"Jim Norris! I would never have believed it."
Neither did I, here I was 12,000 miles from home, in a restaurant in England and somebody was calling my name. I turned and a broadly smiling face greeted me. Quickly I did a spot check. Who was he? He was clean shaven, had grey hair, was shorter than me and carried a bit of weight.
"Why! Hello there," I responded weakly. My brain was in a whirl. Who was he?
I returned his beaming smile, would anything about him give me a clue?
"You don't remember me, do you?" he said, still smiling and with good humour.
"Graham." I quickly interjected. "Well I never." At least something was coming back. I had been to school with him forty years ago. Who recognises old school chums? Well he did! Now what was his surname?
"Did you ever meet my wife Helen?" Then all in the same breath he went on. "Of course you did, you were both in the same form, weren't you?"
In my confusion at trying to recognise the stranger, I had completely ignored his partner at the table. I turned to her. Helen. Helen Ritchie. Oh yes! I knew Helen.
She smiled up at me and we shook hands shyly.
"Hello Helen, isn't this just amazing. Here am I just visiting England for a few weeks, and we meet each other after all this time."
Graham clearly was very pleased with the whole affair. He fetched a chair so that I could sit at their table. He ordered another glass for me to share their wine. He prattled on about the inane and inconsequential. Yes, I remembered Graham now. He was both a laugh and a bore at school. I had quickly grown away from him and his gang of cronies.
Now at this point I must say how ashamed I feel about my relationship with Helen.
Graham was right, we were in the same class at school, but it wasn't until we were in sixth form that we really took any notice of each other. As sixth formers were supposed to be more responsible, so in our periods free from rostered classes, we were allowed to study in the library and even play tennis. We did both of these. During such times we talked about everything under the sun. She went to ballet classes, loved opera and classical music, and had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. On the tennis court we always seemed to play against each other in doubles and it was then I noticed what shapely tanned legs she had. In the library when we were together we talked about politics, music, art and our futures.
I remember she wrote out the English translations of some of the famous opera arias just for me. We were like brother and sister. It must have been when we were talking about the opera La Boheme, and the duet of Rudolfo and Mimi and her problem of frozen hands that we got around to talking about our own hands.
And I dared to touch her hands. Her fingers were slender, with neatly cut nails and her palms were soft and warm. Not like Mimi's! I had never before been in such an intimate situation and its importance was completely lost upon me.
Later like a fool I asked Helen if she could help me. My roving eye had fallen on the voluptuous Rebecca Simpson and could think of no way to attract her attention, so I asked Helen intercede for me. She did so, and before long had arranged a meeting for Rebecca and me.
I can remember quite clearly the evening she told me. As usual I had walked Helen to her bus stop. Arrangements made, I thanked her. As she looked so sad I asked if she was O.K. The smallest of tears formed in her eyes and she said she loved me herself. Only she didn't say it in English, she said it in Italian, the language of opera. I didn't speak the language but clearly understood the amore part. I was helpless and hopeless in this situation. I was still thinking of my future meeting with Rebecca. When her bus came in she gave me a quick peck on the cheek, a squeeze of the hand and left me for ever. We hardly ever spoke or did things together after that.
Now forty years later here she was, married to Graham! Well he seems to have done well for himself. While we exchanged pleasantries I looked a them both. I am lying of course I spent most of my time looking at Helen. Yes, of course she had changed, but she was still Helen. She was just as attractive. A little plumper perhaps, touches of grey in her hair, crinkled lines at the corners of her still beautiful eyes, but none of these detracted from the classic shape of her face with the high cheek bones, the unblemished skin, and her hands..... No! They had not changed either.
A mobile phone rang, it was Graham's. The reception wasn't good so he excused himself and went out into the street to answer it.
Helen and I were alone together. It was then that she did the most extraordinary thing. She reached out for my hand, took it and with exquisite tenderness touched each finger. I was looking at her face as she did this and she looked back up at me.
"Nothing has changed," she whispered, "It's just like yesterday."
With that same sad look of so many years ago she gently let go of my hand.
"You had better go now. I'll tell him you had an appointment to keep."
So once again she slipped out of my life. This time I didn't even get a kiss on the cheek. But it was in the way she had touched my hand I knew that we had had a very special sort of love.
I left without either of us saying another word.