One glass of afternoon wine had gone right to my head, leaving my brain feeling like it was soaking in a thick, warm goo. My cheeks were pink and feverish and my lips, tinted plum, felt as though a bee had stung them hours ago. All I was left with was the dull, pleasant tingle.
I watched as a bright blue finch fluttered its wings so madly that they stood still. Its slender beak suckling the sweet nectar out of a flower the exact color of raspberries in the summertime. I imagined they tasted just as good.
The sun was at just the right place in the sky to drench the tree tops in gold. The orange flowers on the tallest branches stretched their limbs out longingly for the warmth of something that would always be just a little too out of reach.
A foot to my left, an iris whistled a tune to himself. I got the distinct impression I was eavesdropping, so I tucked my face into my scarf up to my lower eyelashes and stayed perfectly still. He serenaded himself easily as he sat on a dead patch of flesh on one of a candelabra tree’s many arms. The tree is certain to have a reputation among his kind. The pretty one with a dreadful wrath. So my songful friend must have known the danger. He had to have been fully aware that just an inch or two in either direction would put him right on top of the tree’s poisonous residue. But he sang still, at peace with the fact that his chosen tree would leave sores on his dainty little feet if he took just the slightest misstep. He knew, as I have learned, that life is full of beautiful things that can hurt us. Sometimes we just have to sing a brave song and let the pain come if it will.
I was sunken down on a plush love seat, my bare feet brazenly up on a cafe’s glass coffee table. One leg was swaying to the beat of a song sang by a bird that I could not see.
Hoo hoo hoo hoo – hoo hoo
Hoo hoo hoo hoo – hoo hoo
I felt every swing of my foot in my wine filled head.
My book with the lovely, blue elephants on the cover, the one that doubles as an extended love letter to a murdered man, lay open beside me. The most beautiful piece of work that I am grateful I didn’t write.
I put it down for a moment to consider some of its sentences. Sometimes strings of words need to weave around in your head a while before you can truly understand their meaning.
My attention shifted back and forth on a pendulum between the African garden’s masterpiece concert and a picture painted on page 85.
She had passed a piece of bread to her lover with her toes at a dinner party. He took it without hesitation, greedily devoured every bit that had touched her naked foot and then offered the rest to their friends.
I blushed when I first read it.
For a moment, I was embarrassed for people I did not know. Because we are conditioned to think feet are dirty and that they have no place at the dinner table. We are made to believe that raw passion outside of the bedroom is untoward.
But once I swatted away the conditioned response from the collective consciousness, the sexiness of their act struck me like a fucking freight train. It did an undraped dance in my mind until I was biting my lip, driven mad with romance. Until it became the most sensual thing I had ever heard.
I wondered then if you would be that kind of lover. The unabashed kind who would love me fearlessly. The kind I’ve always wanted.
I put my hands on my cheeks. They smelled of flowers and coffee.
I let my eyes rest for a second on the couple across from me, sitting on a couch, pushed to their respective sides, their noses in their respective books. I imagined that could be you and I. Except we would be more wrapped up in one another, wouldn’t we?
Maybe I would rest my head on your thighs and throw my legs over the back of the couch. Or maybe your cheek would be on my shoulder. Or maybe just our ankles would be intertwined.
Maybe my sharp intake of breath – like someone slapped my in the face – would stop you right in the middle of your page. You might ask me what’s wrong. I might tell you to put your finger on your place so that you don’t lose it. Maybe you would do it without question, a slight smile on your lips because you know what’s coming.
Maybe then I would cover your eyes with my hand, encapsulating you in darkness and the smell of flowers and coffee, while I read aloud a line that had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. One that I know you’d love just as much. Because we would be like that, you and I. Of the same mind. Things would mean something to us in ways they don’t to other people.
I imagined these things for us simply to give myself something to do.
You, who I have never kissed. Never touched, except for that brief moment our shoulders brushed over Vietnamese coffee.
And I wondered if it was you, with your sweet charm or if it was that same old fear, creeping up on me yet again. The one that crawls into bed with me more and more frequently as a I approach 25. The one that whispers cruelties in my ear like a third grade bully. Telling me that my two great desires in life cannot make room for one another. That they are completely and totally, mutually exclusive. That I cannot have one and also have the other. That I must choose.
But how do I choose between this man, who may or may not be you (the one who lets me interrupt his reading and isn’t made uncomfortable by my dusty feet or my public displays of affection or the fact that I want him passionately, forever ), and the rest of the world? Between the true love I believe in with the same conviction I had as a starry eyed little girl, and the constant adventure I seek as a woman starving for life and culture and faraway places?
If I must stay still long enough to find you — to make you and I ‘us’ — that means I must stay still. The thought makes my soul itch.
If I do not stay still, I just keep running; creating countless cases of “I wonder what could have beens’ with countless could-be yous. Just typing the words is enough to make me ache.
So what is a person to do when her heart is shifting back and forth on a pendulum between the African garden’s masterpiece concert and the picture painted on page 85.
I suppose the pendulum will keep oscillating my attention until at some, inevitable point, life’s friction slows the movement and it comes to rest.
But for now I’ll let it swing. Back and forth. Pulling me this way and that. And right now it’s swung distinctly to the right. And you know what that means, don’t you?
I’m booking another flight.
Maybe you’ll meet me there.
Reference made to Tea on the Blue Sofa: Whispers of Love and Longing from Africa by Natasha Illumberg