Moma says a lot of beautiful things about the waves. When she’s in a good mood, which is not very often, she will tell me how, when I was born, I matched my breathing with the rhythm of the sea. She says she remembers it perfectly, even now, seven long years later. This is how she will always begin: “Kalai, the most violent thing about it was the silence. It hit us and hit us again. We thought we could hear our own hearts beating, but really it was just the silence pulsing inside our skin. It’s true, we could physically feel it, like a hammer in our chests – at least I did.” Moma reckons that in those few seconds, when air was desperately searching a way out of my too tight throat, I must have heard the sound of the waves. And something deep inside me had probably realised that this was what breathing should sound like, should feel like.
My first breath was like the receding tide, which just takes everything with it, all the fear, and leaves a clean slate behind. My second breath was like the crashing sea, like a terrible rush of feelings, and my Moma says that out of all those emotions which so suddenly chased the silence away, she can’t exactly remember the one which made her cry the most.
When she’s in a bad mood, Moma will sometimes forget that the waves saved me, and instead of telling me about the day I was born, she will tell me about a poet who once wrote how beautiful it was that the waves never stopped kissing the shore, no matter how many times they were sent away. Moma doesn’t agree with the poet, she reckons the waves are stupid. And when I try to protest, she answers: “The shore doesn’t care, Kalai. He knows the sea will always be there. He knows and he doesn’t care, and the sea isn’t strong enough to just let it go.” And she will bang on the furniture and let all the walls of the tiny house get in her way, so I’m always too afraid to tell her that you can’t say “he” when you’re talking about the shore. School says so. But then, I’ve never really liked school that much.
I don’t understand what she means when she says all this, but I’ve noticed that on those days, Moma will sometimes pack a big bag with a few clothes, and stare at it for a very long time, before replacing the clothes back where they belong. I wish I could tell her that I don’t think the waves are stupid, and that I don’t want her to go, but I can’t ever find the words. On those days, it seems that all my breaths are like the receding tide: they just leave me empty.
And then, one day, the sea left. There is no other way to say it, because it’s exactly how it happened. It started as any other day. I was digging holes for the crabs who’d lost their homes to the tide: Moma says you should always try to help the homeless. This is something I do every now and then, it just calms me. When I’m standing on the shore, and I can positively hear that my breathing and the sound of the sea are just one same thing, it makes me feel bigger, older. It makes me feel like I belong to something I don’t know about just yet. Where I’m standing, there’s always a movement, always a sound, things that have always existed, and always will. Well, at least I thought they would.
There was one last hiss, one last caress of the sea on the worn-out skin of the shore, one final intake of breath. Then, the sea left. If I had known what was going to happen, I would have listened more closely, looked for the signs of a goodbye. The waves had packed a big bag with a few pebbles, but I hadn’t noticed. How could I have known? Nothing was different. The sea was always packing and unpacking, taking and releasing, the sea always came back. But not on this day. It was like the waves were going in reverse, running as fast as they could, not turning back. Maybe if they had given the shore a second look then, and seen how desolate and dry it looked without them, they wouldn’t have left. I watched them go and I felt more empty than I’d ever felt before. The tide had taken my breath away.
It took me a few seconds to react, as long as it took to feel my throat tightening, and my lungs shrinking. I ran. There weren’t many other people on the beach, most of the kids were still at school, there was no one else to run with me. So I ran alone. I thought I could be faster than the tide, catch it back and ask it to stay, tell it that the shore was going to change, I promise, that he wasn’t going to push the waves away anymore, because he loved the waves, and they were supposed to be together, for ever, for longer than time could count. Because how could I breathe if they parted? But the waves had gone. I started to cry, and I ran back to the shore, hammered it with my bare feet, kicked it all I could. How could he have let that happened? Why didn’t he try to hold her back? He had to say he was sorry, maybe she would hear if he meant it loud enough. He had to do something, he couldn’t let her leave us. The sea crashed and wailed inside me, and it sunk all the tiny boats of hope that I had.
And then there was nothing.
Nothing but me, sitting on the dry sand. With dry eyes and a dry mouth. I didn’t know for sure if I was still breathing or not. I didn’t really care. It didn’t really matter. There was really no sound. And my old enemy stood there before me, the unspeakable silence. I couldn’t break it. I didn’t know how.
I realised that I hadn’t even said goodbye to the waves, so I murmured, as loud as the silence would allow it: “I think I’ve always loved you more than the shore did. I wish it had been enough.”
I don’t know how many seconds ticked by before I heard it. Probably just a few. It sounded like a storm, but I immediately knew it couldn’t be, because of how clear the sky was. It had to be her. I stood up and made myself as tall as I could. She was coming back. She was coming back for me.
I laughed and laughed, and I opened my arms as wide as the ocean. I could see her now, taller and wider than the beach itself, the most beautiful wave I’d ever seen.
My last breath was like the crashing sea, a terrible rush of feelings, and, as my Moma would have said, out of all the emotions which so suddenly chased the silence away, I can’t exactly remember the one which made me cry the most.
And like a loving mother, she held my body as I fell.