Stuart entered the beach bar and was lucky enough to grab one of the prized tables by the rail, overlooking the sea. The lunchtime crowd had thinned out and the early evening onslaught had yet to commence. Patrick, one of the older waiters, recognising him, grinned and held up a beer. Stuart winked and raised a thumb. Moments later, an ice-cold bottle of Banks was in front of him together with a dish of nuts.
‘Thanks, Patrick, great service.’
‘You OK mun. Jus gimme the nod when you ready for de nex’ one.’
Stuart took a deep draught of the local beer and gazed out across the bay. The shallow waters were a vibrant turquoise, dotted with deeper shades where the corals draped the rocks below. A few small boats and a catamaran were weaving across the waters together with a jet ski rider, trying to impress the visitors and gain a last ride of the day.
With the sun now low in the sky, a glade of sparking rays bounced off the gentle waves. The heat had lost the fierceness of the day. With a mosaic of small clouds clustered towards the horizon, he guessed (and hoped) there was a chance of a decent sunset.
It was towards the end of Stuart’s third week now, in what he had decided, was a little corner of paradise he had found in Barbados. With the business back home now going well and a good team in place, he had decided he needed something of a sabbatical. In the last ten years, since he had started the business, he had barely taken a day’s holiday in all that time. When the dust had settled after the fraught divorce from Jane, he had decided that he needed a complete change in his life. With their house sold (as part of the financial settlement) he had seen no reason to stay in London with its unfortunate memories of a failed marriage. He had resigned from his big corporate role, cashed in his pension and bought a small cottage in the Cotswolds. Using his extensive contacts, he had built the business he had dreamt of for so long.
Noticing the position of the sun, Stuart checked his watch. He really didn’t need to, as time had taken on a whole new dimension since he’d arrived. He now found he only needed a glance at the sun or the shadows to know the time (give or take a few minutes). He brought his attention back from the sea, to the narrow boardwalk that ran below the bar along the edge of the beach.
A few vendors were still trying hard to sell their wares to the visitors, local children were playing in the sea, shrieking and laughing and couples were walking hand in hand. Most of the couples were holidaymakers but Stuart couldn’t help noticing the few mixed-race pairs.
The sight of these couples brought Stuart’s thoughts back to the political chaos he had left behind in the protracted aftermath of the referendum. The traditional left-right political divisions seemed unable to cope with this new challenge. Now a London and Westminster-centric and media savvy establishment was lampooning & fighting a construction of an ageing group of ill-educated, working class, anti-immigration, northern-based extreme nationalists. This offended him.
Settling in to his second beer (that Patrick had kindly brought without prompting), it was clear to him that political correctness was fast destroying freedom of speech. Did it matter? To him, yes, he felt it was threatening an erosion of democracy and a loss of control for the individual – the individuals that comprised the majority. The Blair years had brought the trumpeting of multiculturalism with encouragement of the celebration of minorities and cultural differences. But now the responsibility for cultural integration seemed to have been reversed, with the English having to change to assimilate the newcomers. His business travels around Europe, had brought home to him the problems that sudden (and seemingly uncontrolled) mass immigration was causing, in relation to jobs, housing, essential services and social cohesion. The comment that he heard not infrequently was a variation on “I can choose who I invite into my home, so why can’t the democratic process ensure likewise for our community and our country?”
He looked up and saw her approaching. Noticing him she waved, a wide smile spreading across her face. He drank in the sight of her supple, graceful movements as she weaved between the tables. She was slender and finely boned, her erect posture enhancing her fulsome figure. They embraced and settled into their seats.
Gazing intently at her, Stuart thought Olivia McAllister was the most beautiful and intelligent woman he had ever met. The now setting sun was adding a lustrous sheen to her rich brown skin. Her large dark eyes, framed by gold-rimmed glasses, smiled warmly at him. He ached to kiss those soft, full lips once more. He couldn’t believe his luck when they met in Bridgetown during his first week. She had stopped at his request and given him directions to the address he had been seeking. He’d taken a chance and said his meeting wasn’t urgent and would she care to join him for a coffee (it being mid-morning)? They had clicked straightaway and the coffee had turned into lunch and lunch into dinner the following day and…well, breakfast most days since.
A divorcee, with a PhD in genetics, Olivia was a lecturer at the school of medicine and was hoping to obtain sponsorship for a move to Europe to continue her research. She had already asked him endless questions about the UK & she had been obviously delighted to hear how close his cottage was to Oxford.
Stuart grew nervous as he slipped his hand into the pocket of his slacks. Time was running out. There hadn’t been much choice and he wasn’t even sure of the size but the ring would have to do for now.
As he slid down onto one knee, he saw the waiters grinning and giving them an enthusiastic thumbs-up…and Patrick was waving a bottle of champagne.
Image: Original photo by Tony Armstrong