Yesterday, I saw a pair of girls, all cuffed jeans and visual tees, trying hard to not look like they were trying hard. The quintessence of adolescence.
And I found myself thinking back to that summer when things were changing. When not just you and I, but the whole lot of us were navigating this grey-blue feeling, some mix between discovery and dread. It was the summer when we were 17. Some of us just so, others about to topple over into those precious 18 years. The whole year was like the realisation, as you were nudged awake on the sofa and told to go to bed, that you would never wake up in between your covers after falling asleep watching TV. You could fake sleep and giggle quietly at the thought, but you’d gotten too heavy. Or it was just time to stop these habits.
It was a bit of a grieving year, in that way.
We were all 17, a group of too-many girls with wild hair and imperfect smiles. And change was coming for us. Even in the heat of the holidays, the cool blueness of the ocean and the saltiness of the sea spray, we could not run from that. Some of us were already flirting with that fire; all red lips and heady perfumes in place of pink gloss and floral scents. All to go to a café or on a movie date. Grown-up, yet not quite so. A convergence of two ages, two states of mind, where eagerness trumps experience.
Even as we strolled, sandy-toed and warm down small cobbled roads peppered with sand, even as we inhaled the delicate mix of sea breeze and flowering bushes that hung over low wooden fences, it was lodged within us, this oncoming reality of change. But we laughed, we surreptitiously picked flowers and put them in our hair. The most skillful and artistic of us pulling them in braids.
But we knew, as we carried the scent of summer flowers with us, that this could be the last. It was an unsaid thing.
Silence would fall on our skins the way the sun kissed our faces, poking light through the holes in our large-brimmed hats. The silence thrummed, imbued in all our collective fears. No one mentioned a thing as we walked closer together, slower. Arms brushed, fingers lightly hooked onto the swelling cloth of overlarge shirts fluttering in the wind. The songs of that summer walked in step with us, slid into the wind, and we momentarily forgot.
And then we reached ‘home’, that place with the perennially sun-kissed terrace and low-lying rattan chairs, the garden generously sprinkled with sand, and the swimwear that was always drying on the line. In the quietness, at night, you could even hear the waves crashing from afar. Some of us had places to be, people to meet.
In the brouhaha that is a group of girls getting ready, I slipped away. Solitary, a large towel wrapped around my waist. I didn’t even take the book I had been reading with me. I was too far gone into reality for any sort of escape. It was just me, that towel, some sunscreen and a cold bottle of limpid, peach iced tea the colour of sunsets, that had condensation dripping on the sides.
I remember my bare feet sinking into fine, too-warm sand, toes wiggling as they tried to grow roots into the sand, like palm trees. And then slowly, I entered the sparkling ocean, lukewarm from the sun, until it reached my waist and I dove forward. Later, I lay on top of the waves, my body cooled by the water and heated by the sun. I looked into the clouds until my eyes closed from the brightness of the sky. And I let myself be taken away, back and forth, right and left and everywhere in between. I was level with everything, heartbeat in sync with the waves, ears echoing the gentle woosh of the ocean.
Somewhat ironically, it was as I lowered myself into the ocean that I reached the height of that summer.
Is it wrong that when I think of that summer, it is that moment that matters most? That moment when I was all alone, and nothing else existed?
(But it doesn’t matter now, does it?)