Again, manga because of the imagery I hope the story can conjure in your minds, while you read.

A quiet little tale of many, many memories.

M/M slash implied.

Nautilus


The great events of life often leave one unmoved;
they pass out of consciousness, and, when one thinks of them,
become unreal. . . .

But the little things, the things of no moment, remain with us.
In some tiny ivory cell the brain stores the most delicate,
and the most fleeting impressions.

— Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Mr. W.H.


Our world had always been blue and white. They were the colours of the sky and the sea, the sand and the row of identical houses that stood facing the winds.

Numbers seven and nine belonged to our families, and had the same chimes hanging at the porch. Sometimes we stood on our toes, and tried to touch the little dolphin decorations hanging down. We were too short when we tried; when we grew tall enough we instead forgot all about it.

Sometimes we held barbecues together, and our mothers and my elder sister would prepare the food, bringing it all out onto the tables in the yard. Our fathers would sit at one side on deckchairs with mugs in hand, reminiscing the old days in the army. And he and I would shriek and yell and chase each other, sprawling in the water one instant and rolling in the sand the next, till we resembled miniature golems in war. Mum would get mad, and forbid us from going near the sausages — but soon enough nobody cared anymore, and we would happily tuck in, oil and sauce intermixing with the grit and salt on our faces.

During the warm days of summer, when our fathers were off to work and we itching with nothing to do, we would explore the beaches further. Straight down from our houses there would be a few people, lying down on the sand and baking red like lobsters. Usually they were the flabby, balding men, and young girls in silly little bikinis. We hardly picked: any one of those were potential targets for our flotilla of pebbles, and the moment they got up from their colourful baking pans to yell at us, we would scarper off laughing, until someone more interesting and vulnerable caught our eye.

Further down left was a cave that was reachable only during low tide — a small yet grand world of secret and sandstone, echoing our cries. We fancied our doppelgängers in the very heart of that darkness waiting for us, and prepared ourselves for battle. Usually I would advance, and he would hold back, worrying about camouflaged crabs nipping his toes. "You wuss," I laughed at him once, slapping the back of his head. But we went in together anyway, and a moan arose from a sudden gust of wind blowing in, way before we reached the end. So eerie was it that we both screamed and tore away, back towards the light and the safety of home.

– – –

Once, during yet another restless, bleak afternoon when we were eight, we ventured to the extreme right side of the beach, where the rocks were large and the sand flecked with grey. The tide was down, and we found a shallow rock pool, pear-shaped and dotted with barnacles and one orange anemone. I tried to touch it, but it angrily stuck to my finger and stung. "Stupid thing," I muttered, sucking on the wound.

He had not seen, for his eyes were looking at a strange, white thing, sitting at the very corner of the tiny pool. "Look," he said, in wonder, and he lifted it out of the water, and it sat obediently in his hand. It was a spiral shell, beautiful and shiny, with faint brown wavy lines marking out that twirly shape on top. But it was chipped very slightly at its end, and he kept running his thumb over that part, as if sad at its imperfection. I just thought it unfair that he could find something that didn't sting him.

He somehow saw that, though, and said, "You want it? I can give it to you." I only turned my nose up in disdain.

"It's broken," I answered, matter-of-factly. "I bet its crab was dumb enough to crack its house on the rock when it first came here. That's why it's empty."

So he kept the shell, and I was empty-handed. I always wished I had found something as amazing, but I never said anything. Whenever I went over to his house to play after that day, I chose to ignore that prize which he displayed so prominently on his bedroom shelf.

– – –

Then came the day when the developers dropped by, saying we had to move because they wanted to use the land for other purposes. The kind old man from house number eight was unhappy; he shouted at the big men, but they were not moved.

A few months later they came with their giant yellow Caterpillars, and we watched them ram the machines into our houses. The moment they hit ours, Mum choked back a sob. My sister and I held her, as tightly as we could. In the distance he stood with his parents, and I saw him holding the shell in his hand. He was crying.

We packed up and moved to the city, where there was no sea we could swim in, no sand we could build fortresses in. Things were expensive there, and our mothers found jobs in a small accounting company. We became quieter, and I would walk home together with him after school, as reluctant as he was to mingle with the other city kids in the park, who lingered there roller-skating and playing soccer.

We were lucky to be still living close to each other, but in opposite blocks. And our homes were not the same anymore. We still hung the chimes in front of our doors, but there was hardly any wind, and they rarely tinkled. They only did, fearfully, when the rains came, in torrents, and whipped everything so hard. The sky turned black from their usual grey, and I would watch through the window, missing the blue skies that we saw all the time back by the coast.

Despite all this unfamiliarity, he managed to come first in his class that year, and his dad bought him a PlayStation for that. We often spent our afternoons and evenings holed up in his room, battling monsters that neither looked like us nor howled like the wind. In the years after that we became each other's closest friend, yet sometimes I wondered if we were each other's only friend, in this strange urban labyrinth.

– – –

Our fathers had been in the same platoon in the army, and had remained great friends with each other after that, and even after the change that brought both their families into the city. Here, we heard, was another pal from the same troop, and he had a small restaurant just down the street from where we lived. It was he who helped us find the property nearby, and it was he whom we sought when we were bored or perplexed, either about urban phenomena we still did not understand, or about girls.

"Son," Berkeley said, that huge, greasy grin on his face as he sliced the ham on his chopping board and the honey smell ran thick in the small interior. "If there's one thing you ought to know, it's how fickle they can be. One moment they're all sweet and slithering over you; the next they're cold and snappy like menopausal alligators." He put the two plates of sandwiches on the counter in front of us. "They're awfully hard to please, that species," he added to me, narrowing his eyes.

"Then are you saying he should avoid them altogether?" my friend asked, pointing an innocent finger at me. My glare only sent him laughing right into his ham and bread.

"But she's always real nice to me," I muttered, drumming my fingers on the glass counter. "And she doesn't fake things or carry herself so flamboyantly like those popular ones do. She's just . . . nice and quiet and . . ."

"You'd best think about how she might change once she gets serious with you," Berkeley suggested, untying his apron. "That's what happened when I married my wife." His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "It's almost like . . . monsters unleashed."

He and Berkeley burst out laughing.

He then looked at me, for Berkeley had left the counter and was taking orders from a new group of customers. "Do you like her?" he asked.

I picked up my sandwich. "I don't know," I said, in exasperation. I took a huge bite out of it, and said nothing more. And when Berkeley came back, littering me with more trivia and advice than I could handle, he continued sitting on my left, watching me quietly, and I suspected that he probably liked that girl I had in mind, too.

– – –

Three years before, he and I went for a camping trip to the backcountry organised by the school, even though we knew it would be nowhere close to the sea. At least, we managed to see a sky that was blue by day, and purple by night.

By a stroke of luck we were assigned the same tent to spend the nights in, together with two other boys. On the second one the winds were bitter, and even with the tents zipped up the air stung badly. The four of us burrowed deep into our sleeping bags, and tried our best to sleep.

It was minutes after a fresh volley of winds started up did I notice that the tent was not fully zipped to the top: the wind was rushing through that tiny gap with a harsh reedy noise, like banshees running loose along the marshes. I was closest to and facing the entrance, yet too cold and unwilling to get up and mute the shriek.

I felt a scuffle behind me just then; he sat up and leaned across me, tugging at the zip until it closed fully and snicked home, and all the while I was only aware of the warmth of his body underneath those layers of clothes, and the sudden silence inside the tent. One of the other boys murmured a "Thanks", and then nothing more.

He did not return to the comfort of his sleeping bag, and I could still feel, more distinctly, his presence next to me. I remained immobile on my side, pretending to be asleep, and pretended still even as I felt his breath caressing my face, ever so faintly.

He whispered my name, very quietly; I did not reply. For a minute or so I waited, and I began to believe that I had imagined his voice. But a strange warmth stroked my forehead then — his thumb, his finger, gently grazing my skin, touching my hair, lightly, lightly as a moth wandering lost on a petal. Then they lifted, and he slipped back to bed once more, and left me enveloped and wondering in that tired chill of night, as I stared at the blue canvas before me flapping incessantly, till the morning broke.

– – –

I eventually did not go out with the girl I fretted about at Berkeley's; instead the time which I could have spent on dating was used playing Final Fantasy XI to death in his room, and many other role-playing games, until even after FFXII was out.

Deep down I was aware that I could not face anyone else with the same ease and normality, not even other friends I made over the years, not even girls I knew I liked. I was aware of the tension I felt whenever I stood in the city outside, and I would rather face the villains and monsters in the games, in both cocooned safety and his presence.

Over time, my Mum and Dad would ask me, with twinkles in their eyes, whether I was hiding my girlfriend; even my sister teased me continually. I learned to pretend that I was, and invented names which never resulted in people that I could bring home and introduce my family to, with pride.

That cycle was broken, however, about half a year ago. She was shy, and had begun to laugh more at the jokes I tried to make. I did not tell anyone, though, and was only mildly surprised when Dad ceased his routine questions one weekend.

"They've posting me overseas," he informed us, over one of the rare home-cooked dinners. "Seems like they've got too many logistics officers here, or I'm ousted because they prefer all that fresh blood."

"Where? And when?" My sister seemed especially anxious.

"A year from now, latest. The location's not yet been confirmed. But I think we'd better prepare, no?" He eyed us from over his glasses, managing a smile. "We'll all be going."

Back then, I did not see the implications of my father's words; I only remembered that the hot peach pie we were having for dessert was one of his favourites, and meant to forgo my portion so that I could perhaps bring the untouched remainder of the pie over to his house. I thought of his expression when the door was opened and he saw the pie, and smiled faintly to myself.

I came back only to realise the decision that was already made. I never made the trip over to his house that night. And the next day I broke up with my first girlfriend. It had only been into the second week.

– – –

Three months before, he and I were among the dozens that queued up overnight at the retail store, just so we could get our hands early on the PlayStation 3. We thought we were too far behind; but soon the line behind us had stretched down and around the end of the street, and we were gleeful.

I did not tell him about Dad's redeployment, and instead drew my savings so I could pay for half the cost of the new console, which was still going to end up at his house like its two predecessors. He brooded, and insisted that it be kept in my room this time, but I just reminded him to keep the money safe.

The air was cool and the night quiet, save for background conversations and occasional whoops by enthusiastic gamers. We took turns to sleep, in shifts of two hours. Past five in the morning he woke me up, and, thrusting the backpack into my lap, went on the lean against the metal barricade with his eyes shut.

But at one point in his slumber he stirred too roughly, and the barrier tilted dangerously back. I almost shouted, out of fear, and grabbed him by one arm, and one leg of the barricade with the other. In one split moment it clanged back into balance on the ground, but he crashed into me, almost like a rag doll, and was jolted from his sleep.

"Bloody hell," he groaned, voice pained from that sudden waking. I tried to shift him into a safer position, but he only latched himself onto my back, and stayed there — his cheek nuzzled up against my shirt, and arms around my waist; his body was curled, foetal, with his legs folded and beside me.

And I remembered — the time we both rode on my bicycle when we were still boys; I had pedalled furiously, and he had stood behind on the axles of the side wheels, hollering into the sea breeze and waving his arms. Down the neighbourhood we had soared, and he had even managed to grab a plastic cane of candy from a bewildered girl, who had wailed in our wake. He had sat down, then, with one arm clutched against my belly, popping the base of the cane with his teeth and pouring about half the amount of small, colourful candy in the tube into his mouth. The rest I had finished with one hand on the bike, and together we had laughed all the way around and back again, on a sugar high.

Now we were older, and different; yet it was still him, right behind me. Those were his same breaths against my back, but much slower, and softer, this time round, and I dared not move. I could have turned around and reciprocated, with the backpack safe between us, but I did not. I merely turned my head, as much as I could, just to watch him sleep, and how the sodium lamps lit the gentle contours of his face, as did the approaching sunrise. Two hours worth of unspoken emotions serenaded through my mind, and, too soon, I had to nudge him awake, with random whispered salutations.

He opened his sleepy eyes to gaze through me, then at me, and gave me an apologetic smile, for his hands never did leave my waist. I let him sleep on, until ten minutes before the store opened its grandest doors, to the passionate line of people waiting outside.

– – –

We adored the powerful machine, and so fervently we did, for nearly twenty-four hours at one go. We had to take turns, agonisingly, and while he thumbed away on Genji, I gripped the inactive controller, and pretended I was in the game too. His mum sometimes popped her head in to check on us and bring us tea, and always shook it as she closed the door — for we were nothing short of bedazzled, enthralled, ignoring everything else and often grabbing each other, shouting and pointing furiously at a corner of the monitor where a tiny treasure lay, in such minute clarity, and which our avatar retrieved, with such velocity.

In no time the game was completed, and we were spent, leaning against the foot of his bed. He stared blankly at a high point on the wall, smiling darn pleased. I closed my eyes, and told him, off-handedly, why the PS3 should be kept in his room after all.

Now he stared at me, stunned, and his eyes never blinked. "Why?" he asked, softly.

"I don't know. And we can't change anything, because his boss had already decided."

"Why?"

I tilted my head against the bedsheets to face him: he was stiff, and upset, and as if filled to the brim with the many things I thought he wanted to tell me. But he remained silent, and his eyes never left mine.

". . . I don't know."

He did not ask again; his face turned away, and I saw his eyes no longer. For a small moment I wanted to apologise, but the thought dissipated, and I instead wondered why I had to leave, too, why I could not stay and manage on my own, in the reassurance of his company. And I wondered, and remembered.

When I slept I dreamt of another fantastic realm, of otherworldly creatures and potions, and of him. Yet when I awoke I saw, vaguely, that I never did leave, for I could see the digital clock on his desk, and it read 5:45. My head, I realised, was no longer against his bed, instead gently tucked between the nook of his shoulder and his left cheek. And his wrist, that one accidental wrist, was on my own shoulder, unmoving. His game controller lay, forgotten, at his feet; the screen blazed electric blue.

I blinked once, slowly, hoping I was still fast asleep, and hoping I wasn't. I felt the small pulse in his neck on my forehead, the familiar warmth that emanated from him, the soft sweetness of his skin, and the absent stroking of his fingertips against the hair at the nape of my neck; and suddenly I ached, too deeply, for only his love, and resisted a soft whimper.

He heard, and his breaths turned shallow, and quick; his arms wrapped themselves, gently as ever, around my shoulders, and his leg slid forward, to touch mine at the knee. And in that way he held me close, against him, while that fresh cascade of tears I never saw flowed onto my cheek and down my chin. He wept into my hair, silently, and pressed a hand hard against the back of my head, burying my face into his chest, holding me where we wanted each other to be, where we knew we could not, beyond the door of this room.

In his pool of sadness and the erratic throbbing of his heart I fell asleep, and woke to find my head on a pillow on the floor, my shoulders shielded by not his arms but a blanket, and the sun peeking through the blinds. Kneeling up I found him on his own bed, curled on his side, the last vestiges of tears lingering under his eyelids. All I could do then was brush them away, as lightly as the way he touched me for the first time, and drape the same blanket carefully over him, and stare, forlorn, at the ageing morning, and the spiral shell that forever lay on the shelf in his room, white and imperfect.

– – –

Three weeks before, he and I sat, side by side, in Berkeley's, watching him pore over his accounts across our glasses of juice.

At one corner of the counter there was a girl of around fifteen, perched on her stool and watching us intently ever since we entered, almost an hour ago. Dark was her hair, long and held up at one side with a butterfly barrette, and her babydoll dress, and her strapped shoes. In her arms was a Dollfie with a white shirt, a black trench coat adorned with silver insignias, and a limp ribbon around his neck. She sat him in her lap as she looked at us, smoothing his neck-length white hair over and over, not speaking a word.

"My niece Lyra," Berkeley had introduced earlier. "Here to spend the last few weeks of her school holidays till she's going back to London. What brings you two here this time?"

I took a swig of my juice, deciding to be polite and ignorant about the girl. "Nothing much, really," I admitted.

Berkeley noticed how I seemed to do all the talking, and leaned towards me conspiratorially. "Fell out?" he quipped under his breath, nodding his face towards my companion and eying me questioningly.

"No . . . no, we didn't." I stole a look to my left; his eyes seemed rather absent. "Sorry to bother you on New Year's Day like this," I said instead.

"Don't say that, lad." Berkeley's voice went back to its usual volume as he tapped his pen on the open book before him. "You don't know how peaceful it is now, since last night was total mayhem. Anyway you two make perfectly reasonable customers, and I've got these to clear. Might as well . . ." Now it drifted off, as he sank into his calculations once more.

The silence that followed was hollow, and stiff. He beside me did not speak, and instead twiddled with his straw; Lyra and her doll continued to observe us from her vantage point.

"Last month, last month . . ." Berkeley muttered to himself, scratching his head as he thought. "Now where did I keep those receipts?" He shifted off his own seat, and went to the storeroom round the back.

He let go of his straw, uneasily, and stood up as well. "I'm going to the bathroom," he said, and left for the other side of the diner.

Now it was just me and the girl, whose eyes I could feel on my side, along with the glass ones of her beautiful doll. For ten seconds or so there was nothing; but then she spoke to me, in a boyish voice.

"Why won't you tell him?"

I turned around to look at her, her face unfathomable and his blank and blithe. "What?" I asked.

She stared back at me, eyes flashing dark and fiery. Her hand tightened a margin around her doll; her fingers on his hair ceased their movement. Then they resumed, and she looked down at him, in private.

"This world is a miserable place because of people like you," she said quietly.

I slumped in my seat and turned back, staring and staring instead at the droplets of condensation running down my glass; I touched them and closed my eyes, and saw only his face glistening with that same wetness, the girl's words whispering themselves hoarse in my head as I recalled the way he had held on to me, so many nights before.

I bowed my head.

When I raised it again both he and Berkeley were back; he was leaning against the countertop, gazing at the confusing night lights beyond the window out front, hands limp in his lap. Berkeley continued sifting through a new pile of receipts and humming to himself. Lyra attended to her doll, and never said another word.

– – –

Sometimes we forgot what the white and blue we grew up in looked like. The closest substitute we could find was the public pool, and even that we could go only every other Saturday. The waters reeked of chlorine, but we always stayed for hours on end, trying to replicate the fondness we had for the sea.

Today, somehow, he choked while diving to the bottom of the deepest pool; it ruined his mood, and we left early. The bus we caught home was empty, save for the driver and a sleeping man in front. He coughed and sniffed, and did not talk, and only looked out at the sun that was spilling its chrome yellow light onto everything in the bus.

He fell asleep, again, and on my shoulder, as the bus manoeuvred down the highway. Yet this time his arms were wrapped around one of mine, almost timidly, tenderly, the way a lover would when refusing to face the world, outside his cocoon for two.

I did not know if he was merely feigning sleep, but I shifted a little closer to him and the window, and he clutched on a little tighter. It saddened me, and I gently slipped the damp towel from around his neck, put it on his bag, and touched the little finger of his right hand through the material, and left my hand there.

And when I closed my eyes and buried my face into his hair — hair the colour of ripe barley: gold and silver and amber in that rich dusk light — all I sensed underneath that mildness of chlorine was a scent of salt and soap and brushed metal and life and cinnamon tea and repressed longing for anything more, anything more than just this.

My tears would not fall.

"Tell me," I whispered to him. "Tell me you don't want me to leave, and . . . and I will give up all that and stay here with you. I really will."

He did not respond, and I did not have the courage to say any more. I only faced at the ceiling, anguished and silent, imagining the light and shadows behind my eyelids blurring and splintering like kaleidoscopes, imagining his face awash with tears. His towel dried, and eventually we were roused from our sleep by the curious driver who looked at us as if we were her neighbours. We left the terminal and went the way back home by foot, all grief and hidden affections replaced by shame and awkwardness that rang stark into the early starlit night.

– – –

He was standing at the entrance of the cave, and I walked into its greyness, overcome by audacity and excitement. It curved gently to the left, sloping downwards, and I could not see the rest of the way.

"Don't," he pleaded, shaking his head. "Don't go in there."

"I'll be fine," I reassured him. I took another marbled step down, and the world fell a fragment darker. I turned around, and, smiling, extended an arm towards him. "Come with me. We can explore it together."

Still he shook his head, and refused to move. His figure became a silhouette against the pearly light, and I continued my way down, down the cave that unravelled to become a spiral, rolling eternal into depths of uncertainty and darkness, where I fancied something beautiful, something transmudane lay, only waiting and seeking to be found. I doubled my footsteps; the streams of light fast disappeared above me.

He shouted my name, and again, in a raking sob, yet he never dared tumble down this downward spiral together with me. His echoes bounced from the marble walls, and reached for me the way his arm did, but both merely closed their grasps upon thin air, and faded into nothing. In that perpetual blackness I ran, unsure if I was eager for the cache in the centre of the spiral, or retreating from him and that light above.

The heart of the spiral held nothing, but when I embraced it I knew it was what I had been anticipating, and I was to share it with no one but him. But I looked up, and saw only darkness; I shouted his name, the remnants of an echo returned, too far away up above, and I knew I was alone.

– – –

Three days before, he and I went back to our childhood homes, along with our families. It turned out that it had been transformed into a beach resort and, grotesque as it was, become so popular with the busy working people nearby over the years that we still found it difficult to book rooms for our visit there. It took us hours by car, and throngs of people were there when we arrived.

Dad's new workplace had already been confirmed, and we would be flying in three days' time. My sister and I had settled our academic matters; I would begin my university studies there, and she would continue hers. Dad only told his pal just last week, and they both decided to have this short vacation before we left.

Our rooms were numbers twenty-seven to twenty-nine, and next to one another. We explored, and found too little of the past to reminisce over, except our memories. Still they went out to bask in the sunlight along with the hordes of people, and the two of us, sickened by the changes, dispersed from the group.

They did not develop that rocky area of the beach after all, and instead cordoned it off to swimmers and young children. We gingerly made our way across the same grey rocks, the same gritty sand, the same foamy waters that did no more than play around our ankles. And we found the same rock pool that led to his prized possession, and my one precious memory.

It was the same, only bigger, and slippery with algae. Two yellow-green anemones waved in the shallow water, and I smiled but never touched them. He continued to squat, watching the life quietly perpetuating inside, as I stood on a small rock outcrop, watching the horizon disappearing outside. Then I heard his voice, soft and casual.

"Zurich. That's far, isn't it?"

I watched his back, sun-kissed brown against the white of his singlet, in the salty breeze that never ceased, under the staling light. "It'll be cold," I said. "But we'll get used to it in no time."

"They don't have beaches there."

I curled my toes against the smooth coolness of the rock.

"I know."

For a long moment neither of us spoke. Then: "You'll be coming back one day, right?" He stood up, and turned to me, with a small smile. "We still have to unlock all the characters in Final Fantasy XIII when it comes out."

He said that with such unrelenting normality it sounded vulgar, and all I wanted to do was to shake him awake, and demand his truth. Yet at the same time, my heart clenched at his very same words.

"I might," I lied.

He gazed up at me, hands on his sides, and said nothing. Then he turned to face the sea, like I was, and the wind ran itself through his hair. The sun paled further, and the waters splashed their approaching rise. It would have been easy to step down from the rock, and walk to him till I could slip my arms around his waist, and watch our world together with him. But I did not.

"Do you want me to stay?" I asked him, softly. "I can if you like."

We were silent for several moments, before he finally replied. "It's okay. I can do fine on my own here." He bent down and dipped a hand into the rock pool, then stood upright again, walked towards me and hauled himself up the rock. "You can go back if you're worried about the tide. I think I'll just explore around a little more."

I stared at him, and the images of his words reflected themselves off his eyes. Then I noticed what he held in his hand: another spiral shell, this time larger, and unchipped, and white washed with grey, and lined with silver on its interior.

And he smiled at me then, the familiar smile of purity that I saw all the time since we first knew each other — one that I had known as friendship, one that I could feel in this familiar land of sea and sky and almost feel soft against my lips — were it not for the coolness of the shell that placed itself onto my hand.

"It's yours," he said simply. Then he turned and walked away, up another mass of rocks even further from where we had ever ventured, ten years past. I clutched the shell tight in my palm, unable to do anything except watch him leave, and meander until he went behind a jutting rock, and I saw him no longer.

– – –

Three hours before, he and I stood at the gates as everyone else streamed past us and around us and all over us, shuffling and whispering and weeping and laughing. The shell, wrapped in paper, sat in a wooden box, which sat in my hand luggage, which sat quietly by my side.

Both our parents were in a group, saying what few last words they wanted to say before the flight. Twice, my sister beckoned me over, but I only stood a distance away, meaning to talk to him; but when we were alone, we realised we had nothing to say.

We drifted to the massive glass panels, and watched the planes landing and taking off, tails of red and blue and green and gold flashing in the sun of the tierce hour; little faces from rows of little oval windows perhaps stared back at us, glad to be here, glad to be going.

I glanced sideways at him. The harsh indoor lights lit the back of his head, and the bleak sunlight his front; they only paled his features deathly, and I turned my eyes to the planes again, not wanting to see them. "We've got to check in soon," I reminded, trying to be natural.

He did not look at me. Instead his hands rested on the steel railing that ran the length of the window, and his eyes gazed afar.

"Just a little while more."

A half-step, and he was right next to me, eyes on me, bright and melancholy blue. I don't want you to leave, he finally told me, in a whisper. My hands slipped onto his cheeks, where splinters of light flowed profusely down, softly, softly; I kissed him, and gentled him, and loved him, and I knew I had decided.

And we ran away and out of the departure hall, with the baggage wheeling hard behind me, till we no longer heard my sister's surprised shouts, our mothers' confused cries, our fathers' furious threats. Into the nearest bus we stepped, and it brought us back to our beach; and there we stood, at that fragile boundary between sand and sea — where the susurrus of the waves below and the cawing of the seabirds above witnessed the matrimony of our forever of silver white and spiral blue, those memories and playtimes that we learnt to deny and forget and yet

— Yet they were what we only had, and each other.

We faced the wide window again, oceans apart, and knew the time had come. I walked to our families; he followed close behind. Dad said it was really time to go, and he shared one last hug with his pal, and his wife, and his son. I turned to him, wishing and wanting him to tell me, to say to me that one thing that would make me relinquish all that Zurich could ever promise, and stay, here, with him.

He looked at me, and opened his mouth to speak, while the glare of the fluorescent lights danced wildly in his eyes, cajoled by the lady's impersonal voice that announced our flight over the intercom.

". . . Take care," he said, and lowered his head.

I turned away, and went through the gates, with my father and mother and sister, and never looked back, for all I could hear was his parents calling goodbye, and no more.

– – –

I sat down on the carpeted floor, and the glass pressed cold and hard against my back. On the runway planes continued to come and go; in the lounge people continued to approach and leave.

Dad thought I was unwell. Mum thought I was too upset about leaving home. My sister expressed little concern, and I thought she knew. She gave me a bar of chocolate she bought, and asked nothing.

I folded my legs, and curled up against the row of seats, feeling cold, and empty, and remorseful, wondering why I had kept wanting him to tell me when I could have told him.

I buried my face in my arms, and tried to forget.

Now a shadow fell across me: it was a black-haired girl with a white-haired doll in her arms. She stared at me, as she stood close by in long black socks and leather shoes, and I was ashamed. But she stroked her doll by his hair, and he gazed at me with glass eyes, and a perpetual smile, and understanding. And in that manner and silence we stayed, for the next few hours, till the plane beckoned.

– – –

Three seconds before, the wheels of the plane left the runway. The nautilus unfurled into endless shreds, and I let fall my first tears, for him.

-fin-