Dark cascading hair , expressive eyes looking out to the ocean , fair complexion reflecting brightly on a not so bright afternoon - I kept wondering what exactly brought me here - I was on my way to Santa Cruz Pier , and suddenly exited when the familiar sign for Capitola Village showed up as an afterthought on the side of the freeway . I have been here numerous times , sneaked away from work on sunny days to Zelda's for calamaris and Newcastle on tap - and decided this is where I wanted to view the Thirty Feet waves thats supposed to come crashing on the cliffs , piers and beaches , if you believe the weatherman on all the major news networks the evening before. I walked up to the other side of the esplanade - and thats when she caught my eye . She seemed part of the ocean itself , winds whipping up around her , and her fingers making a feeble lazy attempt time and again to put those wavy strands of hair back in place . And , strangely enough , she sensed my presence and looked at me , parted her lips in an interesting smile , and returned her gaze back to the ocean . And , this is the time I realized , I desparately wanted to know her .
After another twenty minutes of glances , I finally walked over to her .
" Do you know how to swim ?"
" Excuse me ! " she looked at me with her inquisitive eyes .
" Do you know how to swim ?" I repeated .
" Maybe , I do .....", she seemed apprehensive now .
" You are here to see the waves , aren't you ?"
" Yes ", the smile came back on her lips , " So the waves brought you here too ?"" Well, they said you see it once every fifteen years ! " I used my reasoning with humor .
" So, how is my swimming going to help you ? " she asked .
" As much as I like being washed away , I would prefer to be dragged back to dry land ! " And this made her laugh , and the smile brought lines on her face that was more inviting than before .
" So, I was thinking when the thiry feet waves hit the pier , maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea - to stay .... to stay close to you ! " I delivered those last five words without looking at her , and although I was looking intently at the ocean , I knew her eyes were fixed on me !
" I see you have dressed up also for your final journey , ha ha ! " , she was referring to my suit and tie , I guess.
" I had to rush from work , but I can lose the tie if it helps ! So, should we introduce ourselves now , or after you rescue me ? " I looked back at her , outstretched my hand and introduced myself -
" Raj "
" Chantel "
" Nice to meet you Chantel , I am glad you came to see the waves ! "
We decided to walk around the pier a little bit , and talk . At the Pier's edge we looked down together -
" Do you think this pier is gong to hold if thirty feet waves hit on it for a couple of hours ?" I asked .
" Good question ," she pondered .
" What if it doesn't Chantel ? " I raised the negative prospect .
" Then we both become part of the waves , Raj ! I always wanted to the see the bottom of the ocean ! "
This time it was my turn to stare coldly at those foamy dark waters and think of the horror .
" Where are the waves by the way , we have been here for an hour ! "
" These waves are not even five feet Chantel ! Why don't we head for dinner ?"
" I don't have dinner with strangers ," she said with a mischevious smile .
" I see , how about some harmless coffee ? "
" Actually , that sounds great ! I know a nice cafe on the second floor - right there ! ," she brightens up .
We talked up a storm the next hour and a half over latte and lemon cakes , forgetting all about the waves . I learned about her - Chantel's mother is from Mexico City , and her father comes from India's western state of Punjab . That explains the fair complexion and the sharp features , I thought to myself . She is from Colorado , Boulder to be exact , and her parents met each other there . Three months before she was born , her father went on a trip to India , and married according to the family's wishes , and brought back his wife . And decided to cut all ties to her mother . I saw how her face clouded when she was telling me this , and the pain that was straining her thoughts . I listened , " You know , he lived in the same city where I was growing up , and he never came to see me - my mom used to get the money on time , extra money on my birthdays and christmas , but I never got to see him ! He wanted it that way . " I was at a loss for words . She continued , "He never stood up to his family , and left me and my mum in the cold ! ? " I had told her about my story in LA , how I had to struggle during my UCLA years because of my strained relationship with my parents and she aluded to that - "But you stood up for what you wanted , didn't you ?" " Its very hard Chantel , you have a lot of pressures on you , and some guys cannot escape that - I am sure he thinks about you , and one day he will realize that its him who has missed out ! "
" How about dinner ?" she said suddenly and changed the subject .
"Well , I don't have dinner with strangers , but I will make an exception tonight !" I replied with a smile , then a suggestion - " The Paradise Beach Grille downstairs have good food , want to try it ?" And we headed downstairs . During dinner , we noticed the elderly couple at the next table looking at us often . "They are trying to figure out about us Chantel ," I told her . " Really ! ", she seemed amused . I leaned towards her across the table ," Why don't we do something to throw them off ? " "Hmmm, what does The Raj have in mind ? ", she said smilingly. " How about a Gone with The Wind kiss to dispel any doubts that we just met hour and a half ago ?" I asked looking into her eyes . She started laughing , " I don't kiss strangers , and besides , with a Gone With The Wind kiss they would know we just met , how about you looking that way and me looking the other way for five minutes - then they will think we are married ! " At this, we both started laughing . And I looked into her - I do this on most of my dates - sitting across the table I look at the girl and talk to her in my mind without speaking a word - you know you have beautiful eyes , and I like the way you look at me , I like the way you nibble at the food too - and it invariably catches their attention , and they know I am looking at them admiringly . "What ?",she asks inquisitively . " Nothing ", I answered . She turned her attention back to the Seafood Pasta she ordered , and I still kept looking at her ignoring the delicious Halibut that was sitting on my plate . She looked up at me and saw me still admiring her , smiled and said , " I am glad I came to see the waves ."
It was dark outside , even if the waves were at a cresendo , there was nothing to see anymore. "What time is it ?" she asked concerned . "Little over Eight-thirty ", I replied . "I have to head back soon ". " No dessert ?", I asked . " The lemon cakes were dessert for me ". " Is your car in the next parking ?", I wanted to know . " I live just a couple of blocks , I will walk." We got out of the restaurant , took a last stride by the pier and looked at the ocean . You could hear the waves , you could make the silhouette of them coming and retreating from the beach - but everything was dark . The sky was getting darker with clouds when I got there in the afternoon , now it has completely hidden itself . I wanted the evening to go on , but knew it was coming to an end . I learned Chantel loves music and movies just like me , going to UC Santa Cruz , wants to be a teacher ( because I love kids , she said ! ) . I learned some memorable memories of her childhood , how she told all her friends in school that her father lives overseas , how she always wanted to own a boat when she grows up .
"Let me walk you to your house Chantel ," I said .
"Thanks ," she replied. And we started to walk , leaving the esplanade , the dark ocean and the strong winds - tracing the winding pavement hand in hand . The walkway arches up past the esplanade leaving the sandy empty beach and skirts the park with tall slender trees dotted with a few wooden benches . The winds whistled through the darkness , barely nudging the trees but with the crashing waves created a nice symphony for the evening . She clasped my hands a little tighter . " I love those trees , I come up here and sit here on the benches for hours ," she told me . " Its beautiful ," I replied , and then suggested ," You want to go on a detour ?" " Why not?" she said with all the enthusiasm in the world .
We broke off from the pavement walkway , went over the knee-high barrier into the cliff-like higher ground with trees and dirt paths . It was romantic, adventurous and very eerie . As we started towards one of the benches , she caught one of the tree trunks and I had to put my arms around her and pull her towards me to stop her from falling . And we both fell in the process , still in each others arms . Maybe it was the woods , maybe it was the mystical sounds of the waves , but in silence we started kissing - slowly and apprehensively at first , then with an urgency that we somehow knew that the earth has only a few moments from sheer perish . I caressed those wavy dark hair , held that beautiful face between the palms of my hand , and looking at those expressively soft eyes - planted kiss after kiss wherever I could find my lips haven't touched on that adoring face . My lips found her lips again and again , as if it was the center of the universe , where I have to come back to no matter where I go . I rubbed my nose with hers , showered kisses down the nape of her neck , and held her as close to me as I could as if the world would take her away from me . Somehow we made it to the wooden bench close to us , and feverishly tried to find a little more of us that we can feel and touch . The bench was wet with the dew from the evening , I wiped out some of it with the swipe of my hand and dumped my jacket on it for cushion . We could hear the sound of the waves , the wind making its way to somewhere , and the sounds of us together - on a dark night , in the midst of a wooded cliff we found a unique way to celebrate our existence .
How much time had passed , we could not tell - but we did not want it to end . Finally , we sat together on this wooden bench - she leaning on me with my arms around her and her jacket covering us - looking at the distance . The dim lights of the esplanade to our right , the trees covering some of the view of the dark body of water .
" Have you ever thought of something ? " she asked.
" What ?"
" Do you think someone's looking at our direction from the other side of the ocean right now?"
" Maybe ".
" Its strange isn't it ? We are looking at each other at the same time but can't see each other because of the distance - life is strange , isn't it ?"
" Life is never strange Chantel , life is always beautiful ."
I took Chantel home that night , we saw each other periodically over the next few weeks - couple of dinners , weekends with movies and outings , drive to San Francisco and a saturday sleep-over in Santa Barbara . We had great times together but her mood began to change as the month entered a new one and I could not understand whats wrong . I chalked it off to my being busy with work and the regional Holiday Inn conference I had to attend and her upcoming exams and her apprehension with it . And finally , one day she called . " Can I see you this Friday Raj ? Or are you busy ? " " No, no - I will see you tomorrow Chantel , do you want me to pick you up ? " " No, thats okay , I will meet you in downtown at the Italian joint ". "Okay".
And , she had news for me . Over dinner and in between minerstrone soup and spumoni ice cream - she told me that her doctor has confirmed she is pregnant ! This is the moment of truth for most guys in thier lives , and I could feel the waves of emotion pounding inside me . " Are you taking vitamins ? Are you eating alright ? ," I asked eagerly . " Are you crazy ? How will I face my mom ? I told her - nothing till I get my degree ". "Chantel , listen , I am with you whatever you decide - but I want you to be okay with it . We have to think this one through . I want you to be alright ." " You are going to leave me , aren't you ?" " Chantel, I never said that . You have to decide this calmly , and I promise , I will be with you all the way !" " So, you want me to get rid of it - you know I am Catholic ! So, ending this is the easiest solution, right ?" "Chantel , I didn't say that - I am with you , you have to trust me ! " She looked at me unconvincingly , " You, my father - you are all the same - you can just get up and leave ! " "Thats not fair , Chantel .....Chantel listen ...." She had already got up and started for the door . By the time I caught up with her on the Broadwalk , she was already near her car . My pleas and cries for understanding fell flat as she slammed her car door and drove off .
Little did I know , this would be the last time I will see her . All my calls on her cell phone , my frantic e-mails met with complete silence . Two weeks later , I saw her e-mail on my inbox: "Raj , sorry to leave you like this - but let me live my life with my imperfections - C." Just one line - brief , succint , no broad explanations . I raced to her house the next day - knocked on the door , an elderly lady opened and asked who I was looking for . " Can I speak with Chantel ? " " No, she went back to Boulder yesterday - she will finish her studies there ." " Can I speak with her mother ?" " Mother ? I am her aunt ." " Can you give me her phone number in Boulder ?" "You have to reach her on her cell phone if you have it ." " She is not answering her cell phone but I will try again . Can you please tell her Raj is looking for her , I really need to talk to her ." " I won't see her till Christmas actually " " Oh, okay ." I came down the steps to the gate dazed . It felt like she had disappeared as suddenly as she came into my life . And I have no way to find her again. I kept calling her cell phone the next two months - it became a habit , at the end of the day , on the weekends , when I am driving on a long drive to nowhere . I always hoped this would be the time she would unmindfully pick it up . She never did .
Six months later , the company moved me further north of Northern California . Chantel was still on my mind . What if she decides to come back and look for me ? On the last day , on a sunny afternoon when the sun was cascading on the lazy waves below - I stopped again at Capitola . Standing amidst those trees on the edge of the beach , I looked out at the ocean .
" Do you think someone's looking at us from the other side of the ocean ?"
"Isn't it strange ? We are looking at each other at the same time but can't see each other - life is strange , isn't it ?"
" No, life is never strange Chantel , Life is always beautiful ."
( On October 1999 , a storm surge rising to nearly forty feet on the Santa Cruz coastline washed away a couple on their honeymoon . Although the man was rescued , the body of the woman was never found . On January 2002 similar storm surge warnings were given across the coast again but never materialized .
The above piece is an abridged version of the short story " The Wave" narrated in the first person . All characters and the situations described are completely fictional. Any similarity to the characters or their situations in real life are coincidental).