It has often been remarked that travel heightens the senses like nothing else can. My personal life experience bears this out. After traveling through Egypt and Israel as part of a group of 22 university students from Washington, D. C., I’d stopped in Greece to see if the baklava could hold a candle to the one my house mother made for me in middle school. In addition to love, her dish had been served with stories of philosophers and tales from history told with such fervor that I fell in love with her son and vowed to visit their homeland. I made good on that promise in fewer than five years after eighth grade graduation.
One weekend before the trip, I’d been walking down Wisconsin avenue and stopped by a cart offering handmade jewelry for sale. One ring in particular caught my eye. It was a series of leaves connected by clusters of what might have been grapes, delicately rendered. The trouble with it was that it only fit my left hand. I was 19 and superstitious at the time but, hearing a small voice within, I threw caution to the winds and wore it home in anticipation.
The trip was memorable for all the wrong reasons, including getting stranded for the weekend in the Tel Aviv airport and the bombing of Syria while we were in Israel. By the time I got to Athens, all I could do was sleep and shuffle down to a sandwich cart outside of the Y for a bit to eat before going back to bed each afternoon. I managed to exchange a few words with the changing cast of roommates each evening and that’s how I ended up on a bus in Santorini where I met The Stranger. Though what happened doesn’t technically count as a ‘meeting’.
You remember the ring? Well, the little voice that had urged its purchase had told me that I was going to fall in love that summer. And as faithful as prophecy, I had in fact fallen in love and that man was seated at my side as we waited for the bus driver to return. Being a hot afternoon in August, the windows on the bus were down to allow for any stray breeze to tantalize the wilted passengers. I remember the sweep of the Aegean Sea before us, sunlight dancing on the waves; the smell of sun-drenched skin, tanning oils, insect repellent and hint of basil my boyfriend’s shirts emitted – which to this day remains my favorite scent on earth. I can hear the crunch of tires on gravel as cars and bicycles came and went.
How long I had been looking out into forever this way I don’t remember – only that something in my peripheral vision arrested my attention. I turned my head to focus on it – a man on a bicycle pedaling up, then past us. Something about him made my heart leap. It may have been the shock of crinkly hair standing out at angles from his head. Hair like mine – when I let it grow. Hair that reminded me of home, both the home of my birth, Jamaica, and the home of all my aesthetic preferences – Africa. Something about me must have called to him too because no sooner had he passed my window than he doubled back and, leaning against the side of the bus, stood on the bike pedals and drew me into his arms. Not a word was spoken between us – except perhaps in our hearts. Giddy from the encounter, I turned to share it with the beloved at my left hand. The fact that the two of us shared no common language couldn’t explain the fact that there were no words for what had just happened. We simply smiled and entwined our fingers, sliding imperceptibly closer together on the seat.