I kicked off my sandals, rolled up the cuffs of my blue jeans and strolled along the Mediterranean shoreline — the water caressing my feet. As I lowered the brim of my Panama hat to shade my eyes from the waning sun, the warm sand traced my feet like a bronze cast and then dissolved as I stepped away.
I was thinking how perfectly the day was designed. How wisps of white clouds swished across the sky. How the air was delicious with a scent of sea and brine. How the seagulls swooped overhead as if each glissading roll were choreographed by a master dancer. I was in paradise, but I was lonely. Nature embraced me like a tender lover, but nature was not enough.
Then, in the distance I spotted another beachcomber. As the figure approached, I saw the sun shine through a white full-length diaphanous skirt that rose and fell in the breeze, revealing the silhouette of long, shapely legs. That was all I needed for my mind to whirl. Who is this woman with her back to the sun? Why is she alone? Has loneliness drawn her to the siren call of sea and shore?
I could feel my heart begin to thump as she drew near. Now I could see her long black hair undulating to the zephyr’s call. Now I saw her tanned shoulders, smooth and sinuous and rimmed with a halo of light from the setting sun. Now I saw her dark brown eyes, all at once wise and soulful and sad.
When we passed, I touched the brim of my fedora, smiled and said, “Bonne soirée, mademoiselle.” Although the greeting was innocent, it was still daring, for in France, even in the warm region of Provence, the French do not offer a greeting to a stranger. Surely, she thought me strange, perhaps even menacing.
But the dark-skinned beauty was not alarmed. With her cheek charmingly canted, she smiled — shyly, yet composed. “Bon soir, monsieur.”
Her smile was so sincere, her voice so silky that my heart throbbed all the more.
When we passed each other, we were so close that the hem of her skirt brushed against my leg. I took one, two, three steps and then turned around, and ... my God, she was facing me, standing still and tall, and looking straight into my eyes. The sun was now at the magic hour, when everything looks golden, and her face glowed like a Gallic goddess.
I knew I had to say something, but what? What do you say to an angel?
As I struggled to find the right phrase — not too gauche, not too cavalier — she came to my rescue and said, “Oui?”
It was only a word, but in that word, more of a question than a statement, she lifted me out of myself — out of my apprehension and self-consciousness. I now knew what I had to do: I had to be real.
“I was just thinking how beautiful you are,” I said in French.
“Vous exagérez — you exaggerate,” she said, dismissing the compliment as the French are prone to do.
We both took a step toward each other. We were so close now that if I had taken one more stride, I could have wrapped my arms around her and pressed her body into my heart and soul — a flight of impassioned reverie. Naturally, I did nothing.
“A moment ago, when we passed each other, I wondered if you were sad.”
The beauty lowered her eyes for a moment. Then, as she slowly returned her gaze, she whispered, “You cannot always have what you want.”
“And what is that?”
“What every person wants, of course: to be loved unconditionally.”
I could hardly believe that this sublime Mediterranean woman was speaking to me about something so real, so intimate.
“Would you like to sit for a moment?” I asked, directing her a few paces away from the shoreline.
“Yes, I think I would.”
Then, as her story unfolded — a story of misbegotten love, where her beauty was taken as license to satisfy the brutish fantasies of men — I was undone.
Now we were talking in the dark, with only the occasional cry of a gull and the rhythmic sound of the waves lapping the shore.
I suddenly realized that I did not know her name. “My name is Allen,” I said.
“I am Colette.”
“Bon soir, Colette,” I said, taking her hand in mine.
“Bon soir, Allen.”
And when she said my name, I thought — no, I was sure — that she pursed her lips ever so slightly, that she was inviting me to kiss her.
I moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, my lips approaching hers. I breathed in the clean scent of her skin. And then ... and then ... a chirping. She bolted, her back stiffening as she plunged her hands into her pockets, foraging ... for what? A fricking cellphone.
“I’m so sorry. I have to take this,” she said in the dark, as she stood up and scurried away.
I sat nonplussed, my lips still puckered for the kiss of a lifetime — no, the kiss of all time—wondering, what just happened?
When she returned, she spoke in a testy tone, as if she had just broken a nail. “Je suis désolé, I’m sorry, I have to go now.” Then, without another word, without a kiss goodbye, she turned and slipped into the shadows.
“But ... what about, well, us?” I asked of the gulls and the night and the scoffing, unremitting waves that washed upon the hapless, sappy shore. How was it possible that in that glorious Mediterranean night, I had fallen in and out of love with tech-zilla?
Is my story fictitious? Could it be merely a metaphor for the insidious treachery of technology? Or is it the reason why I will never ever own a stinking cellular ‘stupidphone’?
Yes, yes, and hell yes.
Allen Johnson is a guest columnist for the Tri-City Herald and the author of Pardon My French and the novel, The Awakening. His column, “Mindfulness,” appears on the first Sunday of every month.