Tuesday, April 20, 2010


She sits facing a lake in the wake of a storm. The water laps against the shore where a white sandy beach used to tease backpackers who came to explore Sumatra. The sandy beach has long eroded and now all she sees is the water on the lake, the entire mass of it, unmistakably running to the right.

A lamppost blocks her view of the single gap in the mountain range circling the lake. The gap is where she came from and where she will return. Beyond the gap, she knows, a road runs past rapids in the river and the footprints of landslides on hills that look to climb from the road and the river at a 90 degree angle. Beyond those, hundreds of houses now lie in a rubble of concrete and tin, remnants from the earthquake of six months ago. Those houses were her ticket to this place which aptly labeled itself a "beach paradise." Next to each rubble of a ruined house sits a wood cabin which she, in her small forgettable way, helped to build.

The sun pokes through the branches of a manly palm tree that's leaning over the water where the white sand used to be. That sun is going to set soon. If she's lucky, it will set right into the gap, but that does not look likely. She's chosen a perch too far to the right, so, for her, it will set over the legendary and treacherous Sumatran mountains. Right now the sun is casting his rays directly onto a tiny island a kilometre or so from where she sits. The island looks like the head of a green water giant, round, bushy and green, with a lone twig of a tree poking up on the top.

Behind her, and behind the beach cabana that will house her tonight, several hundred metres of rice paddies separate her from the nearest road. As she bid farewell to her friends and colleagues who have already driven back through the gap for the night, she wandered alongtop the mounds of mud set up as trails through the fields of rice. Her only company tonight will be the bison sleeping in the middle of the rice stalks and the children in the family that operates this compound of four empty beach cabanas and one cabana on the shore with a woman inside.

The lapping waves murmur every two seconds or so that she is not alone. A chorus of insect sounds echo their agreement.

In a world surrounded by smiling innocent faces and fun-loving colleagues who plan dinner parties and ad hoc road trips, she seems to prefer the company of one. She can't understand what comes out of the mouths belonging to the smiling faces, and the fun she has with her colleagues seems to always remind her that this, too, shall pass. For what future awaits a friendship with people she will be leaving in only a few days? How many times can one person fall in love with friends and then leave them behind, setting out in search of new friends to love?

If only there were something to give. A kind word or a listening ear, perhaps. Or perhaps a new crazy idea of an ad hoc adventure. Surely there is. She looks around. In every direction she sees mountains with clouds on top. They look like blueberry ice cream with whipped cream on top. Except instead of being held in a bowl, they are the bowl, and she and the lake lie inside.

She prays. Prays for what lies beyond the gap. In her mind's eye she follows the road through the gap, past the rapids, past the landslides, past the rubble and the wood cabins. She stops at her home of the last five months and bids the fun and loving friends and colleagues a fond farewell, then she continues down that road until she reaches the airport. Five airports later, or maybe it's ten, she arrives at a new adventure which is to be her home for a month, two months, perhaps more. But she already knows to expect that farewell. It will come soon enough.

She prays for love to give and energy to spend. She prays for space in her brain to fit all the names and faces and life stories. She prays for space in her heart to somehow love each one in a new fresh way.

She remembers other times she has sat surrounded by beauty and the truism comes once again to mind: the greater the beauty, the sharper the blade of the sword that sears the heart.

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