The sixteenth story in the Winter Prose Competition 2011 series.
Nora sat in the Heathrow airport lounge, a new book in hand, sipping small amounts of coffee. She was on her way to Rome this time and she thought it an appropriate destination, given her mood. She was looking forward to the good food and an opportunity to sponge up the artistic masterpieces that the city had to offer. Her job, working for an international organisation with offices all over the world, took her to various cities. Travel was an integral part of her role and she would not have it any other way. The change in scenery was always a good form of distraction for her and she would make it a point to spend an extra day in the city to explore it at her leisure. The job and the travel involved had become a part of her lifestyle.
It was still early, she could tell, as she sat at a table edged against the floor to ceiling windows in the café. Daylight was still struggling to make an entrance outside and the grey clouds were not helping. It was a habit she had acquired over the years. Get to the airport early, pick a random book from the bookshop and spend the rest of her waiting time making its acquaintance. Not that the book this time was capturing her interest much, it was the man standing in the queue in front of her that did however.
Her eyes kept drifting off the pages of her new and still unfamiliar possession to the man standing in the queue. His face spoke of an uncanny resemblance that sent her blood rushing like a turbulent current in her veins and her heart missing a beat. The resemblance was so strong that she caught herself staring at him intently several times before forcing her gaze back to the book that she was still holding. All she could see were words floating randomly on a lonely page. Her mind was elsewhere. Voices and announcements around her were no more. Her surroundings suddenly shrunk into a pigeonhole view until all she could see was a distant memory playing catch with her in her mind’s eye.
It could not possibly be him. Leo, her husband, had died in that car accident years ago. She had attended his funeral herself. It had taken her years of healing to finally get used to life without him. Perhaps she just missed him. She flicked another glance at the man, this time convincing herself that his features were nothing like Leo’s; that his mannerisms spoke of a different person. Sighing, she dropped the book on the table shut, looked out of the window and reached for her coffee, inhaling its sweet aroma, wishing it would take her elsewhere.
“Honey, did I keep you waiting?”
She turned her head and felt her hairs stand on end. It was his voice, his smell and the way he made her feel that all came rushing back to her. Her mouth dropped in disbelief as the man gave her a quick kiss before pulling a chair to sit across from her.
“The souvenir shop was mad. You’d think at this hour people would have other things than shopping on their minds. Anyway, I found this…” he continued talking but she had stopped listening after that point.
The man she had been staring at moments ago had just called her honey, had just given her a kiss and was now sitting with her, chatting casually. The man she had mistaken for Leo. Or was this Leo? Or was this man pretending to be Leo? Her head throbbed at the temples and she felt herself spinning like she was caught in a multidimensional whirlpool. The walls seemed to be closing in on the floor and ceiling, curving like waves as if they were made of paper. That was the last thing she remembered before she passed out.