Sunset. Yokohama Beach. Makaha, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Will Pennington
Sasi’s condo loomed tall before me. The sound of breakers crashing on the cliff face below and the fragrant sea breeze mingling with coconut oil by the swimming pool brought a déjà vu moment to mind. Similarities between the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki and Sasi’s place abounded. The only thing missing was Don Ho.
I wasn’t surprised to see her waving to me when I glanced up at her balcony. I returned her wave and walked faster. When I looked again, she had gone. I pushed through the revolving door and strode through the lobby toward the elevator. The door opened just as I reached for the button, and Sasi ran into my arms.
“Thomas. How wonderful of you to come. I was worried you mightn’t.”
She kissed my cheek as she took my hand and led me to the elevator. The front desk clerk, a look of anguish on his face, caught up to us just as the elevator doors opened. He spoke to Sasi in Thai. She replied, then walked to the front desk, and signed the guest register to the clerk’s visible relief.
“Oh, Thomas. You are a criminal. You failed to sign in. I may have to call for the police.”
“Oh, no! Will you handcuff me so I don’t run away?”
“Of course, but the handcuffs are in my nightstand.”
She took my elbow. “Come with me, you scofflaw. I am making a citizen’s arrest.”
“Is that a thing in Thailand?”
“You know, I will have to ask the police when they arrive.”
“What did you write in the book? That I promised to always sign in?”
“I wrote that I take responsibility for your actions, though you ravish me and make off with my sangria.”
The elevator attendant’s normally placid face turned into a smile when Sasi stepped in. When the door opened to Sasi’s foyer, he bowed and spoke to her.
“What did he say?”
“He said it was a pleasure for him to see me laughing, that I most often look serious, and it makes the staff afraid to speak to me. I had not realized that was so. I must endeavor to smile more often when staff is in my presence.”
She stood close to me, and I was afraid she would hear my heartbeat. Had she pressed her palm to my chest, she would have felt its rapid beat.
“You make me smile, Thomas. Perhaps you should see me every evening.” Gone was her smile, replaced by moist, parted lips that seemed to beg the press of mine.
“Then we would both smile, Sasi.”
Neither of us spoke for a moment, and I thought if she were any other woman, I would kiss her. I knew she wouldn’t turn away. I knew, too, I would stay with her if I kissed her, and there would be no turning back.
The long moment slipped past, and Sasi opened the door and led the way to the kitchen. Sasi had known I would come: she picked up a tray with two glasses and a pitcher of sangria and nodded toward the balcony.
“If you will open the door, Thomas, I will serve the drinks in Club Sasi.”
The sangria was cold and soothing, the night breeze warm and relaxing. I was glad I had come. Sasi wore shorts and a light blouse tied in front. We made light talk for a while, Sasi asking questions about the life of a Sailor while I learned more of Sasi’s remarkable life as the child of a globetrotting diplomat. My fatigue drained away as we talked, and I slid ever deeper into the rattan chair.
The oven timer buzzed, and Sasi walked to the kitchen where she was warming a late snack. She returned with a tray of sweet pork spring rolls and a dish of fried rice. We ate from small plates, using fingers for the spring rolls and forks for the rice.
“You’re a wonderful cook, Sasi.”
“You’re sweet to say so, Thomas. The spring rolls are made from my mother’s recipe and the fried rice is my own creation.”
“I can’t put my finger on what makes it different.”
“We use jasmine rice and shrimp paste in Thailand. I add coconut water when cooking the rice, though. Perhaps that makes the difference.”
Sasi watched me eat, smiling as I scooped the last of the rice onto the fork with my finger.
“I must remember to keep fried rice warm for your visits.”
“Fried rice is one of my favorite comfort foods.” I sipped sangria and dabbed my lips with a cloth. “The first meal I ate in Pattaya during my first visit several years ago was fried rice served in a hollowed-out pineapple, along with salad and red snapper. I selected the fish myself from the display tank. Everything was so delicious. I must take you to that restaurant if it’s still open.”
A pleasant drowsiness overcame me just then, and I couldn’t stifle a yawn.
“You must be dreadfully tired after such a long day.”
“Your note invigorated me. I wondered if I should come. I was afraid it would seem presumptuous and untimely. Still, I thought about our date all day, although I grew less hopeful about seeing you as the work wore on.”
“I would have slept on the sofa all night waiting for you.”
“It must be a comfortable sofa. Does it double as a bed? If I pull up the cushions, will we find a squeaky, lumpy mattress or a satin divan fit for a seraglio?”
“Neither, but we could lay the sofa and chair cushions on the floor. They would make a suitable bed, yes?”
“Hmm. What if we slipped between the cracks? Would we not disturb the people below us?”
The mischievous smile gave her away. “That would depend on how much noise we made.”
“I can’t picture you in an awkward position.”
“You haven’t seen me on my yoga mat.”
“Oh? Limber, are you?”
“Visualize a human pretzel and you will have some idea.”
I liked the image; it fit my impression of this warm woman whose charm melted my heart. Whether it was the sangria, the late meal, or the fatigue, I wanted her to know how I felt.
“There is grace in all your movements, Sasi. You are purposeful, direct, funny, thoughtful, and considerate.” Her smile was almost demure, and she clasped her hands in her lap.
“You are charming, seductive without effort, beautiful beyond measure, and your smile reaches deep inside me so that I want to cry with joy when I see you.” I paused. “Now, I’ve said too much and upset you.”
“No, Thomas. I’m not upset.”
“I like when you call me Thomas.”
“Did Susanna call you Thomas?”
Sasi’s voice was soft and tender. “Tell me about her.”
“It’s okay. I understand.”
“No, Sasi. You don’t. You can’t understand.”
“No. Someday, I will tell you about Susanna. I’m not ready.”
“What if someday I am no longer here?”
Her eyes held mine in a steady gaze.
She spoke again. “What if someday you are no longer here?”
“What do you mean?”
She rose from the chair and leaned on the balcony railing. Moonlight reflected in her black hair the way it had done in Susanna’s. Where Susanna’s face was parchment white, Sasi’s face was tan. Their lips had the same fullness, the same dip in Cupid’s Bow, the same moist pull of desire.
“I don’t believe in chance, Thomas. I believe we were brought together for a purpose.”
“For what purpose?”
“I don’t know.”
“What makes you feel this way?”
She turned toward me, her hands behind her on the rail. “When I first read your name in the register, my heart seemed to beat faster.”
“Perhaps it was coincidence.”
“Yes. Perhaps. It happened a second time when I read your name again. When you gave me your letter, it happened a third time but with a stronger feeling.”
“Maybe that’s when you fell madly in love with me. Maybe angels were saying, ‘Fall in love, Sasi.’”
Behind the smile, I was serious. I wanted to hear the words, “I love you, Thomas,” but I was afraid to hear them too. The pull she exerted on my heart was tangible, not just a whisper of desire, not just a wish. Susanna’s pull had affected me the same way. I was afraid of what was happening with Sasi, and afraid of what she might tell me. It wasn’t wrong, it was just too late. Wasn’t it?
She turned to face the sea and I went to her, standing so close that our shoulders bumped. I breathed in the scent of Sasi’s perfume. The closeness of her body sent a thrill through me, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. The thrill passed, but the feeling remained, a warmth that seemed to buzz silently about me as the love potion cast by a fairy godmother sparkles around the virtuous lover.
I had to go before it was too late. Sasi’s spell was strong, and I, being weak, could not break it. I had not come to Thailand to add guilt on top of guilt, but I could not step away from Sasi. Every bond between a man and a woman begins with a crucial moment. Our moment was at hand. Was lightning striking a third time?
“I did not want another relationship with a man, Thomas. My last one ended badly and left me with much anger and hurt. But for some reason I do not understand, I wanted to know more about you. I had to see you before you saw anyone else, before you saw another woman. I had to stop you before fate intervened and left us no more than hotel manager and guest.”
Sasi walked to the end of the balcony. She stood with arms crossed and her back against the wall. The full moon shone on her face. Her eyes were wet. I didn’t speak.
“I waited until you were gone, then picked up the bag of groceries and walked after you. I worried I had lost you until I saw you at the bar. Courage failed me, though, and I walked back to the hotel. I thought I should wait for your return, but I knew that would be too late. I had to go to you.”
I walked to her and she turned to me.
“I am afraid of loneliness, Thomas, but loneliness flees when you are near. It flees now.”
Tenderness for Sasi came over me, accompanied by sorrow and regret for myself. How could I have let things come this far? How could I have left myself so vulnerable? How could I have done this to her? Why hadn’t I walked away when I had the chance? If I had not stopped at the kickboxing bar, if I had continued to Walking Street, if, if, if. So many ifs. So many possible paths. So many possible pasts.
How many futures had I embarked upon through my choices? Life would be easier without the twists and turns, false roads, and dead ends. My entire adult life had been a continual search for the true path to the love my parents had shared.
Instead, I had scrambled blindly through maze after maze, each stacked one atop the other and mashed down until every turn ended in disappointment, every twist ended in another crushed dream, every exit an entrance to another chasing of my own tail.
The warm breeze carried the muffled sound of waves crashing against the cliffs below. I wished I were back at sea among five thousand Sailors like me, where food, sleep, and not getting blown into the sea by jet blast were all that mattered. Life was simpler aboard ship.
“I don’t know what to say, Sasi.” I sought for words to express the feeling behind the pulsing in my temples. “I’m glad you came after me. I felt a strong attraction for you as I walked away. I questioned the feeling for a number of reasons and — I shouldn’t say this — felt a similarity with the day I met Susanna.”
I gripped Sasi’s arms and held her. She gazed intently, expectantly at me. Tears rolled to the tips of her eyelashes where they hung, stretched, then dropped away. I didn’t want her to cry.
“I have wandered lost in love since Susanna died. We were going to have a life together.” I didn’t want to cry. “We were born in love, Sasi, and we spent our lives waiting for each other. When we met, we knew, we knew we had found the one we were born to love. Born to marry, to grow old with, to die next to in old age. When I held Susanna, the world ceased to exist, and we were alone, completely alone, as though the only two people created. When she looked in my eyes, I could have lived without air. I took all my nourishment from her gaze, and the sight of her was the bread and water, the fruit and vegetable, the meat, the wine, the dessert, the sustenance to my soul. I needed nothing, I wanted nothing, I had nothing because Susanna was everything. Her touch thrilled me the way lovemaking does when you find yourself between passion and ecstasy, and you feel the breath of God waft through your soul and you understand, you realize, you know at last that she is the precious gift whose name is imprinted on your heart.”
Sasi was crying, but her eyes held mine. My grip tightened, and I realized I was hurting her.
“Thomas. Thomas. I am so sorry.”
“We were cheated, Sasi. Cheated. We didn’t have a chance to marry. We didn’t have a chance to grow old together. We didn’t even have the chance to die together because I wasn’t with her when she died.”
Passion gripped me. I ripped the necklace from my neck and held it up. The moon’s light reflected from the medallion, the ruby, Susanna’s wedding ring. Tears blurred my vision, and my voice caught in my throat.
“This. This. This is my mother’s medallion. She died giving birth to me. Her death broke my father’s heart. This is Susanna’s wedding ring. She died when our love was still in its infancy. I knew her for a fraction of the time we should have had together. It isn’t fair, but then life isn’t fair, is it?”
I let go of Sasi’s arms. She rubbed them where my hands had been.
“I’m afraid to love you, Sasi. I’m afraid to love you and lose you. It seems the women the men in my family love are doomed to die young. If I don’t go now, you will die too, and I don’t want to love you if that is our future.”
“Thomas. Thomas.” I left Sasi then. Her cries tore at my heart, but my own heart beat loud as passion surged and ebbed, surged and ebbed. I couldn’t bear to love her with the passion and ecstasy I had had with Susanna and then lose her. I couldn’t take the pain. Not again. I couldn’t take the pain of Sasi, Susanna, my father, and my mother upon my shoulders. I wasn’t a God who moved pieces around on a chess board with whatever whim he felt. I was a man whose heart broke the same way in grief and love.