Sunday, August 30

The End of Summer (Winner, Writer's Cramp 28.8.2009)

Prompt: Write a story or poem entitled, "The End of Summer." (865 words) She stayed only for the last week of summer, but when she left, she took my heart with her forever. In Malaysia, we don’t have summer or winter. Only heat and rain, and for a few months, during the monsoon, more rain at a steady rate. I was on a two-month end-of-university-year break. Instead of moping around the house, making my parents’ hair prematurely whiter, I decided to help my uncle at his beach resort at Perhentian Island. It wasn’t a fancy place. I wasn’t even sure it was worth any star, other than the millions overhead painting the sky on a cloudless night. I worked hard at the resort, cleaning the chalets, scrubbing the floor, replacing burnt bulbs. Just three days there, my olive skin had browned to veneered mahogany. My uncle brought tourists on his speedboat to snorkeling trips. They were mostly Caucasians – Mat Salleh as we called them. The locals somehow preferred to hang around or play at the shallows. Halfway into my second week there, a group of six Mat Salleh girls stepped off my uncle’s boat with so much luggage I couldn’t figure out how they fit into the small boat. I couldn’t stop gawping; they were wearing bikinis. Almost all of them anyway. One was wearing a dull grey T-shirt with ‘Save the Cheerleader, Savage the World’ printed in bold black letters. Looking at that much exposed skin, I was thankful I was wearing an oversized T-shirt that came down mid-thigh. My uncle beckoned me to help with the luggage. I was idling about the next day, looking for a clearer reception for my mobile phone when I saw one of the girls lying on a hammock tied between two tall, swaying coconut trees. I recognized her as the one wearing the T-shirt the other day. I approached her. Girls were less intimidating when alone. “What are you reading?” She looked up without moving her face. Her eyes were the most brilliant green I had ever seen. No leaf, no grass in my country had that shade. I kept my distance, but I could still see the distrust in her knotted eyebrows. She held the cover toward me. “Dune.” I whistled. “I like this one the best of the lot.” She sat straighter. “You’ve read the series?” The way her tongue rolled with each syllable intrigued me. I always fancied foreign accents. I gave her a big smile. “No, the movie.” Her “Oh” came with a slumping of her shoulders. “I’m more of a fantasy guy. See?” I whipped out a browned paperback novel from my back pocket (I was wearing baggy Bermuda) and held it out to her. The edges were frayed, and there was a darker band on the side where my thumbs rested when I read the book. “Servant of the Empire. Is it any good?” “Part one of a trilogy. I’ve gone through it four times.” “Don’t you get bored?” “Of reading? Never.” I flashed her another smile. This time she smiled back. “Say, you’re American, aren’t you?” “New Jersey. How’d you know?” “Your accent.” “You sound almost American yourself. Do you study there?” “Me? No. I grew up watching Nickelodeon and MTV.” She laughed then, light as the cool breeze whispering from the beach. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking. About our different cultures, about our homes, about life in general. In the span of two hours I knew more about her than I did some of my colleagues in university. She had a week left of summer holiday and came here with her friends. I also found out that she was single. I knew it would not lead anywhere, but at least I could dream without feeling guilty. The next three days seemed to me a dream, one I wished to never wake up from. If I had slackened doing my chores, my uncle didn’t complain. Her friends went out for snorkeling trips but she stayed behind. She wasn’t much of a swimmer, she told me. Neither was I. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t let the days end. But ended they did, and she had to leave. Her luggage felt heavier than when I first carried them. Maybe it was only because I didn’t want her to go. She was the last to climb up the boat, and when she half-stumbled, I rushed to help her. But her friends were quicker. She turned and gave me a sheepish grin. “Hey,” I said. “I don’t even know your name.” She leaned down and planted a kiss on my right cheek. Her lips were soft, her kiss light. Fire spread from my cheek to the rest of my body, but I welcomed the blaze. Her friends cheered. I turned purple. “Check your book,” she whispered into my ear with a smile. With a roar, the motor came to life and the boat backed away from the white shore. I took my novel out and flipped the pages with a frenzy. In the back cover was her name and e-mail address. Alyssa Stuart. The name was as beautiful as the person. I waved at her retreating form, but not to say goodbye. I waved her a promise.