Mrs. Stoneman and her daughter Megan, settled in to their little twin room in one of the luxury huts of the resort complex. For the first two days they stayed inside the grounds, eating the buffet breakfast and choosing a restaurant within the gates for their evening meal. On the third day, they found themselves looking though those gates, wondering what went on, out there, in the real Gambia.
“Come on Mum, let’s go and explore,” said Megan.
Mrs. Stoneman was cautious. There was so much activity and hustle-and-bustle out there in those dusty streets. Was it usual for tourists to stray out of the complex? In a moment of uncharacteristic impulse, she decided to venture out. “Yes, let’s,” she said. “It’s a cultural trip after all.”
The evening streets were humming, the roadsides lined by cafés and bars. Mrs. Stoneman chose one and they took a seat.
“How interesting to see locals and tourists dining together!” she said, watching a woman in the corner. She was in her fifties, about her own age and exuding the European confidence that some women of her age seem to possess. Unlike her. Beside her sat several young local men. “Look at that one,” she said to Megan, gesturing, “talking to the local boys.”
Mrs. Stoneman wanted to understand as much local custom as she could. She was a teacher, after all. When the waiter came by, she quizzed him.
“Ahh,” the waiter replied casually, “she is German and comes here every year. For her men friends. Many European ladies make men friends here…”
Megan raised her eyebrows. “Friends?”
“Megan!” said Mrs. Stoneman.
The following night they ventured out to another restaurant. Again the mix of tourists and locals. The diverse ages. Suddenly Mrs. Stoneman realised. It had taken her a while to get it. The white middle-aged women. The young Gambian men. Of course!
Over dinner she found herself unable to pull her eyes away. The same German woman was talking intimately with two different young Gambian men. Mrs. Stoneman watched her pay her bill and then, subtly, slip a handful of notes in to each one’s hand. Mrs. Stoneman sat dumbfounded as the German woman then left with her two attentive escorts, one on each arm – one carrying her bag, the other laughing animatedly at her every word.
“Mum? Hello!” Megan’s voice drifted into her mother’s consciousness.
“I said are we having ice creams…?”
“Sure, if you’d like to.”
Behind her daughter, a young, tall, dark man was staring at their table. He returned Mrs. Stoneman’s gaze with a smile that transfixed her. She couldn’t take her eyes off his youthful face. He couldn’t be more than twenty? Why was he staring and smiling at her like that?
She looked to either side, but she and Megan were the only people in their corner. Yes, it was definitely her he was smiling at. Did he know how old she was? Maybe he couldn’t tell, because she was foreign?
But she recognised the look. The look that goes straight to the core of you. The look that says you’re wanted, desired. Mrs. Stoneman hadn’t seen that look in years. She stared back and felt a surge of excitement deep down in her belly.
“Mum, for goodness sake!”
Mrs. Stoneman’s attention was drawn back to her daughter.
“The ice creams? Are we getting any, or what? The waiter’s been twice. Embarrassing!”
“Oh yes, of course,” Mrs. Stoneman replied, glancing back to her Gambian.
“I’m going to the loo then,” Megan said, “while you order.”
While Megan was gone, the man sauntered over, with sparkling eyes. He seemed casual, slightly shy, and loose-limbed in that ‘time is unimportant’ way Mrs. Stoneman had noticed that they had here. “Hello,” he said with a heavy accent. “I see you sitting here, very beautiful. I hope you having a lovely time in my country? I welcome you.”
Unable to take her eyes away from him, Mrs. Stoneman muttered, “Thank you. Yes!” Again she felt that surge of excitement deep down.
“I will be here all night,” he then said with a shy, determined smile, laughing and loping back to his table. “If you want find me.”
Mrs. Stoneman was spellbound. What on earth did he mean? She couldn’t really return later, could she?
That night, while Megan slept, Mrs. Stoneman sat awake, fantasizing. Megan was fourteen. She babysat other children for goodness sake… surely she could leave her for a while! Would the man still be there? He said he would. But could She? That German woman certainly did. Mrs. Stoneman was always so sensible. Wasn’t it her time now? They had the money.
Fixed on the face of the man in the corner, Mrs. Stoneman’s heart beat acutely as he stood, smiling, and strolled towards her, lean, and so amazingly dark. He held out his hand. She took it automatically.
“Come, beautiful lady,” he said, leading her out of the cafe, through the busy, nighttime streets. It was still very hot. Steamy. Full of street sellers and illicit activity. He led her to a small hut behind the beach.
As he slipped her loose-fitting dress from her shoulders and ran his hands down her back, she could feel her youth coming back to her, as if the years hadn’t passed. Here she was, now, with this intent, dark young man, his body like a sculpture, and all his attention fixed firmly on her needs…
When Mrs. Stoneman arrived back to her room, Megan was still asleep. She went to her own bed and sat down, still sensing the young man’s touch and scent on her body. Holding herself tight at her shoulders, she looked down. On her phone screen, beside the bed, a message glowed.
Meredith, I’m sorry, I’ll try and come on the next trip, when I’m not so busy with work.
She’d stopped trying to ask him to come away on these trips many years ago.