Last night we sat at the Freeway bar, on Hin Kong Beach, Theo and I, without a care in the world. Except for one.
“We have to talk about our future,” says Theo.
“Oh?” I reply. We’re already married, we’ve got wills, so what else do we have to discuss?
“Yes, well, I think it’s prudent to begin, sometime between tonight and tomorrow, to make a plan regarding our next port of call.”
Indecisive as always, I suggest that we postpone our discussion on this topic to the next day. Not now.
The next morning, I walk the few meters from our bungalow to the same beach. There is a rope tied across the entrance to the beach bar, which I easily climb over, ignoring the sign that says, “Closed.” The beach can’t be closed, can it?
Surprisingly, there IS a beach at this early hour and clear blue skies and a peaceful, mirror-like sea. A few people are out, a couple walking on the sandbar in the middle of the bay, a few hundred yards from the beach, with their two dogs. A lone woman in her 30s, wearing a pink and purple sarong, twisted at the neck, and barefoot, walks past me, and mutters ‘good morning’ softly. After her, a tan mastiff sniffs at me, possibly the same one that viciously attacked another dog at the One Yoga café yesterday, and then trots about 100 meters down the beach and stops there, resting watchfully.
Birds are chirping, roosters crowing; Theo has stayed in our bungalow and gone back to sleep after a restless night. It’s possible that the Thai massages we both had the previous evening relaxed our bodies but woke our minds.
A light blue ship sits anchored outside the bay, and beyond it, I can see the mountains of the mainland jutting up out of the sea at sharp angles.
The dogs here are wary of me, and I of them; most of them don’t look that dangerous, but they seem to be strays or half-tamed pets, kept to guard property, and I am, for all purposes, a stranger to them.
I think it’s the 5th morning on the island, but I could be wrong since I didn’t bring my watch to Thailand and I don’t really care what day it is, since we have a long holiday and the only thing that’s important is to make sure we have a place to stay at night. Still, it’s the first time I get out of bed and make it down to the beach before the tide comes in around noon. I don’t know a lot of things about science but I do remember that the tide repeats itself twice a day. That first morning, when we got there at noon, we were disappointed that the narrow strip of damp beach was completely submerged.
Everything is different here, but everything’s the same. We are the ‘older couple’ in a place full of young, philosophical seekers. Everywhere we go, I overhear the same musings about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Yesterday I overheard a young man talk about his first ride, just minutes before, on a small motorbike. “It was so exciting, the wind in my hair, the power of the bike going up the hills, the way I had to slow down with the brakes going down, but not too hard, and I had to be careful not to slip on the sand on the turns…” I had thought these same thoughts, but deemed them too mundane to share. The girl sitting opposite him was looking away. We too are seekers, but we’ve also found a lot of what we’ve been looking for. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.
Last night, at the bar, a young agitated woman regaled her life story and frustrations to her friend. She was angry, and perhaps rightfully so, at the father of her child, who seemed to never give her the appreciation she sought. Her voice was loud and clear and furious that Fraser didn’t seem to understand that it was a few words of empathy she sought for all the hours she spent trying to calm little Hudson. Theo and I looked at each other, “Those names,” we whispered, speaking in Dutch, so at least our conversation wouldn’t be overheard. “No wonder the baby cries so much. Who wants to be named after a river?”
I could identify with the frustrations of a young mother easily enough. The ongoing lack of sleep, the not knowing how to satisfy your baby, the craving for adult conversation. I too was once such a mother, shouting to all who would listen how unhappy I was. And now the children are grown and can take care of themselves while I traipse around the world, and I have a partner who cares, listens and connects. I no longer need, crave and demand that the universe reverse the cruel and unusual ‘sentence’ of first parenthood. Isn’t it sad how the very thing I had longed for, to feel the sweet cooing of my own child in my arms became the ball and chain that robbed me of my freedom in those early years?
The universe, however, works in mysterious ways, and in my case my mindset changed from resentful mother to a protective lioness when my baby was diagnosed with an incurable illness. Strange that I never once, last night, wanted to tell this mother to appreciate the child she has. Even when you know it can all change in an instant, it’s still damn hard to learn to parent.
The clouds are gathering, slowly, and the sky to the north is darkening with the promise of rain. The squalls here come on suddenly; the rain, almost without warning, will begin to pour down, even as there is no wind that I can feel, even as the cool morning air becomes thick and oppressive.
Such is parenthood, and relationships too. You need to keep your eyes on the clouds, to see in which direction they’re moving, and to take action before it’s too late, or risk getting soaked.
The wind is picking up, the dark heavy clouds almost overhead. I’m off to the safety of the bungalow, before the first drops catch me.
* * *
I’m sitting on the balcony now, with a cool breeze on my shoulders, watching a palm frond and a coconut fall noisily to the ground with a loud swish and thump. And sometimes you don’t have to worry so much, I tell myself. See, it didn’t rain after all. You could have stayed on the beach. You could have even gone swimming.