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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Old Man Sea

"Wheeee!" B gives an almighty scream.

"Oh shut up missy," I call back, wading further in to the sea. The intense heat of the day is stored in the sea at night, except at its sandy base, to leave a cool tingling that works its way slowly through your toes, which warms up before it can reach the rest of you. "It's not cold."

It is four o'clock in the morning. B and I decided to secretly slip away before the dinner and drinks after the presentations of the Turkish Cypriot law community's summer gala. We grabbed a bottle of red wine and literally made for the hills.

After a long hike, we ended up at the sea for some skinny-dipping in the moonlight. It is a small enclave cushioned between the base of a mountain, with a shore decorated with high sand dunes and prickly seaweed.

"I'm screaming for the heck of it mister!" She sucks in a deep breath, and I block my ears in anticipation. "Remember when we used to do that? Wheeeeee!"

I turn to look at her. "Have you gone mad?"

She throws out an impish grin from her lips. "Yes. So what if I have?"

"Then you deserve a dunking," I say and splash-run back towards her.

She holds up her hands in mock protest. "Oh no you don't- Ali- Stop-"

Splash.

I watch as B resurfaces, her long black hair drenched and covering her face. "Y-Y-You-" she begins, but I interrupt her.

"Now watch your language missy," I laugh. "As a foul mouth gets the same penalty as madness."

"Pig. Help me up. My nipples are sore now."

"It was your idea to go skinny-dipping, let me remind you."

"Yes, skinny-dipping not skinny-dunking."

"Oh sush, missy. Such drama."

She laughs and peers behind me at the sound of some voices. I watch her eyes narrow as she stares intently at the shadowed shore line, and her laugh quickly fades away. "I don't fucking believe it. No, I honestly don't believe it. What is going on? It's a damn conspiracy!"

"What is it?" I ask without looking back, as I know B will explain in her own good time.

"Why is it recently we can't have any time alone? Someone is always popping up! And how the heck did they find us? Have they put a tracking device up my ass or something?"

"Who is it?"

"Guess who!"

"No, it can't be," I say.

"It damn well can," she breathes, her nostrils flaring. "But this time she's got her fiancé with her, too. Shit! Grab my stuff Ali. I've got to cover up before they make it all the way down."

I can make out Mr X's daughter's voice as it is carried on the low wind. They haven't spotted us yet, but it is only a matter of time. I quicken my strides to reach the shore to get our belongings that we had thrown down so carelessly only a few minutes before.

I take B's panties and and my shirt and shorts from the floor and shake the sand off them. I pull on my shorts and make my way back.

"Hurry up!" B shouts, as the other voices get nearer.

Back in the sea, I splash-stride to B and hand over her panties and my shirt for her to wear.

"Damn, damn, damn!" She mutters as she covers herself up.

"Calm down, B," I say. "And be nice. It could just be a coincidence, and that they didn't know we were here."

She gives me a look, but doesn't reply back.

"Hey there! Hello!" Mr X's daughter calls to us from the shore, waving both her hands.

"Well there's no escaping now," B says, "they've noticed us."

"What did you expect Honey B? With all your shouting I'm not at all surprised."

She puts her hand through my arm, and sticks out her chin resolutely. "Shall we go mister and face the music?"

"You make it sound like an execution."

"It feels exactly like that. Oh, for some time alone," B groans, as she kicks out in the water, nearly pulling herself down and me along with her.

"Are you drunk?" The girl's fiancé calls out merrily.

B opens her mouth to throw out a retort, when I quickly pick her up and carry her in my arms. "No," I say, "you know how slippery the sea can get when it's wet."

They burst out laughing, and it changes B's mood, slightly. "I was practising my kick for when your backside gets an itch," she says to the boy as we near. "And how in the hell did you find us?"

"We always come here. I didn't know you'd be here."

I give B a look. See missy? What did I tell you? But B isn't convinced.

"Did you two go into the sea like that?" The boy asks a little incredulously, pointing at our clothes.

"They were skinny-dipping," Mr X's daughter says quietly.

"You've got sharp eyes," B replies, reaching for her own shirt to rub her legs dry.

The girl shrugs her shoulders. "Good guess."

"Wow, you two must really know each other well," the boy says.

"It's nothing either of us hasn't seen before," B replies.

"So it's true then?" Mr X's daughter asks.

"Yes," says B.

"What?" The boy asks, confused.

"They went out for a bit," Mr X's daughter explains. "I'd heard that, but never wanted to ask."

"Why? You're always ready to ask everything else!" B gives out an acidic smile.

"When I came here to do some legal training and go in the army," I say to the boy, "that's when we first met. But we decided we were better friends than lovers."

"When you decided you mean," B snorts gently.

"If that was so, then why am I the only one not relegated to a number?"

"A private joke," B explains to the confused looks of the boy and girl, while she sticks out a tongue to me, "Though I'm seriously considering it now!"

"So, why did you ask about how he kisses the other day?" Mr X's daughter throws out the question interrogatively.

"She was teasing me, and I her. It is something we often do in company," I answer.

"As I said it's called a private joke. Not for you to get," B retorts, sharply shaking sand out of her jeans.

"And does he?"

B pulls her jeans up and buttons up the waist. "Does he what?"

"Kiss like that?"

B looks at her, hesitating for a second. "Why should you care?"

"Curiosity. I read someone asked him about it on his blog once."

B tuts, "Curiosity kills, girl."

I notice the girl's fiancé looks uncomfortable, and I can guess he is fighting his own natural urge to say something to Mr X's daughter, but is wary of our company.

"How nice to be spoken about as though you're not here," I say, grinning to the boy. "Shall we leave them to it? I put some beers down somewhere."

"Good idea," he mutters.

"I buried them in the sand over here to keep them cool. We'll let the girls finish off the wine."

"I think both have had enough to drink already."

"They're big girls. Big girls are old enough to make their own decisions."

"Did your girlfriend drink?"

I laugh. "The one, you mean?"

He nods. "Yeah. The dream come true."

"No, she didn't. Just a little wine now and then."

"And did she talk about kissing other men in front of you?"

"No," I say, digging out the beer and throwing him a can. "But if she had I wouldn't have made a big deal of it. No girl is the same, and no one is perfect. Neither are we."

B cups her hands around her mouth and calls out to us. "Are you boys talking stuff again?"

I open my can with one hand, and drop to the sandy ground. "Yeah, and you can join us if you promise to behave yourselves."

B dramatically slaps a hand to her chest. "Me misbehave? What do you mean? You have me mixed up with someone else."

"That's impossible missy. You're in a class of your own."

"Oh, stop it! You'll make me blush."

"That's about as easy as me breaking out in tears," I laugh.

Mr X's daughter giggles. "So there is a secret macho man in you after all!"

B shakes her head. "No, he doesn't do it out of any caveman ideology. He just doesn't want to disturb anyone. Even when he had that accident with the car, I didn't see him cry once."

"Is that when you somersaulted with the car in the air about twice? Your mum and dad was in the car, too?"

B nods, as I say nothing but sip my beer. "His mum injured her back, and took her years to recover, she nearly died. His dad walked away with a few bumps. Ali's right hand was badly damaged."

Mr X's daughter come over and strokes the aforementioned arm. "It looks perfectly fine now. Just a few sexy man scars."

B snorts. "That's because he built up the strength in his arm again, with yoga and tai chi and God knows what else. You should've have seen it at first, it was terrible. Black and bloated, not even sure if it would be cut off at one point, and his mum flown off to another country to get life-saving surgery. And never once did he cry, never once did he complain. He was getting jabbed with needles every day and I don't even remember a slight groan. Half the nurses fell in love with him, and all missed him when he left. He was the best patient they'd ever had."

"I don't remember it that way B," I say suddenly. "I remember how you would visit every day and tell me stories and stroke my hair."

"Do you remember how I cut you shaving?" B laughs. "That was fun! I was straddled on your lap trying to get a bit under your chin, and just at that moment a nurse walks in! The look on her face!"

The boy makes a move to open his own can of beer. "I remember it made all the papers a few years back. Did they ever catch the car mechanic?"

B turns around to look at the boy. "That fucked up the car's electronics and caused the car to cut out? I fucking made sure they did. After the police realised who was to blame, after Ali was flown back to England to recuperate, I made sure he was convicted."

"B, my heroine, what can I say?"

B snorts even louder, and takes a sip from the bottle of wine. "And you know what this crazy guy here did? The minute he returns to Cyprus he goes to visit the bastard in prison! If we had the death penalty, I would have asked for that, and mister Ali here goes to see how the guy is coping!"

"You over-simplify it Honey B."

Mr X's daughter sits down next to me. "And you never cried once?"

"What would have been the use of making myself and everyone else around me miserable? We just got up and started again."

B winks at her. "He got that from his mum. A very strong woman. She was exactly the same. From just moving one toe slightly, she came back to Cyprus walking on her own two feet."

"We do cry y'know," I say laughing. "Just not to inconvenience any one."

"When was the last time you cried, then?" Mr X's daughter asks.

"Can't we just listen to the snore of the sea?" I say in attempt to change the subject.

B asks, "Snore of the sea?"

"When I was a kid I used to imagine the sea was an old man, and the sound it made at night was its snore as it slept. When I would come to Cyprus for my summer holidays, I liked to fall asleep to its sound."

"Don't try and change the subject," the girl says. "When was the last time you cried?"

I give in with a small sigh. "Well... I have two times I could tell you. One will make me sound better than the other, my most recent teary episode will have you accusing me of male pigdom again."

"Tell me both," the girl says.

"Yes Ali, tell us both," B says back.

I look at the boy. "Take a large swig of the beer to numb your senses. It could get sickly."

He looks at me with a quick smile. "No, it's okay man. I want to hear this, too."

"Well, there was one time when I was back in England after the accident and mum had the op and she was at Stoke Mandeville Hospital recuperating from her spinal injuries. They were having a sort of Olympic games and one of the physiotherapists asked if my mum wanted to join. Despite her age and lying face down on a trolley, she accepted and took part in the races. Watching her compete, and fighting to make it to the finishing line despite all the odds and making it brought a standing ovation from the crowd and a tear to my eye. I was very proud."

I fall silent momentarily, and look around at the faces intently staring at me.

"Go on," says B.

"I was just thinking," I say, "the other, more recent time is similar in a way."

B prods me. "That being?"

"The Euro 2008 semi-final football match between Germany and Turkey."

The girls both give a groan, but the boy looks at me with complete understanding.

"Oh, Ali!" B says.

"Oh what?" I reply. "Yeah, so it's a bag of wind they're kicking about, but all my mum was doing was pushing herself round a gymnasium with a trolley. The heroism on that pitch, the sheer heart and belief it took to fight to the very end, the tragi-drama is what moves us. It showed that people can win even when they lose. It was the stuff of dreams, of drama. Not for nothing did MSN UK choose two members of Turkey's national football team for their dream team line-up."

B snorts. "You blubbered at a football match! The man who didn't even cry when he could have lost his right hand!"

"I didn't blubber. I don't blubber. I shed some tears."

Mr X's daughter spoke up suddenly, "You don't cry for yourself. You cry for others."

I tap her nose softly. "Not quite. You're too much of a romantic."

"What's the most romantic thing you've ever done?" The girl asks, changing the subject.

"I'm not really very romantic," I say, ignoring B's snorts, which are becoming more and more frequent.

The girl insists. "Well, one thing then."

I laugh as I say, "Well, I do remember when I first came to Cyprus to go into the army, I learnt the hard way that some girls' fathers still carry shotguns over here."

The boy gives a whistle. "No way! What happened?"

"I had climbed up to a girl's balcony, after making friends with the guard dogs. But I was discovered climbing back down and the father wasn't as friendly."

B grins, "Wasn't that my balcony mister?"

"Yeap," I say. "It sure was."

We both look at each other, and start laughing. She taps the end of my beer can with the bottle of wine. "To the old days," she says.

"You make it sound as though you're so old," Mr X's daughter protests, "when you're both not much older than me."

B and I look at each other, but choose not to reply. Her fiancé turns to me and asks, "Anything else?"

"Well, there's the most romantic thing someone has done for me, though I don't know if she got the idea from somewhere else," I answer.

"What was that?" The boy asks as he finishes his beer and gives a small burp, looking at B to see if she'll react. But B has stretched herself out next to me, and pretends not to hear.

"Every sms message that we had sent each other over the years we were together she had written down into a book and kept as a memento of our conversations."

"Wow," the boy says. "She must have loved you very much."

"Was that you, too?" The young girl asks B, but before B can reply the boy guesses correctly.

"No, it's her isn't it?"

The young girl looks at him. "Who do you mean?"

Her fiancé looks at her. "None of your business," he says.

B puts her head on my chest. "Just boys' stuff, girl. Don't even try to understand it."

"I think we've talked far too much," I say to the girl, "why don't we let the sea sleep in peace for a bit?"

The girl responds with a nod, and filled with so much talk we all fall silent to listen to the snore of the old man sea.

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