A cool breeze blows towards shore over a glowing blue ocean. Waves seem to flap in from the deep sea in slow motion like a sheet of fabric against a tan shoreline. The sand pulls up and away from the surf into clusters of tall trees and weaving walkways. Behind the trees are parked cars and throngs of merchants, apartments, rentals, and small resorts. The beach extends off in all directions, forming a gradual sweeping arc that is so long that people on the far ends are barely visible. A high noon sun sits alone in the clear sky, burning down on the beach and casting invisible shadows. At a particularly well chosen spot on the beach there’s a small bar, surrounded on all sides by the same fine sand that swallows feet and slows travel.
A man sits alone on a stool, his back to hundreds of miles of open ocean. He’s accompanied by a laptop, a burning cigarette that leans patiently out of an ashtray and a warming beer that’s condensing and pooling on the bar top, giving birth to a small tributary that’s snaking towards the edge of the bar. Scattered around the bar and across the greater expanse of the beach there’s small crowds of people. The rainy July weather and the threat of monsoons on the islands means most vacationers have stayed away. Visitors are mostly the wealthy enjoying prolonged stays of several months and the young who can’t afford the prime season and have surrendered to the occasional rainstorm. Around the bar there’s one couple and three or four people sitting alone or standing, waiting for service from the single bartender who would be stretched thin if he answered to anybody or felt the kind of urgency foreign to people who have only known an island life.
A woman in her twenties wearing a tiny bikini jogs up to the bar from a group laughing and splashing each other in the surf and orders a Mai Thai. Her eyes jump from the bartender’s back as he’s nodding to her order to the man who has taken a moment from typing to take a drag from his cigarette.
“Excuse me?” she asks.
Most in earshot glance over, surprised by the cross talk between obvious strangers, the bartender included who turns left to her and then right when he sees he’s not being addressed. A familiar look comes over his face and he leans slightly over and raps the bar behind the man’s laptop twice. The man jerks his head up towards him and the bartender jerks his head back at the woman who meets his gaze with a smile. The man quickly puts the cigarette out and turns to his left, lifting an eyebrow and setting a right elbow on the bar top, damming the beer’s condensation.
“What are you writing?” she asks, turning her left hip into the bar and resting her weight on an arm laid flat.
“Oh, you know, the usual.” The man says, flashing a quick smile and turning back to his work.
“A book?” She asks, prodding him.
The man sighs and runs his right hand through his short messy hair. He comes up smiling and turning slightly towards her direction delivers in the tone one uses for something well-rehearsed “I’m sorry, are you here with somebody? A husband, boyfriend, wife, girlfriend, anybody?”
The woman shifts her weight awkwardly and replies, “Oh, uh… my boyfriend.” She says and glances around the bar, searching for an accomplice that also agrees the conversation has taken a strange turn.
“How wonderful!” he delivers in an arguably patronizing way but one he would probably defend as polite. Turning back toward the laptop he adds while looking at her askew, yet as kindly as he seems to be able to muster. “I hope you’ll forgive me for being rude but this country and this beach and that jungle are all very beautiful and more interesting than what I’ve got happening here and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it all immensely more than talking to me.”
The woman’s mouth gapes open and is quickly secured into a straight lipped scorn. She shakes her head twice and mutters to herself. “You. Are rude.” she awkwardly shuffles her feet and the other patrons are saved by the prescient bartender who sets her drink down on the bar, serving her faster than many before her. The woman exhales through her nose as she fumbles through some cash, pays, and then walks off back towards her comrades.
The man has resumed typing, a focused and affect-less look of concentration on his face as he seems to have forgotten the entire episode. Many of the others at the bar are smiling and stealing glances at the man. They quickly resume whatever plan making or past reliving they were up to before the minor spectacle.
“Help me with something?” A woman across the bar to the main’s right asks, staring at him with a closed mouth smile. She’s sitting with her left to the ocean and an elbow on the bar, fingers relaxed in the air. One hand is slowly tapping a nearly empty glass of clear something. Another glass is discarded beside the first. Both have defiant clumps of ice with limes temporarily shipwrecked on their slowly melting shores. The man looks up. His head, shoulders and body are paused in an uncomfortable hunched forward writing position. Another expectant eye prepared for a short conversation.
“I can’t tell if you’re too serious for this beach or the rest of us have the wrong bar.” A playful accusation shielded as a question, she’s glancing around at the six or seven people around her who are all on a mission to avoid eye contact. Laughter from a couple splashing each other down in the surf breaks the short tension.
The man looks thoughtfully down at his computer and lifts his eyes giving an answer. “I’m positive that I’m too serious for this beach.”
“What are you writing?” she asks leaning in with a fading smile.
The man sits straight up and interlocks his hands behind his head in a stretch as he answers “Just a story, things that come to mind.” He says and pulls his hands down and rests them on the bar.
“Is it a true story?” She asks.
“Only the important parts.” The man says back, tapping on the side of his laptop.
“Which part are you working on? The beginning, the middle or the end?” She asks, determined.
“All parts seem like the end until they’re over and they’re new middles or beginnings.” He says, waving a hand in the air back and forth as if shooing a fly.
“That moment earlier with her seemed like an end to me.” She says, gesturing with her head towards the beach.
“Did it?” He says with an upturned eyebrow, something he has always done that people either love or hate.
“Does it have a title yet?” She has long brown hair that’s slightly wavy and below her shoulders. A white, very loose fitting tank top hangs from her shoulders and opens on the sides to reveal a bikini. A pair of cut off jean shorts completes her outfit and even though she’s more modestly dressed than many of the women on the beach the entire ensemble is failing to hide that fact that she’s got the body of an underwear model. Her toes are slightly curled around the metal legs of the bar stool. There are no sandals nearby.
“Consequences of Love Too Reasonable.” he says staring at the screen and glancing back at her, unsure. “I think that title is too long though.”
“I like to think love is generally perfectly reasonable.” She purses her lip and glances back at him. “I have no idea what things look like when love is too reasonable.”
He shifts his gaze higher and locks with her own. “You’d know it if you saw it.” He says, perking his eyebrows up before turning his focus back to his laptop to resume typing. He takes a sip from his beer, nonplussed by its warmth.
The woman continues to look at the man, subtly and only interrupting her glance once to finish her drink. She pulls some cash from her back pocket, peels off a bill and deposits it beside her empty glasses. Resting both hands on the bar she lifts herself up and off the stool and steps down, she begins to turn away and after looking up the beach at the endless and flat sand she stops with one hand still on the bar and turns back.
“Why didn’t you ask me the same question as you asked the other woman?” She is looking at him, facing the ocean. Wind is pressing her top tight against her.
The man pulls his hands from the keyboard, interlocks his fingers and leans forward on them resting his chest into his hands and bringing his face close to the screen of his laptop. He stares up at the thatched roof above the tower of liquor bottles and decorative rope tied uselessly around other rope and wooden pegs. After holding the position for a few seconds, he shrugs and looks over at her.
“I was trying to see if I cared about the answer as much as I thought I did.” He snaps his hands back onto the keyboard, his fingers appearing to engage in furiously selecting some text for deletion or duplication.
She smiles wide and gives a small laugh, asking. “Well, do you?”
Without looking up he says to his screen. “I’m both saddened and invigorated to know that I still do after all these years.” He says and looks over at her for a reaction. The woman’s smile fades and her head turns to the side, a subtler smile appears as she completes the long turn of the exit she began a minute earlier.
With a slightly raised voice, battling the wind she’s stepped into now with her back to the bar she raises a hand in the air with fingers outstretched in a one stroke wave and adds “My answer is no, by the way.” Her hand comes to her side and she steps out off the wooden plank floor of the bar and starts making slow deliberate strides through the white sand, her feet kicking up small piles behind her.
Long shadows dance quickly up and down a winding cobblestone street. Cast by a low sun and people leisurely wandering side to side and up and down, pausing at store windows and framed dining menus. A long and winding narrow street reminiscent of a small Italian village dropped into a tropical jungle, palette changed from the old and Earthly hues to the brightly luminescent. The beach is a block or so away. Far enough that it’s invisible through the cracks and crevices of the stores and buildings. Waves are audible beyond the shops and restaurants and an ocean scent drifts easily among the smells of produce mixing with plates sitting on dining tables. Restaurant patios are filling up, their interiors dedicated to the rare vacationer seeking silence on a street that rarely sees it.
The man from the bar is seated alone at a small round table. His right hand gently holds a fork, resting on the edge of the table and pressing the white tablecloth into the wrought iron beneath.
The man is looking to his left, reading the cliche and tacky slogans on the t-shirts for sale up the road from him a storefront or so. Slogans the same the world over that broadcast how cheap they must be to make. Simple text on solid colors. White “I’m Kind of a Big Deal” on red, black “I’m hotter than your girlfriend.” on yellow, and blue “Marriage was her idea!” on black, barely legible. Who buys this shit? He turns back and and startles at the sight of a woman across from him, jerking the table and sloshing water out of the once full and untouched glass on the table. The same woman from the bar earlier that day, wearing the same outfit minus her sunglasses. She seems surprised that he jumped, eyes wide and delighted.
“Hello again!” She says with a smile that grows after a momentary pause. The man smiles back and is prepared to speak, when a fast movement of hers interrupts his thought. “I like this place too,” she says, reaching over with the fork from the second place setting and skewering a shrimp. The man glances down smiling and while giving her a slow nod sets down his fork and pushes his plate towards her.
“What are you up to?” He asks, eyebrow up and smiling. She shakes her head, lips closed tight in a smile politely hiding her mouth and stabs the fork down for another bite, holding a finger in the air, pausing him. Directly across from them a couple is looking at an array of colorful scarves hanging from racks of all kinds. Tall cylindrical racks that spin and long flat horizontal racks that tower up and into the eaves of the shop. A shopkeeper leans out through a small window, smoking a cigarette and giving a pitch about valuable silk from the middle east. The woman is looking over at the shopkeeper, smiling her closed mouth smile and chewing, shaking her head. She swallows, pushing the plate towards the space between them looks back at him.
“We’re going to go out.” She says, a smile breaking her lips. “But first, we need some wine.” She straightens her back and stretches her neck, eyes dart around searching for the waiter.
Night has come and the crowd on the street had changed. Middle aged and elderly shoppers meandering from shop to shop have given way to the energetic youth making their straight lines from beds to dance floors and back. The man is chuckling as he snuffs his cigarette out. Leaning over he lights the woman’s, nearly tipping over the empty wine bottle in an embarrassed burst of laughter.
“I’d love to go, I’ve only been here a week.” He says. Smoke billowing around his head.
“Well, then we’ll go. It’s beautiful, the beaches have smaller crowds.” She says. A glass is in her hand and she’s tipping it back and finishing an aggressive gulp. It comes down, assertively on the table and she looks at him. “Are you ready to go? I want to dance.”
One thing with apartments whether they be on small rainy tropical islands or anywhere else is that you get what you pay for. Sure you’ll pay less if things are grimy and dirty, the bed is uncomfortable, or it’s in a dangerous area. What’s critical in humid areas for those too cheap to pay for a room that’s sealed off and luxuriously air conditioned is that the moisture in the air creates a real problem for the furniture. The monsoon heavy tropics have waves of moisture that pumps itself into the wood grain. Joints and fastener holes swell and contract daily and seasonally. Swelling creates gaps and gaps make for unstable and wobbly things.
Most of the time this just means a broken drawer or a dresser that sways like the penthouse on a tall building beaten by winds. It’s a much more serious problem when there’s a woman on that low dresser with her legs wrapped around the back of your legs and your combined weight are aching and swaying the joinery in a way the designer never intended. Some things should never be avoided even if it’s clear they will have a surprising or tragic end. You’ve got to hope there’s some laughter when that support finally fails and limbs, bodies and the things holding you up all fall awkwardly down and outwards and that laughter segues one passionate moment against a wall over a dresser into another on the floor of an apartment that is too dirty to think about. Oh well.
These are the situations people find themselves in as the sun rises in an unfamiliar far away place.