“To the beach!” said Butch Henderson over his shoulder, sitting in the front of the taxi that was taking us to Teluk Bahang. His Malaysian wife Suna, who sat in back with me, gave me an inquisitive look, to see if I was OK tagging along with them, the odd man out.
Impressed with my hat, Henderson bought one for Suna and him when we stopped at Batu Ferringhi to pick up some suntan lotion along with some fruit, snacks, drinks, plus a plastic ball to play catch. At Teluk Bahang, a Chinese fisherman, Ah Khoo, agreed to take us to and from Pantai Kerachut. With piles of fishnet scattered about the deck, the boat turned out to be more suitable for fishing than for passengers, a detail we had overlooked. Making the best of the situation, Henderson plopped down on the deck and gestured for Suna and me to do the same.
I stretched out my legs toward Suna, who was sitting across from me. She playfully nudged me with her foot.
Later, Henderson nudged me with his own foot and said, “See how that guy keeps his left leg up like he’s part flamingo? Wonder what’s wrong with him?”
“Didn’t he say something about stepping on something?” I said, glancing at Suna for confirmation.
“A stingray,” added Suna.
“Aren’t those babies poisonous?” asked Henderson. “I hope he’s not going to die on us. Got a show tonight.”
“Not that you’d be missed,” said Suna.
“Not that I’d be missed.”
After passing the lighthouse at Muka Head, Ah Khoo rounded the bend….In the distance a beautiful, empty stretch of beach beckoned us like a mysterious lover. When the boat came nearer, I had this overwhelming sense of déjà vu. That empty white beach, those slanting coconut trees, that verdant green hill, that majestic blue sky….I had seen it all before on the ceiling above my bed.
“Honey, we’re home!” said Henderson, and kissed Suna full on the lips.
Unable to bring the boat all the way in without getting stuck, Ah Khoo asked us to wade in the remaining distance on our own.
“Now don’t forget to come back and get us,” said Henderson, holding up his towel and slippers so they didn’t get wet. He tapped his watch. “Seven o’clock. Got it? We wouldn’t want to get marooned here. There doesn’t appear to be a bar in sight.”
Ah Khoo laughed. “No worry, I come back.”
The boat was soon gone leaving the three kilometer stretch of beach just for us.
After dropping our belongings on the soft sand, we peeled off our clothes down to our swimsuits. Henderson didn’t stop there. Grinning like a schoolboy, he dashed naked for the water and called back, “Last one in is a rotten egg.”
Amused, Suna shrugged. “Modesty never ran in Butch’s family. I have to think twice.”
Suna unfastened the top of her bikini, followed by the bottom.
Henderson called from the water, “Hey, Steve, you coming in, or are you just going to stare at my wife’s beautiful bod?”
I lowered my trunks. “You heard what the man said. Last one in is a rotten—”
Suna got a jump on me, but I caught up with her and we reached the water in a dead heat. As we swam out to Henderson, I kept thinking about Suna’s breasts, mentally comparing them with the ones I saw in my dream-cum-reality. They seemed just right for her body; not too large, not too small, not too uneven. Patricia used to complain that her breasts were lopsided and too large for her frame, worried they would cause her back pain later in life.
Suna splashed water into my face. She tried to flee, but I caught hold of her foot. In her struggle to escape, she landed a kick to my stomach and broke free. I was about to give chase when I noticed Henderson swimming toward me.
“Paradise. This is absolute paradise,” said Henderson. “Quick, pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming. On second thought don’t…it may lead to something. We’re both naked.”
Henderson dunked himself. He resurfaced and banged one side of his head with his palm; then the other, dislodging the water from his ears.
“If only we had a dozen bare-chested beauties sashaying around us, stuffing grapes into our mouths, this really would be paradise.”
I agreed, though I was thinking of the bare-chested beauty a coconut’s throw away.
“Actually,” said Henderson, “what I could go for is a pizza…. Yes, that’ll be an extra-large pepperoni and two dozen bare-breasted beauties to go.”
Henderson fetched the plastic ball….Our game of catch soon turned into Monkey-in-the-Middle….Suna’s breasts would flop every which way as she charged toward me while trying to take the ball away. When it became obvious to her she would forever be the monkey, she gave up and the game fizzled out….We retired to our towels, put on our swimsuits and clowned around by taking goofy photographs of each other and then applying generous doses of suntan lotion over our bodies. Henderson buttered up Suna’s front, while I worked on her back. She returned the favor. Her light touch reminded me of what I had been missing all of my life: a pair of soft, patient hands that could do no wrong. With Patricia, everything had to be quick as if the meter were running.
Later, after feasting on the fruit and biscuits, Henderson nudged Suna and said, “Shall we do a little exploring, my dear?”
Suna caught my gaze as if to make sure it was all right.
“You guys go ahead,” I said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m a big boy.”
I watched as Butch and Suna strolled away, wishing it was me and not Butch leading Suna by the hand to look for some hidden nook, some convenient hideaway, far away from prying eyes. I couldn’t blame him. Pantai Kerachut was perfect for making love.
Bored with lying around, I dug my toes into the sunbaked sand and wandered off in the opposite direction. The only footprints around were the ones I was making. It felt good to be out on my own…away from Patricia, away from Copycat Boston, away from everyone who had ever placed demands on my time. Moments like these where I felt oneness with the world came far too infrequent. I needed this, if only to catch my breath, to reflect on my life with Patricia, and to think about my future without her….I then toyed with the idea of settling down in Penang and trying my hand as an expatriate, never going back to the life I knew. I dug my toes a little deeper into the sand and pushed on.
The longer I walked, the more I enjoyed it: the sand beneath my feet, the sunshine in my face, the waves eager to rush in yet reluctant to leave, the crabs scurrying from hole to hole in their elusive quest to stay dry. What I enjoyed most was the anticipation, the not knowing of what may lay ahead, perhaps even a treasure that beachcombers from years past might have overlooked. What I found were seashells. Small colorful shells that my eyes gleaned from the sandy carpet. I picked up the ones I liked only to replace them with those of a superior quality. When the seashells became difficult to juggle, I recruited my hat to carry them in.
I returned to the towels, but neither Butch nor Suna were around. Ah Khoo wasn’t expected to arrive for another hour, so we still had plenty of time….I considered going for swim to cool off, but instead I inspected the seashells that I had collected. I knocked out the sand and arranged them inside the tote bag, careful not to damage any, especially the sand dollar in excellent condition.
Fifteen minutes passed and still no sign of Butch and Suna. The last I saw they were heading for the boulder outcrop at the far end of the beach. Judging from the distance I just came, it was a good twenty minute walk. Maybe longer. I didn’t like the idea they were cutting it so close. What if something happened to them? Unable to get that thought out of my mind, I slipped on my T-shirt and sneakers, grabbed the plastic ball, and headed in their direction, sure that at any moment I would see them in the distance.
But I didn’t.
Despite heading straight for the boulders, each step I took seemed to take me farther away. Twenty minutes passed and I was barely halfway there. What would Ah Khoo do if he arrived and none of us was present? How long would he wait? It was foolish paying him all the money in advance. What if the poison from the stingray prevented him from coming back? Before long it’d be dusk, then nightfall. Out here, without light, it’d be totally black.
I quickened my pace…I began to jog. After a while, my legs felt wobbly and my right side began to ache. Sand had crept into my sneakers and was irritating my feet. I sat down, out of breath, and emptied my shoes. Perspiration poured off me like rain.
The beach had tapered inland significantly. The jungle seemed awfully close, intimidating….A piercing shriek jolted my attention. One shoe on, the other off, I stared at the cliff-like wall of jungle where the noise came from. I hurried into the other shoe, tied the laces and stood up. Another shriek rang out…followed by another. The sounds came directly from the jungle and grew in frequency. About halfway up the hill, I detected some movements…. Something dropped from a vine and landed on the sand—a good-sized monkey. It advanced several steps toward me. Curious, it stood up on its hind legs. I kept still. More monkeys scrambled from tree to tree, making wave-like movements through the foliage. There seemed to be hundreds of them. Mesmerized, I watched them, wave after wave….I expected more monkeys to drop to the sand to join their friend, but none of them did.
The monkey kept a wary eye on me and the plastic ball, my only weapon. Perhaps it thought I was holding fruit. The monkey started to run on the sand parallel to the jungle. It leapt back into the greenery and disappeared.
I glanced at the time. It was getting late….Ignoring the pain at my side, I jogged the remaining distance. Upon reaching the base of the boulders, I called out, “Butch! Suna!”
No one answered….I found a foothold, then another and climbed among the giant boulders. There were dozens of them that curved blindly around a bend. Soon the stretch of beach was out of view.
Again I called, “Butch! Suna!” Again no reply.
On the far side of the boulders, hidden from the sea, was a cave opening, an ideal hideaway. I peeked inside the shallow cave fully expecting to see Butch and Suna. The sandy cave was smooth and dry but also empty. I came upon a second cave, wider and deeper than the first. It too was empty. I glimpsed the mouth of a third cave up ahead, and then a fourth.
How many more caves are there?
Frustrated, I moved onto the next one. Like the first two caves, the third was empty.
The fourth was not.
With a mixture of relief and annoyance I stood at the entrance as Butch and Suna lay side by side covered with sand, their clothes cast aside. One body light, the other dark. I called out their names as seductively as the Sirens yet failed to wake either of them. Not wanting to disturb their privacy by coming any closer, I rolled the plastic ball and it struck Suna on the leg. Instinctively, she reached for her clothes to cover her body.
When she saw me gazing at her, she looked back at me without speaking. It was a longing look, a desperate look of desiring what neither of us could have….During our game of Monkey-in-the-Middle, Suna’s hands and body were all over me. I wanted those same hands and that body over me now….To hell with the consequences. To hell with Ah Khoo’s boat. To hell with the rest of the world.
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