The gift of companionship

He came over to the rock where I sat, as I took my first look up from my phone where I was in the midst of composing an Instagram caption.

With a hopeful smile he caught my eye as it wandered round, drinking in this view.

I smiled back, briefly, and looked back down as he made his way over to sit on the rock a little way away from me.

He was a middle-aged man. Round, short, with a kind-looking, warm face. He obviously wanted to talk to me. But he also had a smile that seemed to light up from his insides.

He waved his hand in front of us, making sweeping reference to this sublime beauty.

“C’est magnifique, non?”

Oui. C’est vraiment magnifique.

We started to talk. We talked about the beauty, of an evening like this, and how lucky we were with the weather.

He explained to me that he had already noticed me earlier, when I had made my way quite deliberately past the louche young chavs holding court at the end of the pier, filming themselves lip-synching to the loud French rap music blaring its urgent insistent beats from their hifi.

I had clocked their presence. And having walked all the way over to this pier in order to give myself the pleasure of this uninterrupted view, I wasn’t going to let a bit of aversion stop me. I lightheartedly told myself I was going to take their junk-food music as mindfulness practice, to successfully ignore what I did not need to surrender my attention to. 😌

And so I did. And here he was, telling me how he was paying me his attention in turn. Watching me from where he sat, admiring me peacefully alone taking in the view.

With a touching sincerity he told me he was wondering to himself if I was some kind of supermodel, “comme ‘Eidi Cloombe.” “‘Eidi Cloombe’? Je ne comprend pas.” “La supermodel d’allemagne, vous connaissez?”

Ah! Heidi Klum. Wow. It’s not every day I get compared to Heidi Klum ☺️ “C’est une grande compliment, Monsieur.”

“Ma n’est pas une compliment, c’est la verite!”

I get people who smile at me. People who start conversations, like these. They come in different flavours. Some cheap, expedient; sexual, objectifying. Some shy, furtive. Some open, admiring. Some warm, appreciative. And I don’t just mean men. Women and children, too; young and old.

I return the smiles, when it is right and good to, which is most of the time. At the end of the day – a human being is a human being. A smile is a smile.

And often they lead on to little exchanges of loveliness. Have you ever smiled so joyously and playfully into a baby’s eyes that their cherubic dumpling faces register the dawn of a magical smile, curving in a growing crescent under those bright piercing eyes locked so intently onto yours?

I quietly gauged the way the conversation was going, in the first few sentences we exchanged. Then I made the decision to put my phone down, and to give him and the sunset splendour my attention.

What made me? I can’t tell you. It’s intuition. That here was someone drawn to me, offering his words and presence with gentle courtesy, in the absence of sleaze. And there was much to talk companionably about.

We talked about the youths, and their noisy music. He expressed his reservations, for their anti-social skating antics and other behaviour, and his wish that they would take their irksome activity somewhere else.

I commiserated. I also offered as a thought, “la place est publique…cette bellevue aussi. C’est quelque chose democratique… pour tout le monde. We were once all teenagers, too!”

I laughed at the limits of my own French. But he understood my point. So I let myself ignore my old habits of self-criticism, and enjoy the delightful challenge of continuing a conversation about things philosophical in this immensely charming and least-exercised of the five languages I speak.

I suggested that perhaps, by us continuing to share this public space with them, these youths stood a modicum of a chance – of looking up one moment one day, in the midst of their endless overstimulation, of cannabis and drink and soundtracks about sex, and *see* anew in that moment… just how beautiful the world is.

An exposure that would never happen, if they were barred from such public areas, and corralled further into a world of unrelenting ugliness.

(How else would they know? That life has so much more to offer them? Truly beautiful things, that are reliably there, and free?)

We talked of these. And many more, in our brief fifteen minutes together, keeping company on the rocks in the glowing twilight.

I told him of my life skills work, our three children, Lausanne being a city long enjoyed by me and my husband, having spent his university time here.

“Vous êtes de Lausanne?”

“Oui – et aujourd’hui est mon anniversaire!”

“Ah, alors joyeux anniversaire!”

“Merci! J’ai quarante-six ans.”

“Et moi, j’ai quarante.”

“Non!!!! N’est pas possible.” Emphatically, shaking his head in unaccepting incredulity for emphasis. I grinned and repeated myself.

“J’ai pensé que vous avez peut-être vingt-six ans!”

Twenty-six! This made me feel almost as good as yesterday when I was asked by a number of students at EHL, having mistaken me for a fellow student, “So which level are you?” 😊

My French is too bad for me to try and repeat verbatim here what he then said to me. But what he said was, there was something special about me, that was more than just the “dressing like a teenager” (my proffered dodge; I was in jeans, floral t-shirt, Zara leather jacket and pink ballet flats). That this sense of youth and spirit was coming from somewhere inside me.

“La raison est très simple, Monsieur. J’ai un coeur vrai. Et j’aime la vite et la beauté. Avec cette fondation le reste vient naturellement.”

He looked at me anew, in wonder. And then he told me “de fond du mon coeur” exactly what he thought about that.

We returned to admiring the view. The colours had only deepened in the meantime. A lone swan floated, white and graceful, across rippling waters shimmering opalescent like the colours that shine from mother-of-pearl.

“Quand je vois une vue comme ça, je pense – c’est un grand *cadeau*. Pour tout le monde. De la nature, de l’univers, de Dieu… est un cadeau, pour nous.”

He told me then how much he liked that thought. How admirable he found my philosophy, my way of thinking of and looking at things.

He could of course have been saying that, because he found me a deeply attractive woman, and wanted to sweeten me up.

But he never asked for my number.

He never even asked my name.

He asked about my family with great interest.

His demeanour was one of respectful, affectionate distance. From beginning to end.

That’s why I chose to let him into my space, for a little while.

He was lonely.

Today was his birthday.

I didn’t ask him why he was, at 7.15 in the evening, by himself, sitting on the rocks, gazing at the sun set over the water.

I didn’t need to know.

I will most likely never see him again.

But as I made to leave, and we shook hands, and looked into each other’s friendly faces with mutual gratitude for twenty minutes of meaningful companionship –

I would like to think that I walked away having left him a great gift behind. 🌅

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