In retrospect going down to the beach on Tuesday afternoon was probably a mistake. I’d been trapped inside for days, finishing off a particularly challenging assignment and having finally finished it, pressed the send button and bundled it off to my tutor, I craved fresh air and exercise. Inside the house it was freezing; I’d been huddled over my computer in three layers of sweaters, gloves and a hat as I worked. I don’t know what this country has against central heating and insulation, given it’s cold about ten out of twelve months.
I pulled my boots on over the two layers of woollen socks that were doing little to keep my toes warm and wrapped a scarf around my neck before shrugging my coat on. I opened the door, squinting in the sudden brightness. I tried to remember when it was I’d last been outdoors, when I’d last come into contact with the sun. I couldn’t.
“Must’ve been Thursday,” I mumbled as I locked the door behind me. It seemed impossible that I’d been inside that long, but there it was.
As I marched down the street towards the beach the wind whipped hair around my face. Above me clouds scuttled by, darting back and forth across the sun. Each time the sun went behind the clouds, the temperature seemed to drop about five degrees. I shivered, shoving my hands deep into my pockets as I ducked my head into the wind.
It took only fifteen minutes or so to reach the beach. It was deserted but for two or three hardy surfers whose heads bobbed up and down in the swell. At the far end, closest to the runway, three women in puffy parkas stamped their feet impatiently and waited for their dogs to tire as they ran in frenetic circles in the sand. I stepped onto the dunes, for once not even considering taking off my shoes. The clouds were thickening over the ocean, heavy metallic gray ones knitting together with the fluffy white cottontails.
I stood ankle-deep in the coarse beach grass and watched the sea. The wind had become even stronger and was lashing at the water. Spray flew off the white peaked waves as they swelled and crashed onto the shore. I saw a surfer crouched low as he sped down the face of a wave, arms out for balance. The wind sent a ripple up through the wall of water and he tumbled from his board to be dragged along the bottom by its force. I held my breath until I saw his head pop out of the roiling mass of seawater.
Aware suddenly of how cold I was getting, I ran down the dune, my feet sinking into the soft sand. Keeping well above the erratic tide-line, I made my way down the beach, heading in the opposite direction to the ladies with dogs. Rivulets of pebbles crossed my path every so often, slippery beneath the worn soles of my boots. I love Lyall Bay beach for just this reason: every time you go it is different. Some days all sand, a few smooth stones buried like treasure in it; other times it is mainly shingle. I picked up a handful of pebbles, worn to a glassy sheen by constant movement across the ocean floor. Sifting them through my fingers I continued up the beach.
The wind grew stronger, gusts flinging sand and debris into my face. Tears filled my eyes. I blinked them away and turned so that my back was to the gale. My hair was flying around my head, lashing at my cheeks one moment, then being yanked back, away from my face the next. It was freezing, but I couldn’t turn back now. The icy knife-edge of the wind sliced into my cheeks, dug fingers down my collar and into the tops of my boots. I started running, singing to the elements at the top of my lungs as I did. I felt as though I could run forever, felt as if I were a part of this mad dance of the elements.
The rain started, not with just a few drops but a torrent, water spewing from the sky. Almost blinded by its force, I turned and started running back up the beach. The wind was so strong now that it felt as if the water were being hurled at me by the fistful. In a matter of seconds I was drenched, water soaking through all my many layers and puddling in my boots. It was around that moment that I decided going to the beach had not been such a good idea.
I heard a quiet cry coming from somewhere nearby. Wiping water from my eyes, I looked around, finally spotting a tiny, soggy ball of fluff, staggering its way up the beach. It was a kitten and as drenched as I was. The wind battered the tiny creature, pushing it back towards the ocean. I bent and scooped it up, cradling it against my chest. Its heart was beating so hard it felt like a mosquito’s wings under my fingertips.
I stumbled my way up the dunes, the soaking wet sand heavy under my feet. The kitten mewled piteously in my hands. Its fur was matted and it shivered. There was a café just across the street and I ran over there. The wind tried to tear the door out of my hands as I opened it, but I managed to catch it. I threw myself inside, knowing I must look like some kind of lunatic.
The open fireplace beckoned to me. I skidded across the linoleum and threw myself down in a chair right in front of it. There was a beanbag by the fire and I set the kitten down on it to warm itself. It hissed and spat, scratching a bloody line across my hand before it fled.