“Why is he alone?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to come alone. People do vacation solo.”
“Really. I don’t think so. A two week bus tour in Europe and he wants to travel alone?”
My husband and I sit on the same bus and the seats carry the scent of brie and French perfume. My eyes gravitate toward a family of six from Kansas whose teenage girls look like the Spice Girls. Next to them is another Indian couple, whose giggles fill the air. Most of us ignore these laughs and give them latitude because they are newlyweds honeymooning in Europe for the first time. In the very back of the bus, an older man’s blue velvet eyes smile, while he fidgets with his baggage, his chosen companion for this trip.
My thoughts are interrupted by a long, loud bellow from the tan and lean Italian driver of the bus. He looks as if he just stepped out of a GQ fashion shoot.
“People, listen up. The bus will stop for an hour. After this time, I will leave. With or without you. I suggest you use your time wisely and pay attention to the clock.”
We all file out and head to the French countryside cafe, Palmiers and lattes urging us to move faster.
The older man steps behind, his gait fast and waits with us. We order and sit down at our rounded light-brown table, carved letters in the wood give the surface instant credibility.
The man pulls a chair close to us at an adjoining table.
My husband asks, “Would you like to sit with us?”
“Yes. Thank you.”
I recognize his accent, the Australian tone soothing and fun.
We all, without a dress rehearsal, sip our respective drinks and eat our pastries.
Then my husband launches into a question that I am too afraid to ask.
“So is this your first time to Europe?”
With a pause, the old man looks down and up and around. His gaze centers on all the couples in the cafe, the ones who don’t get along, the ones who look like they are getting along but pretend well, and the ones that are bickering about nothing.
“I wanted to travel to Europe with my wife. This is a trip we wanted to take together. But I waited too long. We waited too long. She died a long time ago. So my advice, don’t wait. Travel and experience life together when you are young.”
His name was Wally. I have no idea how his story ended. But on that bright day in a cafe, almost ten years ago, I still remember two words.