Drinking The Stars
An excerpt from Imaginary City by Rain Chudori. The book novel follows a pair of lovers who reconnect after years of being apart and roam across the city they grew up in. Available here.
The air by the ocean was sultry with heat and the scent of salt, and as they walked through the sand, her eyes became heavier and her face flushed into a deep shade of crimson, as if a pair of roses was blooming right under her eyes. There were stars in this part of the city, few and far, but they were present. The waves were calm, and as it glittered underneath the faint moonlight, she had the sense that for the first time, she was experiencing time as others were.
Over the years, the city dwellers have stopped going to the beach. The water has grown dark from oil and floating trash, and there was a sharp scent that emitted from beneath the murky waters. And yet there were silhouettes of lovers engaging in amorous practices, behind the rocks, under the trees, in every space where darkness exists. Whenever they passed a pair, they would drink from the cheap bottle of gold wine that they purchased from a stall by the side of the road. It did not embarass them, these lovers, to display their affection for each other in such a limitless landscape. It was almost as if the ocean was made fleshly confessions.
"I have never tried this before." She told him.
"It's wonderful, isn't it?"
"It's like drinking the stars." She said. This was what she had missed: the slow, burning heat, the nearness of the water, the glistening corals underneath the sand, the crickets, and the fireflies, even the sweet-mouthed mosquitoes on her skin.
"Can we rest?" She asked. He nodded, and finding a place near the water, they sat next to each other. They started counting the ships gliding across the satin surface of the ocean, the lights illuminating across the shore from the deck. Before the sun rises, they would reach the shore and shirtless coolies would be carrying crates of ginger, mangos, bananas, fish, nutmegs, tobacco, and cocoas into the port. She could smell them, the mix of herbs and soil and laborous hands, traversing across the port.
"Why did you want to come here?" He asked.
"Why not?" She asked.
"I don't know." He said, "It's a strange thing, to want to come here at this hour."
"Did you ever come here as a child?"
"Yes, but I was really afraid of the ocean. I mean, the ocean is incredible, it's so full of strength but it can pull you away so easily. My parents used to take us, my brothers and I, in the summer. My father would swim with my brothers, but my mother would have to stay by the shore with me and hold my hand."
"We should learn to love the things we fear." She said.
"So what are you afraid of?" He asked. She looked at him, her eyes glassy from the wine, and laughed.
"I don't know, I don't remember what fear feels like. Sometimes I think I do things just so that I can feel fear again." She said. He looked at her and raised his hand, and for a moment, it seemed as if he would reach out and touch her. She stayed still, waiting for his gentle stroke to land on her face. But instead, he returned his hand to his side and looked towards the sea.
"So how do you feel when you look at all this?"
"I want to," She said, "I want to be the ocean. I want to let everything pass through me."
"I don't think I could ever do that."
She lied down on the sand, and he followed, lying on his side with his head propped up by his hand. The sand felt gentle underneath their body and she wished that he would touch her now. She wanted him to unbutton her shirt, to slip his hand inside, to feel how warm her skin is. She sighed and laughed.
"The first time I went to the ocean was with my father. It was just the two of us."
"It was a really bright day, barely any clouds. My father held my hand and we went into the water. I remember putting my hands beneath the surface and looking at how it transformed. I felt that I finally learnt how to capture light. And I realized then, any pain you're carrying, any heartache you're enduring, can always be washed away by the ocean."
"Which beach was it?"
"I don't remember." She said, "I want to ask him but we don't see each other very much."
"You don't talk to your father?"
She shook her head, and understanding her silence, he passed the wine to her. She took a sip and placed it back on the sand. She lied back on the sand next to him, and looking at her lying close and calm, he felt the urge to stroke her hair.
"I would really like to return here during the day." He said.
"You blush easily." He said. She covered her face, stood up, and started running towards the ocean. She was surprised at how cold it was, but carried on until she it reached her ankles. He followed but took his time, trying to balance himself in the water, before finally catching up to her.
They were part of something else now, a movement between the edges of one part of the world to another. She bent down and placed her hand beneath the water. For a while they watched how the moon moved on the surface of her palm. The moon, a small exquisite thing, looked absolutely powerless in her hand. He felt that if she closed her palm, the moon would disappear too, and the world would be left without light.
"Are you happy?" She asked.
"Right at this very moment."
"I think so."
"Don't think. Just feel." She said. He could have kissed her at that moment. He could have kissed her shoulder, and then her neck, and her cheeks, and her mouth, and then her eyes. But he didn't. He would wait, for a little while longer. She closed her palm and stood up. He looked at the sky and saw that the moon had not disappeared.
"Oh, I remember what fear feels like now."
"I know. It feels a lot like happiness."