Published by the Strathclyde Telegraph.
Banoffee muffins with cream cheese and cinnamon icing, spiced pumpkin lattes, strawberry cheesecake, banana bread, pumpkin pies, carrot cake, ginger bread, and chocolate brownies were just a few of the baked goods stacked onto the towering shelves in Bella’s Coffee House in Lochwinnoch that morning. With my jacket drenched, and my hair damp and starting to curl already, I was relieved to be hit by wave of heat and the rich smell of freshly ground coffee and cakes as I stepped inside.
I joined the queue to the coffee bar, shuffled on the spot and rubbed my cold bright red hands together to heat up as I ordered my usual: ‘A latte and a piece of carrot cake please, Julie.’
I watched as Julie poured steaming hot milk into the gloopy dark expresso and swirled her hand to etch the shape of a fern on top, before dusting the latte with a sprinkling of chocolate powder.
‘Are you excited for your road trip then, Allie?’ Julie asked.
‘Yeah, it should be great! We’re all packed up now. Just waiting on Joe coming back from the mechanics with the camper and then, fingers crossed, we’ll be all set,’ I told her.
I sat at my usual table by the window and waited for Joe. Just as I sat down, ready to people-watch and stare mindlessly at the raindrops wiggling down the pane, I noticed a man waving to Julie as he left. I only caught a glimpse of the back of his head but his balding crown and wavy silver hair seemed familiar.
I had just finished the last crumb of carrot cake when our battered old Fiat Ducato McLouis campervan came trudging around the corner and bumped to a stop outside Bella’s. I quickly scooped up my bag and ran outside, thanking Julie and giving her a wave as I went.
Joe was sitting in the driver’s seat with a beaming smile. ‘You’ll never guess. Somehow, it’s still actually roadworthy!’
Thankful that the mechanic had given it the all clear, I put my rucksack into the back of the camper with our other bags, jumped into the passenger seat, and we set off. I dug out the map and old cassette tapes from the glovebox.
‘So it’s Balloch we’re heading to first?’ I asked as I stuck on an old Fleetwood Mac greatest hits album.
‘Yep. You’re wanting to see Loch Lomond, aren’t you?’
‘Yeah, I haven’t been since I was about three or four when my grandpa took me there.’
The last thing I could remember was hearing Joe singing along to Go Your Own Way when I woke up to the smell of a new piña colada scented air freshener, rocky road, and a fresh coffee in a travel mug.
‘Wake up, sleepy head. We’re here,’ I heard Joe say from somewhere nearby.
I yawned, rubbed my eyes and fixed my beanie hat which had fallen down my forehead. We parked up in the campsite, ate two ham sandwiches each, then grabbed our rucksacks and headed to Loch Lomond.
I kicked the piles of little crinkled orange and brown leaves from under my boots and sipped my coffee as we reached the shore. Even on such a grey and damp day, the loch was still glistening. I had forgotten how vast it was, how it ate up the landscape. The water was a dark navy blue and so shiny it looked like glass that would shatter into pieces if I stepped on it. I craned my neck back to look up in awe at the hills and mountains tearing through the sky in waves of emerald and moss green that reached to touch the clouds.
I took out my camera and started to take some pictures when I noticed a shape floating in the water in the mist. As my eyes came into focus, I saw a small green fishing boat. Walking around on the deck, looking for something in the water, was that same old silver haired man. His back was arched as he leaned over the edge looking for something and his blue shirt filled with air like a ship’s sail. He had the same balding crown and soft silver waves at the back of his head but I still couldn’t see his face. I could have sworn it was him.
‘Look, there’s someone out there on a boat,’ I said to Joe as I pointed in the man’s direction.
‘Right there!’ I pointed again.
As I blinked a few more times, the silver haired man and the boat blurred out of focus and dissipated into the mist.
‘I could’ve sworn…’
‘I think you’re imagining things. You must be going daft!’ Joe laughed as he walked further down the shore taking pictures.
I stood at the edge of the loch with autumn leaves clinging to my boots like milk-soaked cornflakes and I squinted my eyes to try to find the man on the boat. The surface of the water was as still as a sheet of ice, silent and solid, no ripples or signs of movement.
I asked Julie about the old man but she couldn’t remember. I went to Bella’s for coffee and breakfast for weeks after we came home but I didn’t see him again.
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