Why? Why Not?

A short story, by Sophie Eminson.

The low evening sun looked particularly striking that night, shining over the central plains as I sat in my car drinking a cold beer. I thought about the quarry I had visited today as I stared over the multi-coloured land. It was breath-taking. This pinnacle I had discovered on Tuesday evening was the perfect place to reside for a few days; nobody’s eyes on me, no cameras or camping grounds nearby. It was ideal. As was my life travelling through Singapore, perhaps leading to Bali, or New Zealand. It didn’t matter. I was going somewhere for no reason with nobody watching. I rolled my neck, feeling the cracks and caught sight of myself in the wing mirror. I looked content, hair ruffled and chin sprouting brown fur, skin glowing beige. The rugged adventurer.

On my way down the mountain that very morning in my jeep, I passed some younger adventurers speeding uphill on their Vespas. They looked like they were going to have a fun day, as was I. I had jumped into that stunning quarry, Little Guilin, and had found the waters toasty, like bathwater you just want to immerse yourself in for hours. I had lain there, staring into the spring sky surrounded by trees overflowing into the waters, green, hazel, and brown smiling down on me, welcoming me to their sanctuary. I breathed in the fresh scent of lemongrass, which grew in the surrounding fields.

My serenity was interrupted by a coach-load of teenagers, who started dive bombing from all angles, disrupting my peace. I had just been considering the beauty of the sky’s reflection in the clear water when the first ripple interrupted my train of thought, belly flopping my poetic inspiration into the depths of the quarry. Instead of getting angry, I chose to swim. Swimming alone was my favourite activity, especially in water so warm you felt you might drift asleep at any moment. I caught sight of one of the boys clambering up the side of the quarry, his bare feet like smooth marble against the dark rubble. He reached a pique, dusted off his khaki swim shorts and hollered “HIDUP IMPIAN” as he dived from the edge, entering the water with ease sending a lighter ripple. I had floated onto my back, watching the boys ascend one by one and dive when I noticed a girl being assisted up to the edge. She looked a little uncertain, but clearly did not want to miss out. She was visibly shaking, damp blonde hair vibrating down her pale spine. She turned to descend down the side of the quarry, but the queue of boys prevented her from leaving. She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath then looked straight at me, staring deep into my eyes it seemed, although we had half a quarry’s distance between us. A few of the boys had brought a big beach ball, and narrowly skimmed my head as they threw it from one side of the quarry to the other, but our eye contact didn’t waiver. Her blue eyes were drawing me in, intriguing me, pleading with me to help her. I closed my eyes. I wasn’t here for romance.

That night, back on the mountain top, overlooking the greenery of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, I thought about those eyes. They reflected such helplessness, wanting something I could not give. That thought brought back a rather vivid memory. Six months ago, I had been in Olu Deniz, a tourist resort in Turkey. My friend, Hassan and I took a boat ride over to the Turtle Bay at sunset one evening. The water was reflecting gentle peachy hues that Thursday, and all felt right somehow. I guess I’m somewhat of an idealist dreamer. We pulled up to the shore, admiring the turtles roaming the beach, before joining them in the soft white sands for a quiet evening. The turtles were friendly, approaching us and allowing us to handle them. Their shells resembled a mosaic, the varying shades of grey and brown glowing radiantly as the sun lowered over them.

“Doug, over here, come quick!” Hassan called. I abandoned my belongings among a bale to attend to the panic I heard in my friend’s voice. I made my way over to him, sand gathering in my sandals scratching and tickling my feet as the turtles began to merge towards one another slowly, methodically. I saw right away why Hassan had called me over; the turtle cradled in his arms was bleeding from its nose. Concern growing, I inspected further to discover what looked like a wooden rod jammed up the turtle’s nose. “Well, I certainly didn’t think your expertise would be needed around here,” Hassan exclaimed. “It’s a litter-free beach!” I nodded my agreement. He was referring to my eight years as a veterinary nurse in my twenties. I grimaced, considering the rebellious and careless nature of the many travellers and tourists who may visit this beach. “Although, it could just be some wood fallen from a tree branch”, he hypothesised. I tilted my head sideways. It was always possible, but that didn’t matter. I ordered him to retrieve my bag with my emergency supplies I carried with me at all times. Looking into this small creature’s eyes, I saw that same helpless look I had seen countless times before. The one which said ‘I don’t know you, but I need you’. The look which says they trust you desperately because they have no other choice. That day would not be the last time he saw that look, and neither would that day at the quarry.

***

Petra had fallen in love once. He was tanned with dark brown hair, almost black, and deep brown eyes. With her fair complexion, and white-blonde hair, they had made a striking couple. He had been attracted to her deep-set cheek bones and full lips, which gave Petra a distinguished air, making her look older than she was. She missed him now sometimes when she was alone, which is why she became accustomed to latching onto random groups of travellers; most often students. The day of Petra’s trip to Little Guilin Quarry, she had joined a group of American boys who were like totally dying to jump into the magic waters they had heard rumours about. It sounded like fun, she supposed. Her limited experience included canyoning, and deep sea diving in Australia. It would be another thing to tick off the bucket list. Yes, she was twenty-three, had a bucket list, and still had a lot to tick off. After the events of last year, Petra knew too well that it was never too soon to get on with life.

She recalled the explosion, the falling building, the sirens, the screams. The smell of gas still struck her pungently when she thought about it. She remembered seeing her friend, Ana’s mess of red hair spilling out of her head like fire before noticing that she was physically crushed beneath piles of concrete on the corner of Higham Street. Petra suddenly felt as though eels had invaded her stomach; there was nothing she could do. She was not strong enough or brave enough. Ana looked longingly into Petra’s eyes, and in that moment Petra saw the helplessness of an individual who knew their fate and only wished she could do something to help. That look in was one Petra vowed she would never forget.

The events of her trip to the quarry were nowhere near as terrifying, or life threatening, but they would always remain in her memory for she had experienced a similar helpless fear. They travelled there by coach one Friday morning in late March, disturbing one man’s peaceful day as he laid there in the water staring into the sky as the sun rose above his head. The boys, of course did not notice and started jumping in and splashing each other, disrupting the moss and sticks which milled around the water’s edge, reluctantly pushing them further into the quarry. Some of the boys were climbing up the sides, so Petra decided to join them, since this was partially what she came for. On her way, she started to get an all-too-familiar feeling in the pit of her stomach like she was about to do something she wasn’t supposed to. The humidity in the air pressing against her cheeks made her shiver rather than warm her body. She tried to turn back several times, but the boys pushed her further up until she reached the highest possible point. Standing on the edge, she looked down at the peaceful man as he lay on his back, staring up at her. She was trying to get his attention with her eyes to help her get down, when she noticed that he had rather kind eyes, and the rest of the quarry melted away for a moment and it felt as though they were standing face to face. He must not have felt it though, because he closed his eyes.

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