What a woman. A voice says a lot and most of us have forgotten to tune into this signal of a person’s character. From the minute I heard her (three dozen torches were blinding me), I sensed the quality of the woman who was about to become my best friend. All she said was, “Hello Iain, I’m Camilla.” Her soft voice was clear, a bell which rang though the eighty odd voices chattering over the splash of waves lapping upon the coral sands. Quiet as she was, she pierced my head; there was vitality, independence, power. I was hooked. Sensing my blindness, Camilla’s hand extended through the halo of intense light, a warm, strong grip which ignited my heart. As the curious torches continued to analyse my every part, she lead me from the small fishing boat’s sharp prow and down an impromptu gang-plank. Unfortunately, as my toes sank into the wet sand, she let go and strode ahead. An animal desperation pulled me after this woman I’d still not seen. Wow she walked quickly. We wove through the crowd which had gathered to see the white man this incredible woman had rescued from a boat crashed upon the reef three hundred metres away across the tropical lagoon. Our first conversation was not to happen for three days and it came about through deceit. It was Friday, the Muslim weekend and forbidden to even prepare work in the quiet of our home, I discovered Camilla would walk across the pancake flat island to a deserted beach. As she strode purposefully along the crisp white sands fringing the western edge of the island, I ran quietly through the undergrowth, popped out some distance ahead, pretended to be surprised to meet her. It had to be done this way, she’d ignored me ever since I’d stepped off the tiny sailing boat she impelled to rescue me. That first evening she had remained quiet and the next three days she was almost curt and I’d been delighted to have have a wound which needed dressing and made much of the dangers of coral sand entering the three inch cut gained in the accident. Typically, as she undid the dressing and washed the wound, her near silence met my enthused chatter. Ambushing her for three days as if by accident as she sped round the island tending to the sick and pregnant, did nothing. Finally, I handed her a note; she didn’t respond. You’d have thought I’d have got the message, but I knew this woman was special and although I’d joined this remote charity venture partly to rid me forever of love, a force I was unable to control had gripped me. Camilla was surprised to see me slip alongside her and though I sensed her dismay, I was unable to stop myself from talking as I tried to keep up, eventually the silver chords I was famed for tying round people’s hearts slipped her stiff demeanour and when I asked if I could join her, she relented and we spent a few hours in the baking sun, something I never normally like. How did I know it was love? I kept asking myself, but each time she spoke I knew she was the woman for me. Although she was a committed Catholic and I an agnostic leaning towards atheism, our first conversation was about belief and life and philosophy. Beneath our obvious differences, our thoughts scythed perfectly. At some point, to cool off, I swam flat-out across the lagoon, relishing the exercise. I returned at a leisurely pace, enjoying the distant vision of a beautiful woman sprawled upon a towel gradually magnifying. I spotted a beautiful shell, a dark pink cone which could fill my hand. Wow, what a present to depict my love. To my dismay it was alive, the sea-snail’s route curved across the white sandy bottom. Somebody else might have ignored this, but the only creature I’ll kill is a mosquito. Careful not to harm the creature, fingers gently grasping its shell, I swam slowly to the beach. I called Camilla. She waded in, admired the superb shell I held beneath the water to protect the animal. A minute later, I carefully carried it three hundred metres back to it’s original hunting grounds. That night, seeking to recognise it in my shell book, I discovered it had been the deadly geography shell. A few months previously an island fisherman had picked one up, intending to kill the snail and sell the shell to tourists on the distant resort islands. Not being concerned about the animal’s comfort, he held it firmly in his fist. The snail’s poison dart shot into his palm. He yelled, dropped the shell, quivered and died within seconds. A week later, Camilla and I were sat under a leaning palm, watching the sun slip across the sky, planning our wedding. That was thirty years ago and I am still discovering how caring, intelligent and wonderful she is.
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