Heddie and I briefly met when I was living in Ecuador and she had visited to study.
Six months later, she was back at Quito airport clutching the ticket for which I’d loaned her the money. But the blue-eyed blonde I clumsily embraced didn’t closely resemble the angelic image nostalgically imprinted in my mind’s eye. Perhaps unsurprising, as our hypothetical romance had fed off emails and crackling phone calls.
Her long flight from Oregon explained the puffy eyes, and possibly the scowling face, if not the extra ballast she now carried about her waist. But surely her real beauty had been more than skin deep, however much more skin there now was. I had two weeks to find it...
So I made breakfast the next day with a spring in my step. The night before, I’d ignored the ‘I have a problem with commitment’ comment she made entering my newly scrubbed-up flat. Much as she ignored the sparkling Christmas tree I’d set by the door. It contrasted too with the rather melodramatic flow of compliments with which she had waking me up regularly for the last few weeks.
True love, I had presumed, recognises no time zones. She had little money so I’d filled the fridge up with exotic local produce with which to deal with the yawning gaps in her stomach and wallet. But when she chose her favourite, expensive, American steakhouse that night, it was the waiter who stole her attention and contact number. I ruminated longer than usual on how large a tip to add to the pricey bill.
We developed a new personal chemistry – the original was presumably confiscated at customs. So when I say we got on like dynamite, I mean it in the scientific rather than romantic sense. We soon realised we had nothing in common. Her impressive powers of consumption needed underwriting too. One day though, she used her own money to buy a Che Guevara badge before asking: ‘Who’s he? He’s pretty.’ I was too depressed to laugh.
She made many new friends. One, a ‘totally cool DJ’, was kind enough to put her up whenever she couldn’t get home. Strange men smiled slyly in the street. It was a long fortnight, which I saw out with masochistic fatalism. Shortly before her final exit, she intercepted a text from a friend of mine on my mobile. She was borrowing it to facilitate her ad hoc social life. It read: ‘Chin up mate – only 36 hours more.’ It was the only time we empathised.
Six months earlier, I had taken her to the airport with a heavy heart and moist eyes. I didn’t understand why three other forlorn and unconnected men had been waiting in the shadows by her hotel. At four in the morning.
But only one of those men was dumb enough to edit her poorly written university essays on a Saturday night. And only one man was dumb enough to stump up for a plane ticket to bring her back.
I was the biggest blonde of all.
The Observer 2007