Present absence

mira beach

The crumbly paths and the sandy steps would play havoc with your knees. The spice would definitely upset your stomach. You wouldn’t be able to understand what those dark-skinned boys at the restaurant were saying and whoever heard of curry for breakfast? Cockroaches would keep you awake at night with their scratching. You couldn’t ignore the squalor.

Motorbikes would scare you half to death as they rip-roared past, leaving dust clouds in their wake. Your eyes would sting with the salt of sweat and the almond suncream turning liquid on your face, leaking its way from the wisps of clammy hair on your temples and tracing the etchings of ageing skin. Drip drip from the angular curve of your profile and stabbed at with a sorry napkin. The breath of a Sri Lankan man on your neck would make your stomach lurch and your fingers twitch. A woman with sunken eyes carrying a baby in a shawl might make you cry or, worse, tut. Guilt would pinprick at your sun-damaged skin like the point of a needle.

I imagine you sometimes. Always, in my mind, you are running. I hear your turquoise blue trainers slapping the orange of the jogging track- a steady pace. Others pass and you nod, used to them. Your i-pod tells you when you have hit 5km and you slow down, stretch and head home. People talk of other routes around the city but you prefer the park and the safety of the designated areas. You enjoy the familiarity of the same dog walkers and the scheduled tennis players, recognise the couples who come for an evening stroll and know which runners to expect on which days and at which times. At home, you drink one cup of hot water before bed and read one chapter of your book.

Do you think of me?

At night, when the lanterns flicker over the red-ochre clifftop, I try to imagine the person you might have been. Would the sun drenched days in Kerala have melted away your fears? You thought not; you were adamant. You said you might lose everything you had, find nothing but loneliness. You belonged at home, you decided.

But I see you, every now and again, in the crest of the waves before they crash. I hear your laugh, the one I only heard a few times, the real one, when I am walking. I pine for the you that never was, that never would have been. I miss twirling fingers in fingers and wind swept golden hair and the sandy pink flip-flops you never owned. The you that smells of coconut oil and turmeric and smiles at me through veils of rain in monsoon season. More than once I have dreamt that you are here and that we are making plans to visit Nepal or China, sketching lines on maps and swapping rupees for yen. On the worst days, I think I can feel your fingers digging into my sides as I squeal round corners on my bike.

Your absence feels as present as a damaged nerve. So present, even after all this time, that I wonder if some part of you, the part that never actually was, is here, and not running in the grey world you wouldn’t leave behind.


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