We hardly said two words to each other that first night. But when he said good-night he cupped my chin and looked me deep in the eye. There was fear in his eyes but acceptance as well. I had to look away from his gaze, down to the craggy folds of his face. Deep lines etched from his nose to down below his trim mouth.
He deeply inhaled then sighed as if he had made a decision. "Thank you."
"Thank you?" I stammered. "What for?"
"So few people just let me be. You have a gift for silence. A rare thing in this world." And then he turned and walked away.
I went down to my cabin, down on the first deck, up toward the front where the anchor chain rattled and woke me up at dawn. We were docking at a small riverside town. I threw on a large man's shirt, belted it with an old Berber belt from Morocco, jammed a Fedora (my father's old felt hat from the 50's), down over my bed-head hair, slipped on my gold flip-flops and went outside. The rope hand-rails of the gangplank had just been tied off, but he was already onshore waiting for me. He nodded to one side and paddled his hands to mimic walking then cocked his large head to one side in question. I nodded, grabbed the hand-rails, carefully watching my feet as I navigated the gangplank to the shore, but my heart was beating fast and I felt flushed. My sallow olive skin had a tendency to blush mahogany when I exercised or was excited in some manner.
We fell into step, reaching an easy almost loping gait that had obviously carried us both many a mile. We walked down a concrete sidewalk that ran along the river. A group of middle-aged women were doing a strange amalgam of Tai Chi and aerobics, and two couples were stringing a badminton net between two palms. Beyond the promenade we entered the maze of an early morning market. Fish swirled in shallow plastic tubs, while huge bundles of fresh cilantro filled the air with a pungent aroma and heaps of mangoes and piles of oranges flashed bright beneath the striped canopies. He stopped to buy a bunch of redolent lotus blossoms, still dripping with dew and intoxicating in the intensity of their perfume. We turned and walked back to the promenade where he sat down on a concrete bench facing the brown swirling river, wide here, but running fast close in, still in flood from the recent monsoon. He patted the seat next to him.
"Sit." he commanded, but not unkindly. And so I did.
He cleared his throat. His feet tapped, his hands twitched. I couldn't help noticing the smooth and shiny black hairs on his forearms. My husband had been almost hairless. I blushed at the thought of what this man's naked body might look like.
Again he harrumphed, a coughing sound like a lion getting ready to roar. Then he blurted out, "I'm Stuart Winslow. I own a chain of boutique hotels. I've made a lot of money. And I'm not interested in ever getting married again."