The sound of the whistle echoed through the station, the train machinery started growling as it went off. Families, friends, partners were waving their goodbyes to their relatives, running after the engine as others started leaving. An old man walked on to the platform as it was being deserted little by little. Dressed in white from head to toe, holding his cane for support in one hand and a gorgeous bouquet of crimson almost black velvet textured roses in the other.
He ran wobbly and unstably forward after the train, forgetting for a split instant he possessed a walking stick; then froze as if stricken with reality; he had obviously missed his departure for the south of France. His face expression gave away this was a first time, but one disappointment to many. Disbelief and resignation cast a deeper shadow over his wrinkles making him look every bit his eighty five years of age. Scared he was, but despite this, his gaze was alive and crumbs of passion could be discovered in the depth of his light gray eyes.
Out of breath he staggered up to a bench near by, removing his white hat and seating the bouquet next to him. “Damn, the first time I ever took this train, I was late but I ran after it, and was able to jump on!” he thought angrily to himself before calmness came over him. He came to realize it made no difference whether he caught it or not this time, unlike sixty years ago and memories propelled him in the past:
-Huffing and puffing, he grabbed on to the train and opened the sliding door to let himself in. Walking through the wagon, he searched for an empty seat. He spotted one and sat down facing a beautiful young woman. Manon’s hair was twisted into a bun and her beautiful dark blue eyes stared absently out the window. They started talking, and he was amazed at how fast time went by because of the intensity of their conversation. He descended from the train elated and realized at that moment that he would spend the next many years of his life with her by his side. The conversation on the train had been the first of many; they could talk together for hours and forget time.
The old man came back to his senses, and decided he wasn’t going back home, he was walking down south, and it would be his last trip. He picked up his flowers and started walking, enjoying the landscape, the fields of corn and the sun shining upon his face. He closed his eyes and a strong feeling of warmth and comfort grew inside. He felt less lonely and memories rushed back:
-Two years now, he had been alongside Manon in the Resistance. He had known her long enough to tell that he had the physical strength but she certainly had the determination and strength of spirit; they complemented each other. They relied on and trusted each other through out these though times and already couldn’t imagine living separately. The year the war ended, he proposed to her under an apple tree, facing the sea. He knew so many endearing details about her, her favorite color, the way she put her hand in front of her mouth when she giggled and he still had much more to learn. Apples were her favorite; they had kept her alive during the war and the sea was a symbol of deliverance to her.
Certainly he had thought this through and wanted to let her understand that if she said yes to his offer, she would be the apple of his eye, and that she was. He could still remember the smell of the soap she had washed with that morning, the way her hair flew around her face, the happiness in her eyes and her self conscious smile as she battled with her skirt which was threatening to blow away in the wind. His spirits soared as he remembered the joy of that day and many others they had together. He had been a lucky man to have her in his life, he thought to himself.
Arriving to a small village the old man realized how thirsty he was. The houses, shrouded in plants and flowers, and the small pottery shops gave him a hint he was getting close to his destination. He came across a fountain, stopped to drink distractedly dipping the bouquet in the cold water. Near by, a young couple was arguing intensely.
He recognized himself in the young man, he knew his own temper, how he would get upset and rant and rave at Manon but she would always stay stoically calm. He remembered when he used to look into her eyes at the culminant point of his rage; he could see the vague trace of a smile on her face, which would stop him in his tracks, to the point of forgetting what he was fussing about. On the other hand, when she had her periods of resentment, he knew he had better hide that smile.
The sun was beating down on him. His white suit and hat protected him, but regardless of that, it wasn’t very comfortable and his shoes weren’t adapted for long walks. He sat on a bench facing a primary school, the flowers on his knees. Children were running, playing and bouncing merrily.
Suddenly he could see himself passing back and forth in the waiting room of the maternity ward checking nervously his watch. A doctor entered holding an infant and handing it to him announcing it was baby girl. She was so adorable, small and innocent; he had never imagined before then that he had that much love to give. Marie had brought them happiness, and made each moment of her life memorable till the day hearts were broken and tears were pored under the apple tree were she was buried. Marie was still young when death carried her away. He worried about Manon; how she was to recover from this? New wrinkles appeared at the corner of her mouth and on her forehead. In the face of this tragedy, he became even closer to his wife; they depended on each other as two lovebirds.
In the late afternoon, he was aware that he should be on his way. He felt the weight of the years upon his shoulders as he pushed himself up from the bench. He was walking towards his goal as the night was descending upon him. He pushed open the small wooden gate which contained so many recollections. He sat beneath the old apple tree between the two graves, running his fingers over the golden letters of her name. It didn’t matter that he missed that train because he knew she would be here waiting for him. “Manon, what would I give to hold you one more time in my arms, run my fingers through your gray hair.” He looked up at the sky, the moon was high and the stars were out: “I missed you…”, he murmured as he closed his eyes. The bouquet of crimson almost black velvet textured roses slipped out of his hand and rolled to the foot of the tombstone. He took his seat across from her once again.