A boat took my family and I over a deep blue river to a green town dotted with terracotta town houses each with second story balconies, white railings and white underlay of curtains hanging in the windows. We walked among flower beds and drank grape juice to quench our thirsts. I held the hand of one of the children as we walked on following the leader my Aunt to a location unknown. She began to tire, being the oldest member of the tribe, and suggested a friend’s house where we would be welcome to stop, take bathroom breaks, drink tea and eat biscuits before we resumed our journey.
The house was a four story town house, taller but otherwise the same as all the rest with green bubble trees in front of the door way, but we were not entering the house from ground level. Our entrance was via a ladder placed on a ledge which began around the second story and led up to the guest tea room beyond the giant oval balcony on the forth floor. One by one the family scaled the ladder and hopped over onto the balcony to their rest. I was nervous, but as family members far older and younger than I had managed with no trouble I had faith that I would be the same. I climbed up the ladder to the top, expecting to climb straight on to the balcony, only to find at the top that the ladder did not touch the balcony, but instead a large drop separated the top of the ladder from the solid ground of the balcony. I began to tremble, I looked down to the ground beneath, I measured up the space between the ladder and the railing of the balcony and knew that the gap between was wider than my legs would stretch and that I would have to jump. My cousins beckoned to me to try, but no matter how they insisted that I could make it I knew that I could not. I knew that I would fall and yet I was ashamed that I was the only one who could not make it to the other side.
I climbed downward back to the ground and made my way towards the ground floor of the house to find my way in. As I walked around the side of the hill from which the ladder began, I found myself in the middle of a picnic laid on tables under cream canopies. As I walked in I recognized the people all sat eating and drinking from a bar which had been set up in the middle of the area. I saw him sat on one of the benches among his friends. I could not turn back, not that the thought really crossed my mind, but the thought of hiding did. But I had already been spotted and immediately asked to join the party and take a seat by his side. The usual banter resumed and it was as if two years had not passed. It was as if no other girlfriend had since been introduced to the group. As they smiled in my direction I wondered if they had smiled as widely for her or if they secretly wished that she was there in my place.
All the time I could not look at him and instead I sat with my back to him trying not to show my discomfort. He was talking a lot and everyone was laughing and joining in the fun, and soon I felt the warmth of his chest on my back and his arm around my waste, his chin resting on my shoulder and his breath in my ear and I sighed, leaned into him and felt safe. A few compliments were sent my way and could feel him smile as he squeezed me a little closer with approval, the tip of his nose grazing the edge of my ear. I closed my eyes and allowed myself to switch off all the thoughts of reality and forgot for a moment that this was a dream; that it was long gone and someone else had already been and gone in my place.
Yet no sooner than I had found my peace, he was insulted by the teasing of an old friend and immediately stood to stomp out of the meal, but before he did he whispered an apology in my ear for leaving in that way and said he had missed me. I looked up at him above me, confused and unsure what to do and he leaned over and kissed me on the lips. Not passionately… but like old times… like an old married couple kissing goodbye as one leaves to get the shopping.
Shortly after, his friends began to leave, each one coming over to say their goodbyes and say how they had missed me being around and hoped I was doing well. In the corner of my eye I saw him back the bar glaring at his friend and drinking a Coke out of a pint glass.
I turned around to find my nephew waiting patiently behind me. He held out his hand and led me back towards the house, back up the hill to the ladder and ushered me to the top. My cousin was leaning over the edge of the railing again trying to convince me that I could make it as she dangled a small child who had climbed over me to the top and insisted that she was safe, though the child almost slipped from her hands and she herself looked like she was about to fall from the railing. I could feel my nephew beneath me growing impatient and I began to cry, because I knew that I couldn’t make the jump.