Erik and Kathy sit on a rock by the sea, on a beach outside of Melbourne, Australia
"Erik, have you ever seen such a beautiful sunset?"
"There was a sunset a long time ago.
I was traveling in Thailand, staying in Buddhist monastaries.
I was on a boat headed for the island of Ko Sumui when I met this girl, Christina. I liked her because
she was sitting up on the roof letting the wind blow her hair. Everyone else
was inside. That was a pretty day. The
sky was as blue as robin's eggs with little puffs of white cloud. At first, it
seemed as if she had lost her voice. She told me she had not spoken to a soul
in three days. She had been riding trains down the peninsula from Bangkok, sleeping with a blanket over her head. I have never seen anyone so happy
to have someone to talk to. When we got off the boat, she came with me to the
monastary. I was meditating for three or four hours every day, trying to master
the art of emptying my soul of desire. She could not understand that."
"What did she do while you were meditating?"
"She went for long walks by herself. One
day, she came back crying. She had found a skull on the beach, a small one. She thought maybe it had belonged to a child.
When she picked it up and turned it over, there were maggots crawling on the inside."
"She wanted me to come with her after that.
I wanted to hike around the island, but some other travelers had told her about a couple who had their throats slit,
so she wouldn't go. One afternoon, we went for a long hike up the coast. That evening, the
sunset was like this -- gorgeous. We found a deserted cove, took off all our
clothes. I can still see her bounding into the surf, the sun big and orange behind
her just touching the froth on top of the waves, water clear as crystal, and warm, a big full moon rising behind the trees
in the jungle, wild monkeys screaming and all the birds gone mad."
"What do you think?"
"So much for monastic training. And then?"
"We traveled together for awhile. She came
with me when I returned to the mainland. We stayed in this cheap hotel, two dollars
a night, seedy as hell. She woke me up screaming a rat had nibbled her finger.
It was as big as a house cat. I
chased it down the hall. Damn thing turned and ran straight at me. I slammed the door. The beast stucks its nose and paws through
the crack, scratching to get at us. Really freaked her out. I threw a shoe and it left. I cannot imagine staying in a
place like that today."
"Were you in love with her?"
"No. I don't think so. I don't know. I wasn't supposed to want, you know, things
of this world. She did not really fit into my plans. She liked me. She wasn't good for my meditation. And she could be pushy; not real other-worldly."
"What do you mean?"
"We were visiting this monastary and a group of children gathered around. One of the boys asked to see my camera. I
handed it to him. He pretended to examin it, then ran away. All the children scattered, disappearing behind the buildings."
"What did you do?"
"I figured, 'that camera is gone.' There
was no way to find the child. I figured it was part of my training; another challenge
to overcome desire for wordly things."
"So you were ready to let it go."
"Not like today, huh?" Kathy grins.
"Yeah. But Christina wouldn't. She made a big scene, went to the head monk shouting and carrying on, demanding that
they give the camera back or that the monestary pay me for it. The monk called
the children. The boy who took the camera showed up looking pretty sheepish.
He gave the camera to the monk who handed it to me. Christina was glad, and proud of herself, but the way she had acted got on my nerves."
"So you split up?"
"No. We stayed together for awhile
after that. One day we were on a train heading toward Phuket. Everybody we asked said it was paradise. Christina wanted
to come, too. I told her, 'You can come, but don't come if it's only because
you want to be with me'."
"She looked at me. She said, 'But
is because I want to be with you.' At the next station, she got off the train. I saw her standing on the platform looking like her world had come to an end. I went on to Phuket, traveled for another couple of months, made my way back to Australia. The big adventure of my youth." Erik gazes at the sea, a whistful smile on his lips.
"And did you manage to eliminate all desire?" Kathy
pokes him with her elbow.
"I got a job. Wife, house, kids,
car. Have not thought about eliminating desire in years. No time."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Did you ever
hear from Christina?"
"I wrote her a letter about six months after I got back. Maybe because she was not around, in my memory she seemed kind of perfect.
I wrote every sentence of that letter in a different color of ink."
"What did it say?"
"It said, 'If we had stayed together, we would be together still'."
"Wow. And that was true?"
"I don't know. I thought so. I was young."
"What did she answer?"
"Nothing. She never wrote back. I don't know if that letter ever reached her.
I don't know if she made it home."