That hopeful smile. The bright eyes that pierced mine. She was happy to see me. I did not stop although she had. I thought of her smile that would fade away and her bright eyes that would turn dull again because of me. I almost turned around and walked back. Almost. It was done. We were over. The emotions. The words. How could I trust any of it?
I remember our first conversation. Her little yellow dress and her long black hair. The scent of spicy strawberry. I was mesmerised by the way she spoke with such intensity. She was intense. Her eyes were filled with purpose as she shared her latest idea. Her latest discovery that overwhelmed her and burst out of her. She was always full of ideas. Smart ideas. Bold ideas. Ideas that could change the world. I cracked a joke. She giggled and bounced back with a witty retort. Intense but playful. I was mesmerised.
I was scared. She scared me. At first she looked at me as if she were reflecting on a canvas that she just finished painting. She shared and I listened. Over time she began to look at me like a canvas that had been painted for her. She analysed every colour, line and shape as if I were a priceless work of art. ‘You are a piece of work, alright’; all my lovers agreed on that. All except her. If we had been at an auction, she would have been my highest bidder, unaware that she had just bought a forgery.
“David, don’t hurt her”, they’d warned me during Coast to Coast. I was lovingly aloof, trustingly suspicious and openly guarded; how could I hurt her? I pondered, whilst cycling through villages, past lakes on sandy trails surrounded by vast fields of green. I still remember Araliya’s melodic laugh as we flew downhill in the hot sun carried by the wind. Her excitement at the little yellow butterflies fluttering across her path. Whizzing past troupes of monkeys hanging onto the branches of trees whilst hoping to catch a glimpse of elephants. Our late night kisses on the hammock and dances under the moonlight. She looked at me with such trust and acceptance. We were dipping the front wheels of our cycles in the Indian Ocean upon completion of our coast to coast adventure, and I knew the time had come to end it.
I would leave her before she could leave me. The coquettish teasing and the guarding of secrets; I had seen it all before. The weaponisation of vulnerability to exert control. Their faces and bodies filled my mind; the beautifully made up eyes, the size zero waistlines, and the glamour of it all. The stark contrast with the day that mum walked out on us. She wore her pale grey sweater with the tiny rip on the side and her hair up in a messy bun. He pleaded with her but she picked up her luggage and walked out. She’s old and frail now. She says she made a mistake leaving us, not him, and yet never explains her absence all those years. Emotions and words. How could I trust any of it? We hurt her and she hurt us. Or so we were led to believe. Araliya couldn’t hurt me if she tried. That was the point. She never did.
“Have you ever been hurt?” Araliya asked. We had stopped for a refreshing cup of tea at a little shop on the main road. David laughed, “Haven’t we all been hurt at some point in our lives?” The hours between sunrise and sunset can stretch out for ages or can pass by in the blink of an eye. The afternoon of a relationship may not last but can never be forgotten. David and Araliya ran circles around each other until those circles broke into parallel lines that would never meet.
They were bound to break. Hope, anguish and malheur in a week in paradise. Were they like Gatsby and Daisy? Trapped within their own versions of past, present and future and unable to lift themselves out of all that held them bound. They played around with ‘hope’ as if they believed they could change their past and their future. As if they would be more than what could be, but never is.
Dark clouds and thundershowers. Grey moods and sad looks. Could we set out? Would we have to postpone our trip? “We need to check on the direction in which the wind is blowing”, said Pradeep as he bent over his phone looking at a variety of applications that could provide some guidance. Katie continued typing on her laptop saying, “I’ve got to finish this before we set off. If we can set off today”. David and I lounged around on the sofa watching the rain drops. Well, I watched the rain drops forming ripples on the clear water of the pool. I could feel David watching me. “Araliya, we could change our plans and try kitesurfing. It’s always been on our bucket list right?”, he said, trying to cheer me up. I chuckled at his goofy grin, locked eyes with him and found myself staring down at his lips. Johnny and Baby dancing together and the lyrics ‘Now I’ve got you in my sights, / With these hungry eyes’ flashed through my mind. “I think we can leave soon”, Pradeep announced. “The rain will cease. I'm sure we can do this ride.” Hope. The beginning of it all.
Our coast to coast journey during that week in summer plays out as a panoramic sequence in my mind. Dipping the back wheels of our cycles, in the foam of the waves of the Indian Ocean lapping upon the shoreline, we set off cycling from the North Western coast to the Eastern coast of our beautiful little island. We made our way past coconut trees on red earthy paths and cattle grazing in fields towards spaces of vast green emptiness filled with palmyrah trees. I found myself racing with David to catch the setting sun. We sped through puddles on muddy dirt tracks, surrounded by overgrown shrubbery, and the silhouettes of peacocks under coconut trees in the distance. Tiny yellow butterflies fluttered around me. Struggling up hills with the sun beating down on us and then flying downhill carried by the wind, and laughing at David screaming, “Woo-hoo.”
I long to get closer to David. I had cast myself as Lady Gaga to his Bradley or rather, Ally to his Jackson. I want to shower him with all the love and attention he missed. I know he’s been hurt and abandoned. I will be the one who stays. The one who proves the others were wrong. We will prove all of them wrong. This time, I can stay right? I can be like this white bird, gliding side by side with me, over the water of the ancient rainwater reservoir, adjacent to the bund. Slowly moving forward in the right direction. I will not run away. This time I will give us a chance. I will give myself a chance.
“Will David stay or will he leave?” I asked Katie. Sharp breaths. It feels like there is a weight of iron on my chest and in my stomach. She put down her book and sighed. “Araliya, I know you think that everyone always leaves but you have to learn to trust that there will be those who do not leave.” Those who do not leave. The words echoed in my head all day. Those who do not leave. I should trust that David will not leave. I will trust hope.