Old women, backs hunched over, faces like the landscape -- sun-cracked, bumpy, difficult, consistent. These women, always dressed in black, spend their days and nights in perpetual mourning.
Young glossy men, soaked in olive oil. Fingernails long, black jeans hug tight asses. They look at my male friend, not me every morning when we go to drink the thick gunk, Turkish coffee. Show themselves on shiny white motor bikes, flash smiles even shinier.
Ruins older than my own country, caves, temples, churches dedicated to Her. Windy narrow paths for streets with no names to trick the soldiers. And of course, the beach.
Missed the ferry each day to go to a different island. How long have we been here? My ticket home is expired and this, in a land of foreign light and smells, comforts me.
The same bus, hot, smelly, jammed-packed, drops us off at the end of the road; it can go no further. We forgot our shoes, do we have shoes? We walk anyway, leaving all of the other passengers behind with their cameras, straw mats, sunscreen, bathing suits. We walk for hours and hours, lost in a muddy pit. Towering dry plants scratch at my face, at my legs; I am bleeding all over. But alas, someone calls us; our names crack the still air. She invites us to come and sit by her from now on.
We sit on our bums, slide down the steep dune, land on a golden floor. He pulls my ripped dress over my head, stares at my naked body and smiles. He has already kicked off his shorts and we grab hands and run into the sea like a wet rainbow. The fairies twinkle above us and I can see them flying over the surface as I come up for air.
Thank you, we tell her. Thank you for soothing us with your cool fingertips. Thank you for letting us taste your salty blood.
We slither back on to the beach. The sand fine and sweet; I roll around in it, sugar coating myself.
Yum, he tells me he wants to taste me.
"Taste me then, tell me if I am sweet or salty." Starting at my ankles, he drags his pointy tongue all the way across my body until it slips between my lips. Without saying anything, his mouth tells me that I am both sweet and salty, but he does not know that I can taste bitter yet.
We make love on the beach, all day and the next and the next. Each day until the sun goes down and we start to walk back through the mud pit and mean plants to catch a meager dinner at the hostel we are staying at. Finally, we decide never to leave the beach. From now on, we will sleep here, I say.
The next morning we are shocked by the site of another human. How did that creature find us? We wait anxiously until we can see the man, long hair the color of clay braided down his back, sage eyes I've never seen since.
He tells us he is from France. He speaks English very well and says he does not dislike Canadians. But we are Americans and know better than to make the correction our passports disclose so often.
"I come here every year," he says. "How did you two find this place? The bus stops nearly five kilometers back."
"We walked through a sinking pit with plants as sharp as blades," my friend says. "Sharper," I say, pointing to a particularly ghastly looking cut on my left forearm. "Plants as sharp as witches' tongues."
The Frenchman lightly touches the skin around my cut and says, "Since you young lovers have already discovered this beach and suffered for its beauty, I find no harm in showing you the easy way in and out."
"But we are never leaving," I say. "We decided this yesterday."
"Nonsense. How can you stay here forever? How will you eat, how will you butter your bread, cork your wine?"
My friend and I look at each other for an answer, both of us having never considered the Frenchman's obstacles before.
He continues, "Ah, you are young and in love, so you think you can just feed off of each other. But if you do that for too long, you will become shells. You cannot isolate yourselves forever."
We remain silent.
"You two look like you need a good meal, a place to get out of the sun for a while. Come, I'll show you to my small house where I will offer you wine as light as," he pauses and lifts his head and arms up to the jagged sun. "As light as le soleil."
We follow him down the beach for about two miles and none of us talk because we are all listening to the sea speak to us in her different voices.
After a while, the Frenchman looks at us and nudges his head to indicate that we should change our straight path. We turn away from the sea and climb a steep dune that unfolds beneath us every time we take a step forward. At the top, there is a scratchy rope attached to an old sun bleached tree. The Frenchman goes first, grabbing the rope easily in one hand as he swings across the earth's open mouth that stretches between the dune and a small patch of grass. A huge cliff towers above us when we get to the other side where we are told to climb a narrow set of wooden stairs snaking from the rump to the crown of the cliff.
When we finally reach the last rickety step, we see a modest white cement bungalow, typical of the other houses on the island, sitting quietly, welcoming us. Bright pink and purple flowers surround the house and scale its cool soft walls. A small round metal table and four lounge chairs are stationed outside for drinking wine and admiring the heavenly surroundings and liquid sunsets. In the distance, a volcano occupies the middle of the view -- cold, lonely, ash gray. Looks rude and intrusive with the graceful ocean on all sides. White sea gulls cruise the edges of the canyons layered in different hues of red, purple, orange and yellow. I can't stop staring it is so beautiful. I feel so high I am like one of those easy birds. If there were clouds in this sky, I swear I would ride them.
My friend has fallen asleep on one of the lounge chairs; the drink the Frenchman compares to the sun conveniently wipes him out for the hours to come. The two of us continue to share wine and laughter.
"You know," the Frenchman says, "you have the loveliest shoulders I have ever seen.
"Thank you," I say, because I know that it is a waste to be modest around this man. And perhaps he is telling the truth; I haven't had a mirror in weeks now so I forgot what parts of me look like. He puts his hands loosely around my neck and with ten fingertips drags them over my shoulders, all the way down until ten meets ten and twenty collapse on each other.
Keats would be disappointed, this time the woman is not a hand stretch away. I shudder. The sun is still hot on me but I get goose bumps all over anyway. The Frenchman notices this and I can tell that it makes him feel proud.
"You have little bumps all over your skin, but this part, on the insides of your thighs is still smooth and soft," he says as he rubs them, generating more heat and bumps. He continues to stroke the insides of my thighs. "This part of you is milky, the sun did not get this part of you. You are like my favorite desert, crjme bruli. You are the color of burnt sugar on the outside, and the inside of you is creamy white and sweet."
"You have sad eyes, lovely shoulders and sad eyes," the Frenchman decides. "You like to read sad tragedies, am I right?"
"Flaubert maybe," I respond sheepishly.
"Aha, Madame Bovary had dangerous eyes, so dangerous that she went blind. But no, your eyes are not dangerous, they are sad. I can see that you feel other people's sadness."
"Is that bad?" At this point, I cannot speak fully, so I utter a whisper.
"What is said to be bad may be good, but one thing is for sure, je ne suis pas desolie maintenant, so your eyes won't have to drink my sadness."
"Thank you." But I am thanking him for more than that. His large square hands on my body feel better than my own hands, he can touch so well.
He removes his hands from my thighs, wet now from his petting and grabs one of my limp arms and leads me inside as if I am sleepwalking to a small mattress covered with an earth colored tapestry that sits on the floor by a large circular window with no glass, allowing the sea's scent and sun's touch to caress us even when a rooftop separates us from the sky.
We lie down and his full slow lips brush up against mine a million times before our nimble tongues touch and then he licks my teeth with his pink tongue. It leaves my mouth and I wish he didn't do that until I feel it someplace else. It circles around and around, licking, dancing, singing, until I feel dizzy. I arch my back and go further into his mouth. The urn crashes. I shudder. I tremble for some time afterwards and he does not let the pleasure wane. I forget where I am for a moment, until his fingertips come back, this time running down my spine, tracing my pronounced ribs.
Some time later, still rubbing my bones, he offers me a cigarette. He then stops for a while so he can smoke and we lie on our backs, shooting rings into the air like horseshoes. We stamp our butts out and the smell lingers above us, mixing with sea salt and wine. He closes those moist sage eyes and his braid lies across my chest. It all looks so pretty -- his clay tail, my burnt sugar breasts and raspberry nipples -- that I remain still trying to keep things in place for as long as I can.