer, not hearing the question correctly or simply out of fear - your inner arm and half metre rule would meet under electrifying conditions. By the time I got to Class 5, Ms V, the head who was also our class teacher had put in practice, Maths classes on a Friday morning from nine until lunch time standing on your feet. Seriously! With my body operating on British time, I was up at four-thirty in the morning. Actually, I don't think I slept. Some cocks had the gall to keep on with their incessant crowing at that ridiculous time of the morning. Growing up, cocks were alarm clocks. But these were either of a different breed, had no manners or had been possessed by the volcano as they had no sense of time. What cockerels crowed at midnight and two and three in the morning? Worse yet, the ring leader of this orchestra appeared to be stationed outside the bedroom window. When he crowed, of course, the entire island's army of cockerels followed. I went outside and sat in the part of the verandah illuminated by the watchful eye of the street lamp. Come to think of it, that street lamp has been there since the cows went out. As I settle into my favourite spot on the verandah, I notice the blue house that once was on the other side of the road is no longer. The neighbour had passed on, so there is gonna be no one to sit and chat and laugh with like in the old days. He had lived in England himself, and had retired and returned to the island. He loved talking about his time in England. For most, it appeared to be tough, but he always put a funny spin on it. There would also be no one to call out to me for some homemade fish soup, fried ballahoo and whatever else he'd cook up. He always had food, especially seafood. He'd often have something ready for me to eat in the afternoon coming home from school. All I had to do was change into my home clothes walk back across the road, and my dinner would be sorted. If my mother choose not to cook (of course that never happened), I'd still be fine. He was a fisherman also, which fueled my seafood appetite. But while he had passed on, others remained. Like my other next-door neighbour and childhood friend whose garden fence I'd crisscrossed for any number of reasons including to see her brother. Or whose conversations we'd conduct via her back porch and I via our verandah. Discussions were still possible, except now, plants that once made the border were so tall, the view almost non-existent and the conversations, mostly to her daughter who'd come to visit us. The older man, a house up from my friend is still alive. Some twenty years later, he is now a hundred plus years old. He still remembers who I am and calls out to me with that familiar Hello mi dupsie darlin! I can only respond with a big smile! His voice is as strong as ever. I asked him what his secret is? He points to the collection of Bailey's bottles lining the full length of his porch. Honestly, it's like the Baileys factory has moved to his residence. He tells me he still works his garden filled with pigeon peas, dasheen, white potatoes and whatever else is in it. In the house above his lived my acapella friends, we could see each other from our back porches. They'd sing, and my sisters and I would bleat the tunes to artists like Boys II Men and TLC across the way. The choir our village missed out on. They don't live there anymore. As a matter of fact, they emigrated within a day of us. We would see each other every day, not just because we lived so close to each other but because we also went to the same school and church. The same church I was christened and had my confirmation in remains in tack, my cousins cannot say the same. Their church in the south of the island was buried. Growing up, going to church on a Sunday was as religious as the service itself. It had to be done. Partying into three and four o'clock on a Sunday morning before church offered no exemption from attending the Sunday morning service. (Not that I was allowed out much). And don't think you can walk into that Sunday service late either. But back then, attending church was a social event. Another opportunity to meet up with my friends I saw at school on Friday and will see again the next day. It was also in church that I'd honed my public reading skills, learned to play the guitar pan, sharpen my Bible knowledge, and excelled at many things including 'boys spotting'. See, I wasn't always a good girl! Church itself was a dress-up affair. Anyone thinking they saw fashion at any of the royal weddings, needs to check a Sunday church service in the West Indies. Matching handbag, shoes and hat, it was like something out of an Essence Fashion magazine. And everyone had there special seat in the church. The one you sat in every Sunday. Best not make the mistake of sitting in someone else's. There was Ms B, who sat on the other side of my great grandmother. She was the unofficial master of ceremonies. Guaranteed to a liven any Sunday service going downhill. There was Nenen, my great grandma's best friend - she could hold a tune. Then there was Ms L, she was sure to tell me if a strand of hair was out of place. Part of the reason I now always look so put together. The other reason was my great grandmother, I could never have left the house without her giving me a once over - socks had to be straight, the seams in the skirt had to line up with the seams in the shirt, knots in ribbons had to be perfect. U must always look prensable when u leave the house. Using Ms Sally's verbatim. 'Prensable' being her version of the word presentable. Everyone referred to her as Miss Sally, a lady whose face was permanently lit with a smile. Monday to Saturday she wore here hair in five long plaits twisted into bantu knots or China bumps. And on Sundays she'll let it fall down her back in waves for attending church. With no TV, telephone or indoor plumbing, life happened outside. Everything from cooking to showering was outdoors. The latter, I absolutely hated. Then guess what, a few years ago, I paid an arm and a leg for a suite in Vietnam so I could have an outdoor shower. How life's changed me! We had some great times in that house. From a great grandmother who never cooked a 'bare pot'. Meaning there always had to be food in the house for any unexpected guests, and she forever had unexpected guests. We lived next to the road and therefore passers-by could smell her cooking and invite themselves, and feed them she would, like family. On Saturdays she'd bake up a storm of bread, cakes, tarts, potato pudding - you name it, in the outdoor stone oven. She'd say it was for the week, but it would be finished by Sunday because of course she is feeding a village of unexpected guests. I was nine years old when she died and that hurts to this day. She had a huge turn out at her funeral, lots of people crying including me but some may have been crying on the realisation that their free dinners were - well no more. Still the seeds of kindness my great grandmother sowed, meant I was well looked after in our village. It helped that I was her favourite. She'd magically convert the nos from my mother into yesses. Any wonder that I still struggle with the word - No. Interestingly we lived next to a bakery. And once I was old enough to walk to the shop and count money (very good at that) it was my job to go get fresh loaves of bread every morning. Just like we would get our hair braided every single morning without fail. Okay maybe not on Saturdays! But the point I am making is that our hair always looked impeccable. I'm famous for taking my cousins and sisters down to the ghaut at the end of our land to catch fish that never existed. They still rag me about it to this day. We would use fishing hooks attached to any twine we could find attached to any sticks we picked up with some luncheon meat on end. Like I said, we have never once caught any fish, but it didn't stop them from trailing behind me every single time I said - let's go catch fish. Of course, this would be followed by an earful from the parents (days later, when they couldn't find luncheon meat in the cupboard) for demolishing tins of luncheon meat without a good explanation. That's not the house I am in now. See we moved here years later. I'd equate it to 'movin on up to the east side' (insert The Jeffersons), with Mr So and So being the neighbours. Except it was not a deluxe apartment in the sky but some five bedrooms nearer to the beach. You especially know you are rolling with the big times when you have electric fans in the roof. It is now after six o'clock in the morning, and I decide to walk to Old Roads Beach like I used to in my late teens in the name of exercise. On my right, is what once was my local library and a great hang out during opening hours and where the guys would hang out on their bikes. It now stands derelict following its use as a makeshift Church, and then prison, after the volcano erupted and buried the official jail in the capital. I am no more than two minutes into the walk before a driver stops to offer me a lift. But that's always been the way of life on this little island called Montserrat! The house on my left has seen many an A list star and heard their music. If those walls could talk, they'd tell you what the original inhabitants (plantation owners) talked about. And later on, they'd tell you what artists such as Eric Clapton, Sting and Jagger got up to. The house after that was another two of my friends who let me use their bikes to learn to ride over one summer. (Something my mother only found out the other day, i.e. I can ride a bike.) If I keep going straight, I can head down to Lime Kiln Bay instead, but my brain does not remember the way. Funny that as my ex tells me we hung out there a lot, but since I cannot recall, it could not have been that memorable. LOL! Don't worry, unfortunately we are still good friends! The house on the right-hand corner with the pool was where the kids in the area learned to swim. Except me, I learned to swim at a villa in Foxes Bay. Because further down from this house, was a villa rental that hosted the same Canadian family for six weeks at a time each summer for as long as I could remember. They became like family, took me everywhere they could on the island and paid for me to have swimming lessons. In my deep reminiscence, I'd not noticed it had started drizzling, and another driver pulled alongside to offer a lift. I declined once more, wanting to take it all in. I'm now at Old Roads Beach, and I no longer recognise this place that we'd frequented so often on a Sunday after church or Wednesday afternoons after work when the office closed at half day. For sure that jetty, we spent so much time hanging out on and where my friend would push me off is no longer. The tennis courts and the beach bar that were on the right, just as you got onto the beach, are no more. My friend later tells me we passed that a long way back buried under ash and mudflow deposits from the volcano. The said volcano is the reason I no longer live on this island of Montserrat. But it was good to be back. Seeing familiar faces, eating everyday foods, sitting out on the verandah while the locals drive pass and honked or called out with a greeting. Interestingly I missed that! Being reminded of some crazy things we got up to in our younger days, like stealing fruits off people's fruit trees and running away and laughing like mad when we were caught. Saying I was going back to school early from lunch when we truly were going to the river behind the school to collect almonds and sugar apples. And some other shenanigans I would have preferred not to have been reminded of or worst yet put in this memoir. I can recall the first time that volcano blew. The brand new hospital for the island had recently been completed. The deepwater harbour project to entice larger cruise ships to the island had to be shelved. It was going on eight or nine in the morning. Myself and another colleague had just arrived in the office (travel agents) located on the top floor, above the post office and overlooking the war memorial. The seaport was just across the way. We both heard shouting in the streets. She went out the door to check on the commotion, and I looked out the glass louvres. To this day, I don't think I will forget this. I could see the top of Chances Peak from the window. It appeared that the entire mountain itself was rising up to meet the sky. And reach the sky, it did. My friend scrambled to the phone to call her boyfriend and I too grabbed another phone to call the other half in at his office nearby. But the phone lines were dead. Between the shouting in the streets, the rumble from the mountain, the pelting of the falling rocks, a real nightmare set in. Nine o'clock in the morning was now more pitched black than midnight. My friend and I huddled in the corner of the office away from the windows, hugged, prayed and cried it would all pass. Now that was the second time I recall this island tried to take my life. The first was at Old Roads Beach or maybe it was the time my parents found out I had a boyfriend. The said office building, war memorial and seaport now lay under storeys of ash and rubble. Not from that first eruption mind, else I'd be dead. Although there has been no significant activity for some time, you are never too far from someone or something that gives a reminder. The wayward smell of sulphur is one of those things. I was even awakened one night by the pungent aroma and a parched throat. Or was it the rum I had inhaled earlier with one of my friends down at Little Bay beach bar? Still, with a quiet volcano, the islanders carry on with life with some semblance of stability. Basketball was a popular sport growing up. From the local guys who played on the court just up from our house. (More opportunities for boy spotting.) I remembered when the regional games came to the island. It helped that the national team performed outstandingly. We honed our festive spirits and went to the basketball court every night to cheer the home team on. The pride we felt, the displeasures we voiced like only West Indians know how to at the referee for making a wrong call. And the rip-roaring celebrations when our team scored, I swear they heard us over in the neighbouring island of St Kitts. That was a memorable time in my life. No one spoke of anything else for weeks. Then I had my game salted when I discovered my other half cheating on me. Before the volcano, you arrived on the island by air from the neighbouring island of Antigua. I've beautiful memories of this airport - back then called Blackburne. It was a Sunday afternoon hang out. We would watch LIAT's De Havilland Dash 8s and Twin Otters land and take off. You could shout out to your friends and family as they embarked or disembarked the flights. Sadly, this airport is also now under tons of volcano ash and rubble. I'm now heading back home from my early morning walk to the beach. I'm entirely drenched as it appears I brought the torrential showers from London with me. The difference is the rain is warm. Another driver pulls up and offers a lift. I declare I'm soaked through. He says it's okay. I detect a Canadian accent, and he confirms he is Canadian. Where can I drop you off? He asked. Just on the other side of Olveston House! I answered and hopped in. Only on Montserrat will I ever do this! The radio is tuned to the local station ZJB Radio and a very familiar voice of a DJ from twenty-two years ago still wakes the locals and warms the airwaves with his Good Morning Montserrat! And I smiled!
Unsure if it's the outcome of the Japanese Whisky cocktails she had inhaled at lunch but her thinking that she could hideaway on the Piccadilly line at this time of the day was ill-conceived. Judging by the luggage cases packed in among the passengers in the carriages, one could only assume that a huge number of flights had just descended on Heathrow a like a broken dam. In addition to that, the tube seems to be lurching about that bit more plaguing her discomfort. Some two hours before, Jessica had walked into James's private office checking on the decision about her bid to design the Emirati hotel planned for nearby Knightsbridge. They'd chatted for a bit as they always did, James being so easy to talk to - level headed, smart and in control. Matter of fact in the nine years she had known him she cannot recall ever hearing him with a raised voice. Not when Charlotte left the engine running with the key in the ignition of the Range Rover he had just bought her, and it got stolen and not when a partner had walked out with a design he had conceived which later netted that partner millions. He was the kind of guy that when he spoke, you listened, whether or not you planned on doing so. Even his stride seemed orchestrated because nothing James did was out of frivolity. And it was James who had suggested she took the rest of the afternoon off, saying that she had become married to her work. As Jessica walked out of his office, she joked. Right, I'm off to find myself a husband! As she said it, her stomach sank, and she could feel her eyes welling up. He looked back up from the design he was looking at just in time to meet her eyes as she was turning to close the door. Blair! (Now James was the only person to call her that, an inside joke since their university days.) Let me know if you need me to screen any of them for you! Trying to make the heart light of the situation he knew she still battled with. And she smiled. Go enjoy yourself, I will call as soon as I have confirmation. Jessica was now walking or rather gliding over to her friends already seated at their usual table. Of the three friends, she was the shortest at five feet six inches, but you could spot her from miles away by the way she walked. Today was no different, her navy blue skater dress switching behind her as she strutted over to her friends' table in her matching navy blue heels turning a few heads in the process. Jessica, Anna and Charlotte, had been friends since they met at university seven years ago while studying design and architecture. As a matter of fact, it was Anna who had introduced Jessica to her now ex-husband who had run off to the Turks and Caicos Islands with all her savings, a holiday villa she would no longer have access to and also left her with a mountain of debt. Having to sell her home, and almost having to part ways with the design firm she had just started. Something that Anna had apologised for profusely although Jessica had told her to separate the two situations. And it was Charlotte after one such lunch date with the girls where Jessica had ranted on about how stupid she felt, had told James of Jessica's plight following her divorce. And James, who had always loved Jessica's unique and fresh approach to her designs (and maybe even Jessica) offered her a partnership at his architectural firm when she had hit the foundations. It was also James who had told her that her now ex-husband was not the man for her. Later admitting some of that was impacted by his own selfish ego. Anna moved into the centre of the semi-circular sofa leaving Jessica and Charlotte sat either side of her. It was an unwritten peace treaty between them, as both ladies were quite headstrong. The drinks were being delivered as Jessica sat down. I took the liberty of ordering your favourite drink, Jessica! Anna's arms gushed out to greet Jessica with a hug. Jessica then reached over and hugged Charlotte. Anna short for Anastasia was blonde, blue-eyed and leggy but that's where the stereotype ended. An only child and daughter, she came from a well to do family in St Petersburg and her father wanted her married to the son of the leading construction company there. Having had the best of education growing up in Russia, she had a strong command of the English language and spoke with an organic English accent. It was on a flight back from a girls holiday to Grand Turks celebrating Anna's twenty-fifth birthday that she had met her now-husband. The three of them were sat mid-row of four seats in business class. Anna and Jessica facing forward in the two middle places with Charlotte next to Anna on the aisle seat facing the opposite direction. In the aisle seat next to Jessica and facing the opposite direction was Jason, returning from his annual visit to his parents. Jessica remembers Anna saying she liked his dark brown eyes. Jessica also remembers swapping places with Jason so he could sit next to Anna as oppose to them chatting and laughing over her. There was undoubtedly love in the air, and whether or not the Mile High Club indicted new club members on that night flight, no one knows for sure. But Jessica remembers waking up during the flight to find the outer dividers raised. So what have you ladies been up to? Jessica asked as she took the first sip of her glass of Old Passioned, straightening up from the hit of the Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky. Charlotte daintily presented the latest designer handbag in red, she had just bought as if it were a newborn baby. And as she did, two ladies sat at an opposite table gushed. And I was on hand to stop her from buying one in all three colours. But that was Charlotte, the socialite of the group with a surname and postcode to match. If it was worth having - she was going to have it. And that was how she ended up marrying James Addington. Anna and Charlotte were in the second year at university while Jessica and James, who were friends since first year were in their final year. Jessica was James's plus one when James's then-girlfriend bailed on him last minute. Although Jessica had things to do that weekend, she couldn't think of anything worse than spending an entire weekend at a country estate, especially when it involved sharing the same room with the James Addington. Charlotte and James's family connections go way back, way way back like The Ghan. And like The Ghan, you needed time to go through it, from whose family was coerced into investing into White Star Line and lost it all with the famous ship sinking, to whose son was responsible for a joy riding plane crash that killed both sons, neither of whom were fully licenced to fly. It was at this wedding that Charlotte reacquainted herself with the lovesome James Addington and it was at this wedding Charlotte crossed paths with a very reserved Jessica. There was always a little spark between James and Jessica, it initially stemmed from their appreciation of each other's work, and at some point, it may have developed into a little more. But they never sought to ignite the spark, for one Jessica always felt she would return to the West Indies after her studies and to the floundering relationship she'd left behind. While up until that weekend, James was in a relationship. But if the wheels were ever going to turn between James and Jessica that weekend, Charlotte was sure to put a spoke in that wheel. From interrupting their dancing to inviting herself into their one on one conversations, Jessica saw Charlotte switch from manipulative to salacious and back. James being the affable guy he was, did his best to accommodate them both but at one point had to explain to Charlotte that as his guest, it was his obligation to ensure she (Jessica) felt welcomed and had a good time. They left the reception after three in the morning and had just got back to their room when Charlotte called James to say she had fallen over and hurt herself. James being the considerate man he was left and Jessica never saw him again until after midday, the next day. Her Coco de Mer lingerie game plan was now indeed salted. Sometime after that, the level headed Mr James Addington was engaged. Two years later, when Charlotte finished university, they were married in the same family country house estate. They have no kids of their own. Anna, on the other hand, had become unbelievably motherly and gave birth to two beautiful biracial daughters in two years and Jessica is godmother to both. They ordered six dishes from the set menu, for the entire table as they always did. Plus the dishes would all turn up at the same time, making it super instagrammable for Charlotte's instagram posts. Without fail, Jessica had ordered her two favourite dishes which included the kimchi fried rice with pork, because she loved how the flavours kicked about in her mouth. The other being the Chilean sea bass. Added to that, was Charlotte's favourite - white miso soup and tiger prawn tempura. Anna topped off the choices with some salmon and avocado maki and chicken wing skewers. No matter the time of day or day of the week, the atmosphere in the restaurant was more Piccadilly Circus than Berkeley Square, so that no matter what mood you came in with, you were almost guaranteed to leave feeling an octave or two better. At lunch, it was often packed out with office workers from the nearby wealth management and blue-chip companies, ladies catching up with each other or the lunchtime Japanese whisky sipping aficionados. In between mouthfuls of salmon and avocado maki, Charlotte was telling the ladies she would be off to the Middle East again shortly with James. Really she was telling Anna as Jessica already knew - she worked with him. Addington and Partners had won an Emirati contract to design a modernist and exclusive set of residential apartments in Belgravia. Charlotte was now begging Anna to join her, but Anna would never leave her babies for the world and taking them on such a short break, one that was mainly a shopping trip - was definitely a no-no. Anna was a fulltime mother, and she could not see herself doing anything else, matter of fact, she wanted more kids, but her husband had put the restraining belt on that. And if Anna had a restraining belt in place, Charlotte was suffering from no such inhibitions, as she was now telling the ladies about her new bedtime stories. You didn't need to go bed with James to know what he was like at storytime, you only needed some time with Charlotte. And even after five years of being married, James appeared to have remained proficient with his storytelling. Adding a twist to his story, he introduced a third guest, and both ladies were now peering at Charlotte with curious eyes. Anna was the first to pipe up. Who is it? Anyone we know? Let's put it this way, said Charlotte James wins a Primetime Emmy for outstanding lead and excellence in creative arts each time I let him call me Blair! Thankfully neither Charlotte nor Anna connected with the name. Still, Jessica was now doing her best to stop herself from spitting a mouthful of Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky across the table. In an effort to raise a smokescreen, she uttered. I think the waiter brought me the wrong whisky! Oh hun! Said Anna, raising her arm to catch the attention of a waiter. It was in that very minute, James chose to call, so pleased to be saved by the bell, and in anticipation of the good news, Jessica answered and placed the call on audible. Blair! Congrats! Your design secured the contract!
What Happens on a Cruise, Stays on the Cruise - Part 2
The sideways throttle from the ship's engines sent a shudder through the hull and up to the seventh floor and room 7007 where Lemara slept. The vibrations of which woke Lemara from her stupendous state. As her eyes opened, she could feel the sideways motion of the ship and surmised they were only now leaving the port. And she was awfully pleased with herself for only taking a quick shut-eye. Except she hadn't. By the way, if you have not yet read part 1, now would be a good time to do so. Sunshine streamed through the window; the view outside appeared different; she placed that down to the ship's angle. Her body felt excruciatingly heavy as she attempted to get up off the bed. As she blinked to adjust her vision, a message on the television screen shunted her attention. Welcome to Key West Departure: Ship sails for Cozumel at 7:00 pm Boarding: All guests must be onboard by 6:15 pm. Feeling exhausted no more, she launched herself out of bed when she read the local time was 08:04. In a fit of trepidation, she began racing around the room, grabbing her outfits as she headed into the shower, thinking she was late for her dinner date. But then she stopped herself in her tracks - the time on the screen was 08:04 am. And not 08:04 pm as she was thinking. She thought to glance at her watch which remained unchanged on British time, it read 12:04, and the day - Sunday. Now a message was coming over the intercom, Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to Key West where we will shortly be disembarking. And then her thoughts swayed from the incomprehensible to the coherent; it was not the forty winks she thought she had taken but more precisely, the full-on stairs to Bedfordshire, and it was now the next day. As the trepidation ratcheted down her body, she slumped back onto the bed in despair. Not only had she slept through the safety and emergency drill but had also botched her date with 'Mr We are eating dinner together tonight.' Bullocks! She exclaimed in her West Indian accent now butter creamed over with an English twang, disgusted with herself as she sat on the bed, palms cupping either side of her face. Two postcards on the floor just under the door drew her attention. She got up and walked towards the door for closer inspection. One of which was from housekeeping and the other from Harry. It read, Hey Lemara! Here's hoping that the thought of having dinner with me has not set you swimming back to the UK! He, at least, had a helping of humour! It was now nine o'clock, shower over, and Lemara was transferring the last of her runway of outfits from her luggage case to the wardrobe when there was a knock on the door. House keeppin! Lemara opened the door to find Harry (less Thom Browne more Double RL in a buttoned-down indigo linen shirt fitted into a pair of white chino shorts) sans housekeeping, standing outside. For a little while, I thought you had jumped ship Lemara. Lifting his tortoiseshell, RL Hinges off his face. Rested and more relaxed, she was now giving him the once-over. Today, his hair flopped in dark waves mostly on the left side of his face, and a defined chest showcased itself from under his shirt, but it was his long legs that undid her composure. She quickly took control of the situation by closing the door behind her, motioning for them to go to breakfast. He struck her as being in his late twenties, certainly took care of himself and definitely knew how to dress. I tried! She said. Except no one told me there was a bungee rope attached to me! Wicked! Whom do I need to thank for that? Harry asked. Seeing the funny side and the compliment in his statement, Lemara smiled. He had not mentioned the dinner date once. Although she was under no obligation to go on a date or dinner with him. While most guests had chosen the bustling breakfast buffet on floors five and six, some forty or so guests were sat out sunning themselves at the Cafe Grill and Bar on deck ten. As well as, safeguarding their deck chairs at prized locations around the pool for later in the day. Proof that no matter where you are, deck chairs command a premium, the earlier you get there, the better the chance of owning a prime location of Park Lane or Mayfair, that is, if you are playing British monopoly. They sat a bleached wood table set for four with mix-matched rattan chairs, Lemara with the Cafe Grill at her back. She surveyed her surroundings, another seven guests were in the pool enjoying a wild morning frolic - and three photogenic waiters on the other side of the pool seemed to be looking in her direction. Harry had quickly excused himself, addressing a message received on his mobile. He stood at the bar, back to her, firm shoulders, one hand shoved in his pocket, the other holding the phone. Lemara could hear him repeatedly saying, in a very controlled Mainer accent that, That was nevah open to negotiations. Lemara gave a side glance, trying not to appear too inquisitive. One of the waiters swaggered over to her table. Now with a closer inspection, this one seemed to be from the far east but not sure where, she didn't identify the flag on his name badge which said, Edwin. He complimented her dress and they chatted on the weather like any normal Brit would. He had one of those ready smiling faces that little twinkle in his eye, and Lemara could not but hold onto his gaze. With Harry still on his call, she sat back in the chair, feeling the sunlight grace her skin where her orange, backless a-line-v-neck dress with spaghetti straps did not afford coverage. It was then she noticed the Caribbean reggae tunes been carried on the breeze. For the first time that morning, she now saw the port of Key West next to the ship and Harry was now walking back to the table. They ordered minute steaks with eggs and sat in a little silence as they waited. The Harry that left the table was not the Harry that returned to the table. His mood pendulous and slightly distant. Everything okay? Looking him in the eye. Harry looked away to the pool and inwardly exhaled. Ayuh! His Mainer accent now more prominent. Bob Marley's 'Jammin' was wafting through the speakers, as a party of four of Abercrombie & Fitch's best-dressed twenty-something-year-olds cackled to a near table. Libby, why would Bob Marley sing I hope you like chicken soup? The entire party, including Libby, who was being ridiculed, was pealing from the revelation. He does. Listen .. Doesn't he? Doesn't he Jess? And Libby to everyone's disbelief began humming her made up lyrics... I hope you like chicken soup... At that point, it became much too much for any of them, and they were now in hysterics. Harry and Lemara looked at each other and could not help but smile themselves at the rib-tickling situation unveiling at the other table. The ambience definitely lifted, further enthused by the aroma of the freshly grilled steaks now delivered at their table. They continued their casual banter through breakfast, and unconsciously walked off the cruise together and into Key West. Following the flow of tourists off the cruise ships, they now found themselves emptying out into the main river of holidaymakers on Whitehead Street. Given the throng of fellow travellers, Whitehead Street is no secret, at the end of this street is the Southernmost Point of the USA marked with a buoy pointing out just that. And some ninety miles away in the distance was Cuba. A photo opportunity and a free one at that, made even better when your own voluntary photographer was in tow. Harry took her camera and motioned her to stand next to the buoy. Lemara quickly punctuated her face with a smile as he clicked away. Because what's better than a free photo opportunity? Not having to ask someone to take one for you and it turns out Harry was a dapper hand with a camera too as she inspected the clicks. Definitely a few here for the gram. Halfway down this street was the home now museum of the four times married, Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway. They'd now been out and about for just over five hours wandering around Key West's warren of colonial-era homes, boutiques and gardens, and all that walking, sightseeing, chatting and laughing in the relentless Key West sun had left them parched. As they were walking back in the direction of the ship, Lemara thought she'd recognise three figures walking towards them in the opposite direction but could not be sure. But as the characters got closer on Duval Street, she realised why she thought they looked familiar. They were the waiters or rather the Aviator wearing leading men's magazine models from breakfast - and shirtless. Recognising each other from off the cruise, both parties waved as they crossed paths and Edwin wearing his ever-ready smile, said hello. Even with his Aviators on she could see the gleam in his eyes. Her head followed her eyes, all the while coveting that chiselled torso that belonged to his uniform just earlier that morning. Harry notably sizing up the situation acknowledged Well he is a bit of a heart racuh! Lemara turned to him with a wry smile. They found themselves a bit of respite on the patio of a seafood restaurant overlooking dreamy sailboats on the water. A mix of locales and tourists alike, it was no 'Bar Hemingway' but had a suitably mellow vibe about it - ideal after the last couple of hours. Now it was Lemara who was present in body only, she was absentmindedly wandering down Duval Street alongside Edwin. As it happens, Harry was too engrossed with a message he was replying to on his phone to notice. As he finished and put his phone away, he apologised saying he had a bit of a storm brewing and he needed to try and prevent it from becoming a hurricane. Well she could not fault him for that, though no name was given to this storm and she wasn't about to ask. She did, however, wanted to know why he was cruising alone and as if by intuition he said I guess you must not have a boyfriend since you are cruising alone. She glanced at his left hand before answering and noticed that there was a mark where once a ring was. She looked him in the eye and replied. I guess you must be single, since you are cruising alone. Touche They smiled at each other over Pina Coladas, plates of shrimp, crispy conch fritters and fries now arrived at their table. He picked up her plate of shrimps and gallantly began peeling them on her behalf and he passed his dish of crispy conch fritters to her. Want to try my conch? Lemara sensed Harry's statement wasn't limited to the conchs he had just placed in front of her, but he said it which such flippancy that she redecorated her side of the table with a mouthful of pina colada. His phone had not gone off, and if it did, he had given it no attention, and they finished eating with the same playful conversation. They escaped the mellowed out atmosphere of the restaurant and found themselves trapped amongst the wild-sandal-wearing partying crowd of Mallory Square enjoying the infamous Key West sunset ritual. And just like that, he took her right hand; his left arm firmly behind her waist and guided them through the crowds towards the direction of the cruise ship. Caught unawares by his physical closeness, Lemara's breath got caught in her throat, and as she was about to turn to face Harry, she discovered her face almost mirroring his.
What Happens on a Cruise, Stays on the Cruise - Part 1
She picked up the inimitably crispy strip of streaky bacon, so smothered in maple syrup that it now cascades off the bacon as she plumps it into her mouth. 'They certainly know how to do bacon here' Lemara thought as she looked out the window from the table in the restaurant. It was approaching 10:30 in the morning, and the hotel's guests seem to have all set their alarm clocks for the same wake-up time. As they all turned up that minute for breakfast like only London's buses can. The restaurant was now charged with that excitable American accent. At one table, a young lady was enamoured with her girlfriends' matching glittery sandals. And when she too was gifted the same sparkly pair, the entire restaurant almost became hearing impaired. 'She's a pizazzy one!' Lemara surmised. Lemara herself had only made it to breakfast some five minutes earlier and was like a 'dog with two tails' to find a vacant window seat. The restaurant, on the second floor of the hotel, overlooked the runway at Fort Lauderdale International airport. Coffee, bacon, bright sunshine and a bit of plane spotting. It was a little halcyon moment after a gunshot decision saw her booking a last-minute cruise and flight just over twenty-four hours prior. A storm perusing the northeastern coast of the Caribbean towards Florida in a fit of ill-temper, caused their plane to divert to Philadelphia where they spent the night, in the airport. A waitress now made her way around the tables announcing breakfast will be closing shortly and enquired if there was anything she needed. 'Another pot of coffee and milk, please.' was her reply. Not sure why as she was languorously nursing the first cup. And she should definitely only ever have one cup of any hotel's coffee. She had, on numerous occasions, pondered on the intentions of a hotel's brew, as it was like no other. The penetrating aroma, sufficient to send her cannonballing off any wall. Do all hotels purchase their coffee from the same coffee farm? Or was there some dirty secret employed when making their coffee? She wondered. Just then, another aircraft took to the sky. Lemara herself had landed only a couple of hours ago. In all essence, she should be in England to attend her university graduation the following week but the lure of a seven-night cruise around the western Caribbean - much more arresting. The second pot of coffee had since arrived. And as Lemara poured herself another cup, a figure materialised in the corner of her left eye. She took a sip, and as she did, glanced in the direction of the character. Sat, two tables away was a Thom Browne clad guest keeping his cup of coffee company. A coy smile emanated across her face as her eyes surveyed him. Like an adhesive, his gaze held her attention, but it was insufficient to avert her interest in the Boeing whose wheels were now courting the runway outside. Satisfied the pilots had satisfactorily romanced the landing, she glanced back at her supplementary interest. Her view now blocked by the waiter at his table. Lemara chose this exact moment to make an exit. In a deliberate attempt to evade the queues at check-in, Lemara chose to board the cruise ship just inside closing time. She had made her way to Fort Lauderdale cruise port, checked in, boarded the cruise ship and was making her way to the lifts, when a voice from behind, greeted, 'I see we've cross paths again!' Thinking there was no way the address veiled in an American accent could be aimed at her, Lemara continued walking. Nonetheless, she took an inconsequential glance backwards and found herself halting dead in her tracks. It was none other than her Thom Browne clad guest from breakfast. Inexplicable, but once more, a smile emanated from her face as if she was glad to see him. And she was, she just wasn't sure why. He looked to be about five feet, eleven inches, dark hair, (he at least ticked two boxes) not bad looking but not overly gorgeous either. Enough to entice her interest, gosh he even made arm candy status. 'It must be fate,' he said with a smile as he caught up with her. 'Why is that?' asked Lemara as they stood opposite each other outside the lifts. 'There I was desperately scribbling messages to be passed onto you at the restaurant, only to look up and discover you had left.' 'Maybe you shouldn't be scribbling messages to strangers in a restaurant.' She teased. 'Maybe so, but here we are now, on the same ship for the next seven days!' He responded. As they exchanged sentences with ease. 'By the way, I am Harry, I am from Maine!' as he extended his right arm to her. (Lemara would soon come to realise it was customary on cruises that country of origin was as crucial as her name when introducing one's self to others. It was some badge of honour, and the further away you came from, the better. Further someone with an English accent like herself with a ship decked out with mostly Americans garnered much interest.) 'I couldn't help noticing you in the restaurant this morning.' He continued. Let me guess, was it the way I drank the coffee? Joked Lemara. No, it was the way you held the coffee cup! He mocked. They both burst out laughing! Harry and Lemara continued their tête-à-tête blissfully unaware of the congregation now gathered around them for the elevators. It was the blaring announcement that came over the ship's intercom reminding guests to attend the muster drill at their respective stations in thirty minutes, that drew their attention. With the area around the lift becoming congested, Lemara suggested they take the stairs, to which Harry obliged. Her room was another two floors up on deck seven. Besides, it offered the opportunity for them to continue their banter. 'This is me!' She pointed out as they came to room 7007 towards the derriere of the ship. 'I'm above you on deck nine in room 9088, pointing upwards with his key card in his hand in a decidedly evocative manner. 'Have a safe journey!' Lemara jested as he turned to leave. Harry gave a little wave and walked on. As if by intuition, Harry stopped and turned around the exact moment Lemara stopped fumbling with the key card to look back at him. 'Listen!' he quipped as he came swaggering back to her side. 'If you don't already have dinner plans, would you like to join me?' 'I may well do' she bantered, in her devil-may-care mood. 'So that is dinner at eight, I will come and collect you' he declared. Lemara raised an eyebrow and smiled - she liked how he had just called all the shots. He turned to leave but not before chivalrously aiding Lemara with her Carlton into her room, and their hands brushed against each other as he did so. Those hands have definitely not shucked any oysters or potted any lobsters, Lemara mused. As she closed the door behind her, her eyes journeyed directly to the large porthole ahead flooding the stateroom of Floridian sunshine. The bathroom and a wardrobe housing a shopping bag and bathrobe occupied the left-hand side of the room. On the right side of the room, just next to the porthole was a desk and chair. An interactive large-screen television and a proportionately lit circular mirror above the desk surveyed the room from their mounted wall positions. The queen-sized bed with its pillows embroidered with a single letter of the alphabet indulges in reminiscence of the cruise line's origins. Although one of the smaller sized category staterooms, it was no bonsai and the minimalist decor and timeless palette of lily-whites, ecru and nut browns aided the roominess. As she walked to the window, a ship's horn sounded, and then another and then another. By the time Lemara got to the window, the horns of five cruise ships were blaring in the port outside, goodness it was clamorous. Lemara walked back to the bed and threw herself face down across it, contemplating what to wear to dinner with Harry. The multicoloured, mini skater girl dress was her first thought, but then she digressed. Is that dress saying too much? And if she thought that dress was saying too much so was the deep v-neck, fitted red dress with gold buttons. Lemara settled on a pair of black trousers, black heels, crocheted three quarter length beige top and gold scarf around her neck. She was satisfied the ensemble was comfortable but sufficiently sassy for the first night onboard the ship. But more so the unexpected and now highly anticipated date with a guy she only glanced eyes on hours before in a hotel's restaurant. It was nearly twenty-four hours since she last slept. Jet lagged, Lemara closed her eyes, thinking, she would rest them for a bit.
'We apologise for the late running of the 06:38 train service to London Euston. This is due to the low rolling stock.' Brie had heard that apology so often she could recite it on beat with the train station announcer. It was a Wednesday morning, and the train had been late every day for the week. Monday morning, they had apologised for the late running of the train caused by weekend maintenance works that overran. Tuesday morning, they apologised for the late running of the train caused by shortage of staff. Today, it was a low rolling stock. Brie turned to 'Mr Voguish' next to her on the station concourse and mockingly said. 'Its low rolling stock today!' 'Yes!' he replied. Just as amused as Brie for the delay to the train, he smiled and quipped. 'Should we expect insufficient tracks tomorrow?' She chuckled and replied, 'We don't want to give this train service any additional excuses.' Brie had been getting this train service for the last five months following a timetable change in September. It was now January and the only reliable clockwork service this service provided was that it would be delayed. If not delayed cancelled. There is a 06:33 train service, consistently on time but its schedule arrives into Euston after the 06:38. If the 06:38 is no more than twelve minutes late, and intermittently it has been, (unless cancelled) continues being the better of the two options. It was a religiously dark and frost-covered January morning. The silence as she walked through the path girded with naked branches on either side - untroubled. Until some cyclist would come hurtling past dinging their bell and breaking the peace. The light from the said bicycles would cause the grass to go a glistening silver and crunch under her feet as she moved off the path for the cyclist to pass. Even in that level of darkness, she could still see an airy white light over the lake. It was almost celestial. The timetable change meant Brie was now catching a later train (if only by a few minutes). Interestingly she continued turning up at the station at her usual time of 06:30 for a train that was routinely delayed. It was during these additional minutes of 'dolce far niente' that Brie began to notice some of her fellow commuters. 'Mr Voguish' was now on his phone discussing the renegotiations of a contract. Newly in the business of renegotiating contracts herself, Brie habitually eavesdrops on such conversations, listening for anything she could learn. He walks off to the coffee bar but not before glancing back with a quick wave to her. They had passed each other several times before, coming through the double doors at the station. His impeccable dress sense, his love of wearing double monks and that insatiable fragrance he wore caught Brie's observation. He once held the said double doors open for her when he saw her coming. But it was one night around half-past nine, that she had her allure of him cemented. They were both disembarking the train to go home, he noticed it was her, stepped back and allowed her to get off first. To say she was thunderstruck would only be the beginning of the storm. Brie almost fell out of the train. 'Thank you' was all she could muster, in fear that anything else she said would have lead to blind embarrassment. 'You are welcome, have a good evening' he replied. Thanks, you too! Brie responded, suddenly picking up her pace as if to get away from the situation. Her excuse being a taxi was waiting. A taxi was indeed waiting. Brie got into the backseat of the car, sat down and deliberately bashed her head against the headrest in front. 'Idiot. Idiot. Idiot.' - she muttered under her breath. Before that chanced meeting, she had week in, week out concocted a plan to bump into him at the coffee bar and accidentally spilling her coffee. Of course, she had never been capable of executing it. She perceived he worked somewhere the likes of Canary Wharf. He wore an elegant and classy Glashuette Senator watch in rose gold with dark brown alligator straps. Short dark hair coiffed back, he was voguish in every way. He reminded her of her favourite Hallyu star in the Korean drama The K2. Those mornings she'd happen to catch a glimpse of him in the station were mornings made, despite the train being delayed or cancelled. She waved back at him. Once again wishing she had garnered enough courage to say more. Just then the 06:38 now nine minutes late was being announced as shortly arriving into platform four. Brie made her way from the concourse to the platform. The shortage of carriages visible both inside and outside of the train. There were only eight carriages where customarily they'd be twelve. Commuters did their best to get up close with each other. So close that as the train hurtled along with passengers swaying side to side, you could almost imagine them doing an Argentine tango. And with that, the gloom of the morning commute dissipated when Brie conjured herself an image doing the Argentine Tango with 'Mr Voguish.' On Thursday morning, unfailingly, the 06:38 train was once more delayed. This time due to signal failure up north. Friday morning the service was cancelled altogether. She had desperately hoped for a glimpse of Mr Voguish that morning knowing she would be off on holiday for two weeks. Regrettably, he was nowhere to be seen. Brie had enjoyed two weeks holiday in the Middle Eastern sun and returned wholesomely refreshed. She got up before her alarm and strolled to the train station for 06:30 as usual. And as per usual the 06:38 was delayed but so were the two trains before and after that. The station concourse was overly bustling with commuters. All of whom were now standing like meerkats looking up to the display board willing it to display some good news. 'Oh to be on holiday now!' Brie thought to herself. An announcement came on. 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologise for the disruption to the services this morning, this is due to the overrunning of maintenance services carried out over the weekend.' Brie revisited the display board, and the delayed 06:26 train service would be her savviest option. She started making her way to the gates only to glance bank and see the service change to cancelled. Just then another announcement came over reiterating the cancelled service. This was promptly followed by the information that 06:33 service would now call at all stops to Watford Junction and then London Euston. Of course this information was received on the concourse with utmost disdain. Some quick thinking was required. Brie considered getting the 06:33 but the thought of unnecessarily being stuck on a train for over an hour was most displeasing. Besides her love for the good old unfaithful 06:38 now delayed by twenty minutes would not allow her. The delayed 06:33 had since left, and the concourse was slightly less populated. Brie did a quick scan of it searching for you know whom. She spotted the 'breakfast couple!' So-called as they appear to have breakfast from the next-door coffee shop each morning. Mr would hold the two cups of coffee while Mrs bites into her cinnamon roll. Arms interlaced as they strolled towards the ticket gates. From their attire, Brie's supposed they worked in IT. She also spotted Mr Foxhunter. It had been about four months now since she first saw Mr Foxhunter, and although she had satisfied herself that no foxes were being harmed, she could not stop herself from referring to him as such. The smart tailoring of his suits were unmissable in any crowd and so Brie surmised he worked on Saville Row. Still no sign of you know whom. The 06:38 was now half an hour delayed. Painstakingly making the 06:33 to have been the better choice. Brie scanned the concourse once more. Three ladies stood in a huddle, coffees in hand and cackling, their bare legs on show in sandals. Brie mused at the temperature on that side of the station, it must be ridiculously warmer than where she stood. And then she noticed their luggage cases. They were clearly off to somewhere warm. A commuter walks past, and he appeared to have showered in his entire bottle of cologne. He'd be good to sit next to Brie thought. Just then it was announced the delayed 06:38 was arriving at platform four, and as if being carried on an ocean wave, the crowd was swept through the concourse. The announcement continued to say that due to the overcrowding, first class was declassified. Brie did her best to get on to the train and inched her way down the aisle. She pulled her phone out, plugged in her earphones and steadied herself among the throng of standing passengers for the journey. She switched on the Korean drama she was watching the night before and continued watching where she had left off. It was about seven minutes into the commute when the train ground to a halt. The passengers rocked forward and then back. It was on rocking back she sensed the warm liquid running down her back. As she did so, she exclaimed 'Jinjja!' 'Joesonghabnida.' said a male voice behind her. Brie suddenly realised she had just spoken out in Korean. She blamed it on the drama she was watching, but interestingly the response was also in Korean. It was then she recognised the fragrance. Brie turned around, not before composing herself, of course, to come face to face with Mr Voguish. There was no escaping a conversation now.
"Hello!" Was all this text said among the other direct text messages in her Instagram inbox. It was six o'clock on a Saturday morning. And like any other social media crazed addict, Alaina starts her morning ritual injecting Instagram while still laying in bed. There is not much else to be concerned with, as the world is on lockdown. No school runs, no morning commutes (all be it being a Saturday) and no other half making pillow talk. She replies to the messages from her favourite people, comments on, likes the posts she missed overnight and drops a quick response to the funny stories. Like so many of the lonesome hellos before this one, she ignored it. The same sender had liked a few of her photos. Still, she ignored. She was conscientious about whom she spoke with privately on social media. Besides, she was quite the pragmatist when it came to relationships. But if nothing else he was tenacious. As later on, the same sender had gone on to like all her selfies. Of the five hundred and forty photos Alaina had posted, ninety-seven of those were selfies, and he dropped a red heart on every single one of them. This person at least required the social media courtesy of a response. And so she decided to like a few of his posts but only then realised it was a private account. 'Hmmm.' She thought. Her focus now on his profile photo, his inescapable eyes with his infectious smile, caught her attention. His hair, dark and wet. His shirtless tanned broad shoulders contrasted with the blue in the middle of the ocean. He looked to be about twenty-five years old. Heart eyed, she pondered why this very comely young man was so tenacious in his pursuit of her. Without question, he deserved a reply. With nervous fingers, she typed 'Hi!' Unsure of what else to say, she paused, deleted her response and re-read the earlier message. It had not changed. It was an uncomplicated short and sweet, 'Hello'. And so, a simple 'Hello!' was her reply. No sooner had Alaina's reply landed than his profile lit up with the green dot, and he was typing. Seconds, and only seconds passed, but it felt like minutes to Alaina before the response landed back in her inbox. 'Ping' and three ''Smiley face with hearts" emojis dropped in her inbox. 'Ping' and two "Shy face'' emojis dropped in her inbox. 'Ping' and one ''I can't believe what I am seeing'' emoji drops in her inbox. Although not one for using emojis herself as she had often felt they were best suited to the generation z brigade, she had learned a few things from her 'in the know' teenagers. Notwithstanding, she sensed the kick and intoxication in his response, and she smiled to herself. "Espanol?" "No ingles" "Soy de Argentina" "Espero me entiendas" Alaina bolts upright in bed, her face replicating the astonished face emoji. She took a look back at his profile, the one she had no interest in moments before. His photo had occupied her attention, and now it was his name. Massimo. She had always liked the name ever since she'd come across it via a fashion brand. It helped that she loved their clothing. What's more, she felt the name had an air of authority surrounding it. Baresi. Where had she come across that name before? Instantaneously, she remembered. One of her University girlfriends' boyfriend's surname was Baresi. Both were from Italy but met at University in England. He always joked that had they crossed paths in Italy; he would never had noticed her, which often made Alaina shake her head at them. For some years after finishing their studies, they continued dating. The last Alaina knew, Baresi had emigrated to Argentina. On that memory she revisited the photo. Could they be related? What are the chances? She thought. She sat back on her left arm, right hand on her forehead, supported by her right knee and stared at the white bedsheets. Massimo Baresi. Now that is one sexually attractive name, if ever she had heard one—his biography written in full English. An Italian name, lives in a Spanish speaking country with a biography written in English but didn't speak English. Interesting is what she thought. Alaina locked her phone screen, got out of bed and walked to the kitchen. She reached for the handle of her favourite coffee mug, the one that says 'Raffles Singapore Hotel' and stared at it as if the explanation was there. What had she missed? Thus far she had understood every word Mr Argentina had written. And immediately she was grateful for deciding to choose Spanish as part of her study curriculum from secondary school thru to University although University was some twenty years ago. Alaina had always loved languages and the semantics of them. With that, she took up learning Mandarin and German in the lockdown. Jokingly Alaina thought of adding Spanish to the list. She then became concerned that she may not be able to communicate with Mr Argentina, who until six am that morning was a virtual unknown. There was a battlefield in her head. On one side, the battle raged for her to stay away from men on social media whose accounts were private. On the other hand, the war surged for her to tear up the rule book and see where the conversation with Mr alluring with no common language, seven thousand miles and four-time zones between them would lead. Alaina had since made her coffee and drank it. Now, she was placing the ingredients for a cheesecake into the cake mixer. Some four hours had passed since the last message. Alaina concluded she had to draw a line under the situation. She picked up her phone and started typing, ''No Hablo Espanol...'' in response to his message. Alaina was just about to click on the Send button when an impulsive thought change her mind. 'What the heck?' she thought. She decided to tear up the rule book and throw out the excel spreadsheets on this one. And instead typed ''Hablo un poco de Espanol." And her screen lit up once more with those yellow smiley face emojis with three hearts. Followed by 'Mucho gusto!' (Nice to meet you) Alaina laughed to herself and thought, infatuated or what? She herself was swooning, but someone needed to remain grounded in the current situation. After all, they'd only written about six sentences between each other, if that many. And then he wrote 'Tu eres una morena muy hermosa!' Not muy bonita (pretty) Not muy linda (cute) But muy hermosa (gorgeous) 'Tu eres una morena muy hermosa!' (You're a gorgeous brunette!) 'Flattery is going to get this young man everywhere!' Alaina said audibly. He says ALL the right things. Well at least, those words sounded like all the right things she'd want to read first thing out of bed on a Saturday morning. Her eyes lit up with mischief, as she bit on the corner of her lower left lip and typed. 'Muchas Gracias Massimo' (Thank you very much Massimo) 'Encantado de conocerte' (Pleased to meet you) 'Tu tambien eres muy guapo' (You are very handsome also) 'Sii Muchas Gracias' he responded. At least he was not shy about it, Alaina thought. The conversation went on seamlessly, where he exchanged information about himself—sharing everything from being born in Italy to an Italian father and Argentinian mother who met at University in England. His mother took a job with a investment bank, and they relocated to Argentina when he was nine years old. After his studies, he joined the army and he too now works in banking. Alaina glanced back at his profile photo where all but his and head shoulders were submerged underwater and satisfied herself that yes, that body had been in thru military training. Massimo continued typing. He is single, no kids. He loves sports, especially water sports, swimming and surfing. He loves sunsets, travel and walks on the beach. He backs that up by sharing one of the said sunsets with Alaina. But this was no ordinary sunset. It was now midday, and for the first time since six o'clock that morning, Alaina had another photo of him. She placed the phone on the kitchen table and clicked on the picture to enlarge it. Once more, she sat back, right arm across her torso, left hand cupping her mouth, eyes in disbelief. Alaina was trembling, literally. He stood in the fore corner of the photo on the beach in an open hoodie, surfer board torso exposed and his chiselled face looking out to the sunset over the ocean. Michaelangelo had not seen this body before he sculpted David. Because if he had, wars would have fought over the sculpture. Massimo continued typing, but Alaina frankly could not remove her eyes from the photo. She finally reverted to the conversation where he had just noted he was thirty years old. And she was relieved. Relieved to find out there was only sixteen years between them and not the twenty years she had initially thought. 'Are you single?' He asked. And for the first time in a long time, she was pleased to be divorced and single. 'Where are you from?' 'Do you have kids?' 'How old are you?' Alaina replied. 'She is single.' And Massimo responded with multiple question marks. The conversation paused as Alaina pondered how best to respond. On the one hand, she could interpret the question marks as a compliment; that is, how are you single? On the other... She decided she'd concentrate on the complimentary interpretation and reiterated she was single. Had previously been married, has two kids but now divorced. She was about to type her age and stopped herself, concerned that this might be a deal-breaker. Suddenly she wanted to be years younger. Suddenly she wanted to be in her twenties and carefree. The hesitation continued. Alaina looked away from her screen. Her eyes landed on the cake mixer and the cheesecake mix she had started earlier that morning. She had never lied about her age, but for some unknown reason, neither was she ready to disclose it. Had they been sat in a coffee shop somewhere, this situation would surely become one of those moments of awkward silence, Alaina thought. As if by intuition, he wrote: 'Me gustaste desde la primera foto que vi de ti, no te faltare al respeto.' (I liked you from the very first photo I saw of you, I won't disrespect you.) 'Oh my gawwd!' This one is definitely a keeper! She exclaimed.
It had never been a good idea for her to do the balance sheets at this time of the day. On the one hand, neither sides of her brain would speak to each other. On the other hand, she's become slightly lethargic after inhaling a chicken roti for lunch. The second one of the week, thanks to the other half. It had been a crazy morning with two unexpected bulk deliveries and no space immediately available to store them. The news the boss was back on the island, seemed to have sent everyone pushing their panic buttons to the on mode. Suddenly, this needed to be done, and that needed to be completed, and it all should have been yesterday. Sara had been in the office for three months but had only spoken with him on the phone. The boss had been away at the head office in the United States the entire time. She recounted the receipts. Once more, she double-checked the amounts on the receipts matched with the figures on her sheet. Finally, she was satisfied and began crunching the numbers through the calculator. Her concentration was now broken by the ringing of her desk phone. The caller had the wrong company, and so she could quickly return to her paperwork. She then realised another telephone was ringing and had been for a little while in the back office next door to hers. She was sure she had heard laughter coming from there just a few moments ago. She'd cry, but she is all cried out with her womanising other half. Yes, the one that brought the chicken roti for lunch. She gets up to answer the incessant ringing of the phone in the next-door office and is greeted by two ladies having a chinwag. One of whom manages the said back office. Slightly frustrated and with a straight face and smiling eyes, she apologises for interrupting what could only be classed as 'the joyous mouth bashing' of another lady's love life. With a firm voice, she said, "Ladies, can we kindly answer the phone or forward the line to my desk." She then turned on her heels and left. An act fraught with repercussions. No sooner had she walked out of the door than one of the ladies hushed.. 'Ahh, did you hear what she...' In an effort to protect her peace, Sara continued in her stride back to her desk because what those two gossip-mongering ladies heard or thought they heard about her was not an update that held her interest. More importantly, there was a balance sheet that needed balancing. At this time of day, the afternoon sunlight rides in like a white horse from the right side of the open double doors onto her desk in the front office. She moves the balance book into the sunlight and once more starts counting. Out of nowhere, a shadow falls across her pages. Who dares stand in my sunlight, she thought. She stops to collect her thoughts and note down some figures before looking up, when a voice said.. 'You should avoid reading in the sunlight like that, it's not good for your eyes!' Her thoughts definitely needed collecting then. For that was the silkiest West Indian tone to have ever glazed her ears. Slowly she lifted her head, and then her eyes gave his five-foot, 11-inch frame a twice over. From his grade one haircut to his combat shorts and military boots back up to his loose but slightly defining of the muscle t-shirt. And then their eyes clicked and locked like the door on a Stockinger safe. Tall and dark with a military physique and absolutely handsome. To say anything less would have been short-changing this beautiful figure that just stood in Sara's sunlight. 'I'm here to see Paul, is he in?' Now there's only one Paul in the entire building but goodness she had to keep him talking. 'What's Paul's surname?' She asked knowingly. And he sensed she was toying with him but politely answered either way. Balance sheets were forgotten, smile as wide as the river Nile, she picks up the phone to dial Paul and asked 'Whom should I tell Paul is asking for him?' 'Its Cohen Broderick!' he said. It rolled off his tongue like the smooth, sweet and silkiness of sweetened condensed milk. 'He will know who I am.' She puts the phone down. ''Gosh, that is an unusual name for this little island' she said and to herself - a sexy one too! ''My parents saw it somewhere and liked it.'' She rolls back the chair from behind the desk and stands and straightens her belted purple playsuit. For the first time that day, she regretted not wearing the pair of heels her mother brought her from the UK. Her matching purple flats that do nothing for her short legs will simply have to do. She could at least be grateful the playsuit shows off her bum well and, more legs than any other work attire would allow. She walks towards the front of the desk where he is standing. An act that provides her the opportunity to stand face to face with his handsomeness. It was then she noticed the fragrance he wore. Goodness, he speaks well, looks hot and smells great! She offered to take him to see Paul and lead the way. 'I have not seen you here before!" he said She looked back at him and smiled. But not before pondering on the fact he had been to the office before and could possibly return again. ''Neither have I!" she said poking fun at him. The conversation was smooth, and Sara went on to say she was covering maternity leave. At this point, they had arrived at the door at the end of the hallway. Sara was about to open the door, but he reached out, opened the door and gestured for her to enter. To say she was taken aback would not entirely cover it. At five-feet, four inches tall, she had to look up to see into his eyes. As she did so, she smiled and calmly said - ''It would appear chivalry is not dead!'' And he smiled back. Just at that moment, bounding towards the door in his usual excitable strides, was Paul. As a matter of fact, Paul's entire being seemed to have been hit by a bolt of excitement. "Heh Seyrah, I was just about to come see you!" While everyone else is happy to call her Sara, Paul, in his usual enthused self calls her Seyrah! ''Seems like I've saved you the job'' she retorted with a giggle. He then noticed Cohen standing behind Sara. Not sure how he would have missed him. They greeted each other like only good old friends do, and Sara was soon forgotten. She closed the door behind her and leaned back onto it. And to anyone who could hear her, audibly went - "Well he can stand in my sunlight any day!" She got back to her desk and sat with her legs tightly crossed and took a deep breath. She needed a cold drink, but getting up would be a misjudgment. For one, neither sides of her brain were speaking to each other, that is, if they were speaking at all. She really needed someone to hold on to her heart because it was beginning to take on a pace she was unsure she could manage. And her knees definitely would not have supported her legs standing any more. She remembered the bottle of Ting she had placed in her desk drawer after lunch. It was slightly warm now, but it would have to do. She popped the lid, wiped the mouth of the bottle and drank straight from it. She decided the books she tried so desperately to balance earlier may be best done first thing the next day. At this point, the message light on the phone was flashing vehemently. She went through the ten messages waiting and distributed them. One of which was from the boss questioning why there was no one to answer the phone. She quickly called him back and discovered what he wanted was to find out whether or not his favourite brand of coffee was in his office. And it was. Some twenty-five minutes had now passed, and Paul came bounding into the front office. With bated breath, she waited for the second figure to follow, but it was just Paul. He noticed her slight disappointed. "He has left," Paul said. "Hmm" was all Sara could respond, pursing her lips and looking away from Paul to the open double doors. "But he did ask about you" Paul chimed on. Sara quickly glanced back at Paul with enthused eyes. "Yeah!" said Sara. I told him you are in a relationship though, Paul continued. You are, in a relationship, yes? "Aha" was the only word Sara could muster and even then she almost choked saying it. Her breath had temporarily left her body. She glanced at the balance books at the side of the desks and pulled them towards her. They suddenly seemed appealing.
Don't fancy making another smoothie with your over ripened or leftover fruit? Here is a quick and summery alternative! I was placing a punnet of strawberries in the freezer, to prevent them from going sour before we could eat them, when I discovered another punnet of strawberries already in the freezer. It didn't end there; there was another container of frozen cherries, another with mangoes and another of frozen grapes. The latter is the chosen way my teenager likes to eat her grapes in the summer. Still, there was a pattern emerging. I was rounding up the fruits in the freezer but never taking them out for the parade. Today was not overly warm, but I fancied something cold and fruity fresh. Something quick and something easy! And as it is 'Quarantine Quick' - only three ingredients are required, and is ready in approximately five minutes. INGREDIENTS 1 x Punnet of Strawberries (300g) 4 x tbsp of Rich and Dark Agave Nectar Juice of half a small lemon DIRECTIONS Place the frozen strawberries (washed and de-leafed) into the blender along with the nectar and lemon juice. Blend for approximately four minutes or until all the fruits have been blended. That is it. The strawberry sorbet is ready to serve. The lemon juice truly gives the sorbet that extra freshness. For an adulterated twist, add a dash of your favourite summer tipple! Replace the strawberries with a fruit of your choice of frozen, sweetened fruit deliciousness. I also tried with 300g of frozen diced and ripened mango. The mango sorbet was the creamiest of the three flavours and very rich. I found one mouthful at a time was satisfyingly delicious. Using the exact measurements above I swapped the strawberries for 300g of frozen Santina cherries. The latter was a great idea until I realised halving and de-seeding cherries is - well, not that exciting. But guess what? Of the three fruit flavoured sorbets made, the cherry sorbet drew the most 'oohs!' So much so, I kept eating it during the blending process. The flavour truly packed a full punch! This sorbet is the one I would reach for again and again just as is. If using tangy fruits such as kiwis the lemon juice can be omitted. Start putting your leftover fruits in the freezer or purchase ready frozen fruits. On those hot days, get ready to whip yourself up something quick, easy and 'summerlicious!' Serves 2 Using 300g of fruit serves two small portions or one personal serving (3 scoops) of sorbet. Footnotes Note 1 - Times based on Vonshef Blender Note 2 - Used the Agave Nectar Rich and Dark to enhance the sweetness and colour of the fruit. Note 3 - If the sorbet slushes during the blending process, place in the freezer for approximately 2 hours. Disclaimer: This is not an advert for any of the products mentioned.