You come back to the surface face up, and even before you could clear the water on your face, you throw a sea cucumber on me. Its soft texture hit me and the slimy insides splatter on my face. I scream. You laugh. You like to tease me. I chase you but you swim faster than me. You look back at me and stick out your tongue. We race towards the jetty and jump into the water over and over again.
We grow up together. Barefoot, salty, and sun-kissed. With sleepy eyes, we go with your father for early morning fishing trips. We bother our mothers as they chitchat, cook hedhika, and make chai. They say ‘shoo! Go play and come back when the food is ready.’ But we come back again and again for the smell of the deep-fried goodies are irresistible.
My life is like a bright blue and green, crisp summer morning.
We run to school in our rubber shoes. We don’t like shoes. We like our soles, rubbing on the sand. I like art lessons. You like football.
We make our own set of friends but we still meet each other. Under palm trees, we sit as we watch the sun, burn the horizon. You play your guitar. I write my poems.
My life is as gentle as the pink and purple sky of twilight.
‘I’m going to London to study,’ you say.
‘When are you coming back?’ I ask.
You shrug. ‘Maybe after a year.’
You pack your bags and say goodbye to everyone on the island. We all wish you good luck. I come with you to the city. The place is very busy it makes me dizzy. We go to the airport. You kiss my forehead and hug me tightly.
‘I will come back,’ you say as you waved one last time and walked in.
I watch the plane take off. You must be sitting beside one of those windows.
I go back to the island with hopes to see you fulfill your promise and come back soon.
I write 365 poems about missing you but you still don’t come back.
I send you letters and you don’t reply.
I write more poems about loneliness and loss. Under the palm tree as the skies turn pastel pink. On my bed as the rain patters on the roof. On the boat when I go for a trip to the city. In university when I don’t feel like listening to the professor.
I send more letters but you did not reply.
I ask your Ma if by chance you send me letters addressed to her but she doesn’t have any.
I stop writing poems. I stop sending letters.
My life is as gray as a rainy afternoon during monsoon season.
I start teaching English subjects to ten-year-old kids in school. We read and write. And sing sometimes.
I go home one Thursday afternoon after an exhausting program in school. My mother runs towards me.
‘What took you so long?’ she asks. She seems so exhilarated.
‘Ma’ what’s going on?’
She motions her head towards her back.
You are there. You run as you chase the young kids playing football on their small sandy ground and makeshift net. Your curly hair is in a messy bundle with golden highlights. Your beard is cleanly-styled. Your shoulders seem broader.
You catch my eye and smile. I go inside our house and shut the door.
I try to avoid you at all costs. I go to school very early and come back very late. I hang around other people’s houses and pretend I come to say hello.
You reach out and ask Ma for me. I hide in my room and ask her to say I am sleeping. I do this. For days. And days.
One evening after dinner, I go out for a walk. Tall street lamps lit up the two-lane road of the island. Some men sit on the joali, smoking and chatting. Some kids run and chase one with a bike. They are all carefree.
I walk until I reach the end of the jetty and sit. My legs hang in the air. Gentle waves slowly rock the Dhoni and dinghy anchored side by side. There is no wind. The palm trees stay still. I sit down and look back on the days when we could not be separated. I think about your promise and how you held me at the airport the day you left. I wonder why you never wrote back. Could you have someone else already? Could that be a more sophisticated city girl? One who wears high heels and not one with cracked soles from walking barefoot on the sand. Could you have forgotten me?
I also wonder why you are suddenly back. Why you ask for me if you didn’t reply to my letters. Not even once.
I take my notebook. The one I write poems on. It’s been years since I last wrote a poem. Maybe it’s time to write one.
I start my poem with the thoughts of you. Again, it’s about you.
I stop and look at the horizon. A dark line divides the sea and the sky. The moon is nowhere to be found. It is a night for the stars.
‘Izna,’ you say as you sit beside me. You never call me by name, always Bodu dhe lo. You always tease me, ‘your eyes are as big and round as a jackfish.’
‘Why didn’t you write back?’ I ask.
He keeps quiet. The waves answer with a rise and fall, gently crashing on the pillars of the jetty.
‘I got blinded with bright city lights. The noise pumped me up. It’s different over there. It overwhelmed me. I’ve seen so much more than our eyes can see here on the island where we only see endless blue.’
‘Then why did you come back?’
“I thought I belong there until I realized I don’t. And I missed home.’
You take something behind you. A brown box. All my letters inside.
“I should have written back.’
The dark velvet sky with tiny sprinkles looms above us. I trace the stars with my fingers on the air just like we did when we were ten.
‘That’s your star over there. The beauty of the sky. Cassiopeia.’
I look at you and smile.
You offer your hand to me. ‘Let’s go, bodu dhe lo.’
I stare at you with the biggest that my eyes can be. You run. I chase you.
We reach the beach. You take my hand and we walk barefoot, slowly on the soft white sand until the frothy waves touch our soles. People are like waves, they keep coming back to the shore. You look at me and kiss my forehead. Now you are finally home.
My life is as perfect as midnight blue.
Dhivehi (Maldivian) terms used:
bodu dhe lo ~ this means 'big eyes'
hedhika ~ snacks
joali - a type of chair for relaxing. Usually outdoors.