Peter and I did a lot of things in the rain. We met in the rain at a bus stop after arriving by ferry from mainland Malaysia to the island of Penang. We hiked a mountain in the rain and were chased by monkeys on our descent. We ate many dinners together in intermittent silence as the rain drummed on the thin roof covering us. We had sex in the rain.
The water drummed hard against the bamboo roof, and with the waves crashing hard against the beach a few feet away, I could barely hear the sound of him breathing heavily into my neck. It wasn’t because it’d been months since I’d felt the passionate need of a man on my skin that I lost myself and molded so effortlessly to his body, or even because of the way his thick hands wandered with such care from my lips, down my neck, across my breasts, and pulled me intensely to his chest. It was because he remembered the things I’d forgotten I’d told him two weeks earlier — things an intellect such as his shouldn’t have made note of in the first place — and the way he endearingly corrected my facetious remarks with factual statements — sincerely and without patronizing — that I felt, being four months and three time zones away from home, I could indulge in the best of what could come from being in the right place at the right time.
He had finally kissed me on our fourth day together at the beach in Penang, not because he hadn’t made it obvious sooner that he wanted to, but because the whole situation felt too Hollywood for me to let it happen. I had already wanted to undress him the day before, having spent hours watching his rugby legs flex and seeing the deep lines of his muscles through his shirt, damp with rain and sweat, as we ascended and descended 4,000 feet of Malay mountain, him in front of me. It was far easier for me to resist in the way I always do than to give in in the ways I wish I could, which is why I declined his offer on the fifth day to spend a few days with him at a little fishing village off the western coast of the island and instead ventured 13 hours north across the border into Thailand, without reason. With my secret doubts, I told him we could meet up again there.
His patience and my uncertainty only grew from the time he stopped in and hugged me goodbye at my hostel Friday at noon in Penang, to the time he again found me Wednesday night at 8pm sitting at the open-air front of my hostel in Koh Lanta. But when I climbed on the back of his rented motorbike later that night, straddling him closely and resting my hands with deliberation on his lower abdomen, I knew there was a reason I took the same route to where I knew he would be.
Peter seemed to always know where he would be. He had everything mapped and planned based on recommendations from guidebooks, blogs, and travel sites. He knew dates, facts, and figures and could discuss philosophy, literature, and politics with equal amounts of interest. He always carried a map and could always tell me with unwavering certainty what we should see. Our first night together in Penang, after eating at an Indian restaurant he’d read received a good rating, we ventured through the streets of Georgetown in the light evening mist. “We built this church in 18…,” he’d tell me, as we passed the British architecture he’d studied in university. On our second day together, we sat out on the pier and he told me his plans to be back in Melbourne for Christmas, and later when the conversation drifted lightly to talk of the future, he knew he wanted to be retired from a commendable military career at 40 and living back in his hometown hills in the UK. So much conviction for someone only 23.
I never knew where I would be. In fact, the idea of committing to a plan two days from now made me antsy with the fear I might miss something wonderfully spontaneous. I showed up at bus stations on a whim and arrived in new towns without the faintest idea of where I’d stay that night. I’d moved ten times in the last four years, between Canada, the United States, Ecuador, back to Canada, China, and now indefinitely through Southeast Asia, not to mention different cities in each place.
My geographical knowledge was commendable mainly because my passport stamps were well into the double digits and I regularly fantasized about the places I’d show up in next, staring at the little map of the world I had stored on my iPod.
“It always works out,” I told Peter, and he said he found my ad hoc approach endearing. I didn’t know any other approach. I had often tried to create a semblance of a plan, a route, a career path, a life plan, but my attention span usually broke and shifted, and instead I’d find myself thinking about how the lady I’d been watching across the street met her husband or what it would be like if I took a six-month contract in Afghanistan or the feeling I’d have when I finally overcame procrastination and wrote a book.
Silly was how Peter described the little tattoo on my ribs, but when I didn’t know the full history of Zimbabwe, I wondered if that’s what he thought of me too. But he kept inviting me to join him places. He ran his hands up my legs with the grip of someone who doesn’t fully know their own strength as we rode around the island on his rented motorbike, weaving the narrow roads between the beach and jungle. He asked me to dinner every night, and even when we sat for lengths of time in silence on the little wooden planks on the beach, watching the waves roll in and out, I somehow got the sense he enjoyed my company.
On our twelfth night together, I climbed up the wooden ladder behind Peter to his little stilted bamboo hut. The Lonely Planet listed the place as their number one choice for accommodations on that beach, not only because it was 500 baht a night, but also because the natural Thai feel was evident beyond the bamboo structures; no internet, candle lighting, guitar music. We stepped over the hammock strung across the tiny porch, dusted the sand off our feet, and crawled inside under the mosquito net that draped across the mattress that stretched across the full width of the hut.
It was already dark. It began to rain lightly and the smell of fried onions being cooked in the kitchen a few metres away wafted in through the open shudders. I sat with anticipation, knowing full well, as any 22-year-old does, what can happen after dark, while Peter climbed down the ladder on the other side of the bed and closed the door behind him to the bathroom without saying a word. When he returned a few minutes later, he lay down on top of me and we lay clothed, tangled in each other — arms and legs, hands in hair — in perfect silence.
“Are you sure?” he asked me. I didn’t answer him; instead I peeled off his thin green shirt to reveal a body toned from recent years of rugby training. I was sure but I still left in the middle of the night to return to my own guesthouse. Alone.
Many times I wonder whether I welcome solitude. I have ideals and perceptions created by an overactive imagination that no human can live up to, and so I find loneliness more appealing than bad company. Peter was exceptional company; he was witty and curious, and I was endeared by the way normal words sounded pretentious in his British accent.
But I still left, though not before returning to his bungalow the next afternoon to eat mango sticky rice on his porch and spend the night in his bed. I woke up sometime around when the sun did. The sound of Peter’s rhythmic breathing beside me and seeing him deep in sleep in only his Calvin Klein’s made me waver, but if I’m anything, I’m stubborn (and persistent). I found my dress at the end of the bed, slipped it over my head, and kissed him on the face. He sat up and hugged me for a long time in silence.
“Bye Peter. I hope to see you again,” I whispered, like it was him and not I choosing to leave.
“You will. Bye Adrianna,” he said, but I was already halfway down the bamboo ladder. I walked the narrow path between the palm trees out to where my scooter was parked with the unmistakable feeling that I was making a mistake. I wanted to crawl back under the mosquito net with him, feel his arm on my back when I stirred in the middle of the night, taste the saltiness of his skin. But I didn’t. I returned the scooter at 9am, had my bags packed by 10, and left for Bangkok at 11.