A young girl learns the reality of what it means to be in love.
|Maya pursed her lips and watched the cool breath of air produce little whirlpools in her cup of tea. She carefully set the glass on the door-sill next to her, rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn. Mamma’s soft voice was drowned by raindrops smashing into the tin roof. Maya wished the bastard boy would shut up so she too could be soothed by her favourite lullaby. Mamma had promised nothing would change. But June this year was different. Mamma wasn’t braiding her hair. She wasn’t blowing kisses her way while she feigned resentment. No. The only constant of a new school year were the monsoon rains.
Maya gulped down her tea at the first of seven gongs from the clock that hung above the mantelpiece. It was an exotic relic, a constant reminder of Mamma’s infidelity. Maya stretched for it, standing on her tippy-toes. Still out of reach. It would survive another day. The graceful wooden dragons mocked her as she stumbled out the door. She battled the worn out umbrella while Mamma cradled the bastard in her arms, rocking back and forth. Without a second glance, Maya trudged off into the rain.
The swell of brooks made Maya watch her step. She couldn’t afford a slip. She glanced down at the pressed white shirt and the knee-length blue skirt and pinched her nose as she crossed the wet paddy. Two pairs, she reminded herself. She wiggled her toes to remove the muck that clung to her feet. A river snake swam by. Its bright green and yellow swirls contrasted with the dullness of the dirt. Benny and her schoolmates were waiting by the river. Benny’s canoe lay tethered to the banks.
“Another, another!” said Rojan, the smallest of the lot, tugging at Benny’s wife-beater, his eyes wide as he pleaded for another fantastic tale. Coins fell to the ground in a beautiful jingle as the knot that held the morning fares came undone. Benny shook his head as Rojan hurried to undo his mess. He called out as he saw Maya approach.
“Oye! Got lost on the way here?”
Heat rose up her cheeks. He was not much older than Maya. But she felt like a child. Benny was a wild one, alright. He gambled with the fisher folk and spoke bits of the foreign tongue to guide tourists who stole a glimpse into their world. He even claimed to have battled bare-handed with a great sea serpent that had laid siege to his little boat.
They waited for the next twenty minutes under the chapel roof for the storm to pass. With a stubborn grumble, the clouds, like quarreling lovers, momentarily parted ways. On the short journey across, Maya stole glances at the calloused hands that controlled the oars to a steady beat. She watched the muscles of his arms stretched taut. Maya followed the path of every raindrop that kissed his skin while he closed his eyes and hummed happily.
The shore drew closer. Maya’s chest felt heavy. The unhandsome building was composed of barred windows ordered in a tired symmetry. They were late. Students could be seen shuffling their feet and fidgeting their hands as the drone of the morning assembly blasted through the loudspeakers.
“See you at 2 o’clock, yeah?” Benny said, arms tugging at the knot that kept the boat from drifting with the tide.
The skies opened up once more, the gentle drizzle before a downpour. He lifted the tiny tots straight off their feet before placing them on solid ground. Her hands trembled as he helped her cross and she was sure it was not from the cold. Maya shook the umbrella, fiddling with the rusty clasp that refused to budge.
Maya slowed down, letting her fellow slackers through. Her heart raced. She scanned the area for the eagle eyes of Shelley, the gatekeeper, who made a living out of thwarting plans of the occasional miscreant, emboldened by misleading tales of history and inspired by hypocritical lectures on the right to freedom. Where was he? The ruckus of the sudden downpour had sent students and staff alike squirming for cover. Did she dare?
Maya looked down at her uniform and shrugged. She did a pirouette and walked quickly towards the boat. She gave two firm knocks on the wood to get Benny’s attention. He was seated under an oak, umbrella in hand, drawing a cigarette from behind his ear. In one smooth motion he had it lit, cupping his hands to protect the flame. She waited in the boat, her hands shielding her face from any nosy passersby.
“Your Mamma ain’t gonna like me much if she finds I let you cut school.” Benny said with a furrowed brow as he untethered the line.
Maya rolled her eyes. “She won’t like you none, regardless, Benny.” She made her way across to the sanctuary of his umbrella.
“Can I try?” she said motioning towards the oars.
He looked at her slender hands. “Come here.”
His arms wrapped around her own. She leaned into his chest, loving the touch of his skin against hers. He took one last drag of the butt. The cloud of smoke reminded her of the wooden dragons. She could hear Mamma’s voice. The rower boy? He’s no-good. He’s got no future, that one.
But just as Mamma had realized a simple truth that fateful night, so too did Maya as she snuggled against the forbidden fruit of a monsoon rain. The girl of today would never meet the girl of tomorrow or yesterday. All that was real was this moment. As she drifted down the river, planting soft kisses on her new-found lover, she knew; to be in love was worth the pain.
When the clouds parted, the sound of sunshine would remain. The chirp of the nightingale. The croak of frogs. The last drips of raindrops caressing the leaves of a banana tree. Reminders of a day where rays of sunshine played peek-a-boo beyond the stormy gray.