Oh God, why do I always feel responsible for the oddballs of this world? she thought, and sighed. Part of her felt sorry for this stranger, and part wanted him to go away. She sighed again.
“You’ve invited him, you stupid woman,” she muttered.
“Are you coming in?” she called.
A sudden smile lit up his face, a wonderful transformation. He came to her table and sat down, carefully placing his sketchpad face down on the table in front of him, and looked expectantly at Isa. She returned his look, confused. Now what? Oh, of course! She held out her hand. “I’m Isa. Citizen of Hellevoetsluis, mother of two, writer. Sort of.”
“Pleased to meet you, Isa,” answered the boy formally.
“And who are you?” Isa had to ask.
“My name is Dirk.” (Copyright Renée Koopman – if you steal this you are a very bad person!)
He looked deep into Isa’s eyes for a moment. Isa put her ignored hand back into her lap.
“Citizen of Hellevoetsluis, no kids, student,” he added suddenly.
“Oh, a student, are you? How nice. What do you study?”
Great, at last, safe ground. She ordered a dry white Chardonnay for herself and heard Dirk ask for a cup of tea. When asked what kind of tea he wanted, he quickly answered “Just tea!”
“What is your subject?” persisted Isa.
“Illustrating. I go to the Art College in Rotterdam. I want to be an illustrator of books on ducks.”
“Oh! Just ducks? Surely you’d want to do other books as well?”
“No, ducks. Just ducks.”
Oddball. Definitely. Isa stretched out her hand to his sketchpad.
“No!” Dirk put both his arms across the pad, the pleasant look on his face swiftly replaced by a fierce protective one.
“Whoa, take it easy, if you don’t want me to look, I won’t.”
Their drinks arrived, and Isa took a huge gulp of chilled wine. She deeply regretted her invitation by now. She wouldn’t ever learn, would she? Working as a freelancer had warped her judgement. She always thought her natural rapport with people would help her in any situation, but it clearly didn’t in this one. And a nagging thought fought for attention in her head. She had come across this kind of behaviour before, hadn’t she?
“Dirk,” she said softly, “ I mean it, don’t worry! Drink your tea and relax. I don’t want anything from you. Perhaps it was a silly idea to ask you to come for a drink. Yes, it was stupid of me. You don’t know me. I’m a complete stranger to you, and an old one at that. But I was bored, you see, nothing to do in this town on a Sunday afternoon. And I lost that stupid hat!”
You are babbling, Isa, she thought. Shut up! Dirk looked at her.
“You’re not old,” he said.
He had eyes of the deepest blue she had seen, with almost feminine lashes, a thin long nose and a generous mouth with straight white teeth. Isa realised with a jolt that this was an extremely attractive face. The tension had left his eyes, and he had moved his arms so they now lay relaxed along the table.
“Oh yes I am!” she contradicted with a smile. “Ancient! At least to someone like yourself. How old are you?”
“And you like to draw ducks?”
“Ducks are beautiful animals. Have you ever looked at the feathers of a Mallard, I mean really looked? And at those of a Teal? Or a Dutch Hookbill? I have a whole bookshelf full of books on ducks, and watch every nature program that might feature them. Obviously at college they make me draw all kinds of things, boring mostly, but when I have the time I draw my ducks. I’m learning how to build a website, and as soon as I know how to, I’m going to have my own site featuring all indigenous ducks and the ones that come to our shores in Winter. I may take photos and then put the drawing next to the photo. What do you think?”
Isa noticed his eyes flashing with enthusiasm, and his lean hands drawing imaginary ducks in the air, almost knocking over his tea.
“I think that’s a very good idea,” she said kindly.
© Renée Koopman