A Meeting Without a Future: Chapter One.

by | Apr 22, 2024 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

The old woman was struggling with her oversized case, a seemingly  passive audience looking on. Geneva station was crowded with passengers single mindedly focussed on their impending journeys. All  except one. Nick Fraser noticed the damsel in distress and leaped in as usual.

“Here, let me help you with that. Is this your carriage?” He said, scooping up the giant item of luggage as if it was a tiny valise.

“Oh, yes. Thank you young man. I think I’ve packed too much,” she replied, craning her neck to address her knight in shining armour. Her  face, although a victim of time, still retained the residual beauty she’d been gifted at birth, as their eyes connected and she smiled. Age meant nothing to the big man. A woman such as the one before him was the world. She was the epitome of aging gracefully, allowing every passing day to leave its mark on her features, like an artist’s brush on the canvas. The result was spellbinding. From her jet black hair, streaked with white strands, which had never seen a drop of dye; to her pale skin, an atheist to the charms of the sun and the vanity it attracts.

“Can you give me your seat number? Are you going far? I’ll pop it in the luggage rack.” Nick was a sucker for a pretty face and chivalrous to boot. That’s what started a conversation which lasted until Paris and changed his life for good.

“Let me see. It’s fifty five A. I’m going to Paris to visit my son. You’re too kind. Would you like to join me? I reserved two seats.” She beckoned him down to her level and whispered through the din of the busy station. He caught the subtle fragrance of her perfume, diluted to a mere hint of a wild meadow. “I don’t really like travelling with anyone. People can be so boring on long journeys.”

“In that case, how can I refuse? I feel exactly the same and promise to be quiet the whole trip,” Nick replied, ushering the woman on board while keeping a crowd of angry passengers at bay with the case.

“I sincerely hope not. I want to know how a young man like you is travelling alone,” She quipped, entering the carriage. Nick followed, a giant dam keeping the flood of folks back. He allowed her to settle, placed the case and his own rucksack in the rack, and joined her. “I must say, that’s the easiest boarding I’ve ever had here. I’m usually dreading it.” She said, easing into her place.

“Glad to be of help. Let me know if you need anything else.” Nick took his seat by his new companion, his massive frame, folded into the chair,was a total contrast to her neat posture. It was as if her seat was made to measure. The fellow passengers flowed past, some glaring and tutting at the big man as they did so. He took no notice and gave his best smile to the woman. “Nick, by the way. Pleased to meet you.” He held a hand out, into which she placed three fingers and a thumb, like a tiny bird landing in a tree, her pinkie erect as if holding a glass of champagne. He was smitten by her elegance.

Estelle Dubois, the pleasure is all mine. Now tell me Nick, where is the lucky young woman under your permanent care?” Her smile was as disarming as a freshly cut rose.

“There isn’t one and it’s a long story, I’m afraid Estelle. I’m sure you’d be calling for your seat back if I bored you with my sad love life.” Nick had no desire to trawl up the unwanted catch of a failed marriage, two long term relationships and a recent episode of unrequited love.

“Nonsense, Nick. I’m a good listener and besides, I’m going to take some persuading that a handsome young man like you is single.” A tiny frown appeared on Estelle’s face, accentuating the delicate age lines around her eyes and mouth.

Nick began to relax in the company of this beautiful siren of the past. He was just as eager to hear her story, for the very same reason. He glanced down at her left hand and saw three thick gold bands, each one, like those of a tree trunk, indicating a time in her life. Engagement, wedding and eternity, signs of a long and happy relationship. Estelle noticed his stare and twisted the rings with the thumb and finger of her right hand.

Fifty-five years of heaven, ending in a stroke, literally. Gaston knew nothing about it, thankfully. We were dancing and he let go of me. He was dead before he hit the floor.” Another expression adorned her exquisite features, a combination of devotion and deep sadness. Nick’s throat tightened and he tried to swallow. His empathy went into overload as he choked back the tears. Her story was the total opposite to his. As the train eased out of the station and various announcements made communication impossible, he recalled his own experience of love. 

Although lucky in life, he did the job of his childhood dreams, Nick was unlucky in affairs of the heart. Experience had left him admiring the opposite sex from afar. He had no desire to revisit the fruitless pursuit of the search for love.

The train reached cruising speed and all of the hubbub of a new journey settled into relative peace. The silence prompted Estelle to interrogate her captive further.

“Come on Nick, humour a nosey old woman. I’m desperate to know how the only man who helped me with my case, and who looks like you, hasn’t got the female population of Europe after him.” Estelle had a persuasive way about her which threatened to loosen Nick’s tongue. Nevertheless, he remained silent, deep in his thoughts.It was true, he wasn’t one of the lads, preferring the company of women to his own sex. Friends often joked that he had a feminine side although his exterior was visibly macho. Inside this paradox of a man thumped a heart of pure cotton wool. A fire of rich auburn hair blazed on his head and his angular face. was framed with a short roughly trimmed beard two shades redder than his hair. His permanent sun and snow-burned face completed the collection of shades. The only departure from this homage to all things rubicund was the pair of blue-grey eyes, the colour of his native North Sea, perfectly placed on either side of his noble red nose. Estelle changed tack with her silent, thoughtful fellow traveller.

“Alright then, tell me about yourself. Pretend I’m a pretty young woman you’ve just met. I’m already in your spell. Go in for the kill. Go on, do it!” It wasn’t his magic he was worried about. This woman was weaving her own kind of charm on him.

“Fine, you win,” his attitude was relaxed and informal. Unusually for him, in the company of a beautiful woman, he began to talk about himself. There was no pretence about it, she was indeed delightful, he pondered. “I’m a full-time mountain guide based in Chamonix Mont-Blanc during the mountaineering season, spanning May to September. My trip home at the end of the season, normally involves a cramped and uneventful journey on seven separate trains. Starting in Chamonix, the first takes me to the Swiss border at Vallorcine, followed by two trains in France’s neighbour to Martigny and Geneva, where we met.” Nick took a deep breath and fell silent. Estelle wasn’t finished though.

“Carry on, Nick. What happens next?” Her face was the picture of attentiveness, rare in his experience.

“As you know, we re-enter France towards theGare de Lyon and Paris. I will then take the metro to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar to London St Pancras before finally boarding the LNER train to my home city of Newcastle. It’s in the north of England, near Scotland.”

“Yes, I know it well. My late husband visited the university there several times. You have a famous football team, yes?” Estelle’s questions were leading, fishing for information and Nick was hooked. He chuckled at her last remark.

“Yes, famous for winning nothing,” he muttered under his breath.

“Pardon?” Her smile indicated that she didn’t need an answer. “Oh yes. Gaston used to say, permanent bridesmaids, never the bride.”

“Tell me about him, Gaston. You must have been so in love. What is it like to have love returned in such a beautiful way?” He felt the deep pain in his own intonation and was aware that Estelle had sensed it too.

“You’re right Nick. It’s the best feeling in the world. Sure, we had success and all the trappings to go with it. Gaston was a clever man and one of the best diplomats in the Foreign Office. That’s how we ended up in Switzerland. He was the French ambassador for five years in the seventies, and determined to retire there for the air and the lifestyle.” A dark cloud passed over her countenance like a summer storm over a field of wheat. “Two years, that’s all we got. After decades of dedication to the Republic.” Suddenly, like a child who had been reprimanded then given sweets, her expression brightened. The glassy coating on her pea-green irises evaporated. “One day soon, Nick, you will experience such love. When you do, hang onto it. Nurture it like a delicate rare orchid. It will give you a lifetime of pleasure.”

Nick was overcome by her story and the last comment. How could he possibly tell her that he’d already experienced it not twelve months earlier? The beautiful Persian bloom had rejected his attention, instead offering a friendship as sharp as an icepick to his heart at every encounter.

The conversation ebbed and flowed with the movement of the train. Nick furnished Estelle with every last detail of his fractured love life, while 

Estelle introduced the young Geordie to a life in the upper echelons of French society. Before long, the announcement heralded their arrival in Paris. The TGV pulled into a packed Gare de Lyon. Nick waited patiently for the gorged carriage to spew its eager load of passengers onto the platform and Estelle was in no hurry either. During their journey, they seemed to have developed a psychic understanding of each other.

“Why all the hurry?” He turned to his companion and said, abruptly. She responded simply with a shrug of the shoulders in typical French style. “I’ve often considered how people are always rushing, whether it be on the trains, on the roads, or in the mountains.” He added.

“The mountains?” Estelle asked, her attention hanging on his next words.

“Oh yes,” Nick responded. “I ploughed my energy into my hobby-turned￾job volunteering for the local mountain rescue in the little spare time I had. However, I’ve decided to call it a day for that very reason. Something has been bugging me this season. It’s been a particularly bad one as we lost nine. Three skiers and six mountaineers, one of the latter being an eighteen-year-old from Leeds near my home city.” Nick inhaled deeply again, falling silent.

“I see. I’m sorry to hear that. Both the tragedies and your intention to give up. You’ll be missed, no doubt.” As she spoke, Nick noticed that the the carriage was completely empty apart from them.

“We’d better get off before we end up back in Geneva!” Nick chuckled and Estelle joined him. Just then, a smartly dressed young man boarded and addressed Nick’s companion. His face was a picture of puzzlement at the sight of the odd couple’s mirth.

“Maman, there you are. I thought you’d missed the train. Where’s your mobile?” He didn’t look at all happy and viewed Nick with patent suspicion.

“Pierre, this is Nick. He’s been my company the whole way,” Estelle responded, ignoring her son’s obvious disdain.

“Pleased to meet you, erm, Nick” The greeting wasn’t matched by his expression which hardened. Nick had the feeling the man thought he was going to run off with his mother. “Where’s your case?”

“It’s on the rack there,” Nick replied for Estelle, receiving another steely glare for his troubles.

“Thank you,” the man snapped, meaning no such thing. Nick got up to let Estelle out of her seat and she promptly kissed him on both cheeks.

“Thank you Nick, and remember, you’ll know when it happens.” She winked one of her crystal clear eyes and twisted her head slightly. Nick 

felt just a tiny bit in love.

“Come on Maman, parking is costing a fortune,” the young man called from the end of the car. “What on earth have you got in here?” He couldn’t budge the case from the rack.

“Here let me.” Nick took four giant strides to the luggage rack and lifted the case with one hand. He jumped off the train and placed the suitcase on the platform, pulling out the tow handle. He was greeted with more cold, empty gratitude from Pierre, which was warmed by a kiss blown by Estelle.

Retrieving his rucksack from the empty train, he made for his favourite bookshop, a five-minute walk away. La Maison de la Bible, on Rue Audubon was his first port of call in the city. He entered the shop to browse and buy a copy of Le Monde. Purchasing the daily newspaper was an old habit he’d had for years, maintaining a connection with his adopted country.

Nick’s attention was drawn to the view before him as he approached the paperback section. There, looking through the current bestsellers, back to him, was a woman in the most wonderful black full-length dress covered in intricate green and red images. On either end of this lovely garment were beige boots and a perfectly folded hijab the colour of camellias. Estelle’s words returned as if she was standing beside him beckoning him down to whisper in his ear.

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