On the waterfront, a crowd without end flows in clusters of khaki uniforms and light summer dress of mothers, and wives, and girlfriends. Vociferous, smiling.
At last, I spot Daniel. I ache to run to him and have to struggle to keep my soles to the ground. His traits are stone-like, I can tell that even from the distance. His look is haggard. When a comrade pats his shoulder, I see him make a startled gesture, as if awaken from a distant world of his own.
Oh, baby…, I think, my heart cringing. Come quicker…
He’s seen me now – for a second I’m embarrassed at the thought of my jeans and my mousy, insignificant appearance among all that flowery attire – and increases his pace.
The last few steps he has before he reaches me, I scrutinise him; his eyes meet mine, but he doesn’t hold my look. No bandages – he’s not hurt. He hasn’t lost weight, in fact he’s put on muscles – his tight t-shirt delineates them with minutiae. His hair is shorter, lighter; his eyes seem patches of sky, just as distant, vague clouds running over them.
He drops his bag at our feet and, without warning, grabs me in a rough embrace. Its suddenness almost scares me, but I return it, taking hold of him, my arms around his back. His mouth descends on mine with urgency, and sweetness, and despair. We melt into each other - there’s nothing I want more.
When we come apart for breath, even the meagre distance between us seems unbearable.
I feel his chest, his arms, his face to make sure again he’s whole, he’s not hurt. Only his soul I cannot see.
“All I could think of was coming back to you,” he mumbles. Then, without warning, he says, “I killed a man.”
For a few seconds I forget to breathe. I am numb except for my heart struggling wildly against my ribcage. He watches me – is he seeking my approval? - is he afraid? We’re not to hide behind the platitudes claiming the inevitability of death in war or the healing power of time. All we have is here, is us.
The only thing I find to say is “I love you,” and I’m surprised that, when I do it, my voice doesn’t falter.
I will always love you. No matter what.
He watches me, searching my face, half incredulous at my unconditional acceptance.
That’s when the rain starts. That cloud that kept creeping closer has got backing and now sheds its load of water on us. A few warning drops at first turn into huge splashes raising the smell of dust from the pavement. Then, the downpour – white sheets joining the sky and the earth, like giant whips of unseen and revengeful gods. We don’t budge, don’t relinquish the hold on each other, we don’t even close our eyes.
We can hardly breathe under this rain that has drenched us in an instant.
People running for cover bump into us and vague excuses brush our ears. Daniel steadies us, taking the hits. Nothing matters, only that he holds me and that I hold him.
The rain lashes at us. I can feel it braiding its chilly fingers with my hair, tugging at it. My clothes, soaked, are bearing down on me, an almost insufferable armour.
Water streams on Daniel’s face. His hair has turned the colour of wheat and clings to his head. I think he’s terribly handsome, despite the severity of his mouth, despite the shadow of anguish in his eyes. I count the droplets on his pale eyelashes – and he’s not even blinking; I wonder if all are raindrops, and on the spur of the moment I want to taste them, to trace them down to the hollow of his cheek, to check for the hot salt of tears. I would in a moment if only he bowed his head.
We’re drowning in a universal waterfall.
Daniel shuts his eyes, pulls my head to him in the tight lock of his arm and forearm. I am content I can feel his warmth, his faint pulse at the corner of my mouth, where my lips are touching his skin, at the base of his neck. Sense the smell of warm moisture coming out of his wet t-shirt. Waterlogged, we’re barely breathing. The beat of his heart is enough to soothe me, and I can only hope that my embrace can appease him as much.
The downpour has settled into a steady rain, warmer now that we’re used to it, almost caressing.
I notice he’s trembling.
“Can you bear to love the two of us?” he says finally, with great hesitation.
I squeeze my eyes shut, clench my jaws, increase my hold on him.
No, Daniel, I think, the question is not that. The question is if you can endure to see that dead man’s eyes when you look into mine.
“Yes, my darling,” I whisper, wondering about the answer to the second question.
For a long while, we’re still a stone in a trickling river of human beings, all different, all the same. We’re alone.
I don’t know when the rain has stopped. Ages have come and gone. The waterfront is empty, an expanse of concrete, shining with myriads of puddles.
“Let’s go home,” he says, and I can detect the tiniest of smiles at the corner of his eyes, which is not only my imagination.
Holding hands, we start towards the car.
Copyright © Vesper L. All rights reserved.