Photograph by Davide Monteleone, Story by Renita D'Silva
I wait, the North Sea sounding exactly like the Arabian Sea beside which I grew up, it's rhythms familiar as my own body. Waves grumble, colliding with rocks, exploding in a curtain of spray, the world beyond flickering through a screen of salt and cream mist.
You arrive at dusk.
Seagulls call and kaleidoscopic sky shows off to an audience of houses rising from onyx clifftops, hazy silhouettes just visible through frothy mesh, like pictures dulled by time, tinted the sepia of nostalgia.
The beach is empty. The sun, burnished tangerine, hovers just above the sea, loath to leave. I understand that feeling, identify with the dying day, when dark shadows whisper long-forgotten secrets.
You approach slowly, a solitary figure, stark in the gathering twilight. Clutching the gift you’ve taken great pains to procure - only one shop in town sells roses with petals this shade: the dark red of congealing blood.
I’m reminded of the first time we met, that day in the halls. Me: gauche, homesick. You: handsome, confident, grinning widely.
I’d looked behind me, disbelieving that your brilliant smile could be for me- a dark skinned mouse of a girl, longing for the sun drenched vistas of home, the comfort of Ma’s cooking, the safety of knowing that wherever I went in my village I was known, loved, looked out for.
I couldn’t wait to leave that Indian village nestling beside the Arabian Sea where I grew up, but now, in Cambridge, I missed the mud roads that I could traverse blindfolded, the comforting bluster of the waves which was the soundtrack to my childhood, the mango, guava, coconut trees lining the beach, the warm, loving people.
‘Hello there,’ you said.
Looking into your eyes, the cerulean of the sea holding the reflection of sky in its depths, I was lost.
That was the first time I drowned.
‘You’re dead to us,’ my parents cried when I said I was marrying you, an Englishman.
I gave up my country, my family, the embrace of a village of loved ones, for you.
And in those early days, our love heady with possibility, you were enough.
The wind here is armed with ice. Waves rise to the height of mountains, playful one moment, raging the next, fury bursting hope in a foamy slick. Through the foggy spume, houses shimmer on cliffs, mere impressions of their solid selves.
I thought you were my anchor. I was taken in by your eyes, the sun-warmed aquamarine of the sea of my childhood.
I only found out your love was a mirage, a facade as insubstantial as mist, too late.
You were possessive, even at the beginning, but back then I thought it validation of your love.
How naive I was.
Waves lap up to the rocks, enveloping them in a sheen of salty white. They flirt, caress and, in the next instant, they slap and hit, a tantrum of arching spume.
You stamped imprints on my skin, like pools of water left on rocks when the raging is done. Then, the waves are gentle, they croon, they soothe.
You did too. You kissed and apologised.
‘I never meant to hurt you,’ you cried.
I stayed with you long after my heart broke, when only the vague impression of love remained in place of certainty, like houses glimpsed through spray. The taste of brine and wistfulness for what was once.
I stayed because I had nowhere to go. You were my life.
I stayed because I remembered what we could be.
But then everything changed.
You had etched marks upon my body, now you left one within me, and I discovered love of a different
kind. The fierce, all-consuming love of a mother for her child.
‘I’m going home,’ I said. I would reach out to my parents, make peace.
‘This is your home,’ you countered.
‘I need a break,’ I said.
‘One holiday with me for old times’ sake. Please,’ you begged.
Like a fool, I agreed.
The first evening of our holiday here, as dusk seeped colour from the sky, we went swimming in this sea.
Once we’d skirted the rocks, you took my face in your hands, told me how much you loved me.
‘Don’t leave,’ you pleaded.
I stroked my stomach, home to our child. ‘I…’
I watched rage descend like mist, obliterating love from your eyes.
I tried to swim away.
They never found my body.
‘She swam too far, ignoring the currents, the warning flags,’ you sobbed.
Accidental death, the police declared.
You reach my grave, a mound of wet sand adorned by a wooden cross and limp roses the hue of clotted blood.
This is your last visit to me.
You’ll leave me here, in this alien sea, across the world from the Arabian Sea, where before daybreak fishermen would launch their boats, humming a haunting tune as they fished.
You’ll return to your life, find another gullible woman to seduce.
You squat beside my grave, which looks as if it’s bleeding, infused with the sickly-sweet perfume of decaying roses, a smell I’ve grown to despise.
You lay down the rose you’ve brought beside the others.
I glide towards you, whisper in your ear.
You recoil, shocked. You cannot see me, but you can feel me, hear me, experience my pain.
Your eyes, that I once adored, contract with fear. Your mouth yawns wide in a soundless scream.
You stumble from my grave, trying desperately to outrun the cloying scent of roses whispering in a dead woman’s voice.
I chase you deep into the sea, until you cannot run anymore.
A sudden wave sweeps the beach, washing the mound of sand, petals from the roses dotting the surf like droplets of blood. Then they are claimed by the sea, one dark petal settling on a rock.
The beach is clean, grains of sand shining like pearls in the waning light, no trace of a grave, no sign that I was ever here.
Renita D’Silva loves stories, both reading and creating them. Her short stories have been published in ‘The View from Here’, ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘this zine’, ‘Platinum Page’, ‘Paragraph Planet’ among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. She is the author of ‘Monsoon Memories’, ‘The Forgotten Daughter’, ‘The Stolen Girl’, ‘A Sister’s Promise’, ‘A Mother’s Secret’, ‘A Daughter’s Courage’, ‘Beneath An Indian Sky’. You can find her here @RenitaDSilva
Davide Monteleone works on long term independent project using photography video and text. He has devoted himself to the study of social issues, exploring the relation between Power and individuals. Known for his specific interest in the post-soviet countries, he published five books: Dusha, Russian Soul in 2007, La Linea Inesistente, in 2009, Red Thistle in 2012 and Spasibo in 2013, The April Theses, 2017. His projects have brought him numerous awards, including several World Press Photo prizes, and grants such as the Aftermath Grant, European Publishers Award and Carmignac Photojournalism Award. He regularly contributes for leading publications all over the world, and his projects have been presented as installations, exhibitions and screenings at festivals and galleries worldwide including the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Saatchi Gallery in London, MEP in Paris and Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. He is engaged with educational activities, regularly lecturing at universities and teaching workshops internationally. You can find more of his work here @davidemon