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Sandra (part one): No Easy Answers

Göteborg & Lund, Sweden, 1995 to May 2003 and Phuket & Bangkok-Area, Thailand, 16 – 22 May 2003

Sandra wasn’t a lesbian.

That’s what she told people. “Jag är inte lesbisk,” she said in her native Swedish. “I’m not a lesbian.”

And neither was Sandra bisexual. She was quite clear about that as well.

She’d never heard of ‘polysexual’, but if anyone ever used the word, she wouldn’t be that, either.

What Sandra was not, fundamentally, when all was said and done, was “happy with being labelled.” Sandra didn’t like anyone trying to limit her. Not for Sandra the liberating feeling of finding an identity. Not for Sandra the pigeon-holing by others: the expectation in their eyes of how she would react, what she would say, the things she’d be into, the cultural expressions she’d be fond of or the opinions she would hold. Sandra believed that every person on the planet was unique; and if millions of them happened to hold the same opinion and happened to be into similar things and even respond in the same way to similar situations, well, then that was just happen-stance. People, according to Sandra, could not be put into categories. To do so was to contain them, to limit them, to socially construct barriers and walls, to corral them into thoughts and feelings, impose views upon them. That, above all, Sandra hated.

And Sandra had learned from someone very dear that she could do what she wanted. Whatever Sandra did was her own choice, one hundred per cent completely decided by Sandra, with no external or hidden influence. Sandra was a fully directed consciousness, a free agent. This was the language she used to describe herself. And didn’t everybody?

So Sandra was not a lot of things.

Specifically, she was not someone who would be trapped by accidents of biology.

She wasn’t polysexual.

She wasn’t bisexual.

And most importantly of all:

Sandra was not a lesbian.

For the past three years Sandra had been in a relationship with Tove, a woman who most definitely, by Tove’s own loud and proud definition, was a lesbian.

Tove was waving at the coach which was taking Sandra from the south of Thailand to Bangkok.

Sandra wanted to explore the country.

Tove, the person Sandra chose to be in a relationship with, wanted to stay and party on the islands. Tove had found a resort area which catered predominantly for gay people. They, Tove and Sandra, had been there for four days, dancing and drinking and having fika, the Swedish custom of meeting friends for a coffee and a chat.

Sandra’s coach gained speed. She stopped waving and settled into her seat and took out her guide book. She’d told Tove she’d be away for about seven days; one week of their four week holiday.

Around her were other tourists similarly flipping through the pages of their guide books or reading, or chatting about the parties they’d been to and the drugs they’d taken. And some were just settling in for the long journey to Bangkok: chair back, eyes closed.

Sandra read through her guidebook and looked around. She was in the aisle seat. Next to her was a French woman who had fallen asleep for the overnight journey. Sandra suspected the woman had taken a sleeping pill, of which she disapproved.

An hour into the journey a guy in the seat in front and across the aisle from Sandra became restless. He started looking around at people. Sandra watched him watching people further forward. He pulled faces - smiled, frowned, responded as if he was part of their conversation. He had long dreadlocks and a few days’ beard. She looked up from her guide book as if she was considering what she’d read, and watched the watcher.

The soft hum of the coach’s tyres on the tarmac could just be heard under the coach’s air conditioning. Behind her someone snored gently. The coach smelled of day old sweat and the watery cabbage aroma of air-diluted farts.

Sandra started to imagine who this man – boy? he could barely be older than her twenty three – was, his nationality, what he might do. With dreadlocks like that he clearly didn’t have a job. Who would ever give a job to someone who looked like that? Back in her university town of Lund, the only people Sandra saw like that were students. No decent Swedish person, regardless of how individual they were when they started university, would dare think they could get a job looking like that. It was so… unSwedish. He would have to cut them off if he wanted to be taken seriously. And he was obviously British, too. He had that British nose and chin, a sort of Beatles-look, like the worst one, Ringo Starr.

She looked back to her book and thought about what subject he might study and what sort of person he might be.

When she looked up again, his head was turning in her direction. His involving gaze swept around to the passengers behind her. And on the way it stopped, rested a moment – it was barely an extended saccade - on Sandra. She was the first person in his field of vision and she wore a yellow top. It was perhaps natural that his eyes settled on her, even for the length of a twitch of an eye. But that wasn’t what was uppermost in Sandra’s mind. What filled her head was the one thing she hated most, the habit that boys fell into, regardless of their age. Whether they were ten or twenty or sixty or seventy years old. Whether they were policemen or ticket agents or teachers or friend’s fathers. His eyes moved through an angle, left the person in front, skipped over the person immediately to his right and across the aisle and settled – briefly, barely for a second – on Sandra’s chest.

She hated using a male way of describing herself, but she couldn’t escape the fact that she had big breasts. She was a size twelve and had a gentle curve to her hips and bum she was proud of, and a waist that naturally came in to accentuate her hips. Not in a severe way, not in a Jayne Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe way, nothing so extreme or old fashioned; just enough to give definition. But her breasts were a FF, and she hated them for being too big for her body where they stuck out and attracted attention.

Biology had betrayed her.

They’d been noticeable since she was twelve, since the first signs of puberty. ‘Noticeable’ at that age meaning: negative attention. Sandra was teased. Boys made comments. Older boys stared or asked her on dates (or rather, they asked her chest on dates, not one of them ever looked into Sandra’s eyes when he asked) and her teachers – even a few female teachers – quite obviously noticed, though were too mature or polite or terrified of the repercussions to pass comment.

The girls focussed on them, too. They were inquisitive at first, which then turned to jealousy and plain bitchiness. Later, when she was in her mid-teens, those girls hung out with guys that Sandra turned down, and those girls told those guys lies about what Sandra could have done with them or had done to other guys. Lies that inevitably shook off their shackles of secrets and became rumour and, after a while, reputation. A reputation undeserved for Sandra who, deeply affected by the taunts and rumours and whispered remarks and the constant staring, became shy and chaste and withdrawn. She bound her chest in specially sourced and bought bras, under tops and dresses which covered her figure and obscured her developing curves.

She hated people for making her teenage years so miserable. She hated her body for its treachery. She hated being judged.

She kept company with girls whose bodies were similarly traitorous – though for them the treachery was to give bodies shapeless or with shape in all the ‘wrong’ places (or so the magazines said), with no proportion or too much of it. Flat chests, boy-ish figures, huge hips, fat calfs, square shoulders, broad tummies.

In her late teens in Gymnasium, the Swedish High School, she started going to parties and drinking alcohol, even once trying marijuana, and finally, reluctantly, made herself go with a few guys; but only guys from different schools or neighbourhoods, who didn’t know her, hadn’t grown up with the reputation fabricated around her. She even lost her virginity one night, sadly, too drunk to say “no”, too drunk to really care or imagine there may be pleasure in the event, but willingly (just), consensually, thinking all the while that the guy was only interested in her chest, which she steadfastly kept covered and restrained. It was painful, or if not quite painful, deeply uncomfortable; she was tense and hesitant, expecting all the while for him to say something, ask about, want to do something with her breasts. Nothing kinky, just the normal things boys wanted to do near the conclusion of these events, the simple things she’d heard were normal, but which because it was about breasts, she dreaded. It wasn’t an event she particularly wanted to remember. It was a box ticked, and she felt no more about it than that.

After Gymnasium she worked for a year in a local pharmacy. She slept with a co-worker, Mads. She thought she needed to overcome her inhibitions. She saw Mads three times, sleeping with him twice. The second time – finally – had been pleasurable, but Sandra was disappointed that he, too, seemed fixated on her breasts, and had spent far too much time playing with them and asking to do things with them – things which reminded her of the awful rumours from school, and again, the normal things, nothing kinky – than she cared for. Her breasts were hers. She broke things off with him and applied to university in the south of Sweden, in the historic city of Lund, a small town of cobbled streets, centred around a world-class university and spin-off science park, and equivalent to Britain’s Cambridge.

Lund’s student population was one of thousands of singular personalities, drawn from all over the country; indeed, all over the world. Personalities which changed Sandra’s life.

Back in Thailand on the coach, the boy’s eyes gravitated to the event horizon of her breasts and within a second skirted over them and flung themselves further back into the coach, to the other passengers.

But Sandra saw.

Now he would be judging her. Now he would be doing what they all did, inventing for himself what sort of person she was.

And then her face flushed and she hid it behind her guide book in embarrassment. If he was judging her, then what had she just done to him? Simply because of his dreadlocks she judged him, looked down on him, filled in an entire life for him. Simply because of less than a second’s scan as he looked to the back of the coach.

Sandra had committed the one sin she most deplored in others.

It felt so natural, to invent a story for this young man. She’d met people with dreadlocks, white people she meant, and she knew exactly what sort of music they liked: Reggae. She knew his politics: left wing, radical. But if she could say that about someone based on a temporary hair style, then what did that say about herself, about her own views on life and her own behaviour?

For the rest of the journey Sandra’s mind raged. She started to question who she was. For half the journey her chest prickled with anxiety. When the coach arrived into Bangkok she had come to no conclusions. She only managed to unpick the delicate stitches which had kept her character together these past years of freedom.

Tired from the long journey, she followed the young man with dreadlocks and listened to him talk to another passenger. He mentioned Khao San Road, which was where she also wanted to go. She followed him to a tuk-tuk stand and listened to him haggle a price.

As his tuk-tuk pulled away, she made herself wish him well and apologised to him in her head.

She haggled her own tuk-tuk, and was disappointed when she could only get the driver down to twice as much as what the boy paid. She obviously had a lot to learn.

Sandra took a cheap hostel room just off the Khao San Road. She spent her first night sitting in the hostel’s lounge area on the cushions and mats, drinking coconut juice and watching films on the hostel’s televisions. It felt good to be away from the party islands.

On Sandra’s first full day in Bangkok, she rose early and took a train to Ayudhaya. In baking heat and sheltered under a straw hat she bought from a roadside vendor, she explored the ancient temple ruins. There was a Buddha face firmly embedded in a tree trunk.

The heat of the day stung her pale Nordic skin, even under strong sun cream and a long sleeved muslin top, causing her to retreat after a couple of hours to a nearby restaurant. Sitting there, blowing the heat off an aromatic Tom Yum soup, Sandra watched a Thai couple outside the restaurant. They were young, about eighteen, and the boy was making the girl laugh. They sat under a tree holding hands, while he showed off, acted out a story for his girlfriend. Who looked up to him starry eyed, eyes wide at the right points, alert at others, creased to slits of laughter at still others. She batted at his knees when she laughed and rocked and swayed, and he put his arms around her shoulders and used her rocking to guide her into his embrace.

Sandra, behind smoked glass and, she knew, the sun’s reflection on the outside of the windows, watched the courting display, knowing she could not be seen in return.

“Young love,” she thought and smiled. The feeling failed to reach her green eyes, which became glassy, reflective, as her thoughts turned inward. Sandra’s self-imposed loneliness in adolescence brought back sadness, which fell from her eyes and settled on her mouth.

She tried to push the feeling away. She ate her soup and drank her cold water, and turned her eyes away from the restaurant’s windows.

When Sandra arrived, aged twenty, at Lund University she promised herself a new start. The old Sandra would be buried, left to drown, figuratively, among the canals of Göteburg. She joined the student union and studied one semester of Film Studies. Very quickly the people on her course were inviting her to fika and Sandra discovered that small towns across Sweden were so-called because they couldn’t contain such large personalities. The film Fucking Åmal suddenly made a lot more sense. In those first few weeks her senses were filled with coloured scarves and hidden tattoos, theories on obscure American film directors, cheap wine and drinking songs and student union music nights. She met flamboyant nineteen year olds who embodied the spirits of sixty year old gay dandies, and people with orange hair and stories of midnight liaisons with Italian men in Florence. There were world-weary-by-22-years-old escapees from London’s Swedish coffee shops, who told tales of cramped living conditions and sleeping four to a room in what they described as frankly Third World conditions. Stories which made Sandra wonder about the former Viking colony and how it appeared so developed and rich on television. There were people who styled themselves after pop stars (Marilyn Manson and Morrissey were popular); those who could cook and immediately hosted dinner parties in their cramped one-room student apartments; those who couldn’t cook and who’d already switched to the French Left Bank diet of cigarettes and coffee; there were those with a second language (English didn’t count, of course) or whose parents were foreign; those who’d backpacked America or South East Asia or South America with tales of buses and robberies and guns and ancient temples and tropical illnesses and taking long, long boat trips up rivers which heretofore only existed in the imaginations of writers and Sunday newspaper journalists.

There was life in Lund. Much of it, most of it, was interested more in itself than in the curves, faces, thoughts, opinions or drunken embarrassments of others. It accepted everyone as they arrived. It accepted everyone as they wished not to present themselves, but how they wished to create themselves in the moment.

Arriving with a promise to start anew, and surrounded by the glorious selfishness and solipsism of the country’s future intelligentsia, Sandra started to relax.

It was in Sandra’s fourth week in Lund, at a student union dinner, that she first met Tove.

Finished at the restaurant, Sandra walked back through the hottest part of the day to Ayudhaya’s train station. The heat warmed the lake of her memories and created a dense vapour in her head, a fog through which her mind struggled to find a clear edge. On the short journey back to Bangkok, Sandra had the feeling that there was something missing from her life. It wasn’t that there was anything particularly wrong. She was not feeling specifically unhappy, and nor would she have said that she had, at that moment, in the mist of uncertainty, any idea what was missing or even why she suddenly felt that way.

On her ankles she could feel the itch of a light sunburn, and her feet moved restlessly as the train sped south to the capital city.

Try as she might she couldn’t get the image of the young couple out of her head. She hated herself for making assumptions, yet in those few moments under the tree outside the restaurant they looked happy and in love and besotted with each other. Sandra had no analogue for that. She had never been through the stupid, sparkly eyed stages of puppy love: not what she saw in their eyes or actions or behaviours or the set (the softening of their cheeks and partly opened mouths) of their faces. Where was that similar feeling from her own past? What had she been thinking in rejecting the boys at Gymnasium who may have given her that feeling? Rejecting them simply because of her fear of the opinions and nasty words of the 13 and 14 year olds they had once been?

The more she tried to re-discover those feelings of anxiety from her early adolescence, when her body had first started to betray her, the less she was able to do so. There was only a vague memory, almost a memory of a memory, lost in the fog. Certainly she hadn’t imagined those feelings. The hidden hours in her bedroom, crying, pushing her breasts down, taping them back, eating low fat foods, wearing baggy clothes, they were all real, they had all happened.

Sandra was starting to wonder if she had simply developed a habit that was easier to keep, as she entered Gymnasium, than it was to lose.

She thought she had suffered the tyranny of others forcing an identity on her. Now in Bangkok, back at rest in her hostel, the film Blade 3 showing on a television, slicing its way through the undead, the Nightwalkers, Sandra wondered if, rather, it was her who had made her own identity and blamed the rest of the world for it. The realisation was a shock: that she herself may have played a greater role in her own unhappiness than anyone else. And what about the other thought, that Tove had created her as she was now, the confident young woman she’d grown into? She’d long had the suspicion that she’d been a project for Tove.

A group of animated English backpackers came into the hostel’s lounge area. With few places left to sit, they asked if they could share the cushions and mats around her. She smiled and waved them into her space. They talked among themselves about the trip they’d recently taken to Laos. They mentioned how it was the most bombed country in history, subject to secret American sorties during the Vietnam War. And how beautiful it was, how friendly the people were. They talked of karst mountains, caves, long river journeys. Landmines and whole valleys filled with stone jars. Abandoned temples.

Sandra was intrigued and was about to ask them for some tips, when they got up and left.

A middle-aged woman leaned over. “There’s a train,” she said, “from Bangkok to the Laos capital, Vientiane.” It was the first Australian Sandra had ever met. The woman had seen Sandra paying attention to the English group, and anticipated her question. They chatted, and when Sandra asked what a middle aged woman was doing travelling alone in Thailand, she received the cryptic answer, “Probably the same as you. I’m searching for someone.”

Sandra didn’t ask who the woman was searching for, nor who she thought Sandra was searching for. The statement filtered into her subconscious, another bit of sediment in the flow.

Tove was a lesbian and proud of it.

It was during the autumn student union dinner, held in a cellar bar, that Sandra first met her. Everyone sang their favourite Swedish drinking songs. Tove inserted her own words, eyes on fire with aquavit, hand thumping the table, “Jag är lesbisk, hurrah! Hurrah!

She had a comment for everything and spoke to strangers with the same enthusiasm and interested nature as she did to the people who were her friends.

Despite Tove’s obvious femininity – her figure was similar to Sandra’s, though with slightly wider hips and a significantly smaller chest, brown hair cut into a 1920′s bob, with one dreadlock incongruously hanging down the right side of her head, an eyebrow piercing which matched her hazel eyes and a delicately upturned nose – there was something a little masculine about her, too. Sandra berated herself for thinking this when they first met, and told herself she had only made that judgement after she’d heard Tove declare her sexuality across the table. She was right, though, there was a slight squareness to Tove’s jaw which would more normally be associated with a man’s face, and her hands were square, the fingers callused from the physical art she enjoyed making in her spare time. These things lent her a masculine air. She was forthright in her opinions, and by her own admission could not read a map very well. (Sandra didn’t realise for over a year that this was a joke.)

During that meal three years ago, Sandra had sat five places further down from Tove and had not caught her eye or talked to her. She had heard Tove, of course, and watched her now and again when Tove had been espousing to someone across the table.

With the formal part of the dinner over, dinner jackets were taken off, cigars were pulled out by the boys – and grabbed by Tove, because Tove could do whatever Tove wanted – and people stood and went to the bar or to swap seats.

Before she knew it, Sandra found Tove sitting right next to her. Tove turned her chair round so she could sit side-on to the table. She crossed her legs, took a pull on her cigar, scrutinised Sandra’s face while she puffed out the smoke to the side in a failed smoke ring and said, “You have to the most beautiful green eyes I’ve ever seen. I’ve been trying to get your attention all night.” Tove leaned in, put a hand on Sandra’s knee, and whispered, “Just give me one night with those eyes and ruby lips.” She leaned back and tipped her head to one side.

As cheesy as it was, it was the single most romantic and sexy thing anyone had ever said to Sandra. In response, she rolled her eyes and said in English, “Yeah, right,” which seemed to make Tove want her more.

Sandra watched Tove’s eyes like a hawk following a mouse through a field of expression, and not once did those hazel gateways to the devil inside slide downwards to Sandra’s bosom. Not once.

Terrified and excited and drunk on wine, aquavit and possibility, Sandra went, at the end of the night, back to Tove’s and discovered the body quivering release of surrender.

Afterwards, Sandra told Tove about her past, her limited experience, her anxiety and lack of confidence and how she hated her body. Tove said nothing until Sandra had finished. Then she put a finger to Sandra’s lips and said, “I accept you for who you are,” and very gently and softly – and almost respectfully – kissed and caressed Sandra’s breasts until Sandra found the pleasure hidden there, too.

On her next morning in Bangkok she rose early and chatted once again with the middle aged woman, who was heading north. Sandra noticed a black band on the woman’s arm. It was a sign of mourning, and Sandra felt it impolite to ask unless the woman offered the information, which she didn’t.

Sandra headed back to the train station, following the woman’s advice, and bought a ticket for Laos. As the train pulled out of the station and sidled through Bangkok’s outskirts, the tracks crossed other rail lines and clacked gently past industrial storage areas of metal parts, where the decrepit husks of old vehicles decayed slowly to rust. In their shadow years they turned into wild homes, entwined in grey leaves and creepers, for the homeless of Bangkok and then, when the vehicle skeletons collapsed in on themselves, for its smaller mammal and insect population.

Sandra knew that people lived in terrible conditions in other countries, she’d read about them in Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter newspaper, but now she was confronted with it, metres from her carriage, she wondered how she could not have properly envisioned it? How could she not have had a better imagination? And put colours and structure and the burning oppressive heat and the black filth in there? And the look of emptiness in the eyes of not just the human animals laying in the accidental squalor (Sandra had trouble, as she passed them on the train, in allowing those abject people outside to be fully human, the thought suggesting far too much terrible emotion inside her), in not just those eyes but also by association the empty windows of the old vehicles, mostly train carriages, which also looked like eyes, sympathetically sad for those forced to live and sleep and defecate and simply survive in them. How could she not have painted the emaciated bodies, the skin clinging to bones over the barest layers of muscle possible, with the black and brown dirt of their own filth, the city’s filth, the accumulated filth of other people’s neglect?

The homeless people who squatted on their heels in the framing shadows of those old carriages’ doorways watched Sandra’s train trundle past, disinterested in the train itself, eyes alive only for the plastic bags which would be flung from the train windows by more affluent Thais, and the meagre stains and residues of meat sauces and fruit juices those bags contained.

To those feral humans she saw on the tracks, life was a daily battle to survive in the most basic form possible.

And now that shock filtered through the mild solipsism so typical to people in their early twenties, and Sandra continued her self-reflection.

How could she have been so arrogant as to think the world was against her, simply for her breast size, when there were people like this, for whom such insecurities were light years distant? How spoiled was she, that she could have spent years – on and off – being picky about her food in case it made her breasts bigger? The way she’d chosen to live her late teens, staying aloof from boys, making friends with girls she herself thought of as ugly, not because she liked them but because she hated herself and thought she deserved the ‘misery’ of their company: wasn’t that the mark of someone with no basic humanity? What kind of apologies did she owe to those girls for judging them, even while convincing herself she hadn’t been judging them, only herself? Wasn’t every decision she made a judgement of some sort? And by hanging out with those girls, proving to herself she had no barriers and would associate with anyone, hadn’t she actually put up barriers to everyone else who might have been her friend, if only she’d got over herself?

These questions and this line of thinking circulated in Sandra’s mind. The train slowly left behind the mass of Bangkok and entered the countryside. Old crumbling stations jogged past, wreathed in frangipani and other flowers, and the scents which perfumed the carriage had a nostalgic quality which encouraged the inner journey she was on, as she and the train moved closer to Laos.

In her second semester at university, Sandra studied Political Science and joined a book circle started by a girl called Ida. She kept her student apartment but spent most of her free time at Tove’s.

Sandra was taken aback by the simple acceptance which Tove granted her. Tove maintained that it was Sandra’s eyes which had attracted her, which she described as the colour of rare amethysts, which cast into Sandra’s pupils a deep coffee tint.

In Tove Sandra found an enigmatic friend, who patiently initiated Sandra into a sexual world she’d never contemplated. Tove’s apparent magnetism wasn’t confined just to Sandra. Wherever Tove went she had a willing crowd around her – almost at one point, adherents to Tove – wanting to bathe in Tove’s radiation. Tove was opinionated and well-read and had spent much of her teen years watching films suggested by her older brother and his crowd of friends, with whom she subsequently hung around and tested her opinions on. She could hold a crowd and was generous with her laughter. Tove had discovered the joys of wine at fourteen years old, and though she rarely drank to excess, having identified her limits by age sixteen, she certainly drank to effect. She was a social animal who loved nothing more than sitting around others’ apartments and chatting late into the night, arguing about politics and religion and the cultural impact of books and films, and, as she advanced through her own university courses in Gender Studies, Media and Philosophy, eventually the so-called higher arts of dance and painting and sculpture.

Sandra, even years later, was never exactly sure what Tove had seen in her. Possibly Sandra had been a project, a protegé, someone Tove could bring out of her shell and shape, safe in the knowledge that whatever happened, however the relationship developed or didn’t, she would forever after know that she’d helped create a fuller person.

By Sandra’s second year at university – she spent the summer break working in her parent’s gardening centre in Göteborg – she had switched to studying Swedish, having been encouraged by the book circle she was in and the ease with which she found the conversation and analysing and commenting on the books, their plots, story arcs, characters and meanings.

After a year of being in a relationship, Tove started asking Sandra if she’d told her parents about them. The answer was always “no”. Sandra made promises for most of the academic year, saying she was waiting for an appropriate moment. By the next summer break, Tove wanted to stay with her in Göteborg. Sandra forbade it, saying her parents, whom she described as old fashioned, weren’t ready for it and needed preparing. It became an unspoken source of tension in their relationship.

Was Sandra embarrassed of Tove? Patently not, she thought. Sandra went everywhere with her while at university. Was Sandra embarrassed to be gay? Here came the arguments. Sandra did not describe herself as a lesbian. Tove felt this was a betrayal of her sisters throughout the world. Sandra refused to acknowledge she had ‘sisters’ in this sense, simply because she chose to be in a relationship with a woman.

“A woman in a relationship with a woman is a lesbian!” countered Tove.

“I have slept with a man,” Sandra would reply.

“Then you’re bisexual. Be proud of it.”

Sandra refuted this, too. She was just herself, at one point she’d chosen to be in a relationship with a man (however fleeting that had been), and at this point with a woman. Who knew what the future would bring?

“So you don’t see us staying together?” Tove had asked.

But that wasn’t what Sandra meant. That wasn’t what she’d meant at all.

The train made its slow journey to Vientiane, Laos.

Sandra stared out of the window.

She thought about all the times she’d said she wasn’t a lesbian.

She thought about her language, how she’d said she’d been with men at one point, and had chosen to be with a woman at this point.

Everything was choice.

Everything was a choice at a point in time.

Was she bisexual? She thought it over. She looked out of the window at the Thai countryside. She tried to imagine herself with other women, and couldn’t. She’d never been attracted to other women. She’d looked. She’d tried to imagine them naked, exploring them the same way she explored Tove. It was like trying to imagine the summer sun in the middle of the Swedish winter. She knew it existed, but all of her senses were telling her how dark and cold it was and to retreat somewhere safe and warm.

So Sandra wasn’t a lesbian.

What, then, was she?

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