Twelve years of dogged, endless searching had led Sandra here - Rome. Ancient city of the gods. Wonder if I should start praying to the gods for an answered prayer. She sat staring at her latté, fingers fidgetting with nervousness. Over the years, the memory of his face had blurred, washed away by time, replaced by the here and now - school, college, work, and loves found and lost. The only thing she remembered of him was the red top he was wearing the day he went away. It was a sweater really. She had given it to him for his birthday that year. She remembered clinging to him, her tears soaking into the weave of the woollen threads, staining it dark, like blood.
"Don't go, Daddy. Please don't go," he had lifted her up. His strong arms wrapped around her. She remembered feeling his muscles tighten and ripple under the sweater.
"I have to, Sweetheart. I have to. I will always, always, love you. You're my angel. One day, we'll meet again. I'll always be here," he touched her heart.
She had started to sob. "Please, Daddy".
He started to put her down, but she clung to him harder for a while. And then she placed her eight-year-old hand on his cheeks, feeling the stubble, her fingers going over the contours of his face, fingering his moustache. She fingered the weave of the red sweater. She had picked it out for him at the store. There was really nothing special about the design; it was just a plain woven sweater. There had been so many different colours, but she had picked the red one, because it would bring out her daddy's tan and make him look even more handsome. And Daddy always looked the best in plain stuff. She had even brought along his favourite top to make sure it was a perfect fit. And best of all, she had paid for it at the counter herself. He had loved it, and had worn it often. She had been so proud.
And now he had to leave her. She fingered the sweater and looked into his eyes, tears streaming down her own.
"Remember me always when you wear it", she whispered as she gave him one last kiss.
And now, 22 years later, Sandra sat at the table outside the Italian café like a tourist, waiting to see a man whose face she could not remember, whose memory kept her strong all these years.
The memory had drawn the beginnings of tears, blurring her vision. There was a flash of red in the crowd. She quickly wiped her eyes, both in embarrassment and to take another look at the red. Blues, blacks, yellows and all other shades thronged the street in front of her. But no red. Get yourself together, Sandra. You've had too much sun.
She reached down to get her purse out.
"Hello angel", the voice trembled with barely contained emotion, but it was the same voice.
She snapped up. And there he was. All together, the memories flooded back. And she remembered. Everything. His face, his smell. Time had been good to him. He was grizzled, grayer, but the same. He had on the red sweater, worn out by time and endless washing through the years. But it was the same sweater. Her sweater; slightly faded perhaps, and lovingly patched in places where the wool had come undone. And he looked the same in it, tall, strong, the Daddy who had to leave all those years ago. And as they embraced, her tears trickled down, darkening the red like it did once before.