photo by Alison
I saw her that evening while I was checking the swell, walking alone, running her hand against the rusty hand-railings that traced the coastline, outside the old college building. The swell could wait and so I hurried down the hill towards Marina.
“Hiya, How’s it going?” I asked.
“No so good.” She replied without greeting me.
“Why? What could be wrong on an evening like this?” I motioned to embrace the sky.
“I was just thinking about Argentina.”
“Oh.” I was not sure how to respond. I felt like an idiot as I watched Aberystwyth sink back into the hillsides, sheltered from the rest of the world once again. “Did you call home?”
“Yes. They want me to come back. Things are settling down a bit.”
“Surely, that’s good news isn’t it?”
“Not really. The momentum needs to keep going. If we are ever to show the world that there is an alternative, that people on the street are able to make better decisions than those fucking scumbags in power, then we need to keep it going.”
High above our heads, thousands of starlings flew around the towers of the old college, as they did each and every autumn evening. Swirling, diving, looping up and around, making random turns every few seconds but keeping together as if they were one living being. Every once awhile a few would go astray but would soon join up with the flock. At times it looked as though the whole spectacle would cave in on itself, as it appeared to fold itself inside out. The front diving through the centre, forming a giant symbol of infinity but ultimately they would restructure and the mass of birds continued their beautiful dance until it was finally dark.
“Do you see all those birds up there?” I pointed above our heads.
“Wow yes, they are here every evening without fail. Do you know why do they do it?” Her eyes lit up as she stretched her neck towards the spectacle in the sky.
“I have no idea but it looks like a lot of fun. Almost like a dance.”
“Do you think the ones at the front control it?” She asked.
“It doesn’t look like it. I think whoever wants to change the course just does it and if the rest of them think it will be a good idea, then they follow and help the whole mass of them in that new direction.”
“Where do they go when the sun sets?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it before.” I replied.
“Well maybe you should. Maybe you should find out what they do when it gets dark.”
After watching the starlings until we got cold, we walked north along the sea front promenade, past the amusement arcade and corroding pier. She held my hand and we began to walk further north towards the end of town. As much as I enjoyed the clasp of her hand on mine, part of me just wanted to walk away now before we went any further, part of me still just wanted to go and sit on an empty beach up the coast and wait for the waves.
“What do you hope to do with your life?” I asked her but immediately regretted it. I suppose it was a reflection of what I was asking myself. I didn’t have an answer and I didn’t want one, I just wanted to find out how I might carry on without feeling like I was answerable to that question.
Marina answered in a loud tone, “Make social revolution in Argentina.” She laughed and I was glad her mood had lightened but I knew that it was not that far fetched of a dream for her.
“Well that’s cool. Not much chance of that happening for me though. I mean I’m a white middle class British fuck-up. What battle do I have to fight?”
“It seems to me you have a huge one on your hands.” She winked.
We got to the northern most point of the promenade, I looked out to sea to see how if there was any evidence of the approaching storm. The skies appeared to be blackening to the south and flocks of birds over our heads seemed to be heading inland. I felt my heart rate speed up in anticipation.
“Are your waves on the way?” She mocked me while poking me in the stomach. It was not the first time I was forced to accept how obsessed I was with surfing. She put her hand on my chest, “You know there are other ways to make your heart rate speed up.”
I looked down at her fingers spread over my heart. I looked at her chewed finger nails and olive coloured skin. I had never examined anyone’s hands before. It almost felt like an invasion of my person, to have her hand on my chest, but a welcome one. I wanted her to tear that barrier down once and for all.
“I think you need to take more risks.” She said reaching around to hug me.
“That is why I surf.” I replied and thought I believed it.
“No, that is not really risk-taking. You do it all the time, every day, surf surf surf. You dream about it. You watch the weather to see if it will bring you waves. You wonder if adding a few inches to your next surfboard will make you surf better. You don’t drink beer so you can buy a wetsuit for the winter time. You don’t go anywhere in case you miss waves. That is not risk taking.”
I started to defend myself, “Don’t you think that the moment you decide to drop down an overhead wave, where the consequence of failure is smashing your face on jagged rocks is a risk? Or being out at sea in a massive storm is a risk?”
“No, not for you. For somebody maybe, but for you it is escapism. What are you really escaping from?” She asked.
“The drudgery of everyday life. The...” I was about to go off on my usual spiel until she cut me off.
“That is nonsense. You are deliberately trying to avoid anything that may make you feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to laugh because you are afraid to cry. You surf because you are afraid of living. You pretend going surfing is being reckless but really going surfing is a way for you to avoid being reckless. It is also a way for you to not care about anything else.”
“I care about other things. I may not have done things like you in Argentina but I’ve done my bit.” But I stopped defending myself right there and looked down at the brown sand, littered with broken bottles and sea weed. She noticed me avoiding eye contact with her.
“Now is a good time for you to look at me.”
I did look at her but it felt like I was doing it through someone else’s eyes, as if I was occupying a stranger’s body and with that thought I kissed her. Her cheeks were cold but her lips were warm and moist. She kissed me back and we continued our conversation.
“You know, I did take a risk awhile ago and paid the price for it.” I was thinking back to my dealings with Rick.
“Was it worth it?”
“No, it wasn’t.” I was being honest. Lying in a puddle of blood, covered in bruises with a horrid poison racing through my veins, was not worth it.
“But was that kiss you just gave me worth it?” I was glad she did not enquire further into the episode with Rick.
“Yes, it was. It was very worth it.” I grinned.
“Well there you go and here you are. All the better for having have been through both of those things.” She said smugly. I was not sure I completely agreed but I kissed her again and relished in every second of it.
from Surrendering To The Undertow