the story of the antique ring
Do you remember?
We’d given up on the high street jewelers. The rings fit on your finger, but they just didn’t fit us.
A few weeks later, we were in Portugal. It was beginning to rain and we ducked inside a tired little shop in that backwater town. It was a place that tourists, and even time, had forgotten.
A wizened, arthritic old man moved slowly around the small space. An elderly museum curator, going about his well worn rituals. In his stoop, he seemed to hold a weight of sadness.
We looked around, in polite silence. Broaches and tie-pins, china cups and saucers with their static flowers sat in dusty velvet showcases. Even the air seemed heavy with the past.
You saw it first. I joined you and felt something inside, as you had. It was like recognition. The antique ring had a presence. In its curves, an elegance. The green stone seemed to hold a calm knowing, of oceans and forests, a connection to natural rhythms, even to the heartbeat of the world. Or so it seemed to us.
We both spoke at once as we turned to face the startled old man. He wandered painfully over and we pointed to the ring. He looked searchingly at us both. His shaking hand set the ring on the counter. We couldn’t take our eyes off it. It was more beautiful close up. And for several minutes the old man told us, with a shine in his eyes, the story of the antique ring.
When he had finished, we asked if we could hold it. He offered it to us, it sat as if it belonged on your finger. With my heart in my mouth, I asked him the price. He turned over the ring box and our hearts sank – too much for us. Instead of putting the ring away or showing us something else, the old man asked about us (we weren’t 27, after all). We told him our story, our ‘late but not never’ love story. The old man listened intently, nodding occasionally.
For several moments, the man’s glassy eyes looked into a distance we could not see. He turned to a framed photograph and was visibly upset. ‘That’s my wife, I lost her 2 years ago.’ We held sad silence with him. ‘She was my world.’ In that moment, in that tired little space, it felt like we were touching every secret of the world, the whispered longing of hearts, everything that is good and important about people. Everything that mattered.
The old man inhaled deeply. ‘This has always been one of my favourite pieces. Until now, no-one else has seen it as I do. I would be honoured, as would my wife, if you would accept it as a gift from us’. We chorused, that we couldn’t possibly. The old man insisted, telling us he saw something very special in us that reminded him of them. That it would mean the world to him and his wife, to their love, if we would agree to this. With tears in our eyes, we nodded. You said, as best as your tight throat would allow, ‘we would be honoured’.
The old man returned to the counter and placed the ring carefully in a box, his every movement a ritual of love for his life’s love. He handed you the beautifully wrapped package, with a card which bore elegant calligraphy letters, that read Congratulations. Your love is truly beautiful. With all our love, Salvador and Florbela.
We left the shop. We opened the package. You put the ring on your finger and we both cried our hearts out.
Later that night, Salvador lay in his bed and felt, more than ever, that his beloved Florbela was with him. Warm salty tears ran down his face and into his thin white hair before the night lovingly gathered him in, into his best sleep in two long years.
Bless you, Salvador. Bless you, Florbela.
Eternal love is yours.