Every morning Gino watched her as she ran along the sea-front. Her trainers, white with candy stripes, struck the asphalt with a whispered one-two. She wore leggings and a plain white t-shirt that flapped around her hips. She lived up the hill, with the university people. But in the early morning, she was his.
The café, with its herbal teas and mocha chocca coffees, wouldn’t open for at least another hour, so only Gino saw her as he rolled down his awning and unfolded his sandwich-board price-list: tea, coffee, filled rolls. No fancy stuff here. No fancy prices.
By the second set of steps that led down to the beach, the girl slowed and came to a halt. Gino knew the routine: three upward stretches, face to the sun, then the leg extensions, hands across the thigh, like a ballet dancer. He didn’t need to watch the rest, the final stretch, the jogging on the spot. She knew his routine too: the awning, the setting out of wares. Today he would offer her a smile.
He’d seen her once in a group, the university running club. They called her Laura. She kept her distance from the students, running with the older crowd. But she was no teacher, weighed down by learning and common-room clutter; she was light as air.
Gino switched on his urn, wiped down the hotplate and looked up, ready with a smile. But his timing was out: Laura was still at the steps. He watched her take the hem of her t-shirt in both hands and pull it over her head, back arched, like a diver on the high board. Underneath, a racing vest, skin-tight, electric blue. She knotted the outer layer around her waist and gathered hair back into its black ribbon tie.
Gino flinched. Her shoulders cut the raw air like knives, her arms were twig-thin. He thought of a sparrow, fallen from its nest, the web of bones on show like so much underwear.
Gino rearranged the sauce bottles and spat on the cloth he used to clean the counter. He wouldn’t watch her any more.