February 6, 2009

The Beach

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Evie’s dreams of late have been calm and quiet. She dreamed of vistas that overlooked a rocky cliff, the sandstone and limestone eroded by massive sweeps of time and saltwater, and a blue, blue sea that stretched beyond the scope of her eyes. Always in these dreams a cool ocean breeze, salty but cleansing, would ruffle her hair and cause her eyes to blink in rapid succession. But the overall feeling was always of freedom, and her heart would soar until it reached the stars, from where she would look down upon a world that was not the earth, but her own life. And at the end of the dream, she’d float gently back to the world, back to daylight and consciousness, back to traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur and expensive roti canai and nasi lemak.

But she would always wake up to these dreams refreshed and smiling. Sometimes she would wake up and half imagine finding starlight in her hair… okay, it did not really go that far, but there was always a sense of joy, of gladness that she was waking up alive. Life was too beautiful for her at the moment, like it has never been for quite awhile. So even if waking up feeling fresh and happy and smiley would seem small in the scope of bigger things to come, she was going to enjoy it all the same.

That was how she woke up this morning. Happy. And she was even happier when Adam came to pick her up for lunch. He insisted on driving and paying the bills. She did not mind. Maybe those were very traditional things to do on behalf of a man, but she’s already dated cheapskates and someone who forced her to board a KTM train because his car was in the workshop and he had refused, REFUSED, that Evie drive him. Thank God that’s over, Evie thought as she sat in the passenger seat of the sleek black Honda NSX; it was perhaps an eight year old car, but it was well kept and clean. Adam drove very smoothly, his wrist flicking the transmission by second nature. Evie enjoyed watching him drive; she imagined she would probably enjoy watching him cook as well. His movements were precise, like a well-oiled machine, and yet to Evie they were also delicate and graceful; it was as if his whole body and mind was perfectly in-tune.

She has been seeing Adam for about a few months now; more often ever since that day at Raju’s with Rafar a few weeks back. She had gone home that night feeling a sense of occasion. Removing her wedding ring was like removing a huge boulder off her chest. At first it was odd, perhaps because she was already so used to having it on. When she looked at the strip of skin on her finger, which was paler, she would have a funny feeling inside her, and yet she has already disassociated the strip of skin with her ring. She would look at it like it was an old, healed scar, which, in a way, it probably was. That night she slept more soundly than she’s ever had for a long time; and she never did feel the ghosts that Rafar claimed he felt.

For the record Evie found Adam more and more irresistible the more time she spent with him. He was so much more different than Rafar; a bit old fashioned, perhaps, but only in his demeanor and in the way he treats her. But then again, is being a gentleman an old fashioned thing? Is opening the car door for her lame, or insisting that she have a seat before he did at a restaurant a bad thing? Evie thought not; maybe it was odd in today’s world because things are just so… different. Of course they would be; what is chivalry and being a gentleman today when men think of women as meaningless pursuits? When everyone seems so preoccupied with chasing a relationship with careers and money, of course someone who seemed genuinely nice and interested and polite and sweet to her would be an oddity.

Yes, sometimes she did wonder if Adam was faking it but she just could not see any reason for him to do so. He would listen to her talk with genuine interest, even when Evie herself thought she was being boring. And there was this delicious, delectable sweetness in his voice when he asked her questions she did not expect her to ask, or when he would simply tell her stories about his own life. Evie found his stories fascinating to listen to, perhaps because Adam had such a privileged childhood and yet was as humble as apple pie. That humility, coupled with his generally chirpy and infectiously happy attitude to almost everything, was a one-two, knockout, you’re out to her.

Of course he was also very good looking, but Evie did not hold it against him. Ah, clichés: Looks don’t matter, personality does. But with someone like Adam, she supposed she did not mind the best of both worlds.

As he drove beside her, he was quiet, only turning to her to smile and, of course, wink, from time to time. He mostly winked just to annoy her. Evie looked outside her window as the scenery passed by in a blur. Earlier this morning Adam had asked her if she would like a spur-of-the-moment trip down to the beach at Port Dickson. She had said yes immediately. She had not been to a beach in years. In fact the last time she went to a beach was maybe just after she got married to Rafar. Evie loved the beach, and when she thought of her dreams of late, she felt even happier. She had packed spare clothes and some snacks in her big handbag. Adam sped down the highway, totally in control as he weaved between slower cars. They talked about general stuff in the car. They saved their nicer conversations when his hands were freer.

Evie once asked Adam his ‘history’ of women. Adam had told her he had had a fiancé a few years before; around the time Evie and Rafar had divorced, in fact. Evie had asked what happened, and Adam had just pointed upwards and said ‘Cancer’. Evie had felt bad about it, but Adam had smiled and shrugged it off. “Sure, it was sad. I didn’t get to see her go, you know. But I loved her back then and she had loved me, and I believe she would have wanted me to be happy. So here I am. Happy.”

Evie had not said it out loud, but the smile Adam had given her made her own heart blossom. On her part, she never brought up the topic of past flames herself. She explained she was a divorcee on their third date. He had asked her a few questions, and his eyes had kept falling to the ring on her hand. She had answered patiently and he was satisfied. Much to her relief, there was no awkwardness or a sense of ‘missing’ afterwards. As a matter of fact they got along more and more. Evie fondly remembered how hard he tried to please her and amuse her on their first few dates, when all she wanted and was satisfied for was him spending those moments with her. Evie remembered she felt like a giddy schoolgirl, waiting for his telephone calls and IMs and e-mails.

Adam, I like you, Evie thought as they arrived in Port Dickson. They found a nice stretch of beach that was not too crowded and got out of their cars. Evie was wearing a plain dark red tank top with a sarong and sandals, and she had brought a wide brimmed hat. The day was warm, and being so close to a beach, she welcomed the ocean breeze. She already felt excited. Adam was in a t-shirt and shorts, and, much to her amusement, a pair of white Crocs. She loved Crocs! And they looked sort of adorable on Adam.

“Walk on the beach?” Adam said, as he put on a pair of Ray-ban Aviators.

“Of course!” Evie said. She too put on her big sunglasses. Adam extended a hand outwards. After you, the gesture said. Evie smiled and took the offer. They walked towards the beach, side by side, close together but not touching. Often the tips of their fingers would brush, but both of them pretended not to notice, and they always looked away when that happened. They walked down to the beach, and Evie stumbled on her first step when the sand shifted beneath her foot; she would have fallen rolling down if Adam had not caught her by the waist.

“Whoa! I know you’re eager but watch your step!” Adam grinned. He had an arm around her waist, supporting her. Evie looked at him and for one concrete moment it seemed an invisible force, a bolt of electricity, passed between their eyes. Then Evie steadied herself and that feeling was gone. She felt mildly disappointed. She laughed.

“Actually, I was testing the ground so you would not have made the mistake. I look out for you see?” she said with a smug look in her face. Adam raised an eyebrow.

‘Riiiighht, of course you are.”

Evie stuck out her tongue. “Thanks anyway. You may walk safely now.”

They walked to the edge of the water. Evie’s face brightened visibly as she let her eyes admire the view. She was really glad Port Dickson has been cleaned up after that state of rut in the 1990s. It looked like a proper beach now, if not quite Pulau Redang or Hawaii. She was glad enough. She dug her feet in the warm sand. It was like being in a spa. She squatted down and let the waves, gentle at the edge, splash at her hands. A little crab popped out of a waterlogged hole and hurriedly scuttled across her hands, surprised. Evie laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Adam said beside her. He too, had squatted down and was tracing his fingers in the wet sand.

“Nothing, it’s just… I feel great. I feel great.” Evie looked at him and flashed her best smile. She did indeed feel great. It was late afternoon, a beautiful day, and a perfect day to be out at a beach. The sky was blue and the sun thankfully bright but not blazing; the ocean breeze caressed her body. It was a weekend, but the part of the beach they were at was not crowded at all. Evie felt a bit of regret she did not bring swimming clothes. She would have loved to be in the water. As soon as she thought that she was splashed with salty water as Adam suddenly rushed into the sea. He had taken off his shirt and left his Crocs beside her. Evie was surprised, and then saw Adam already waist deep in the water. She stood up and put her hands on her hips.

“No fair!”

Adam laughed as he let his body fall into the sea. “On the beach, all is equal. If you want to stay dry, stay dry. But why would you want to if you’re at a beach?”

Evie stood at the water’s edge for a moment. Then she took off her hat and took Adam’s t-shirt and sandals and placed them, along with her bag, higher up the beach, near a stump of driftwood. She skipped to the water’s edge; took a deep breath. Well, at least I have spare clothes!

She ran into the water and as soon as it was deep enough she dived; she swam a few yards and popped out, throwing her head back. She wiped her face and saw Adam staring at her, slack-jawed.

“What?” she said.

“Wow,” Adam said, shaking his head. “That was hot.”

Evie laughed and splashed water on him. He splashed her back, and they played around like kids in the warm, shallow sea. The sounds of their laughter echoed through the air, and Evie felt as if she was on top of the world, all her worries gone and dissolved in the salty water. She felt exhilarated, excited. She felt alive, full of joy and full of tomorrow. Adam decided to play games, and they were trying to one-up one another at silly contests like who could hold their breath longer (Adam – 44 seconds, Evie – 1 minute 8 seconds) or who could swim the furthest out (Adam won; Evie was afraid to swim in deeper water). After having their fun, they swam the short distance back to shore and sat at the water’s edge, both of them smiling and laughing. The breeze made her feel cool all over.

“That was fun,” Adam said. Evie smiled, one that reached all the way to her eyes. Adam looked at her thoughtfully. Their eyes locked again, and again something electric passed through them. More words, but unspoken. Adam opened his mouth to say something, but shut it just as quickly. Then he looked away, out into the horizon. Evie was suddenly aware of how skimpy she looked, in a wet tank top and a sarong that clung to her legs. She turned to Adam to say that she wanted to get her dry clothes, but Adam was already up.

“Stay, I have towels in the car. I’ll get them,” he said. Evie said she’d wait near where she put their stuff. She sat there, sand clinging to her feet. She took out a small compact and looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was wet but she thought she had never looked happier. Why, even the dark circles under her eyes were a bit faded now. Her cheeks were full of vitality and color. Or maybe that’s just me, she thought.

She thought about those brief but electric moments every time she locked eyes with Adam. Something was definitely there. Those words unspoken between them were probably important words, words they both needed to hear and speak to one another. Without realizing it she had begun to fiddle with her ring finger, rubbing the spot where a band of precious metal and stone had once sat proudly.

Has he noticed I have it off? She wondered. Yes, Evie liked Adam… only now she was considering the possibility that she might actually be harboring actual feelings for him. They’ve spent a lot of time these past few months and weeks. They never ran out of things to talk about, and they both listen to each other with true interest. On his part, Adam did not seem like he was just chasing her tail. Especially given how his eyes always seemed to look deeply in her heart.

Evie knew he liked her. Evie was even confident that he, too, had real feelings for her. After all, he was the one who made the first move, right? This was different. This is different. He’s not like the others before, Evie thought. He’s not constantly staring at my buttocks or my neckline, nor is he always trying to figure out ways to physically touch me. Adam is just… different. Sweet. Funny. Spontaneous! That unexpected swim was a perfect example. She thought of all the sweet things he’s said and done. The flowers he gave. The dinners. The way he always pulls out her chair for her, and holds open doors. How he is always polite and listening. How he makes her laugh at his jokes. He pushed all the right buttons. But she knew he was holding something back, and she knew he was unsure to proceed because she had once been married, then divorced, and was still wearing her ring.

But not anymore. Evie thought deep. Suddenly she felt excited. Her heart was in revolution. She thought confidently that Adam and her have passed the ‘kenal-kenal’ stage. Furthermore, she misses him when they haven’t seen each other in awhile. She misses talking to him and seeing him whenever they’re both too busy. How long has it been since she last felt that way? Not since Rafar...or that TUDM pilot. She wanted to feel that sense of longing again. She’s been alone, though not always lonely, for long enough. In Adam she felt she’s found a keeper. Men like that don’t come along every often. What did her receptionist, Alya, tell her? ‘All the good men are married and/or gay’. He’s not gay, Evie thought bemusedly, and he’s not married. I’d be foolish to let this one be just another ‘date’.

I want this to happen, her heart said. I deserve this. Suddenly Evie felt nineteen years old again. At least at heart. She felt excitable. She turned her head around and saw Adam walking towards her with a towel wrapped around his shoulders, and another one in his hands. He looked incredibly sexy without his shirt. Evie blushed, feeling slightly stupid and naughty at the same time. Well she was a regular woman after all.

“Here you go Evie,” Adam said as he handed her the towel and sat down beside her. He tousled his hair with the towel. “You have dry clothes? I have some spare in the car.”

“Thank you,” Evie said and wrapped the towel around her shoulders. “But I have spare clothes of my own. I don’t want to wear your sweaty man clothes!”

“Excuse me, they aren’t sweaty. And I’d bet you’d look adorable in man clothes.”

Evie smiled and she blushed for no reason. She felt terribly girly. “Well, I would look nice in anything, Adam Amirulkhair.”

“Wow, you said my full name. Are you angry? Usually full name usage is reserved for moments of anger.”

“No, haha.” Evie looked at him again. “Come on, let’s go for that beach walk we initially planned to do, before you so suddenly decided to go all aquatic on me.” She stood up and brushed the sand off her butt. Adam got up after her. He put his t-shirt back on and slung the towel over one shoulder.

“Shall we?” he said, smiling, again extending an arm out. Ladies first. Evie bowed her head down slightly, and she felt a warm glow reach her cheeks. He followed slightly behind her as they made their way back to the shoreline and walked parallel to the sea. They walked slowly, quietly, neither of them saying much. They fell into a comfortable silence besides each other. Again, often their fingers brushed against each other. The last time she had touched his hand on purpose was the day they first met; and it was a handshake, hardly romantic. They continued walking, both content with the silence. Evie stole glances at Adam. Perhaps it was because, finally after years, she now had her guard down, her heart open, and she felt totally smitten looking at him beside her.

Their hands brushed again. And again. Her left hand against his right. The hand she once wore her ring on. This time she brushed her hand on purpose, to see if he’d notice there was no ring there. But still Adam did not seem to take note. He just walked, with a curious smile on his lips.

“What?” Evie said. Adam shook his head and turned to her.

“Nothing.”

He ran a hand through his damp hair. They continued walking in silence. The sun had already moved through the sky, settling lower. It cast a beautiful glow, changing the blues into violets, pinks and a deep, warm orange. The sea turned golden and seemed to dance with every wave. They walked as the sun burned deeper orange all the way out at the horizon; finally Adam stopped, still quiet, and turned back the way they came from.

Evie slowed down a few steps behind him. She was slightly disappointed. Maybe she had been expecting too much. She sighed, content for the day but dissatisfied. After how the day had gone she was expecting something special.

Well you expect too much Evie, she thought. What happened to going slow? She shook her head slowly, and pulled the towel around her shoulders tighter. Evie quickened her footsteps and walked alongside Adam again. He looked at her, his eyes deep and thoughtful. Evie smiled at him. On the beach, the children playing in the sea and sand were getting changed back. Picnic baskets and mats were closed and rolled. The sun was setting.

Evie paused, and walked towards the water. She stopped short of the waves, and looked at the sunset, squinting her eyes a little. A sudden gust of breeze blew her hair, and it flew behind her. The towel too, was blown off. Evie stood still, looking at the sun setting behind the horizon. And then…

And then the gentle touch of fingers. Those fingers wrapped around hers. She clasped the hand, feeling a sudden release of emotion in her heart. The hand was soft, the skin smooth and warm. Evie glanced at her hand, and looked up to see Adam beside her. He, too, was looking at their hands, linked together for the first time, her small hands in his, and they fit like a glove. In the glow of the setting sun Evie thought Adam looked perfect, the balance of light and shadows highlighting every feature and hiding every flaw he had, if any. And if she could have read his mind, she would have seen that at that very moment Adam thought she is the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.

They turned their gazes away from each other, but still held hands.

Evie shifted closer to Adam, and leaned her head on his shoulder; both of them watching the sun disappear. Adam slipped an arm across her waist, and pulled her closer. She let him. She sighed, contently. Adam started to say something but Evie shh-ed him.

No words were needed. It was perfect as it is.

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3 comments:

Rasyiqah Khairul Anuar said...

Awww! Sweet :) Loved it! I hope they end up together and live happily ever after!

anne mohamad tabib said...

i dont grade TWAAY like BGE, but this is another A-. why its A-, nnt ask for the analysis.

overall, =')

Mardhiah said...

Adam and Rafar seems to be like, the two dimensions of you. The cook. The photographer. The writer je takde :)