The dinner is delicious and the company too. I love spending time with Cindy. I’m glad I’m here.
We pay our bill, pick up our bags and sandals, and head down the beach in the direction of the lights and blasting music. The noise is so loud, there is no way we could have missed the party. There is also no way we could have slept, even if we’d tried.
Groups of tourists pass us by, flocking to the lights that promise to give them a good night. We follow, taking our time and admiring the stream of shiny beads on the horizon - the fishing boats, far away at sea. The moon is high and round in the sky, it will be full tomorrow. All those weary fishermen will have one whole day off.
The reflection of the moon on the wavy ocean is hypnotising. It feels so unreal to be here, sand between my toes, no deadlines, no worries, nobody to depend on me. I feel a bit guilty, but I quickly brush the feeling away. I owe it to myself.
When we approach the party, the thumping of the bass drums makes my insides shake. There is no way on earth we can manage a conversation with this noise. I feel a bit out of place, and I’m very tempted to walk on and find some isolated stretch of beach, where I can just brood. But I promised Cindy I will try, I will give it a go. So I stay and shyly follow her.
As we get closer to the bar, we need to elbow our way to the counter. There are people everywhere. Some of them are engrossed in shouting matches to try and be heard over the music. Others are already pretty drunk and sway aimlessly. Others are still clearly getting to know each other. Most of the people on the dance floor are tourists. They move completely out of tune and with such little grace that I can’t help myself from thinking they are all having an epileptic fit.
Cindy is nearly at the counter now, and I’m hot on her bare heels. She is in her element, smiling away at everyone and attracting a lot of attention from locals and tourists alike. Heck, what’s new?!
We get our drinks, and I look longingly at the beach. ‘Okay Maddy, let’s go and grab a table on the beach, but I want you up here and dancing before the night is out.’ Cindy is serious, she is not letting me get away with it.
‘Better wait a little longer until everyone is drunk enough not to notice me stumbling a-rhythmically,’ I chide ironically.
‘Maybe the fumes of alcohol will help you with your rhythm too,’ and Cindy breaks into her sexy giggle.
We make our way down the wobbly wooden stairs and sit at a table on the beach. The waves lap our feet. The beer is cold, and the music from here is bearable. The atmosphere is magical.
The table to our right hosts a group of five middle-aged Germans. Three men and two women. There are about 20 empty bottles of beer in front of them. I wonder how people can drink that much and then function in the morning. Last time I did it, I had to write off the next two days.
To our left is a long table with about 15 guys and girls of different nationalities. They all seem to be in their early twenties. Some of them are standing, holding their bottles and swaying to the music. Others are trying to talk to each other over the noise. A couple has given up and just collapsed, heads on their folded arms on the table.
There are people of all ages dancing in the sea. Out of the corner of my eye, I see three clearly naked bodies going skinny-dipping. I hope they are careful. There are rocks in the sea here.
I zone into Cindy and realise she has been talking to me. ‘What was that?’
‘I said, it’s not too bad after all.’
‘No, it’s okay.’ I feel a bit motherly, but that will pass. I nod and raise my bottle to her, and she returns the gesture.
‘I’m going to get an ashtray. Will be right back.’ And with that, Cindy jumps up and makes her way through the dancing crowd in the direction of the bar.
‘Hi. It’s nice to see you here. Do you remember me?’
‘Uh... Sorry?’ Of course I remember him, but I’m not going to admit it.
’You don’t need to be sorry. I work at the White Sands restaurant. You were there this afternoon. You really can’t remember?’ And he looks disappointed.
‘Of course. You brought me my juice to the beach. Did I thank you for that?’ He looks relieved that he had not gone unnoticed.
‘What’s your name?’
‘Erm. I’m Maddy and my friend’s Cindy.’ He would want to know about her anyway, that’s why he’s talking to me, to put his feelers out.
‘Hello, Maddy, nice to meet you. I’m Kiri,’ and he takes my hand. The handshake is long, and his deep dark eyes bore right into mine. His grip is firm and dry. His long dark hair is gathered in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He is wearing a black vest shirt and a pair of cut-offs. Strictly bare footed. His body is lean and athletic, the muscles on his arm ripple as he shakes my hand.
Still holding my hand, he sits down on Cindy’s chair and asks me where I come from. ‘Tell me about your city, tell me about Oxford.’
‘I’m just popping back to the room. I forgot my cigarettes.’ I didn’t see her approaching, but Cindy winks at me, twists on her heels and off she goes again, leaving me looking at her thinking that I have no idea what she’s on about, she was just holding her cigarette packet in her hand.
‘So Oxford. What’s it like?’
‘Oh,’ I bring my attention back to Kiri. ‘Well, Oxford is beautiful. It has the most amazing buildings and incredible parks. It’s lively but also peaceful. It’s a human city.’
‘It sounds nice.’
‘It is. And are you from here?’
‘No, I grew up in a village about one hour away. But I’ve been living here for more than ten years now.’
‘Is your family here?’
‘Some. I live with some cousins of mine. But tell me about you.’
‘Not much to tell. What do you want to know?’
‘Everything.’ The intensity of his eyes makes me look at my feet, playing with the sand. It feels a bit uncomfortable, I feel put on the spot. But I also feel the centre of his attention. It’s strange and exciting...
We talk for what seems like ages, and it is mainly me telling him about my story, my world. His questions are probing but interested, and the beer helps me open up to him. Such an odd feeling, explaining my life to a stranger.
A beautiful young girl approaches our table and grabs Kiri’s arm. She is in her early twenties, scantily dressed and sports a healthy tan. Her flat stomach is in full view, and her long blond hair falls loosely on her perky bikini-clad breast. ‘Come dance with me.’ She demands of Kiri, pulling at his arm and flashing him the most enticing smile.
‘No, thank you.’ She holds on to his arm for a few more seconds, a veil of disappointment and disbelief falls on her beautiful face. Then she shakes it off and walks back toward her friends on the dance-floor.
Kiri is again staring at me. Still waiting for the answers to his impossible questions.
‘Why didn’t you go? She’s young and beautiful.’ I ask, stunned at his reaction.
‘Because I’m talking to you and I’m not interested in her. I want to learn everything about you.’
Mmmh. This is a bit too intense for me right now. I look around for Cindy, and I spot her talking to a group of people I have seen before in our hotel.
‘I need to talk to my friend for a bit. You don’t mind Kiri, do you?’ Before he can answer, I get up from my chair, pat his muscular shoulder and shoot off in the direction of Cindy.
‘Hey, here you are. Everything okay?’ I smile my agreement, and she introduces me to her new friends.
‘These are Eddie and Polly, they’re from London. And this is Greg, he’s from Glasgow. They’re all staying at our hotel.’
‘Ay, lass.’ Greg nods and smiles.
He is tall and broad-shouldered, has a stubble and a flat stomach. His pronounced suntan hints at a seasoned traveller.
Eddie and Polly smile and raise their bottles in my direction as a sign of greeting. They have clearly been away from cloudy London for a while too, as they are both displaying a nice dark tan.
We are standing at the edge of the dance floor, looking at the few dancers still standing. Most of the people have now crashed out somewhere, dotted all over the beach in various stages of euphoria, drunkenness or amorous flirtation.
I haven’t seen Kiri for a while. I know he was helping behind the bar before. I feel a bit sad that he has gone without saying goodbye, but I soon tell myself off for being so melodramatic. What does it matter? You hardly know each other!
‘I think I’m heading back now, Cindy. I’ve been true to my word, but I’ve run out of energy.’
‘I’ll join you, I’m beat too.’ We part from our new friends and head down the wooden stairs back to the beach. It’s a much nicer walk to the hotel this way.
As we start off along the beach, I hear my name and feel a gentle pull on my arm. It’s Kiri.
‘Hey, Maddy. Are you leaving?’
‘Yes, we’re going back. Are you staying longer?’
‘Yes, I’ll help my friends to close up.’
‘Okay. Have a good night. Thank you for the company.’
‘I like you. Do you like me?’
I’m not used to this bluntness, and I’m not sure what to say. To defuse the situation and because he looks so vulnerable, I take a step closer, get on my tiptoes and kiss his cheek.
‘You’re a good man, Kiri. Take care.’
‘Will I see you tomorrow?’ His eyes are expectant but proud.
‘Sure. Good night.’ And I walk off fast toward Cindy, who is loitering a few metres away.
I tell her about the last exchange and his earlier refusal to go with a much younger and beautiful girl. I laugh it off in front of her, but deep down I’m very touched. I have never felt such a good connection with someone I have just met. I told him things I would not usually disclose. I told him how Ben and I have slowly but steadily grown apart and how he has now moved to the States, and I told him about Lucy, her moving to London and how proud I am of her studying to become a doctor. I managed to keep Kyle out of the conversation, he is not part of any chit chats. He is my baby and will not be discussed over a beer.
‘He looks nice,’ says Cindy looking over her shoulder with her lopsided smile, which is typical of her when a bit inebriated. ‘Did you have a good night tonight, Maddy?’
‘I did. Thank you for not giving me the chance to back down. I wouldn’t have come, had I had an alternative escape route, you know that?’ And I’m genuinely grateful to her for having pushed me.
I proved to myself I can still hold a conversation even though the music is blaring in my ears, I can have a couple of beers without falling in a heap, and I can appreciate life around me. I’m grateful I didn’t retreat to our room, feeling sorry for myself and living my life through the protagonist of the novel.
‘Hey! First of many, girl! There is no way back now!’ And with a big grin, Cindy opens our door and crashes straight on the bed.
I slip out of my skimpy summer dress and put on my oversized T-shirt before falling on my side of the bed.
I can do this, I can find joy in life again. I know I can! And with that last thought, I succumb to the tiredness and alcohol.