The waves are gentle today – gentler than they have been over the past few days. There’s nothing to be heard but the gentle swish-swish of sea water splashing against the side of his boat.
He sits down in his boat as though it were a cradle being rocked gently by a mother’s touch, dropping his haul on the narrow floor. There’s not much in the net today – less than there has been for the past few days. There’s nothing in the mess of tangled nets but three small fish and some discarded plastic bags.
He looks out into the vast expanse of sea, to a lonely island all too familiar to him.
How tragic, how tragic it was for her to have left.
That night, in the light of a flickering candle, he remembers her and remembers how it felt to hold her, feel her rough, tanned skin against his, taste the salt on her lips, smell the sun and the sea in her hair, and watch the sunlight sparkling in her eyes. He remembers her more tonight than he had over the past few days, and he will remember her more in the days to come.
How tragic, how tragic it was for her to have left.
And how tragic it is for him to have to stay.
He listens to the sea and the constant, consistent rhythm of waves crashing upon the shore. He digs his feet into the sand, and breathes in the salty air. Years ago he would have killed for this. Now it seemed to be killing him.
Suffocating – there was too much air but it barely seemed enough.
The weight of seven years’ worth of dreams and hopes, all crashing down upon him and crushing him with every breath of salty sea air, with every whisper of the wind and every lick of a wave on the shore.
It was infectious, they’d said, like a cold or a yawn. Some called it island sickness, she called it nothing. He knew it as some horrifying mix of despair and frustration and wanderlust that his mind had no word for.
In the distance, he hears the roaring of a motorboat, just another one of the dozens upon dozens that transported tourists to and from the islands. He envied them sometimes, snug in their hotel rooms, enjoying the sun and bathing in it, the beaches totally new every time, regardless of all the other beaches they’d visited in the past. He envied them, taking vacations, venturing from their stuffy office cubicles to unknowingly pay tribute to this monster that they called the ocean.
He had been like them once too. In fact, they both had. Growing up in a rural landlocked town would do that to you – with nothing but streams and ponds to play in, you would always yearn for something more. The closest beach was six hours away, and he could never be away from home for that long. His father needed all the help he could get, with whatever job he could get his hands on at the time. Sometimes it was welding, sometimes it was car mechanics – it didn’t matter, whatever it was, his father needed his help with it.
Trips to the beach were nothing but a dream to him, until he finally mustered up the courage to sneak away with some of his friends, taking whatever money he had scrounged up over the past few months and piling into an old pickup his best friend had borrowed from an uncle.
As he stood there with the sand in his toes for the first time, breathing in the salty air, he knows there’s nothing else he’d ever want more. He would give anything to be able to stay here for the rest of his life.
When he met her, she was a youngish student stuck in school with no aspirations. She wanted to settle down, but she found herself bored to death of the idea of settling down. They would spend nights by the store just talking, ignoring the mosquitoes feasting on their exposed limbs, and he would listen to her talk about her parents and her four younger brothers (the youngest one was an angel but the other three? She wished her parents had thrown them off a bridge as babies – apparently, they had considered it anyway).
It seemed to him like they were kindred souls, both painfully aware of the world outside their rural town, but both raised to be resigned to their fate of continuing cycles and cycles of complacency.
One night he told her of that night on the beach, with the salty sea air in his hair and the sand in his toes. He tells her of the sparkling night sky and the soothing sound of the waves, of how it seemed like a whole new world, so different from the dry dusty dreary drone of their hometown.
Life washed over her face for the first time when she heard this, and he promised he would take her someday.
Now that he thought about it, it was nothing short of serendipity that led them to the small island in the middle of nowhere. Of course, it had come at a price: The death of his parents and the shoddy funeral they had put together, where one of his dad’s old clients offered him a job watching and maintaining some property he had out in the north, leaving their small rural town and leaving her to take on the job, meeting new people and finally, fortunately befriending the very man who owned the small island that had brought about their doom.
He still remembered the look on her face when he came home and reminded her of the promises of their youth. She had settled down with that boy from the store three streets away, and it was like the sight of him brought her back to days when they sat outside that very same store talking about her brothers, now all settled down with wives of their own.
They stole away in the middle of the night, travelling for hours and hours on end, wind in their hair, eager to start anew and drown themselves in the ocean of new possibilities.
They fell into a rhythm as constant and consistent as the waves that crashed around them.
He would spend most days fishing for food, and she would stay in their cabin or out on the beach. He would come home and they would talk and she would tell him that she was happy, that she was glad they’d made the trip. They would make love and she would talk about having a family.
Some nights he’d wake up to find that she’d left their makeshift bed. He would find her outside staring out into the sea, and she would tell him that nothing was wrong.
One night, he woke up to find that she’d left their makeshift bed, but this time, she was nowhere to be found.
There was nothing but the darkness around him, swallowing him as he swallowed down his fears. Waves were crashing onto the shore around him, and he could barely make out the stars in the sky above.
How long had it been since then? Weeks? Months? Years? Days? Hours?
He would still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and turn to his side expecting her to be there. By now he had learned to follow the rhythm of the waves until he fell asleep.
Tonight he stands in front of the sea, toes dug into the sand, breathing in the salty sea air. He gets a sick feeling of sorts in his stomach. Maybe it’s hunger, or sadness, or loneliness.
He tells himself it’s nothing.
Originally posted on Tumblr on Aug 29 2013