My grandparents had gone out to run some errands I was left to catch up on some homework. I hated home-schooling. The urge to lie on the couch and watch TV all day or sit outside in the sun and read a novel was tempting, but if I did manage to beat this cancer thing, and go back to school, I didn't want to be kept behind. I wanted to rejoin everything at the same point at which I had left it. Whether or not the same would go for those I had chosen not to communicate with for the time being, Tyler being the only one really, I did not know. I wished in the deepest and darkest part of my heart, that he wouldn't move on, the he would take me back if that time ever came. It was a selfish thought, I know, but I couldn't deny it was the truth, it was how I felt.
There was a scratching sound coming from the glass sliding door that opened onto the backyard. I realised I had been staring blankly at same glass door without realising that a labrador puppy was clawing to get in. By the time I got to the door to open it, there was a tall figure jogging into the backyard. I opened the door and petted the pup who licked at my wrists.
"He likes you," said the figure entering through the garden gate. I looked up and saw Him. No, not Him as in God, but Him, the guy from the beach on my birthday. I remembered him fondly since then, tall and strong, wading into the rough ocean, unshakeable. I hadn't been able to see his face closely the last time, but I could see every detail now: dark eyes, long, thick eyebrows, a prominent nose that suited his equally prominent angular jaw line, which was lightly covered hair. He smiled and the hard handsomeness disappeared into a wide, dimpled smile. I thought for a second, perhaps it was God after all, and I had finally died and gone to heaven.
"Hi, i'm Daniel, Dan," he said pulling me out of my thoughts.
"Hi, I'm Adriel," I said standing up and shaking his hand, his large, strong hand. What was going on with me? Why was I all of a sudden noticing every single attractive quality in this guy? I hadn't even been thinking about Ty in a sexual manner for a while now, and here I was thinking about what the skin on his neck felt like. Was having a stroke a complication of chemo because I must have been having one.
"Are you all right?" he asked, frowning slightly.
"I need to sit," I said and walked slowly to the porch swing, the puppy playing at my calves.
"Are you sure you're ok?"
"I'm fine, sometimes the chemo makes me a little dizzy,"
"You have cancer?"
"You thought my bald head was a fashion choice?" I said, looking up at him with one eye, the brightness of the afternoon sun blinding me. He moved so that I was in his shadow, his broad shoulders blocking out the sun.
"I guess not," he said laughing.
"What's her name?"
"As in Rachel from Friends?"
"Yip," he said, "I'm a huge fan."
"So you live with your grandparents?"
"Yeah, just while I'm having the chemo,"
"And your parents?"
"My dad lives at our home in Cape Town and my mom died a few years ago,"
"It's ok, she was sick too."
"Are you allowed to be outside? You don't have..."
"Leucopaenia? No, not this time."
"How did you know to ask that?"
"I'm a medical student, in my final year actually."
"Dr Dan, it's got a nice ring to it, congratulations. That's really awesome. So what happens next year?"
"I'm going to Johannesburg to do my internship. A few of my friends and I have decided to brave the city together. We're gonna rent a house, and maybe even take little Rachel with us."
"Is it scary, growing up? Having to take the next step? Becoming an adult?"
Dan was quiet for a second as he pondered his answer.
"It has its challenges, power struggles, with yourself and with those older than you. But I wouldn't go back if I had the choice. More responsibility means greater reward at the end of the day, if you're able to handle the responsibilities that is."
"It sounds daunting,"
"I think that you'll be just great, you're already probably going through the toughest time in your life. Once you get through it, everything else will be manageable."
I moved over on the swing and he sat next to me. Rachel jump at him and he picked her up and put her on his lap.
"What do you want to do one day?" he asked, his strong tan legs pushing the swing back and forth gently.
"I wanted to be a dancer, I mean a professional ballet dancer, but I don't know anymore."
"Why not? What's changed?"
"Well, I know there are two realities for me. The one is me not making it through this, and that is a possibility and I think I've mostly come to terms with it. The other is that I do get through it and go back to my old life, which I'm not sure I want to anymore. Dancing was always for me, it was a place I went to for myself, to get away from the world. I did't do it for anyone else. After going through cancer I don't know if I want to do something that selfish with my life. Not that people cant use dance to help others, I just don't think that I can. The stuff that goes through my mind when I dance is deeply personal, so I think I rather do something else that could benefit people somehow."
"I think I know what you mean,"
"You do?" I said surprised.
"Sport was to me what dancing is to you, especially swimming. I could have been an Olympics contender now If I had continued. But I knew that once it was over, once I couldn't do it anymore, I would have nothing more to give. I can't coach swimming and I hate talking about competition, so I had to do something that I could set my future on. Hence me becoming a doctor."
"Gosh, I haven't been swimming in so long. I haven't done many things I enjoy in so long. Cancer makes you weak like that."
"Do you want me to take you swimming, the ocean is right there? You'd be safe with me."
I looked up at him and smiled, "Right now? I don't have a bathing suit that fits me anymore."
"You can go in your underwear can't you, it's a private beach, people won't mind."
I stood up and started walking to the gate, swung it open and turned, "Well, come on then," I said. Dan jumped up, picked up Rachel and followed me onto the brown, warm sandiness of the beach.
When we neared the edge of the beach I saw Dan remove his T-shirt. I did the same, including the elastic-waisted track pants I had been wearing. The waves were beckoning me and I stepped towards them without waiting for Dan. The warm Indian Ocean water surrounded my feet up to my ankles, the sand loose beneath my feet. Then Dan was next to me, and we walked side by side into the waves. I was up to my waist in water when a wave knocked me off my feet. Water covered my head and my nasal sinuses burned with the saline water. An arm caught be and pulled me out of the water. I wiped the water from my eyes, disorientated for a second.
"Let's go deeper," I said.
We walked further, the waves still knocking me back and forth a bit, but Dan's arms were never too far away, always keeping me above the water. We waded until we were beyond the breaking of the waves, about half way between the beach and the shark nets. I obviously could no longer stand, so we both floated on our backs.
After a while Dan broke the silence, "How do you feel?"
"AMAZING!!" I screamed into the air. Dan laughed at my exclamation, which made me laugh so much so that I had to upright myself and tread water for a bit.
"I'm actually getting a little but tired," I admitted after about 10 minutes of treading water.
"Hold onto my shoulders, I'll take you back," he said. And so he swam with me on his back until we got the to breaking of the waves and to a point where I could stand again. He guided me safely back to the beach.
We sat side my side on the sand looking at the late afternoon sun setting the horizon on fire.
Water dripped from earlobes not my shoulders and down my back, my chin rested on my knees. Dan had his arms stretched out behind him and his legs in front of him, crossed at the ankles. I felt refreshed but despite it, the realisation of how weak I had become truly set in. I had once played in the ocean, stood up again and again every time a wave had knocked me down. Would I ever be able to do that again? Would cancer be the final triumphant wave that knocked me down forever? Tears began streaming down my cheeks. Dan put his arm around me and pulled me to his side.
"Nothing. Everything is perfect. Thank you," I replied.
The tears dried quickly. In that moment everything was perfect. Dan and the ocean had helped me feel human again, even if just for those few precious moments drifting side by side, never touching, but knowing that someone was there, someone that had your back, someone to keep you from sinking.