She clung to him, so as to never lose him again. He had worn the flip-flops she had made for him during their time apart, painstakingly weaving the thongs thread by thread. How many months of exquisite anticipation of this very moment had passed since she learned he would be waiting for her on the very steps where their paths first crossed? It was two long years ago that Gregorio first stepped into her life and in front of the rickety aluminum trolley that was barreling toward her. She had assumed, when she had first seen it in the distance, that it was a toy. As it approached, she had become mesmerized by the oddity of it. Is that thing carrying people? She remembered thinking, people with eyes? Surely, no one with vision would willingly climb aboard that ridiculous thing, she thought. It looks as though it is made entirely of recycled soup cans. I’ll bet I could just give it a nudge and push it off its tracks. She had cocked her head as she stared in bewilderment at the approaching rattletrap, while delicately nibbling the wooden spoon of her newly acquired strawberry gelati. So lost was she in her inner tirade against the innocuous transport device, that she was only jarred back to reality by the full body tackle that saved her life and ruined her gelati. She decided she couldn’t very well hold that against her savior, considering the circumstance, and very generously forgave him the loss of her delicious treat.
“I suppose I can buy another gelati,” she had said thoughtlessly, staring at the red stain on the cobblestones, after he helped her to her feet, “Thank you, for that.”
“Why were you standing on the tracks eating ice cream?” He had the most beautiful eye she had ever seen. The left one. The right one was just average.
“I was puzzled. I don’t know what came over me. I really can’t remember.” She didn’t want to tell him that she had been insulting the hell out of his native form of travel. She looked around for her flip-flops, which had been flung from her feet by the force of the tackle.
He bent to retrieve one of them, “I like your shoes,” he brushed her hand with his beautifully hairless knuckle when he handed it to her.
They spent the remainder of her vacation together, walking the cobbled streets by day, as he introduced her to the flavors, smells, and culture of his Coimbra. He brought her to his favorite art museum. He led her to his favorite piece and stood her before it with his eyes moist, it touched him so. “This.” He clasped her hand between his two and placed it on his heart, “This is beauty. What do you see?”
She squinted her eyes and turned her head to the side, “How old was the kid that painted it?” She shook her head, realizing her comment was probably insulting, so she rushed to change it, “I mean, it’s really good. He was probably a really talented kid.” He stared at her, wordlessly. He never said so, but she could see that she had wounded him.
“He was José de Almada Negreiros, and he is Portugal’s finest artist.”
They left the museum and never discussed art, anymore. Gregorio didn’t want to displease her. One day, he took her for ice cream and later for a picnic by the river. He had brought candles from home and Serra de Estrela cheese. He opened a packet of grilled sardines that they had picked up on the way. Sitting under the stars with this beautiful woman and gorgeous wine, Gregario considered himself to be the luckiest man alive. He felt drunk in her presence and he decided he would be useless without her. She would be leaving in two days; each time he thought of it, he felt a new bloom of pain in his chest. He poured her a glass of wine, “I wish you wouldn’t leave.” He arranged some fruit and the cheese on the small portable tray he had brought.
“I will definitely miss you, Greg.” She had decided it was easier to call him Greg than Gregorio and was thinking of calling him something altogether different, but she hadn’t decided exactly what to name him, yet. “I promise I will be back. I just don’t know when. As soon as I get home, I have to leave again. I am going on a six month spider safari in the Ecuadorian rainforest.” She ate a grape with some cheese.
“Then after the spider safari!” He drank his wine in silence and relished the rest of her stay.
He cried when she left and she handed him a used tissue to throw away as she went through security. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Joe. I swear it!” She meant it, too. But the six month safari became 12, then 18. She pined for him, in the jungle. She used the silk of her precious spiders to weave him the flip-flops he so admired. She even paid a little Ecuadorian village girl a button to row the thirty miles to the nearest post and send the flip-flops to her Joe.
And now, just as if no time had passed at all, they were together again. “I have missed you so much! I have worn these flip-flops every day since I got them! They came with a button in the box.” He beamed at her. “I will take you to get a gelati; maybe we should take the trolley?” He gave her a knowing grin.
She shrugged, secretly repulsed by the idea, “Do you think we will both fit?” She took off a flip flop and threw it at the trolley to make sure it wouldn’t derail it. It didn’t budge. They joined the other passengers to wait for the trolley to depart. “Where are we going?” She took his hand in hers.