By Belinda Wilkinson
It was her awkwardness that got me interested: The overly-applied make up, the slight wonk of the lipstick, the too blonde hair. An old hippie uneasily confronting the present, the loneliness; pretending it was fine to be alone in the Mexican bar, that it didn't matter that her shoes were scuffed and her shirt collar grubby; pretending it didn't matter that she had to sip one drink the whole evening.
No-one approached her, even though she cast surreptitious looks in the bar mirror to see who might. Perhaps her sadness was too much for the rowdy drinkers. No-one wants too much reality at the end of a hard, sometimes brutal, workday.
I had gone into the bar for a quick drink to read my map, ease my aching bones and freshen up for the next leg of my long journey home. I watched her every so often, making up a story of how she got to this distant corner of this Mexican state, a gringo to be sure, and a friendless one it seemed.
At first I didn't notice him in the corner. A big, grizzled greybeard, quiet and certain in his habits, nursing a Corona, lighting his pipe and playing with his matches … and watching her. She licked her lips at two labourers and said a word or two in Spanish to the bartender – so she was not a stranger, then.
She flicked her hair and I realised she'd noticed Greybeard. I liked him, liked his stillness, the strength of his shoulders. I watched and hoped. Hoped he'd finish his beer, get up, straighten himself out and move easily across to her, nod his head politely, introduce himself, ask if he could sit down and buy her a drink.
Perhaps she would smile, look down slightly and nod okay and it would all be all right; all would be well and I could go back to my car feeling some resolution and a chance of … what? Happiness was too much to consider. Maybe just a few hours of feeling less alone, less desperate, less other than the rest.
I got up and left before I had to know.
· Belinda has a fine eye for detail, but her special skill is in writing about the romance of life. Her stories are nuanced, poignant and touching; never saccharine.