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SNAPSHOT - A romance

I've never been quite sure why my eyes were initially drawn to the woman who sat at the table by the window. I'm a magazine photographer by trade, and though I tend to look at people closely, it is usually only if they are beautiful, or if they are people with some particular feature, or with some marked strength of character stamped on their face. The general mass of humanity passes me by unmoved. After all, I spend my working life, day in, day out, looking at the loveliest faces and bodies on the planet; why would I want to look at anything less on my own time?

And heaven knows this woman wasn't the sort of person I've ever found attractive -- she was fat, definitely fat, in her early to mid-thirties, and wore serious, studious looking glasses. Possibly it was her clothes that attracted my attention, or the way she walked, or perhaps it was a whole attitude.

There's something about a fat woman generally, when she is alone, something apologetic, that this woman lacked. She walked in, perfectly made up and dressed in an exquisitely tailored green suit and a really, really red shirt. Her rosewood-coloured hair shone, she carried herself very straight with her head held erect, and she almost strutted. The waiter showed her to a table and she sat gracefully, and placed her order, looking straight at him. Though I couldn't hear what she said, her voice was low, confident, vibrant.

Her order came, and she sat, unselfconsciously, drinking her coffee or whatever, apparently absorbed in the book she was reading. She smoked a cigarette calmly, but otherwise did nothing, said nothing. Even so, time and time again my eyes came back to her, slipping past the lovely girl I would normally have been staring at, the bunch of businessmen animatedly gesturing and discussing the latest deal at the table next to where she was sitting.

At one point she looked up from her book as I was gazing at her, and I started to look away guiltily, but she just smiled at me, gave a little nod of her head in my direction and returned to her reading. My gaze didn't seem to discomfit her in the least, she just accepted it as something perfectly natural, as if men stared at her in fascination all the time. Who knows, maybe they do.

I suppose she must have been there about 15 minutes, when the man arrived. I glanced at him briefly as the door opened, the way you do. I saw an ordinary looking man, middle height, middle build, middle aged, dressed in a suit exactly like all the other suits in the room. There was nothing to set him apart from anybody else in the café, he was just another businessman.

He spoke to the waiter and, because I was looking at the woman at the time, I noticed the little changes in her. As she heard his voice her hand tensed on her cup, and it rattled a little as she put it down in the saucer. She briefly scraped her upper teeth over her lower lip, then licked them, as if to remove any possible trace of lipstick. Though she kept her eyes in front of her, they darted a glance aside towards the sound of the voice. Then she closed her book, put it on the table, and looked up as the waiter led the man over to where she sat.

When people in the movies write love stories they always cast a beautiful woman and an unfeasibly attractive man in the lead roles. Maybe they think we wouldn't be able to understand or associate with real people exhibiting feelings of love and passion. Just as an example, take 'Frankie and Johnny' a movie about a plain waitress and a short-order chef falling for each other. Who did Hollywood cast? Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino. I mean, get with the programme people, those two are not exactly ordinary are they?

But as this woman looked up at this man I knew, just knew, that what I was looking at here was a powerful love story. I'd obviously missed the beginning, but there was no doubt. A blush suffused her face as he held out his hand, and asked, tentatively, "Margaret?".

There was another, deeper question in his voice, a wealth of hidden meaning, that I wished I could understand.

She took the hand, stood and smiled at him, looking straight into his eyes. She too only said one word, "Colin." But obviously her tone and the way she looked at him were all the answer he needed to whatever question he had asked.

He drew her towards him, and gathered her into his arms in a huge hug. Her arms went round him, and they both laughed - a delighted, breathless laugh. Every head in the café turned to look at them, and conversation hushed. They moved apart and kissed, lightly, chastely, but it was as if there was some kind of shimmer of passion in the air around them.

"Coffee?" The woman asked.

The man shook his head and I strained to hear his reply. In a quiet, warm voice he said, "You know it isn't coffee I want sweetheart."

I'd never seen a smile 'beam' before that, but there was no other description for the grin that spread across the woman's face. It radiated the most complete sense of happiness I'd ever seen, and it seemed like little splinters of that broke off and touched everyone in the place. The atmosphere brightened perceptibly, although until that moment it hadn't occurred to me that it wasn't already bright and cheerful.

The man took her hand in his, they walked across to the cash register, and paid for her drink.

And they left. Around me, the babble started up again, but it seemed to me that it was more animated, more alive, than it had been before.

As they walked past the window, I grabbed my camera and took a single snapshot. I caught them just at the right moment, as they were looking at each other, her lips parted a little, him smiling, their eyes shining. I honestly believe it's the best photograph I will ever take.

I have it framed on my wall, just titled 'Margaret and Colin'. Everyone asks me about it.

"Who are they?, "What's their story?".

And I look at the picture, and back at the questioner and I tell them the truth.

"I have no idea," I reply, "but one day, one day, I intend to be in love like that."