There was a bloody handprint on the palm tree, splayed out, pleading. Now dried to the texture of scrunched brown paper.
Rob and Ashley walked straight past, surfboards balanced on their shoulders, already sizing up the waves.
I followed behind them, lagging, my head drumming in the early afternoon heat. My own board was tucked under my arm and I had to keep lifting it up to stop it slipping from my sweat-coated hands.
Chaweng Bay was white and curved like a smile – or a grimace, depending on which way you looked at it. Palm trees leaned towards the water, their long jealous-green leaves outstretched. The sea itself was open-mouth huge, braided blues with a grey-black undertow.
“Are you going in?” Rob dropped back to walk next to me, taking a break from Ashley’s shiny chatter. He kept his eyes on her, but he made a flicker-beckon motion to me so I passed him my board, which he lifted up on to his shoulders.
“Probably not.” I glanced back over my shoulder at the bloody handprint.
He turned his eyes on me then. When Rob looked at you, it was like light trickling into your body and wrapping itself around each individual cell. “You’ll be fine. Just don’t go too far out.”
I closed my eyes and the sea was villain-black with dark-washed blood and it rolled over me, gasping, crushing, the jerk-tug-inhale, inhale, cough, inhale –
“You’ll be fine.” Rob repeated, and I opened my eyes.
I stopped walking. Sand crept up and over my toes, holding me in place.
Rob looked at the handprint – mine, from a week ago – and then he stopped, too. He adjusted the boards on his shoulder and leaned close to squeeze my hand. The heat from him was intense, but a clean bright heat rather than the sticky warmth that sat in the air.
“Oh, hey Rob!” Ashley shouted back at us from ahead, finally noticing that we had stopped. “If you’re taking Emma’s board can you take mine?” The handprint on the palm was directly in her eyeline, but she didn’t acknowledge it.
Rob smiled at her, his arm dropping back down by his side.
“I can take mine from here.” I motioned, hands covered in a new layer of sweat. “You can’t carry three.”
“Are you sure?” He didn’t wait for my answer. He handed back my board – though he could have managed three – and walked away, towards Ashley. I shivered as his light was redirected.
I would go back into the water today – to get my confidence back.
Besides, I was a better surfer than Ashley.
I looked down at my free hand. An old scratch had reopened on my palm and a single trail of wine-coloured liquid trickled across its heart line, from index to little finger. The sweat and the redness mingled.
I had taken the surfboard from Rob with both hands and now when I looked at it, I could see that it was stained with blood.
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