Sunday 19 July 2015
This morning, I woke to the gentle shooshing sound of waves lapping the shore of the bay below my window. Leaning out over the terrace and looking up, I could just see the tiny whitewashed hut that is the church of Agios Pavlos (Saint Paul) perched on a ledge and, beside it, the shadow of a cave.
Chris had slept in the cave a few times when she came to Agios Pavlos for the first time in 2000. Her relationship with Mike had ended and she and I hadn’t yet got together though we knew each other as friends. She’d gone to take classes at the yoga centre there.
She’d told me proudly how she’d travelled with just a backpack containing a toothbrush, a change of clothes, and a copy of Women Who Run With The Wolves. She’d arrived by ferry from Agia Galini and waded ashore, a latter day Aphrodite. After she died, I saw that she had written in her journal that it was one of the few times in her life when, as an adult, she had felt utterly free.
I’d taken her back there a few years later as a 40th birthday present. She’d attended yoga classes each morning while I walked a couple of miles along the shoreline to Trio Petra, and back, more arduously, on circuitous inland tracks. In the afternoons, we’d dozed and swum and in the evenings we’d haunted the bar and had dinner. It had been an idyllic time.
I had breakfast in the café, then crossed the beach and climbed the low rocky headland opposite, that the locals call the Sleeping Dragon. I sat for a while looking out to sea and then I made my way along the ridge of a sand-dune to the cave where I planned to scatter some of Chris’s ashes.
There were wax tapers for visitors to use in the tiny church. I lit one and left it burning beside a photograph of Chris that I’d taken with me. Outside, in the cave, I found a sheltered spot overlooking the bay and mixed a few handfuls of Chris’s ashes into the dusty soil. As I did so, I felt a sense of joy and a rising energy in my body that told me this had been the right place to start.
By this time it was mid-morning and the sun was blazing down. I retraced my path over the sand-dune and followed the familiar route along the shoreline to Trio Petra. It was a tough walk back (though I was determined to manage it without stopping). A cold beer, a shower, and a long siesta later, I sat in the shade remembering our time there together and wrote for a while.
About 6.30pm when it was cooler and there were fewer people about, I changed and went down to the beach. The water felt silky smooth on my skin as I swam out over the rocky shallows to deeper water. The poem I’d written that afternoon, had made it clear to me that this was where the remainder of the ashes I’d brought with me belonged. I unscrewed the top of the jar underwater and, through my goggles, watched the cloud of grey-white particles drift down and away on the current. The first stage of our journey was done.
I brought you here for your 40th birthday.
Do you remember? You were mad for the sea.
Swim, you said. Swim with me.
So we swam toward the horizon:
you with your easy freestyle; me
splashing awkwardly behind.
I’d always been happiest on dry land
but deep water was your element.
There’s nothing to fear, you said.
I won’t let you drown.
We swam on together through the beckoning waves
until we reached the mouth of the Sleeping Dragon;
while below us, turquoise turned to aquamarine
and shafts of sunlight dissolved into darkness.
And I was not afraid.
So that years later, when the dragon roared,
I took your hand in mine and said, Let’s jump.
You looked to see if you could trust me;
Yes, you said, let’s do it.
For twelve months we played at the water’s edge;
swimming together, side-by-side,
till the riptide came for us,
as we knew it would.
You smiled as you slipped from my grasp,
then down you went – free diving
into the unplumbed depths,
leaving this life behind.
Now you are swimming in different seas,
and I am slowly heading back to shore.