There once was a very small village on the coast of Italy. The vineyards and olive trees flourished there, and the sun shone most of the year, warming the Earth and the mediterranean sea.
In this village lived a young woman who was known to be strange to the other willagers. She never wore stockings with her shoes and never painted her face with the slightest hint of makeup. She did not drink any of the wine or liquor in town, nor did she partake in any celebrations or gatherings.
Her name was Isabel.
One day, as she walked through the small marketplace, a man looked up at her from his game of cards with his seafaring friends. An obvious sailor, he stared long after Isabel with her basket had passed him.
His name was Thomas.
Isabel walked the mile to her families home, a smallish cottage, warm and cozy. It wasn’t until she reached the door that she heard footsteps behind her.
Turning, she saw Thomas, his face red from running.
She gave him a smile that stole what was left of his breath. Though she was not the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, she had captivated him. Now, he realized he couldn’t stand to be away from her.
For months, he stayed with her, working at her side in the vineyards of her family, eating at her table, at her side, and enjoying every word they shared, every sunrise that came because it meant another day with her.
Then, as autumn came and the harvest began, his card-playing friends came to find him.
They were leaving port, they would be returning to the sea and sailing south for Africa’s capes.
Thomas told them farewell and good fortune on their trip, he would stay with Isabel.
His companions left, their smiles a little empty for the loss of their seafaring friend. Isabel saw this farewell and told Thomas to go.
“You will be happier if you go with them, because as winter comes you’ll wish for warmer shores, and I will not seem so beautiful or interesting. You will remember the ivory coast and it’s treasures and mysteries. You will miss the freedom to walk where you please. You will love me more if you go.”
But he would hear none of it and stayed behind.
But as winter came and the coast grew cold, he found himself wishing he’d gone with the ship. Her smile was the same and it kept him warm, but his feelings felt hollow. Before the spring he told her that he did not want to see her.
She sobbed herself skinny within the space of week. But then, back came the friends up the road, with trinkets and treasures from the ivory coast to show and share. Thomas smiled again, and loved Isabel again, and all returned to the way it had been.
When again autumn came, and the friends came up the road to the little house, Isabel told him again to go with them.
“You’re love is like the sunshine, it is good and sure in the summer, but when the months go dark, so does your love for me. Go with them, my Love, so that I will cry not with sorrow, but with joy when you return in the spring.”
He knew she was right but for his love, he did not want to leave her. Again, his friends smiled and left him on the italian coast.
For months it was better, he still smiled, he still loved her. But come the coldest winter days in March, he looked seawards, counting the days until he’d see his friends, hear of their tales of adventure…
They returned later this time, and his smile was not so large. But they told him stories of lions and tigers, of people of such dark complexion they had to made of the night sky. In their stories, a look of longing and jealousy rose in his face. Isabel saw this, and knew that this upcoming autumn, he must go with them, otherwise he’d be lost.
When autumn came and the harvest was underway, Isabel found an excuse to drag Thomas from his work and take him to town. There she met his friends at the same café where Thomas had first seen her.
She ordered them to take Thomas with him, lest he go land crazy.
Thomas, though the prospect of leaving was welcome, could not bring himself to leave Isabel.
But she would not leave.
“My family has need of me and my strangeness. If I do not stay, then the vineyards will burn, the olives will shrivel and dry, and the bread will not bake itself. I belong here. A part of you belongs here too, but I cannot have all of you at all times.”
Thomas walked to the ship with his friends but again stopped at the dock. He could not leave her, and she would not go with him.
“Come winter you will be melancholy and sad again, and your heartbreak will make tears freeze on my cheeks. I will wait for you, I shall be here during the winter and you shall be there. You will come back and I will welcome you always. It is better that you go now, before you desert me totally.”
He went aboard and the ship seemed empty to him. It was no longer his home, but his friends were with him, and kept him interested in their tales of the ivory coast.
Isabel wept the whole way home, and wept as she harvested the grapes, and wept into the wine and bread until she was thin as the frost on the windows.
She walked to town in the burning cold wind and her toes froze in her shoes. She walked to the dock and sat staring out to sea everyday until sundown, talking to the waves and sand and rocks, assuring them like children that he would come back.
She prayed each day to the Heavenly Father that Thomas would be kept safe from the dangerous seas, from stale wind, from the tigers and lions and diseases of the African coast.
As the winter grew harsh, her family kept her home, and listened in sadness to the soft cries of her weeping each night.
One spring afternoon, thin and weak, Isabel climbed out of bed and put on stockings. She put on her shoes and dress and shawl and bound her hair in a long braid of brown velvet.
She snuck out of her home and down the road. The wind was cool but the sun was warm and she carried on down to the docks slowly.
The ship was there.
But where was Thomas and his friends? Every person she asked knew nothing of the group of seafaring companions.
She sat by the dockside and stared at the ship.
“Did God not hear me,” she wondered to the rocks and sand and sea. “Has he died in some terrible way?” The waves moved up and the ship bobbed up and down. She stared at it long and hard, looking for any kind of sign that might give her a clue.
Tears fell from her weary eyes.
“Did he find someone rarer than I, with skin like milk and hair the color of the night sky? Did he leave me and is he happier now?”
There was no answer to be had that afternoon and she stayed long after dark, long after the lamps were extinguished and all that was left was the wind and the sky.
She prayed, she begged, she pleaded, she promised the world and more to be reunited with the man she loved. She waited.
She waited till the sun rose and warmed her shivering bones. She waited despite the strange looks from bemused villagers and seamen. She waited despite her hunger or thirst. She waited everyday, her face a miserable mask with a strange smile as she spoke to whatever was nearby, assuring rock or gull or passerby that her Thomas was coming back.
The captain of the ship came down the dock one day and saw the strange girl sitting alone, staring out to sea. He had heard stories of her, the Girl who waited for someone to come back.
He walked up to the market and bought a small loaf of bread and a bottle of wine with a dainty little glass. He carried it back down to the dock and sat next to the girl, handing her the loaf and pouring a glass of the wien for her. She took the wine and gave him a smile that seemed empty.
“I do not drink anything but water,” she said.
“Any particular reason?” he asked as she tore off a piece of bread and offered it to him.
“God gave provided water, it is enough,” she replied, “at least, for me. I hold no vice against any man.”
“Save the one you wait for.”
“He has no vices.” At this the captain laughed.
“Why would he make a young girl wait if he has no vices?”
“I wait because it’s all I have left to do. I cannot go home, I cannot bear the sight of it without him. I cannot follow after him, I do not know where he went. I wait because he promised he’d come back and I trust him. I wait because if I do not, I shall surely cry myself away.” A few tears followed these heartbreaking words and she looked out to sea. The Captain left her, he didn’t say goodbye and neither did she. He returned to his ship and sailed south.
He asked his first mate about a man named Thomas and a girl waiting on the coast of Italy for his return. The first mate merely shrugged.
“There are a good many Thomas’s, and a good many seamen who sail about. If he left her for the Ivory Coast, then he probably would leave her for the Indian coast, and for the New World. A man who chases the wind is never to be tied to anyone, he may love them, he may cry himself crazy, he may waste away. But no man changes his nature, Captain, none of them.”
“Should I have brought her with us,” asked the Captain and the mate shook his head.
“Girl like that, she’d politely refuse. She’s waiting for a man who’s never gonna come back. You could ask her, but she wouldn’t come. You could offer her the world, and she’d say no thank you, sir, kind as you please. She’ll be gone next time we come by this coast again, though, I assure you that.”
“Why is that?”
“No girl waits forever, the Lord above, Bless Him, he takes all the waiting-types back home.”
Another winter went by before another ship came to port. It was loaded with spices and teas from the far east and the smell that accompanied the ships arrival was fine indeed. Thomas and his companions came off the ship and headed up the road to the small little cottage. It was empty, there was no furniture, no sound.
Thomas went out into the vineyards and found that the plants had all burned and all that was left was the blackened wood and ashes. The olive trees had shriveled and were without a single leaf and all the grass and weeded ground was burnt yellow.
Thomas went into town, looking for any of the family, or Isabel. But of them, he could find not one. The townsfolk told him that there was a strange girl who had waited by the docks for days on end and then, one day, she just wasn’t there.
The tenants of the vineyards had left overnight with all their belongings and no one had seen them go. Shortly after that, the fire had started in the home and spread out to the vines until the hillsides filled the night sky with smoke of the inferno and some of the villagers said that the sound of fire consuming the moist wood caused the strangest scream to fill the air.