Tuesday, October 21, 2008

His Laughter

She loved the feeling of fresh sea air blowing against her face as she cycled along the beach road. On her right side were the soft sands of the beach stretching out into the beautiful turquoise sea. On her left side stood rows of elegant summer houses with brightly colored gardens. Every day, just before sunset, she cycled four laps along the beach road. She loved the sense of freedom, of movement and of speed that cycling gave her…of being in control. Day after day she felt her strength growing and the muscles in her legs getting firmer as she peddled longer and faster.

She was nearing the bend at the end of the beach road and going on into her second lap when she saw him there like she did every day, standing behind a car parked in front of one of the summer houses. As usual, he was leaning his arms on the top of the car, gazing at the sea or chatting with people or just staring at those strolling or cycling by. He always had sun glasses on but she could tell that he was in his mid or late thirties. He seemed pretty good looking with an attractive tanned face. But what attracted her the most was his amazing laughter. Many times she could hear it long before she saw him. It was that kind of warm gregarious laughter that seemed to send ripples of joy out into the air, touching and uplifting everything that came in its way. The laughter of a caring and kindred spirit. It always made her smile somehow…inside out. One thing though that made her feel a bit uncomfortable was how he sometimes seemed to stare at people. At times she could almost feel his intense gaze on her as she cycled past him.

As she started her third lap she could see him still standing there. But this time she heard him shouting out. There was a little girl on a tricycle in the middle of the road. As she turned the bend she saw him come out from behind the car towards the girl. She was shocked the moment she saw him and almost slammed into the sidewalk. He came out walking on two crutches. He only had one leg. His right leg was amputated from above the knee. He slowly moved towards the little girl and stood in the middle of the road as she cycled back to safety onto the side walk.

She didn’t know why she suddenly seemed out of breath…why she felt so much weight in her legs as she struggled through her third lap …why she had a lump in her throat. Even though she didn't know him personally, she had developed a kind of affinity towards him, the kind that grows between perfect strangers who somehow become a part of each others lives and daily routine. His captivating laughter had deepened this feeling even more so.
Coming back for her last lap she noticed that he wasn’t there any more. But as she slowly turned the bend the echo of his familiar laughter reached her ears from somewhere. She could almost feel it rippling past her unto the beach, floating softly over the sea and vanishing into the golden red disc gently descending into the sea. For a fleeting moment she could have sworn that the sun was smiling just before it disappeared into the turquoise waters.