"The captain wore a freshly washed blousy shirt and tight, blue pants. He had primped for this visit much like a beau does for a call on his lady. He had shaved closely, removing his moustache. His hair, halfway down his back, smelled of roses and was tied with a black velvet ribbon."
The waves slapped the Port Royal shore in a steady rhythm, which does not change with time. The sea made its promise of constancy to Adrian as he chased down his precarious dream. He walked away from it.
A slow Irish air he had learned from a neighbor named Liam floated from Adrian’s childhood to his ears, making him feel full about his life and wistful about changing it. The musician began to hum it as he veered farther and farther away from the seashore. Eventually, Adrian could not hear the sea, he was so removed from it. He heard stark sounds – children laughing and parents squawking – without a watery buffer to soften them. The world seemed so exposed as did he.
The captain wore a freshly washed blousy shirt and tight, blue pants. He had primped for this visit much like a beau does for a call on his lady. He had shaved closely, removing his moustache. His hair, halfway down his back, smelled of roses and was tied with a black velvet ribbon.
Adrian moved through the vaguely familiar port until he landed at the house where he had laid eyes on Orelia. He hesitated before knocking. Once he saw Yusef, there would be no turning back. With a heavy and expectant heart, he balled his right hand into a fist and lifted it to chest height. As he took a deep breath and prepared to strike, the door opened – it seemed magically – of its own accord. The captain’s heart beat like a bellows. He waited for someone to appear, but no one came. Tentatively, he crossed the threshold and accounted for the scattered clothes as belonging to Orelia and Yusef. A smile crept to his lips as he thought of their passion, which had made them careless about tying the front door. Bathed in the frenzy of sex, Adrian grew warm and excited about expressing his feelings to Sarah. As he stood near the closed bedroom door, he began to anticipate his declaration of commitment and the peace that lay beyond it.
“Yusef is so lucky,” he thought. “He’s with the woman he loves, and she loves him, too. If only I could tell Sarah that I want to spend the rest of my life with her and hear her say that she wants that, too. If only Sarah would agree to be by my side. Dare I hope? Dare I dream? Dare I –“
Adrian’s ruminations were interrupted abruptly by the opening of the bedroom door. Entranced by the slim, feminine hands that pushed it open, he was stunned by their possessor. It was Orelia. She wore a cloth wrap secured at her waist in the style of the Fulani women. Her chestnut hair down, it barely covered her naked breasts. Adrian, who had not been with a woman in a year, dropped his jaw several inches. Orelia’s mouth parted slightly, and her eyes opened that much bigger in surprise. She hid herself with her long arms crossed over her front, which made her look even more delicious to Adrian. Then, she turned around and shut the bedroom door leaving Adrian with her vision in his mind. He had thought Orelia pretty before but never had coveted her. Until now. He fantasized dancing happily inside her, worshipping at the shrine of her breasts. He imagined himself singing hosannas.
Moments later when Orelia opened the door again, this time wearing a blouse and the tied cloth, Adrian quickly put away his smile.
“The front door was open. I am sorry to catch you unawares,” he said, in such a way as to assure her that he had seen little more of her body than her look of shock.
“Who are you,” she demanded, sternly.
“Surely, you remember me,” Adrian said. Although he had met Orelia only once, he felt so much a part of Yusef’s life that he assumed she would recognize him. “I’m the captain of the Good Hope. Yusef’s friend.
Orelia looked over his head like a seer. She frightened Adrian.
“I’ve come to see Yusef,” he said, in an effort to reach her and bring her back.
“Yusef is not here,” she said, rooted firmly in her faraway place.
“Where is he,” Adrian asked, in a panic because it was clear from Orelia’s absence of spirit that Yusef had not gone out fishing. No, it was much more serious.
Before she uttered her next words, Orelia’s brow furrowed, and her mouth and eyes became so sunken that they appeared to be gouged out. It was a sad, old woman who answered, “I don’t know,” in a weak voice audible to Adrian only because his senses had been alerted by Orelia’s brooding state.
“Why do you come here reminding me of him,” Orelia shouted, suddenly. “I don’t want to remember him. I don’t want to think about him.”
Her anger assured Adrian that Yusef was not buried six feet under.
“What happened,” he asked, evenly.
“I wish I knew,” she answered in a deflated tone. “He left here on a ship to Virginia. He said he wanted to earn more booty before settling down. ‘Just one more voyage,’ he said. ‘Just one more, and I’ll be back to spend the rest of my days with you.’ After he left, I yearned for him oh so much, I didn’t know how I’d make it without seeing him. When his ship returned three weeks ago, how excited I was to touch him, to talk with him, to be with him again. But my feelings were all in vain. I went down to the pier early before his ship had come into sight. When it docked, tears of happiness blurred my vision. I struggled to make out Yusef’s form among the men who spilled out of the ship. Nary a one fit his shape. I was dumbfounded. I thought that he had been hurt or even worse.”
Adrian shuddered as though a cold wave had washed over him.
“The crew tried to cover up for him by pretending not to know who Yusef was and then pretending to forget. The captain disembarked last, and he told me the truth. Yusef had decided to stay.”
Tears anointed Orelia’s face. She paused for a few moments until she was able to get the words out.
“When I asked the captain when Yusef would come back, all he said was that Yusef planned to stay there indefinitely and that he had said it was time for him to make a fresh start."
“A fresh start,” she repeated, painfully. “I reckoned we were a fresh start. Now I don’t know what we are. What did he take me for? A break from his real life?”
“Did he seem unhappy when he left,” Adrian asked.
“I’ve pondered that question a thousand times,” she said. “He didn’t seem unhappy, but he was no longer euphoric. That’s the way life is. Shooting stars fall to the ground with the passing of time and the many mornings of waking up to each other. I don’t think Yusef knew that. When he left, he was in love but disenchanted. That was no reason to go, especially the way he did it, like a sly dog. But he did.”
Orelia’s last words trailed off; she looked down at the floor.
“Maybe he’ll come back,” Adrian said, soothingly.
“I looked for him many a night. I know in my heart that if he does return, it would be no time soon. It would be after we’ve reached the winter of our lives.”
“I can’t believe this,” Adrian said, extending his hands to envelope those of Orelia. “I’m so sorry, Orelia. You deserve better than this.”
She cried uncontrollably. Her narrow shoulders collapsed into a weary slump. Adrian enfolded her. She tried to speak but could not, to free herself but did not. Adrian felt the knots of grief unloose themselves in her heaving sobs. His heart went out to Orelia. Poor woman. Yusef’s departure from her life had crushed her spirit. She had believed in him, and he had let her down.
Adrian’s hands became aware that they held Orelia’s slight back, so narrow that one hand nearly encompassed its entire width. He felt as though he were hugging a fragile thing, not a woman of flesh and blood but a vase of china that would break into pieces if he squeezed too hard. Gingerly, he comforted her with his arms and words of endearment which, as he spoke them, brought the two strangers closer. Tenderness showered on them like a cool, fresh rain.
Orelia was so wounded that she was barely aware of Adrian’s presence. Yet, she was grateful to be held. After her spasm of tears subsided and her body stilled, she gave herself over to the slow, rocking motion Adrian had initiated for them. He kissed her on the top of her head.
Orelia’s outburst heightened the emotional undercurrents. Adrian felt her heartbeat quicken. He remembered her bare breasts and her endearing modesty. He remembered that he had wanted her. Adrian recaptured all those covetous thoughts, which had been spirited away. Orelia had appeared like Eve in the Garden of Paradise. A trespasser, Adrian would leave with more than he brought with him.
A pool of soft, blue light bathed them, the coupling became so powerful. Orelia closed her eyes and melted into it. Adrian bestowed a necklace of tiny kisses on her neck. Breathlessly, he called her “sweetheart” and “darling” and “love” as he changed direction and traveled down to her cleavage, where he nestled for a while. The rose fragrance of his hair wafted into Orelia’s nose. She threw herself over his bent back and made love with her hands and mouth to his sensitive spine. As they slid into new positions, Adrian undid the top three buttons of her blouse. He took out her right breast and traced his fingers over its plumpness as though he were sketching it. Orelia moaned with pleasure. For a second, her body stilled itself, she was so out of her mind with joy.
There was no turning back now.
Adrian kissed her breast as softly as sweet whispers and told her how beautiful it was and she was. He heard faint music and imagined that it existed only in their sexual sphere. As he reached for Orelia’s other breast under downy cloth, a guitarist outside the house strummed a bittersweet melody about the wheel of life.
Throughout the afternoon, Orelia and Adrian gave each other pleasure until they both fell into a deep sleep. They woke to the darkness of night and the embarrassment of their guilt.
“What have we done!” they both thought. “What must Adrian think of me?” Orelia thought. “What must Orelia think of me?”
Their chagrin crowded out their earlier euphoria. Shamefully, silently, they quickly covered their nakedness with their clothes.
“Would you like to walk,” Adrian asked.
“Yes,” Orelia said, grateful for the invitation to leave the scene of their degradation.
Before they stepped into the night, Orelia turned to Adrian and, with a sharp look, ordered, “Yusef must never know.”
“Of course not,” Adrian consented.
They walked with a respectable distance between them. They walked as a woman would with the best friend of her lover. They strolled mostly in silence. When they did talk, it was about the weather and the sea. They spoke not one word about their lovemaking.
“When did you leave the sea and arrive here,” Orelia asked.
“Today. I came straight to your house when I got here,” Adrian said.
“Where will you be staying?”
“On the beach,” he said. “I left the Good Hope moored and took a small boat here with two other men. They’re staying with people they met on our last visit.”
“I can’t let you sleep on the beach. You can sleep in the other room,” she said, instinctively the generous hostess. “The beach would be dangerous, uncomfortable and lonely.”
Adrian began to taste the sweetness of being with a woman. He caught the aroma of Orelia’s cooking, and he promptly pushed himself away from the table.
“I can protect myself,” he said. “I’m not worried about the discomfort, and I look forward to being alone. I rarely am when I’m at sea. Thank you for the invitation, but I’ll be fine.”
“All right, then,” she agreed, relieved that he had turned down her offer. After she had asked him to stay, she had smelled his musk and felt an ache in her body. Adrian’s refusal reaffirmed the limits of their relationship. If he had stayed in her house that night, they surely would have created more secrets between them.
They walked toward the sea, its salty scent proclaiming its nearness. The sea reminded Orelia of her father, John, a seaman who had died in a hurricane when she was twelve. Her mother, Margarida, had held on for two years until she finally succumbed to grief by following her husband into a watery grave. Orelia, an only child, had grabbed a place in many homes by ingratiating herself with those people. As she cooked and cleaned for them, she dreamt of having her own home and family someday. Oh, where was Yusef now, she wondered. What was he doing? Why did he leave?
Although the night was cool, Orelia shivered at the emptiness. She gazed up at the sky studded with silver pieces and a full moon whiter than the sand on which they walked. But the sky held no answers for Orelia, who was desperate for them.
Adrian kicked the sand with his boots. He felt out of place on land. Dressed for the wooden deck planks of the Good Hope, he left a fleeting imprint on the earth. Adrian was living his life in a dream. The person he loved most, he had not seen in five years. He knew nothing of her circumstances. Yet, he believed their lives to be intertwined. His friend’s desertion of love frightened him. How could Adrian trust Sarah to make his dreams come true?
Fear imprisoned Adrian. It barred him from even admitting to his strong feelings for Orelia, who could have been the key to Truth for Adrian and Yusef. Both men turned away from what could have been their freedom only to tighten the noose of existence ‘round their necks. One day, perhaps, they may stop and see. One day, they may long for the treasures of Orelia’s open heart and clear soul. One day.
Adrian worried about Yusef. Was he all right? Or was he in as much pain as Orelia? Adrian swore he would find him. Orelia swore she would stop loving him but prayed for his return.
“Why don’t I walk you back now, and then I’ll be heading to sleep,” Adrian said. “Under the stars and without a care,” he thought.
“All right,” Orelia said dimly, dreading to be alone.
They walked back maintaining the same respectable distance. Until Orelia tripped. She would have fallen headlong had it not been for the captain’s strong and gentle arms thrown around her. As he caught her, he looked into her big brown eyes and wished to see himself there a little longer. They held hands the rest of the way. Then, it was not as awkward to part at her door.