We noticed each other beneath the tropical sun. I was resting from my swim to Angel’s Cave. Locals skin dive there for crabs. I swim the reef for exercise.
She was Indian. Obviously a tourist. Uneven tan, ill-fitting bikini and she wore those Velcro strap sandals all tourists wear.
“There’s a turtle… but you probably see them all the time.”
I smiled. Only tourists shouted ‘Turtle!” whenever they spotted one.
“Yeah, it’s like when we visit the mainland,” I said. “We scream ‘Squirrel!’ whenever we see one.
She blushed, so I hastily added, “They sleep on a beach beyond that cove.”
Her accent was not British Indian which was the norm in Bermuda. I placed it from my native land. California.
“Let me guess,” I said while brushing pink coral sand from my hands, “spring break. California… either UCLA or Berkeley.”
“Berkeley, if you must know. And yeah, spring break. What are you, psychic?”
“No. I work the reservations desk at a resort. You get a feel for these things. Plus I’m from California. My name’s Robert.”
“Pavi.” She smiled and sat down next to me.
We listened to the sea kiss the sand in silence. Across the bay, sea birds circled the forested slopes above Angel’s Cave.
“I wish I could swim that far,” she sighed. “You’re lucky. You live in a land most people only see on TV.”
“Yep. Paradise tax is expensive but you can’t beat the view. Here with your boyfriend?” I asked casually.
Pavi narrowed her eyes. “Why? Girls can’t travel without males?”
Oh yeah. Berkeley student.
“No,” I said quickly, “it’s just that Bermuda is a romantic getaway. People come here to get married. I didn’t mean to imply…”
Suddenly it dawned on me.
“Oh. You’re gay?”
Pavi shrieked with laughter. For a second I thought she was offended.
“Ahh Robert,” she giggled, “let’s get a drink? Not touristy. Somewhere local.”
We went to Pighead Pub, anonymously tucked two streets behind Restaurant Row where the tourists congregated. Pavi sucked down an array of cocktails and questioned me about Bermuda. It was 10:30am. Normally, I didn’t drink at 10:30am but Pavi and her credit card insisted I keep up.
Pavi was no stranger to cocktails. Like most tourists, she impatiently waved her hand for another round rather than wait for the bartender. Empty glasses, maraschino cherries and tiny paper umbrellas surrounded the pile of pitiful seashells she had collected. Tourists grabbed any old shell they found; they were exotic trophies. Tangible proof of paradise. Her shells were broken and bleached from the sun. I had a cowry shell the size of a lime on my bookshelf. I found it in an octopus nest near Angel’s Cave. It was shiny, spotted and perfect.
“Have a girlfriend?” Pavi asked.
You can tell tourists anything, but I sighed.
“Yeah. Long distance. Goes to UNC.”
Kristy was far away. I saw her a few times each year. She showed me off like a rare jewel to her friends. But in Bermuda, all she did was complain about the mosquitoes. When Pavi’s fourth drink appeared, I switched subjects.
“Sorry about the boyfriend thing. Or being gay.”
Pavi laughed as I drifted into her eyes. They were dark brown. Almost black. They beamed happiness. Her joy pierced my guarded nature.
“Oh it’s weirder…” she remarked mysteriously while arching an eyebrow.
“Yes. Arranged marriage.”
“You know, like ancient times. No love. Financial politics.”
She giggled at my disbelief. Her mother had joined a circle of women who courted the mother of a guy from London. Pavi’s mom won. Hence, she was to wed.
“It’s an Indian thing.” She shrugged, ordering another drink.
“Like dowry?” I asked.
“No. Not sacks of rice or goats, Robert. Clifford is a doctor. Successful. We will make successful children. You think that’s weird? Hell, I’ve only seen him twice!”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s okay. Shy. Doesn’t talk much but we were chaperoned by my auntie. We email occasionally. He says our match is good. Oh, and I’m a bit overweight and talk too much.”
“He said what?! You put up with this?”
“Well, I’m chubby. That’s okay. As far as my mouth, he will learn to endure. I cannot change my spirit.”
I sat there in awe. How bizarre was humanity? My narrow views were crushed. Pavi was amazing. The feeling she gifted to me freely was the same thrill I felt from the sea.
The morning grew blurry. We ate breakfast but kept drinking. Finally, Pavi stumbled into a wall, walking back from the restroom.
“Who the put this here?!” she demanded. We were politely asked to leave.
In a dream sequence, we stumbled through tropical alleys full of blooming flowers to my studio.
“Use condoms. Next July, I’m a virgin bride.”
She was exotic. Elemental. The scent from her mass of dark, wavy hair drove me mad. She said she’d had sex only once. I taught her physical things but she opened my eyes to the Universe. It was an endless stabbing of pleasure and wisdom.
Finally, we slept.
It was night when I awoke. I could hear the tree frogs outside singing to the moon. And she was gone. No number, note, email or goodbye. Yet I could still taste her in my mouth and mind. I rubbed my head and groaned from the hangover of her memory and rum.
She was the most sane woman I had ever known. She made the girls on the mainland look like painted clowns. And she was to be married to some prick who thought her fat and lippy.
A buzz emerged from the gloom. For the first time in 2 years, I had missed my text date with Kristy. The phone vibrated at me threateningly like some angry insect. I looked at my bookshelf. The cowry shell sat there. It was still perfect.
H.P. Mandrake: Male, somewhat tall. Enjoys surfing, aquarium life and making pancakes.