Marika returned and said with joy in her voice “Look what I found.” I looked up and thought she was referring to the beautiful apparition of the Martini that stood majestically on her tray. But when she bent down to place my salvation in front of me, I saw behind her the three Brazilian princesses approaching my table. Is there a word in the English language that describes a single moment when your heart goes from the depth of despair to soaring to untold heights? If there is, I do not know it, but it is what I felt right then.
The three were wearing similar dresses. Long, brightly floral, and almost touching the floor, they hugged their bodies to the hips where they flared. Carmen Miranda would have been comfortable wearing these dresses, but she would not have been as beautiful a sight as Elaine. Her dress fit her perfectly to six decimal points and her smile appeared to illuminate the room. Had I been a character in the Looney Tunes cartoons of my youth, my jaw would have dropped to the floor and my tongue rolled out of my mouth like a rug being spread before royalty.
I rose to greet them. Elaine, giving me the traditional double cheek kiss, whispered in my ear “I am so sorry we are late, my sister wanted to take photographs at the disco and she and Christina were taking forever.” This is the first time I learned of the mildly annoying genetic predisposition of Brazilian’s to photograph themselves doing virtually everything. But that day it did not matter to me at all. I was simply happy that Elaine was there and that my worst fears did not come to pass, my self-doubt unfounded.
Dinners on the Costa Pacifica often had themes to them. It added, at least in the minds of the cruise directors, to the festive nature of the voyage. That evening it was “Italian night” which seemed redundant to me on an Italian Cruise ship. I mentioned this to Elaine as we were perusing our menus and when Elaine laughed at my pyknic attempt at humor all the fear, loathing, self-doubt, introspection and worry that had characterized my day here to fore disappeared. She had, with a single chuckle, restored me.
We spent dinner talking about her day. It turns out that she had not gone on the excursion with her sister and Christina. Elaine told me that they were all sharing the same state room and that one of her reasons for staying behind was her desire to, at least for a few hours, enjoy a little bit of personal space. The other major factor in staying behind was that Yara and Christina both had a proclivity to shop for tchotchkes in the same way a shark hunts for pray. Circling and circling until they were sure and then attacking with ferocity and eyes rolled back inside their head, acquiring objects that would fill their suitcase and after adorning their homes for short periods of time before becoming landfill.
I told her I understood. I certainly could relate to the need to be alone. While I am more gregarious than most, I am also very self-contained and need time by myself if I am to be me. And I had seen the princesses feeding frenzy in tourists’ shops. It had scared me.
I was on the verge of telling her “I wish I had known we could have had lunch” when I had a sudden attack of self-control. I thought, she wanted some alone time. Telling her you wanted to spend more time with her would put too much pressure on her and make you sound too desperate. As I exercised this remarkable feat of self-control Elaine looked at me with concern in her eyes and said “I would have called you for lunch today but I didn’t know your stateroom number. So I couldn’t. “It was the first time Elaine showed the ability to read my mind. It would not be the last . Not that day. Not this lifetime.
At dinners end, Yara and Christina wanted to see tonight’s performance in the theatre. The crew was having a talent show and they thought this would be an enjoyable way to spend some time. Elaine gave me a look which said, “Please not that.” Taking her lead, I tried to convince them that a talent show would be awful considering the shows that we had seen had not exactly been stellar. However, the princesses were not to be deterred. We went. And, it was dreadful. I have cringed less watching horror movies. The jokes were so corny they could have been produced in Iowa. The performances so stiff that Claymation would have been more lifelike.
Taking our cue from our first night , Elaine and I spent much of the performance cracking wise.. It made us laugh. But it did not please Yara. She thought we were being disrespectful to those performing. And there is no doubt we were, but we were having fun, so we continued being smart assess. That is, until Yara told us if we could not control our comments that we should leave. Which is what we had wanted to begin with, so we left.
Our first stop was Rick’s Piano Bar which I thought amusing as one of our stops on our journey would be Casablanca. Clearly, other people shared my sense of humor as the place was packed. We moved to Rock Around The Clock lounge. There we chose a table as far away from the band as possible in the hopes that amidst the disco lights and booming sound system we could have a conversation. Over several cocktails, caipirinhas for me and vodkarinhas for her, we talked the talk of people who do not want the conversation to end.
While we spoke for hours I can only remember one element of our conversation. We had been talking about Ilheus. She wanted to know if I had seen the statue of Jorge Amado. Being the ignorant American I am, I asked “Who?” She then patiently explained that he was the dean of modern Brazilian writers whose books “Captains of the Sand,” “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands,” and “Garbriella, Clove and Cinnamon” were practically required reading for Brasileiros. I asked her which book I should read first, and she told me I needed to start with “Captains of the Sand.” I promised her I would read it and then asked if she had any favorite American authors. She paused only a second and said “Kurt Vonnegut. I love him.”
It was a singular moment. Kurt Vonnegut had been my favorite author since High School. Starting with “Welcome to the Monkey House” I had read every one of his books, multiple times. I loved his story telling, sense of irony and exposure of the absurd. He is one of the few authors I knew who could make me laugh aloud while reading. Elaine telling me that Vonnegut was her favorite author told me in a single phrase morethat we shared more than a love of an author, we shared an outlook on the world and on life.
It hit me then. Like a thunderclap. I was in love.
Our conversation continued. Me, doe eyed and leaning in on every word. Hoping there might be an opportunity to kiss her but finding no suitable moment. Eventually, the band stopped playing and packed up their instruments. Our waitress appeared with our check and while polite, let us know that despite the bars name, it was closing. I did not want the evening to end but the time had come and I offered to walk her to the room.
We held hands as we walked to the elevator and were silent as it conveyed us to her floor. When the lift stopped, we paused for a second in the vestibule and I said “I had an amazing time this evening.” She replied “me too.” For a moment there was an awkward pause that could only be filled by beginning our walk to her room or by a kiss. I chose the latter. It started out chaste and innocent but quickly turned into something else. One of those worlds shaking, knee weakening, mind destroying kisses that seem to defy time and known physics. Where the world is forever changed for the better and you are left gasping.