A different part of the world: we endured the standard checks and arrived courtesy of a company whose pink logo shone like a strange beacon in the massiveness of the airport. I am a traveller-citizen, one of those now on file as being present elsewhere.
We arrived, in any case, in the warmth of the evening, and we passed customs without fuss. The evening was rich, textured in such a way that I felt as though I could pick up on every detail: the mixed faces waiting on arrivals, the strain of familiar classical music playing in the empty airport café, the placid expressions of the people who approached us and asked if we needed a shuttle bus to the city centre. But we were meeting someone.
When our friend arrived he looked at once a part of the city and somehow above it, passing rapidly the cabbies, the baggage-laden and travellers standing staring down at their phones. A smile spread across his face when he saw us. We embraced.
A taxi carried us across town and the city raced by, lit by a dwindling evening sun. I could only pick out a few things from the flow of light and habitation as we passed: clusters of scrub grass by the pavement, wires above the road promising trams, dense clusters of trees and tall, lonely buildings with the sky above a faded masterpiece gesturing at evening.
Supper and we were well received – plates of cooked vegetables, salad and potatoes. Immaculate hosting, blunt and friendly machismo. We sit about and tell one another our stories, our own private speculations.
The next day dawned and, after enormous cheesy pastries, we left. We walked a little way into the city passing bloc after bloc, paint-peeled sheds and scraggy-grassed lots. Stones broken underfoot. Countless construction sites, some of them fenced off, others open. Eventually we got a bus which took us uphill, away from the denser part of the city and into the wooded slopes of the mountains. The houses where we got off were more luxurious, detached. Dogs barked at us from behind their gates. The road became steep and at last the path became a brown track, leaf scrub trail winding off between the trees in four directions. Big and small stones sat about a stream alongside the path and we pressed our thighs up and on we trudged, hour by hour. We poured sweat. We huffed and strode up.
Finding the top proved harder than we had imagined – we made it up a stony peak, one among many, and got a a look at the city, now far below. We looked back, beyond, around, but mostly down, the mountains ranging vast about us clothed in forest.
It was days later and, as if it had been waiting for us since the parting of the earth, the sea embraced us, opening blue-armed its breadth and depth. I met the surf, fell and arose, was swept willingly along by waves curling down ferocious. There may have been five or six of us in the sea that day. We swam beneath the immortal sun, hefting a ball between us – a blot of focus, a tangible point of pursuit in the crashing white chaos. The unreadable curves and arcs of the waves made known, made mathematical, by the ball – a dot laden with intent in the mess.
I learnt to swim perhaps six years ago. I felt, as I dove against the water for the ball, that I was facing a god. I wrestled with the merciless physics of the sea. It cradles you, only to overwash you; it enforces the rules of the dance and punishes and beckons. To gush and draw, gush and draw with each wave a breath and each retreat to shore a kind of death.