Even when she was young, Fiona realised that she was always on her own.
“One and a good one,” her mother had always replied, when one of her well-meaning friends had remarked on Fiona’s status as an only child.
At school, the Religious Studies class taught about Noah and how the animals went into the ark two by two.
Then growing up and going to the teen disco, everyone else seemed to pair off so effortlessly whereas Fiona, the shy wallflower, would always arrive and leave alone.
And when she reached her twenties, all her friends all fervently talked about “Finding the One” and looking for their “Other Half”, as if being one really wasn’t enough.
Of course, she hadn’t always been alone. There had been Andrew, she thought with a sigh. That had lasted two years, until suddenly at that training conference where he had met Sarah. And then Fiona had found herself on her own once more.
And then there was Tim but that had lasted even less time. And now, her cousin, Shelley, informed her with a grin, Tim was about to become the father of twins.
Looking at the calendar, and realising that her fortieth birthday was looming, Fiona knew that she had to do something.
“You could try speed dating,” suggested Shelley.
And so she did. The day of the Speed Dating event, she had her long, golden-brown hair styled to curly perfection and bought a new emerald-coloured dress to match her green eyes and show off her trim figure. That evening, at the speed dating event, she sat opposite single guy after single guy in a crowded pub, spoke to them for three minutes each till the bell went and then went home to await her results.
“It’s not a bad score,” said Shelley, looking at the results in the e-mail from the Speed Dating company a couple of days later. “Three guys want to be friends with you.”
“Friends but not dates,” said Fiona and sighed.
Fiona resigned herself to life as a singleton. She watched the twos going into concerts, clubs, theatres…
“Table for two?” the serving staff always asked, on the rare occasions when she ventured to dine out alone.
Fiona had had enough. With her 40th birthday fast approaching, she marched into the local travel agent.
“I’d like to book a holiday please,” she asked the young man at the desk.
“Certainly, madam, for two?”
“Here we go again,” thought Fiona, and answered with as much dignity as she could muster.
“No, for one.”
“There’ll be a single supplement…”
Wasn’t there always? thought Fiona bitterly. It really was a world for two. Why should people always be penalised for being single? It couldn’t be that much more work to clean a room for one person than it was for two.
“Peak season, you see,” went on the travel clerk.
“Yes, yes,” said Fiona. “Can’t be helped.”
“Unless of course, you want to go on a singles holiday ….”
Fiona shuddered. It brought back memories of going to Tenerife one year on what she thought would be a calm, tranquil holiday. It turned out that the hotel was also the venue for Club Lazee, a singles holiday aimed at the 18-25s. She recalled the noise, the late-night clubbers, no peace for two weeks.
She voiced her fears to the travel agent.
“Ah no, they’re not all like that,” and handed over a brochure headed: ‘Holidays for the Young at Heart.’ “For instance, we have a very special holiday for single people going to Turkey. There’ll be lectures about archaeology during the day, trips to Ephesus…”
Fiona remembered reading about one of the seven wonders of the world, Ephesus with its old library of Celsus. Funny because at nearly 40 and still on the bookshelf, wasn’t she almost an old librarian herself? Although in truth, she was still, just like the brochure said, young at heart.
“I’ll take it,” she said impulsively.
“But we were planning a surprise party for your 40th,” protested her cousin Shelley, on hearing of her plans.
“Well, the surprise is that I won’t be there. I’ll be in Bodrum.”
“But you can’t go on your own?”
“I won’t be on my own. There are 30 other single people booked in.”
“Oh Fiona, you might meet someone. What if you get there and find The One?”
Fiona shrugged. She certainly hadn’t been thinking along those lines. All she wanted to do was to get away and not have to celebrate her big birthday with her friends, who though kind enough in their way, were by now all in couples and really had no idea any more what being single was really like.
In the days approaching her 40th birthday, Fiona found herself about to board the coach from Milas Mugla airport that would transport her to the Bodrum resort where she would start her Turkish holiday adventure.
“Welcome aboard,” said Mala, her guide for the coming fortnight. “I think there’s a seat for you at the back of the bus. We’ve a full coach today.”
Fiona walked down the length of the coach, looking left and right. What had the brochure said? Young at Heart?
“Over here, love, there’s a space, next to me,” an elderly gentleman called Tom patted the empty seat beside him.
She took it gratefully. She soon realised with a sigh, looking round at the other occupants of the coach, that she was going to be the youngest holidaymaker by at least 30 years.
Young at Heart? Oh dear, she realised, young at heart, but perhaps not young in body.
She smiled to herself and determined to make the best of things. At least, she wouldn’t have to wonder if she would meet The One on this holiday. Unless any of her fellow travellers happened to have any eligible and attractive sons back home.
In the end, of course, her mood brightened. After all, Bodrum was indeed as beautiful as the brochure boasted with its white houses, bustling Marina, Crusader Castle, turquoise sea …
“So, you’re single too,” said Ethel, one of the grandmothers on the trip said at breakfast the next day. “Make the most of it, love. Plenty of time to have some old guy bossing you around later on.”
Fiona hoped that that wasn’t quite what the future held for her. As an independent woman, being bossed around wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but someday it might be nice to have someone to share things with.
And, as the days went by, it looked like some of the older people around her were starting to pair up: Ethel with Tom, Stan with Mona… Even Mala the guide was with Mustaf the coach driver.
Was life always going to be like this? she wondered, joining in the toast to her birthday as, guided by Mala, the others sang Happy Birthday to her raucously at dinner one evening.
That night, when walking back from the restaurant to her villa, Fiona found herself set apart from the others and, standing by some trees, impulsively looked up into the sky.
And there, in the dark but clear sky, she could see twinkling above her an infinite carpet of jewel-bright stars. Each one shone brightly, independently, twinkling for all it was worth. Each one separate but part of a huge, shining whole. Each one special in its own way, not dependent on its neighbour, not needing to be part of a two.
Was that what was meant by bringing your light into the world?
“That’s what I’ll do,” determined Fiona, as she began life in her forties. “Shine as brightly as I can, and then, even if I don’t meet anyone and remain single, I can still be a star in my own right.”
And with that, she laughed and ran back to the villa to enjoy the rest of her stay under the Turkish sun, feeling very young at heart and happy indeed.