Lisette is tucking into her rice and curry with a satisfied expression. We saw her at a table at White Sands on her own, just about to order food, so we joined her.
Cindy and Greg are sharing an enormous mixed seafood platter that occupies most of our cosy wooden table on the beach.
I’m savouring a delicious avocado salad, washing it down with a bottle of beer.
I’m glad we stopped here for dinner. It gives me the chance to steal glimpses of Kiri while he’s working. Quite pleasing on the eyes!
Lisette is sitting to my left, with her back to the sea. She has a good view of the restaurant, and she has caught me a few times staring dreamingly at Kiri.
‘You like him, right?’ There is a strange hint in her voice, and I’m not too sure it’s just her accent.
‘Yes, I like him a lot.’
Lisette looks at her plate and doesn’t comment.
When we are all finished, Greg and Cindy head for the toilets to wash their sticky hands. Lisette turns to me hurriedly.
‘I understand, you know. They’re very alluring. I’ve lived amongst them for the past three years. Be careful. All’s not what it seems.’
She stops as soon as Cindy gets back to the table, and she starts playing with her fork.
‘Dessert, anyone?’ Greg seems to have a bottomless pit instead of a stomach. I don’t know where he stashes the enormous quantities of food he ingests.
All three of us decline and continue to sip at our drinks while he tackles a jumbo-size portion of curd and honey, the local speciality.
Kiri has been hovering in the background, serving other tables and being generally busy all evening, but most of the diners have left now, and he comes over.
‘Was it a good day in Galle?’ He addresses the whole table, not just me. So Cindy smiles up at him. ‘Yes, we had a good, busy day. How was your day, Kiri?’
‘It was good, thank you, madam. We’ve been busy. Can I bring you anything else?’ This time he looks at me when he speaks. He doesn’t smile, but his expression is serene and calm. I can’t see any nervous hints, nor can I detect any sarcasm in his words. I relax.
All four of us are fine, we don’t need anything else. Kiri clears the table and disappears. Lisette excuses herself and joins Ishan near the bar, they seem to be having an animated conversation. She shrugs and shakes her head, then goes to sit at the end of the bar alone. Lover’s tiff, I assume.
I itch to talk to Kiri, to be alone with him. Cindy senses my frustration.
‘Why don’t we go for a walk along the beach, Greg? Here’s the money for our dinner, Maddy. We’ll see you later. Are you going to be okay?’ She leaves the notes on the table, hooks her arm around Greg’s and looks at me.
With a relieved smile, I assure them I will be fine and see them off.
I play with the label on my beer bottle and smile at their figures walking hand in hand on the sand.
‘I’ve missed you, Maddy.’ I jump. I didn’t hear him coming over to the table. He is sitting in Lisette’s chair, and he puts a hand on my wrist. My heart does a double somersault. He’s here, he wants to be with me. He’s touching me!
‘I’ve missed you too,’ and I start rummaging through my fabric bag. ‘This is for you.’ I give him the multi-coloured leather bracelet I picked up in Galle for him today. It’s not much, no value, really, just a thought. And I have thought about him a lot. I just wanted him to know that.
He beams, ‘Thank you. It’s really nice! You thought about me.’ It is a simple statement of fact, but expressed with such a thoughtful depth, as if it is something he is not used to and would not expect. I help him with the bracelet, fastening it around his strong wrist with a double knot, while he loses himself in thoughts.
‘No need to thank me. I think of you anyway.’ I say jokingly. I smile and peck him on the cheek. This seems to be enough for him to snap out of whatever deep thought he was following and come back to the now.
‘I need to tidy up. Can you wait for me for a few minutes?’
‘Of course, no rush.’
I’m in no rush. I’m happy soaking up the peacefulness. I look at the vast expanse of the sea and the string of bright pearls on the horizon. All those fishermen desperately trying to make pa living going to sea at night. From where I stand it looks like a picturesque display of lights. I’m sure from where they are standing, the whole situation has a completely different connotation.
I sit staring in the distance. Human sounds are becoming fewer and farther between; they are leaving the scene to nature. The swishing of the never-ending waves and the rustle of the coconut trees in the breeze is all that is left on the beach, apart from the occasional barking from a stray dog. The lights are turned off, and Kiri comes to me with a bottle of beer in his hands. He passes it to me, moves a chair next to mine and sits down. He puts his arm around my shoulders and just looks ahead at the sea.
‘You know, what I told you yesterday, about my past, about my parents. That was just for you to know. I don’t want anyone else to know. I don’t want to be pitied.’
I understand that, and I feel privileged that he has chosen me to confide in. I assure him I won’t tell anyone. Well, Cindy doesn’t really count, anyway.
He tells me more about his past. How he had taken his exams the day after his dad had died and then had to go to the funeral in his school uniform. How he was passed from one set of relatives to the other and how often he had to go without food. How he slept on cardboard in rooms with no windows or rooms with holes in the walls, and how he was so scared and lonely. My heart swells. I feel the need to protect this poor little boy who was abandoned and not loved, who was lost and lonely and scared. I know he is not looking for sympathy and that is not what I feel, I just feel a gushing tap of love for him.
‘You did very well for yourself, considering what you went through.’
‘I didn’t have a choice. I was alive; I had to carry on living. I did what I could.’
We lie side by side on a sunbed under a coconut tree and admire the stars. ‘You’re very close to your friend. I can see that. It’s nice.’ I’m surprised at the comment.
‘Yes, we are very close, we have known each other since school.’
‘That’s nice.’ he repeats. ‘I don’t know how to be close to people. I don’t know how to show love.’
My heart jumps out of my chest. It feels heavy and full of sorrow at such a tragic reality.
‘Can you teach me how to show love?’ He looks at me, eyes round with sadness and expectation.
‘If you feel love, you can show it. But if you don’t, it’s impossible.’
‘I love you Maddy, but I don’t know how to show it to you. Can you help me?’
He turns around to face me, he leans over and kisses me deeply. I wrap him in my arms, and we stay like this for what seems like an eternity. I don’t want to let him go. I want to protect him, to love him, to give him hope, to be here for him like nobody ever was before.
We fall asleep holding each other, and wake up when the sky takes on the light of the new day and everything comes back to life. It is just after five in the morning. The birds are greeting the day, and the explosion of colours is just around the corner. I look over at Kiri, he is opening his eyes too. He looks so handsome with his hair spread all around his head, his sleepy eyes crinkling at the corner and his smile beautiful and radiant. He kisses me.
‘Morning Maddy. Are you okay?’
‘Yes,’ I say stretching my arms over my head and arching my back.
‘Want to spend the day with me? I have the day off work.’