She was from Portugal, he Latvia. This much they had established through their second and third languages. English as the lingua franca. That and a good deal of pointing both at themselves and the imaginary latitudes of their mother tongue homelands from here in the heart of Trafalgar Square. Their respective crows may not fly straight and true, but two pidgins were very much in evidence.
Though many words were missing from their ungainly English, the effect was to make their exchange seem strangely formal. Clipped of the flourishes of metaphor, it was to the point, yet none too expressive nor invasive.
"The weather, it is good for touring"
"Have you seen much?"
"Yes, I have seen many things".
Back home such an utterance might have been delivered in their native language with an audibly heavy heart, at all the miseries witnessed. Here, merely a statement of a dedicated application to sightseeing. All prattle maintained fluffy and light.
Nor were they fluid enough to punctuate their speech with inflection or emphatic gestures. Yet it didn't seem to hinder understanding in the slightest. In fact, it made for a certain crystalline clarity. Perhaps they were just too concentrated on pouring all their energies into properly elocuting such alien words, rather than injecting them with any weight.
"Charming" was her reply to his polite if vacuous probing as to how she was finding her stay in England. By which she didn't quite mean that all the English were charming, (the hawkers at the London Eye had been a bit too importunate, while as for the demonstrators outside the Houses Of Parliament, one didn't need to understand the precise content hurled toward the venerable edifice to know it was vitriolic. Their faces contorted in hate told her all she might ever need to know). Nor did it quite mean she herself had been charmed. But charm was the closest English transliteration she possessed, for a more complex set of responses she was simply unable to give voice to. It seemed to please him for an answer, since he enthusiastically seconded her seeming endorsement like a nodding dog with a sugar high. At least the conversation, the connection, was persisting. Limping along, however stiltedly.
Each enunciation was followed by a hiatus before a response was forthcoming. It was like witnessing a conversation conducted via interpreters whispering through invisible headphones. The wan smile or slow shake of the head emerged long after the reverberation of the inquiry had died away on the air.
"... you like, yes?" The 'yes' not being entirely transparent as to whether it's a triumphant self-affirmation of a successfully uttered sentence, or a genuine seeking after her response to the particular inquiry. Her response gives little indication either. A wordless grin, for which lacking the calipers of intimacy he could not calibrate its dimensions in order to span towards her intent.
She extended her hand out for a valedictory shake at the same time- or was it possibly a split second reaction time late?- he dipped in his head to plant a kiss on her cheek. She rocks back on her heels before swiping her still poised arm across his face. The percussion of which forces us pigeons reflexively to take momentarily to the air.
We see at least a hundred of these scenes every day, even between speakers of the same language. Seems like whatever the impediments to shared language, such misunderstandings are universal. Beyond communication.
Us pigeons felt safe enough to flap back down to the ground and resume our cooing. We did however, have to form a guard of honour parting the way as the Portuguese lady stormed off.
The language of love? It's strictly for the birds...