She reached out her hand and pulled me into the water.
“There’s no way to the other side but through…”
She was right. The path to our Thai home was overcome by deep swirls of water. The Tuk Tuk driver had dropped us at the edge of the dark road with only a “tsk” under his coffee-flavoured breath and a half-hearted “Chok Dee…”
Now, dark grey waters traced their fingers across our thighs as they threatened to reach our waist. The market to the right ran kitty-corner to our property and was slightly raised. It afforded us a meagre foot of leeway but it was the only option we had.
The crack of my knee against cement momentarily stunned me as she pulled me up beside her.
At first the deluge had come down in shards so sharp I thought they might just slit my wrists but, as we entered the market, the empty stalls dulled the angry night sky bullets with their palm-fringed roofs and awkwardly constructed cement steps.
The fresh rain brought the smells of the market to life. Fried chicken and barbecued fish danced in the air. Kaphrao, Lemongrass and Phak chi teased my stomach in unison. There was no one there, but the laughter of the day echoed through the stalls.
Remnants of activity littered the spaces around us. Long forgotten flowers, undoubtedly meant for Wai Phra – the Buddhist offerings for the temple down the road – brushed our legs as they floated by. Bowls and utensils sat stacked in a corner waiting for their owners to return after what must have been a mad dash home amid the rising waters.
And I thought of my home – the cold Canadian winter snapping its fingers at my breath, starting the truck at 5 am, and secretly hoping the windshield wipers would be strong enough to clear away the Albertan snow so that I wouldn’t have to brush off the windshield.
I trudged through snow then as I trudged through the milky waters of the flood now. My footsteps heavy as waterlogged sandals pulled me back to Earth just as my winter boots back home weighed me down with every step.
Laura snapped her fingers in my face.
“Wake up, goddamnit. We’ve gotta go before the waters get even higher.”
I met Laura on a sandy floored beach bar in Honduras. Her hair was a mess of salted waves and her turquoise eyes were doing the foxtrot with excitement. She’d just been robbed blind – they’d taken everything down to her last pair of panties – but she laughed wildly in the face of this catastrophe.
We giggled over rum and cokes and I felt dizzied by her stories of a childhood in Abu Dhabi, her family in the wilds of Kenya and all the tilts and turns of a life well-lived. She was an interesting creature in her brightly coloured Kikoi skirts and traditional African jewellery. Just as the sandy floor found its way between my toes, Laura slipped her way into the folds of my heart. Her peculiar brand of adventure was a soothing balm for my achy sense of newfound freedom.
We spent our days as scuba diving instructors, flying to the depths of the ocean to blow bubble rings and catch close-ups of lazy floating turtles and glimpses of shy sharks. We’d spend our surface intervals enveloped in bath-like warm waters that salted our lips, and fresh freckles continually appeared, as if by magic, on our caramel coloured skin. We’d stare at the sky and laugh while floating on our backs, gently cradled by the ebb and flow of the sea.
At night we would venture, by moonlight, to the reef’s sandy patches and lie in awe, on our tanks, watching the incredibly surreal mating displays of bioluminescent ostracods. As our eyes adjusted to the dark depths The String of Pearls would slowly come to life as though stars on a foreign planet. One by one they would appear, reminding me of a haunted piano key that stops and starts your heart with its timing.
And then, all at once, they were all there. Bright blues and greens formed their own solar system and lit up the ocean floor in a secret Milky Way. Listening to the familiar hum and hiss of my regulator as I breathed, I often wondered how something so beautiful could be mine.
I was a new moon blossoming under the weight of my own expectations. I tried to find my place in the world as though there were a secret formula for belonging. As if adding a few sun-drenched beaches, a sea of new faces and a drop of the unknown all while subtracting the dull-ache of ordinary, would somehow equal a brand new sense of self.
I had spent so much of my youth playing with the ghosts of my future – who I would be, what I would say when I was big and brave. We all make hollow promises seven year-olds can’t keep and grown-ups can’t remember.
How could I have known then that life wouldn’t end up being about finding myself hidden in some colourful Thai market or spotting myself dancing in the streets of Vietnam amidst coffee stalls and the smell of half-baked bread? Life was about creating myself.
But Laura knew and, from that day on, she saved my proverbial life again and again while it seemed determined to become blissfully undone around every corner in the search for self-awareness.
“Let’s go,” she said when my marriage ended and I sat sobbing, wet and cold, in a shower no longer running. “There’s no way to the other side but through.”
Let’s go,” she said when we were robbed (once again) and fear made itself a home in the waves of a quivering heart. “There’s no way to the other side but through.”
“Let’s go,” she said when my cousin was murdered and his mother’s grief rained down in unholy gasps that splintered me from the inside out. “There’s no way to the other side but through.”
As we trudged past tables worn down from carrying loads of fruit baskets and counterfeit purses, I heard a crack and suddenly a flurry of water was barreling towards us. One of the walls had buckled under the pressure and heaved a sigh of relief as it let the flood take centre stage. Laura gripped my hand as the weight of the tide tried to knock me off my feet. My nails dug into her skin, but she didn’t let go.
Crushed chip packets and coke cans bobbed at the surface as the smell of the sewer filled the air. Rats scurried to higher ground and I found panic slowly flipping up the edges of my heart. A half-step backward and my shoe was lost – my barefoot now reluctant to find the ground.
“I lost my shoe,” I stammered before I stalled, and Laura pushed back through the water to face me.
Her eyes locked with mine as she said, “There’s no way to the other side but through.”
Her arm tugged at me and we pushed onward. I closed my eyes and let her lead me – confident her steps were as sure as mine would ever be.
One step. Two step. Three step.
As I counted our steps to calm the deep drumming of my heart, the water slowly started to recede until only our knees played hide-and-seek with the market’s trash.
My first step on the rain-soaked, muddy Earth grounded me in reality and I caught a slightly hysterical giggle in my throat. The sound of slow water dripping signalled the end of the storm and Laura let go of my hand.
We walked in silence.
When we reached the front steps of our home – our pitiful flower garden worse for wear – I stood behind Laura as she fumbled with the house keys.
“Thank you, “ I started with tears prickling my eyes, but Laura cut me off.
“It’s no big deal,” she said with a small laugh, before looking over her shoulder and winking. “It was just a bit of water.”