Departures by Ali Hosseini

It’s been years, but by chance or fate there you are sitting across from me in the Boston airport. I look at you–your green eyes seem greener, with a few faint lines around them. You look at me–I’m sure noticing my once-black hair gone totally gray.

“Do you remember?” you ask.

“How could I forget?” I say.

Your eyes smile just the way I remember.

“And your accent!” you say. “It still carries its effect!”

I explain I’m on my way to visit the old country after so many years. And you say that you’re going to Paris for the publication of your latest book.

At the airport bar where we decide to have a drink you lean toward me across the table. “Remember the doves,” you ask, “how they cooed in the early morning?”

“And the sprinklers,” I say. “the way they would go off, splashing the windows of your cottage and waking us up at dawn.

I think of how slowly I would kiss the back of your neck and how we would make love and sleep entangled until the tropical sun was high in the sky.

We have exchanged only a few sentences when your cell phone rings.

“Sorry, I have to take this–my publisher.”

You move toward the lobby where it is quieter, once and awhile looking my way. I notice you are as slender as the day we met years ago on the trail to Sacred Falls amidst the flowering ginger that grows wild there. The trail was long, always longer than people planned on, and could be treacherous when it rained and the stream rose. That day, though, it was only wet and muddy. You shared your chocolate bar with me and told me the story of Kamapuaʻa, the Hawaiian demigod, a half-pig, half-man, and how he had made his home in the valley and lived there for hundreds of years until the day his enemies surrounded him and the only way out was the cliff at far end of the valley. Kamapuaʻa pressed his back against the cliff and helped his family climb up to the top of the mountain, then got up the cliff to safety only minutes before his enemies closed in on him. The waterfall is said to be where he pressed his back against the valley wall. You laughed and said you liked to think that the legend had it wrong, that it wasn’t his family he helped to safety, but a secret lover.

A week later, you invited me to dinner at your cottage. We sat on the straw mats spread out on the floor. You had a white shirt on, and I loved how it was unbuttoned one button too low–I see you still enjoy doing that. The night, the dinner, and the unbuttoned one-button-too-low white shirt–I remember them so well. You somehow cut yourself opening a wine bottle and twisted a napkin around your finger to stop the bleeding. When I noticed a red spot on your white shirt, you saw me staring and suddenly pulled off your shirt, ran to the kitchen sink, and held it under the tap. I followed and stood behind you, looking at the curve of your bare back above the sink. It was the first time I touched you.

The walls of your cottage were covered with island artifacts: wooden turtles and geckos and fishhooks carved from whalebone. I browsed the books on your small bookshelf–novels, collections of short stories, and books on Oriental painting and drawing–and pulled out a couple to ask you about them. “That was the catch,” you said later, “the spark that started the fire.”

You told me about the stories you had written and, when we got to know each other better, would read them to me on those warm tropical evenings. You liked to fan yourself with the pages after we had exhausted ourselves making love. In one story a couple went for a moonlight swim at Lanikai beach. I asked if the man was me and you smiled mysteriously. I suggested you should lighten up on the nude parts, but you said, “No way, that’s what makes it exciting.” I saw it in print a few years later with our intimacy described in detail.

You look my way, smile, and indicate you won’t be long. I wonder what your latest book is about and think of how for years I would read everything you wrote looking for my traces. The one you won a prize for–the title was “Ice” although I would have named it “Fire”–I had a hard time reading. I knew that what happened was just the opposite of what you wrote and that you weren’t the one who had brought ice cubes to bed. It was clever how you turned it into a story of two lovers from a culture where people lived and died without having seen ice who by chance find a chunk of it deep in an ancient lava cave. It became an unforgettable part of their love-making and sent them on a search that lasted the rest of their lives.

I was in good shape then, young and cool headed. I’d been kicked out of my homeland and by chance or fate had landed in this “paradise on earth”—just the opposite of Adam—and dreamed of our staying there forever cradled by the ebb and flow of the ocean. I wanted to stay and let the Pacific warm blue water wash away the desert roughness of my ancient homeland. You had other dreams, though, and were stubborn in your way. You wanted to go to the East Coast and become the editor of a literary journal and said to succeed you needed to know another language and were learning French. “You can’t stay in one place,” you would say, “you have to go and see the world. The world won’t come to you.”

I watch as you glance my way, still talking, before finally coming back to the table, but we’ve barely started to drink our wine when your flight is announced. You get up in a hurry, look at me for a moment, then lean across the table and kiss me on the lips. When you straighten up, your green eyes are smiling again. I stand up and take your hands in mine . . . I don’t want to let go but can feel the anxiety of going in them. I let go and watch you fade away in the crowd, the wine glass curving cool and smooth in my hand.

 

 

Ali Hosseini is the author of  The Lemon Grove, published by Curbstone Books, August 2012.  Hosseini’s short story “A Day of Solitude” was featured in issue three of The Coffin Factory.

 

 

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