"Excuse me, do you speak English?"
"Yes I do. Fluently, in fact."
I disembarked the boat showing me the many ins and outs of Strasbourg, a glass bubble that made us as goldfish to the laughing and pointing natives overhead. No matter, it was pleasurable and I learned a lot about my favourite place since I started this trip.
When it was finished there was a hunger, born to distract the gods themselves, in my belly, so I stopped at one of the many local bierstubs for some food.
The waitress was hassled, less than lovely, and sulked at my pigeon attempts to speak the language. In waiting I took a look around me - couples in love, couples with children, children with other children, people with each other and chatting feverishly.
Again the pangs of homesickness hit, ever so slightly. It was a scene I´d encountered for days during meal time. Of course, I tried to fix my gait to reflect a man happy to be in his own company, seeing the world anew solo, but it was wearying too.
At the very next table a girl sat down. Ice cream complexion, blue eyes, a brown coat covering clothes of olive colour. Autumnal.
Eager to hear the sound of my own voice again and realising, after five minutes or so, that she wasn´t waiting for someone, I started to talk to her, on the pretense of wanting to know something about the menu (I forget now).
Elaine, from Stoke in England, studying commerce in Strasbourg. She was immediately beguiling, nothing was stilted and I told her what I was doing. She made me feel like I had a story, even though all I´d really done was walk many places, drink wine and beer, read, write and take trains since leaving Dublin Airport. It was good, great even, to have the immediacy of response and share.
I stuck to the truth of me.
In all the months leading up to my trip I knew I could lie freely, invent scenarios and a new history for myself, and leave without seeing the person again. With this girl, this Elaine, no need. No need to embellish or bullshit, and we learned each other over our pizzas and wine.
We eschewed dessert to get away from the increasingly rude waiting staff, and she suggested a walk down the long Grande Rue to one of the city´s many quays. As open as I´d ever been to anything, I would have walked across the German border with her and felt no fatigue.
I asked her was she not self conscious, eating alone, as in Dublin it´s a rarely seen thing for a girl to take outdoor food without company. She was having none of it. She was simply hungry and her friends all had plans, and she felt like getting out. She seemed bemused slightly by my question, but I put it down to a cultural thing and she understood.
We passed a bar, Jimmy´s Bar, and went inside for a drink. In the table candlelight she´d prove somewhat ethereal, unreal. Her accent was tough to pin down and if she hadn´t told me where she came from, I never would have placed her as British, or Australian, or South African, with magnificent cheekbones illuminated.
What was said is a blur now at several days´remove, but the feeling was of comfort and sobriety, rare bedfellows for an Irishman.
We strolled again, inching towards those quays, the rain started. She fixed an umbrella from nowhere. I took it in chivalry and she came that bit closer. Closer. She fit well next to me, smaller but not too much so, slim and shivering slightly in the unseasonal damp.
Then a deluge. Sudden, swift and unrelenting, the pair of us doused instantly and laughing in our confusion. Lightning strikes, thunder, maelstrom.
In a doorway, both of us half in the rain, she kissed me. Soft, sweet, swift. Eyes closed I scarcely remembered a moment this visceral. A culmination of something different. Not a drunken lunge or a tawdry dancefloor encounter. Not something describable.
Having felt her presence slowly disengage, I opened my eyes again to find the discarded umbrella gone, and with it her, our encounter as ephemeral as the lightning strike that preceded it.