Note: I have also posted this story on my writing blog, calendarpages.wordpress.com
The gentle ocean breeze frustrated us to no end. While it might have blown my hair in a way a model posing for a magazine about the country and the seaside—if there was even a magazine of that sort—would have liked, I could not care less that time. We were five then, trying and trying yet utterly failing on building sand castles–castles that embodied our dreams, encapsulated our aspirations. We had done nothing but the base, about three inches high and five inches wide, yet we had our plans and blueprints on our minds. It would be really big, you said. It would have loads of rooms and people would live in it, I said. We were idealistic little children, five, unaware that we could have added a little water so the wind wouldn’t be able to ruin the castle we made, optimistic and happy, too young and too naive to appreciate what it was we had right there and then while it lasted.
We continued. We built and built and built. We were called for lunch and we left for a short, short, while, but when we returned, the sandcastle had crashed down, been taken by the sea, never to return again. I sat and crossed my legs, stared blankly at where the castle once was, and started to cry. You did nothing to comfort me; you stood up and dusted your shorts and went near the water. Illuminated by the sun, with the calm and the serene set as your background, your hair seemed golden, your cheeks emphasized, and your smile… it was radiant. It was beautiful. Slowly I found myself standing up, and just then, your smile grew even wider and became a laugh as you held out your hand, asking, begging me to take it, to walk with you as you sought for snails and crabs and seashells.
It took us the whole afternoon. We searched the whole shoreline, laughed and held hands all the while, although for both of us it didn’t mean much. You were my best friend and I was yours, yet maybe, if only I found out that it was not the sun nor the sea that made your smile so pretty, maybe, maybe, maybe I wouldn’t have let you go. Maybe I’d have clung to your hand, even when twilight came and our parents went to us to tell us it was time to go home. But I didn’t. So when your father called out for you, you immediately let go of my hand, ran toward him, and walked the other way—walked with your back facing me. And that time it didn’t matter that you did not wave, that you did not say goodbye, that you let go far too easily.
I went to my mom, told her about you and me and the castle and snails and seashells, and went home, smiling contentedly because for me I had gained a new friend.
When I got home, I immediately lay on the bed, too tired to think and to count sheep. Yet before I slept, the image I saw was the sky colored deep red, with streaks of orange and yellow as the sun set; the sea, ever so still, so calm, so serene, deep blue albeit with a few areas reflecting the orange sky; and you—you with your hand on your father’s, walking slowly, slowly away, until there was nothing left to see but your footprints.
By fifteen we were still best friends. You had your clique and I had mine, but somehow we were going strong because during the evenings or late at night you’d sneak in through my window just to see me. We’d talk quietly so that my parents wouldn’t know, yet I sort of had the feeling that they knew. You told me not to mind, however, so I dismissed that feeling and let myself focus on nothing but you because by then I already fell.
It was Tuesday. The sun was setting—breaking off into countless shades of red and hues of orange with patches of purple and yellow—and it was a sight to behold. I was walking by the shoreline, the warm ocean water tickling my feet, the white sand sticking to my feet and my legs. All the while I thought about us from childhood until now and all in between. You had your friends and I had mine and it was hard. It was hard because you were supposed to always be with them and I with mine. It was hard because you’d always have to jump up the porch on a cold Friday night just so we’d see each other when why, we were able to be together all day when we were young. It was hard because somehow it hurt having to make our friendship secret when all I’d always had by my side was you.
I lay down the cold, white sand, watching the sun set further, the black rapidly enveloping the horizon. Suddenly I heard a rustle, the sound of movement and of someone lying beside me.
I didn’t have to look to know it was you.
But I was mourning then for our friendship although I didn’t know what exactly it as I was mourning for. And you knew I was angry so you heaved a sigh and started to explain, “I’m sorry about this. You know I don’t want this and you know I’m trying my best, but we cannot be just best friends in the eyes of people who always think of something else. I… am not ashamed of you but—“
It was hard. Goddammit; it’s always been hard.
“I know,” was all I said.
I knew but I didn’t understand.
I knew, too, that you didn’t like being cut off, that you didn’t like me not believing you, that you didn’t like us being like this. So you stood up and brushed your shorts and walked away.
And all that while I was watching.
At twenty-five we were standing on the same beach that witnessed the development of our friendship—and of my love I kept silent—over the years. We were facing each other, the sun once again setting. It had always been like this. I got used to it. But at that time we weren’t making sand castles or searching for crabs and seashells. I wasn’t mourning over a friendship I thought wouldn’t survive the years and you weren’t explaining for no reason at all.
We were still best friends, but you had your dreams and I had my plans. At twenty-eight I wanted to settle and have a family I could take care of while making a living out of writing. I told myself I’d write about you and me and how we came to be. But at twenty-five you wanted to start travelling the world by sea. You’d been fascinated by the oceans ever since, so you said you wanted to be a seafarer or a captain or something of the sort.
I did not know if you loved me back but I allowed myself to think and dream, to believe that when you came back you’d ask my hand and we’d be happy—far, far happier that we had been through those twenty years.
But the notion did not, in any way, comfort me. I was crying, I was hurt, I was tired. I hated it. I hated how you always left but when you returned I always took you back. I never liked watching you leave. Never, never, never.
“Why?” I asked, “Why must you always leave and why should I always watch and wait for you to return?”
You bowed your head and I didn’t know why. After all these years, I had not memorized you at all—not the way you had me, no. But I swear I saw a droplet fall to the white sand under your feet.
“I will return. And when I do I won’t leave. I’ll always be with you afterwards, okay? Just for this last time, I beg you to let me go because you know I’ll find my way back to you.”
I knew nothing could be done. I knew you at least that much. So as much as I hated it, I nodded looked up to see you staring at me, your cheeks stained with tears. You smiled and held my hand, and kissed me on the forehead because that was only were you could kiss me. Not at that time when we were best friends, no.
So you walked away and I watched. I cried and cried, but I waited all the same.
Every single day, I waited.
But there wasn’t a fourth time, not because you returned and settled with me ever since, but because you did not return at all.
Ten years had passed since you left, and seven since you died.
And now I sit at the shores of the beach that was a testament to our friendship and to our love unspoken. Now I sit, watching the sun set once again, the world dimming, barely illuminated by the faint light of the moon. Only now, you aren’t by my side. You won’t be walking me to the house and you won’t be sneaking by the window. You’re not here and I’m watching alone.
Because thrice I watched you leave, and only twice did you return.