The arrivals hall was crowded, people spoke foreign languages, looked lost and milled about. Flight AF 2601 from Marseille displayed a flashing green ‘Landed’ on the large information display screen. Sophie scanned faces of young men emerging from behind the anonymous grey partition. Smartly dressed men in chauffeur uniforms held up assorted coloured cards bearing a variety of strange sounding names. Should she have made one with Guillaime’s name on it? His last photo was five years ago. He couldn’t have changed much in that time; now he was twenty two, maybe more mature.
His letter came out of the blue, three years since the last one. He’d started a new job and was coming to London for a training course. He suggested meeting up; they talked about it years ago, but they were still at school. Part of a correspondence exchange so each could improve their written French and English. It was fun at first, she was twelve and he was a year older.
What are your hobbies? Do you have any pets? How much homework do you get? After the initial flurry of letters the flow slowed, birthdays, Easter and Christmas. His English better than her French, soon it became repetitious. Other girls in her class had exchange visits with their French pen friends. Sophie lost interest with the arrival of her first real boyfriend at sixteen. She suspected Guillaime had a girlfriend but he never mentioned it. At eighteen, Brian her next boyfriend didn’t like the idea. She couldn’t understand why he was jealous, but she didn’t send a birthday card that year and contact fizzled out.
He’d written in good English and apologised for not keeping in touch. His letter flattered her. Engaged to Martin, she thought it interesting to meet him at last.
Sophie realised she didn’t know whether he was tall, or short. His last photo showed him smiling, sat on a beach. Wearing only his swimming trunks showed off his athletic physique. His light brown hair was long and blown by the wind gave him an appealing wild look. It was half an hour since the plane had landed, still no sign of him. Plenty of young men had appeared, some attractive ones, but not Guillaime. Passport control could be funny with foreigners, or having a purge on illegal immigrants; or just slow. The handlers were sometimes slow at getting the bags of the plane. She looked at her watch again, almost three o’clock.
The nerves in her stomach knotted; what if he didn’t come? Surely he’d let her know. Then she thought about a text message, could she remember enough French? Would he have his phone switched on? She dug her phone out of her handbag and looked up his number. They’d never spoken, but he’d put his mobile number on his letter. Racking her brains for the right words she peered at the screen.
She looked up; it must be him. His face was fuller; he sported a goatee beard and wore heavy rimmed sunglasses. She hesitated.
He leant in to kiss her; his beard scrubbed her cheek. If he was wearing aftershave, it smelt more like stale body odour. Disappointment swelled up inside. His hair was close cropped, accentuating the beard. Where was the swim fit body?
‘You are more beautiful than I remembered.’
Sophie spluttered, unsure whether to speak in English or try her rusty French. It was going to be a long and awkward weekend.