The mango tree confused him. Spreading its dense limbs over the luxuriant growth of the garden, lush with the constant rains of the tropical coast. Perhaps it was the house he remembered. He could not be sure because of the growth that had occurred over the years. If he walked past from one direction, there was something familiar, but walking from the opposite direction did not prompt any memories. And yet, those steps to the door, the wide verandah,, it all seemed so welcoming. He could remember sitting with her father on a front verandah. Was it here? He was a wonderful man, mild in manner, a man who seemed to know him better than he knew himself then.
He had met his daughter, Alana, at that youth camp. He had no idea why they had been so attracted to each other, something about her stillness had attracted him. Or was it her ability to see through his need and provide that quiet comfort that soothed him, made him remember what it was like to share. They had spent that night together on the beach, just talking and kissing. Those kisses! He could still taste the salt, the tangy feel of her tongue, the warmth of her body, the closeness of her, the sharing, the quiet. The intimacy of the comfort had been enough for him then.
They had spent the next two days in each other’s company. Such a joy. They found such common interests, they dreamed of a similar future. Just sharing closeness and time seemed to satisfy him, brought him a calm he had not felt for some time. After they left, they wrote long letters to each other, talking of their love, their dreams, their desires for the world that seemed such a challenge. He found in her a spirit which charged him with the energy he needed to believe in the changes he wanted to make. At that time he could only think of changing the world, not himself. It was easier to dream of a world of peace and love and work at ways to make it possible through his life choices than it was to love. She seemed to understand this, and gave him the platform for his ideas that he needed. She also knew that he had to change, but only when he was ready. She was patient, simply expressing her love in the ways he wanted to hear.
When she sent the invitation to come to her house and meet her father, he had hesitated. This would require a commitment. He was uncertain what it meant. Was he ready to be that personal? Did he trust himself to maintain the distance that was necessary while expressing closeness? Would her father understand? After all, he was not like him. She assured him it was fine, this was the time of openness, and hadn’t they written of how much they shared in belief, how much they had in common, how little difference there really was?
In the end, he had gone willingly and found in her father another kindred spirit. Talking to him had been like talking to an older, wiser version of Alana. He wasn’t as attractive, of course, but the physical was not as important to him then. They spoke of the world and the future, they described their ideals and hopes for change. They spoke for what seemed hours, even after Alana came out and joined them. He couldn’t remember what happened after that, he only knows that he never went back to her house again.
It hadn’t been easy. Others had not understood his need. They warned him not to keep writing to her, to discourage her from closeness because of his future. He had gone along with their request, he had discouraged her, he had stopped writing. Even now, he couldn’t remember what had actually happened, whether she had written last or he had. It had somehow just stopped. Time had passed. Almost a lifetime.
Now here he was in the street again, outside what he thought was the house, as far as he could remember. Somehow, the thought of her had always been there. Perhaps it was just the comfort he felt that night on the beach, perhaps it was just the thought of the life they could have shared, the life he might have had.
It had been a lifetime, a lifetime of struggle, of death and despair. It was supposed to be a life of joy and love, but he had not found it. The training had been the easy part. The ideals he carried like a torch for others had been fostered by a succession of worthy men. The travel and further study in South America, North America, Rome, had reinforced his views that people had to change. They had to accept the new way for life, for love. He had always found it easy to discuss these ideals, to believe in the way.
In his last year of study, the death of his mother had started it. For the first time, doubt entered his mind. His mother had died the night before his father came out of hospital. At her funeral his father was drunk again. Why did good people die in pain, leaving those behind to persist without accepting change? Where was life and love for his mother? How could he have made it better for her? He did not think it was regret he felt, and he certainly denied the anger. He was good to his father, accepting his faults, comforting him, but it didn’t change him. He flew back to Rome confused.
Working in South America had sealed it. He seemed to be surrounded with death. The old, the young, the fighters, the weak, even the just, all seemed to die without reason, without love. He did what he could to comfort the living, but the words started to sound hollow even to him. The ritual had comfort in its familiarity, the people still came, but something was missing. The fiery bitterness of the white rum became his solace, until his superiors stepped in and sent him back for rehabilitation.
The front gate stood open. It seemed to beckon him. He could imagine her looking out the window at his approaching figure and running joyfully to open the front door. He just wanted to see her again, he wondered why his eyes suddenly felt full, as though he was looking at the moon off that beach, that night…….
“Can I help you?”
“Does Alana King live here?”
“Alana King. She lived here with her father. She was a youth worker.”
“Oh! The Kings! They owned this house before we came. Tragic story. She was killed in South America on a holiday and her father never got over it. They said he used to just sit on this front verandah, waiting for her to return, I guess. I’m sorry, did you know them well? … Are you all right? … Father……?”