4th August, 2013
Dear French guy on the bus to the Yarra Valley today, I like you! Not because of those grey-blue eyes or your dark delicious voice, but because you’re so quiet, so beautifully shy, almost like a slice of diaphanous sigh shimmering against the blurred rosé of a concave sky.
Morning curls her black lashes upwards. I can see the glow, fanning from behind the blocks and bare trees. The streets are wet silk. Last night’s rain fills the atmosphere. I wait for the bus, my knuckles blue with cold. Signals turn red-green-yellow, red-green-yellow in sickening harmony. I am sleepy, as we drive north from the city, the wind throwing herself on the windscreen, into expanses of flat greenery and pretty blossom-laced houses.
At Wild about Fruits, our first stop, I am so cold I am shivering hard. I am yet to notice you. But I see you’re such a good listener. We both love nuts and oranges and apples. And we both hold back words unless they need to go. And we both are strangers in a foreign land. I smile at the spinach juice, it’s all green but I love the taste of it, the sweetness permeating my tongue. And I know you do too. We are only ones talking second helpings of walnuts, the quietest creatures out there. Outside, the sky slowly sparkles, combing back thin skeins of clouds. Long rows of dew sparkle on the grass, hanging from cobwebs and leafless boughs like teardrops. Morning is suddenly so palpable, so richly tender. It rises from the past, blushing golden pink, seeping into my blood like an old ballad of love. There are birds hopping on the grass, and kangaroos in the cherry orchards. And happiness is approaching me, slowly.
De Bortoli winery. My first alcohol. I discover I love the whites, the dessert wines, and the fortified ones. And I love the way you can tell your Chardonnay from your Pinots. This is your world now, superiorly enchanting with vineyards and fairytales. I watch you smile, watch you lose yourself, all the time oddly distant. I could listen you talk of wines in that low European tone for hours, forgetting time or watch the way you swirl the liquid, breath in the flavors, and reflect before sipping, and when you bend yourself in the little gap between the counter and me to tip the ones you don’t like, without the slightest word, the slightest touch, I can feel goosebumps all over! I talk to Sher like only girls can, chatter, giggle and click, nod in approval or disapprove in unison till we are hot and red in the face. I have found a friend. And I wish you would find one too. Perhaps we could be friends. The brick walls of the winery are all concealed by flowers, and trimmed creepers. I hop on the steps. In front of me, the land slopes down somewhere into the womb of the earth. You play around with your phone. And I can feel alcohol tease my body warm.
At the Yarra Valley Dairy, I find out I dislike cheese, dislike the heavy buttery feel clinging onto the lining of my mouth, but I like the garlicky one. You don’t seem to like them much either. Then there is this black cheese me and Sher ask an extra helping of. And before long, we are back to wines to wash all the cheese down. We like the Pinot Gris better this time, pale pink and dreamy in the long-stemmed glass. I can no more find you except in the periphery of my senses. I think of your disturbingly quiet eyes, for once desire sinking into their depths where perhaps no one might ever reach.
Afternoon topples over the rolling hills, threading her long fingers through knobbly, empty vineyards. Brown cows graze in serenity, and the sheep look like clumps of cotton on the slopes. Then there are horses too, one wearing a ultramine overcoat! There are pink and violently pink blossoms, sometimes a red, or a mauve. And just conceived wattles, ravishingly yellow against the blue sky. Even the bare, naked trees hold a beauty so powerful that I am left with no option but to hold back my breath and stare.
At lunch, Rochford, I pull up a chair in the sun. The risotto is pink, and the dessert lovely. I skip the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon. Behind the glass walls, the scenery undulates, folding itself a million times like origami. You sit on my left, two chairs away, so aloof, knifing through your beef cheek, before you get to the wine. We all know you love your wine, don’t all French do? You hardly speak. I try reading your face, searching through your glasses, fail and skip down to the pond, clicking wattles and randomness. You are lost, perfect as the scenery, melting in her welcoming arms. Tall, sculpted, an enigma through and through. Right now, even poetry would do you no justice.
At Healesville, the rains come in, quietly in little broken drops. You dig your hands deeper into your pocket, and wait beneath the frieze of the fittings store, and watch the traffic wound lazily past the local church. I stand on the opposite curb with my friend and let the niceness of a new feeling flood me. We talk of you. She says you are so impossibly cold, so French! I say kinda english, eh? We giggle and I think of the French classes back home as I look at you contemplate the rain and I know you are just lonely in this foreign land of people speaking a foreign tongue. You need someone to talk, maybe because you find it difficult starting conversations. I want to go ahead, but I don’t, and I will never know why. When on the bus, Frank asks you about the chocolates from K&W, you answer, deep and French, “can’t resist!” Right then, I like you so much more. I will never get to tell you this, but you know you should smile more often. It looks beautiful on you.
At Oakridge, we are on opposite ends of the counter, tasting again. You look so much at home, legs crossed, elbow propped on the counter, tasting. I am tired, plus a little tipsy. I skip the reds, talk to Frank about finding my way to Eureka Skydeck, and tell him I wish I had company. He says perhaps you would like to come. I barely hear your name, just that it is possibly something with M, because I am all excited. And then you say no. And Frank says you could bring your girlfriend too. And I skip the rest of the conversation, fading fast into the background. On the way back, Frank tells me I tried. I smile a its-alright smile. But I am disappointed. It’s here that I hear you speak about yourself, the English rolling off soft and slow, resplendent in your French accent. You are an intern here. You are staying on Collins Street. For 3 months. That there are few people from your country here. That is all I get to know. And I make a mind note that words assume a life of their own in your mouth.
Evening thickens. And rain comes pelting down. After years I find myself so happy that I decide I will tell the doctor once I am home that he can stop the medicines. I turn up David Cook and Switchfoot and Lifehouse and all that rock on loud, take out my camera and click through the rainy windows. Ofcourse the photos are a disaster. I walk up to Frank, ask him to drop me off at the hotel, feel you so wonderfully close the only time, the first and the last time and jump down. I do not look back, because I am so scared it might just hurt.
I know I will never see you again.
Later in the souvenir shop of Eureka Towers, someone replies to a question, “From France.” I turn back, a reflex almost, and see no one. And that is where it all ends. I walk down to the hotel, all alone the lit Southbank Promenade, watching all the neon swim in the Yarra, and thinking of you, wondering if a kiss from the boy with eyes the color of rain-kissed oceans could seal this sudden surge of ache.
Yarra Valley, VIC
Tour Courtesy: Tourism Victoria