Paradise

Every summer Lara would travel to the same part of the Island. The secret part that was hidden from the world and to the unknowing eye it perhaps seemed like the inaccessible part of the island. Once she reached her favourite spot she lay down on the soft grass that covered the top of the cliff. She breathed in the sweet smell of summer flowers and the salty sea breeze. It was perfect. Secluded. She felt like the only person alive and once again she was filled with a sense of peacefulness and serenity, which reminded her that the lengthy task of getting here was most definitely worth it.
She pulled out her notepad and began to sketch; she was lost in her artwork and the beauty of her surroundings when a man’s voice pulled her from her work. Impossible she thought shaking her head, no one else knew about this area of the island. In the three years she had been coming she had never seen another person.

“If you had the choice to live forever in the perfect paradise but you had to leave everything behind, would you do it?”

It was clearer this time and it was definitely a man. He had a deep, almost soothing voice, and as he repeated the question it sounded like he was trying to stifle a laugh.

“If you had the choice to live forever in the perfect paradise but leave everything behind. Would you do it?”

She turned and there, just three metres away, stood the man who uttered those enchanting words. He was beautiful. Tall, lean and tanned. He was the definition of a good looking man. Lara tried to speak but her words caught in her throat. He was wearing a pair of white linen shorts that hugged his hips neatly, leaving very little to the imagination. Lara’s mouth grew dry, she gulped trying to swallow. His abs glistened in the summer heat and his vest top hung neatly over one shoulder. His dirty, blonde, hair moved slightly in the wind and his deep blue eyes seemed to search her face, looking for her answer.

“It depends on the terms,” she finally managed.
“The terms were quite clear,” he chuckled, “if you want to live in paradise, you must leave everything and everyone behind.”

Lara looked at him, what kind of game was he playing? It felt like one of her sisters ‘would you rather’ games. Except he asked with such conviction that it felt real. It felt like her answer could change everything.

“How long do I have to think about it?” She asked, almost hoping he wanted an answer instantly.
“You have until the sunsets on Thursday night,” he said, smiling knowingly.

He disappeared back into the overgrowth almost as quickly as he appeared. The questions circled around her head, seemingly chasing each other looking for answers. But she had no answers. Only more questions. She felt dizzy. She packed away her things and began the slow descent back to her rented cottage on the beach. She couldn’t wait to get home. She needed a glass of wine and a long relaxing bath.

The next morning she made her way back to her favourite spot. She was nearing the top of the cliff when she spotted him. He sat with his back to her, his legs dangling over the edge of the cliff.

“Morning Lara,” he chimed, without turning around.

Lara stumbled, caught off guard. He jumped to his feet in a motion that on the outside looked like he was going to catch her, yet he still remained several metres away and he maintained this distance. Lara replayed their conversation from yesterday back in her head. How did he know her name? How did he know she was behind him?

“You are fine?” His stare was intense and she felt compelled to nod her head.

“Yes,” she muttered, “fine.”

She sat down, organising her things. “Would you like a coffee?” she offered, pulling the picnic blanket straight beneath her.

“No thank you, but you please enjoy,” he winked at her moving a little closer, watching her busy herself.

As the day wore on they began to talk, awkward at first but things became easier. He asked her questions and she talked. He already appeared to know the answers before she had said them but she obliged anyway. They talked about everything, but neither of them mentioned their conversation from yesterday, the unspoken words hung in the air between, silent yet deafening.

The next few days followed the same pattern. Lara found herself looking forward to their meetings and at night time she would drift off to sleep thinking about him.

On the Thursday morning she rose early. She had made her decision. She had tossed and turned all night thinking about her answer. Could she leave everything behind? She had thought about her life, she was very independent. She vacationed alone, lived alone. She barley spoke to her parents. People wouldn’t really miss her if she never returned. The decision was actually pretty easy.

When she arrived at their usual spot she was surprised that he wasn’t there already. He was always sat on the edge expecting her. She tried to ignore the disappointed feeling that spread through her.
Pushing the unsettled thoughts to the back of her mind she began to sketch. Looking up every now and again to see if he had arrived yet but there was no sign of him. The sun was due to set within the hour and she had her answer. Where was he?

As the hour slowly dwindled away, he still hasn’t appeared. She was beginning to worry. Maybe something had happened to him. She walked towards where he usually sat, hoping there might be some clue as to where he was, when she suddenly heard someone shout. She turned, it was him.

“Once you cross over you can never return,” his words were soft but served as a warning.

“I choose paradise,” she whispered.

“I know,” he replied ” I too chose paradise, in this exact spot, at this exact time, 300 years ago. You can’t go back, even if you wanted to, everything and everyone you ever knew will cease to exist for you. Are you sure?”

She felt her stomach churn, but she nodded her head. She began to walk towards him, mentally preparing herself for a lifetime in paradise, when her lace caught on the small branch of a berry shrub. The shrubs grew all over the cliffs and in the spring were covered in beautiful fragrant flowers. She didn’t know how she hasn’t seen it. She tugged at the branch but it wouldn’t budge. She pulled harder and it suddenly sprang free, she tumbled backwards in slow motion, falling closer to the edge of the cliff.
“Lara!!!” Her name echoed across the cliffs.
He jumped towards her, arms outstretched, it was such a quick reaction that he didn’t have time to think of the consequences. As he crossed the line, that many years ago he had been warned about, his body began to crumble and turn to ash. He had been warned not to cross the line. Time in paradise did not match time in the real world and as he crossed back into real time he had aged instantly.

Lara fell, arms outstretched, hoping in vain to clutch onto anything, but she continued to fall. Time stopped still as she hit the hard rock beneath her. She took her last breath.
The waves lapped at her long, golden hair, now matted with scarlet as the sun began to set.
Upon the cliffs the last of the ashes blew in the sea breeze and once again the secret lay hidden, and perhaps to the untrained eye it looked inaccessible. Maybe that’s what makes paradise so appealing… It’s inaccessibility, it’s unobtainability, the magic lure… It’s to die for.

‘Waiter, you appear to have served us different menus…’

The rules of having a friend with benefits seem to be a little grey.
Partly because checked shirt guy wasn’t a friend, so really that makes him… Just a benefit?
On paper this concept sounds good but in actuality it didn’t play out as expected.

If my room had been a restaurant and the rules were our menus, we would have to complain to the manager. However in this scenario there is no management team, no waiters and no cashiers. In fact we are the only customers. There is no hierarchy for making a complaint about the inconsistencies in our menus.

In the beginning we seemed to have corresponding menus. The dishes being offered were delicious, filling and made with the customer in mind. They were exactly what the customers ordered.

However as time passed one of the menus seemed to have been redrafted and I certainly did not sign-off on this redraft. I did not enjoy the re-written edition of his menu. Frantically I searched my menu. Nope THAT was definitely not on the original version. The dishes were no longer fulfilling our appetites and no matter how many times I tried to like the chefs new creations, it just wasn’t doing the trick.

He seemed content to create a pick and mix style buffet meal where he mixed and matched his dishes. He didn’t mind that the flavours did not compliment each other.
I however am a fussy eater, I like my food to be hot, fresh and exactly what I ordered. No surprises or last minute dish alterations.

Needless to say when your restaurant only has two customers and half of the customers are not satisfied with their meals, it’s not good for business.

Within a couple of weeks the foreclosure signs had been knocked in and bags had been packed.

We both went in search of restaurants that were more finely attuned to our individual tastes. But it wasn’t a wasted dining experience. Maybe I didn’t find what I was looking for but I was now clearer on what I wasn’t looking for. Which is another step forward, right?

Checked shirt guy

One overly hot, sticky March evening I found myself amidst a small gathering of fellow British folks. We had congregated in a colleagues apartment in the vain hope that the AC and chilled beverages would serve to cool our restless souls as another work week passed almost timelessly.

Much to my horror I discovered that of all the people crammed into this apartment, there were two single people. And yup I was one of them.
Had I unintentionally stumbled upon a couples only date night? I looked around the room wondering if they were wondering why I was here. “She can’t be here, ITS COUPLES NIGHT!”

A few hours later I didn’t even notice the couples arguing over flower arrangements and china teacup patterns. I was making small talk with the only other person in the room who had also recently received the ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ speech.

But sadly there was no connection. We had two things in common:
1. We were both single and
2. We were both human.
Not exactly the material of a great love story but he took my number at the end of the night.

So unremarkable was our conversation, that the next day when we sent me a message I couldn’t even remember his name. So I saved him as checked shirt guy (because I am 50% certain that the shirt he donned that night had been checked.)(The other 50% thinks it was ow, polka dot but I totally would have remembered that, right?)

Out of politeness I text back but mentally I had already put him in the discard pile.

His personality certainly hadn’t been memorable but maybe he had other means of being memorable that I hadn’t quite experienced yet. I took him out of the discard pile and made room for him in the benefits pile.

Why had I been taking baby steps into singleton when I should have been leaping? I was slowly learning how to be single and it was going to be a steep learning curve.

A friend of a friend

At the end of March 2012 it was finally spring break. We had two weeks off to enjoy the sun. Friends and family flew over to visit their loved ones staying in Doha.
Jane and her husband Marty had a good friend visiting them. We will call him Bill. He was looking into job opportunities in the Middle East and was out for 2 weeks. I barely registered that he was there for the first 10 days. But one evening he joined Jane and I for drinks at a local bar.
Jane and Bill reminisced of stories from their University days and we laughed fondly at our younger selves and how far we had come. Before too long last orders had been called and we suddenly realised just how drunk we were. In true British fashion we decided that fast food would aid as our fool proof, preventative measures for a hangover cure.
We arrived at Janes apartment feeling merry but fairly confident that we had found the cure for the common hangover.
Jane made her sleepy good nights and made her merry way to bed. I began to walk towards the door but without even thinking and fuelled by the alcohol I turned to bill and said with a sly smile, “aren’t you coming?”
He didn’t need to be asked twice.

It turns out the fast food may provide the cure for hangovers but unfortunately it does nothing to conquer the morning after the night before awkwardness.
Luckily the awkwardness did not last long, partly because the awkwardness grabbed his clothes and left within two minutes. ( He had to get home before Jane and Marty realised he was AWOL.) It turned out that he was locked out of the apartment anyway, not exactly the next Einstein but he was a good guy.
Things weren’t really awkward between us, in fact when he went back to England we spoke everyday and by the time he finally moved out to Doha in September we were really close friends.

We never became anything more than friends but it was good to have someone from the guys team to help decode the mixed signals given out by the selection of ‘men’ I dated once I arrived. He did, after all, have the inside perspective and sometimes his advice was valuable. But don’t tell him I said that…

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Should you try anything once?

When embarking on an adventure to find a new man, one has to look at ones best at all times. Because no matter what people say, sometimes a sparkly personality just doesn’t cut it.

The age old question that every woman asks herself is ‘how do you make yourself look good without turning your life upside down though eating plans and exercise schedules?’
The answer clearly lay hidden within Zumba. So every Tuesday evening we would put on our Zumba appropriate outfits ( bright, over the top, not flattering in any light outfits) and we would attend a ladies only Zumba class.
The class was fun. We spent most of the hour laughing at each others uncoordinated attempt at replicating the instructors moves. Don’t be fooled though because at the end of the hour we were incredibly hot and absolutely exhausted. The best version of ourselves here we come!

We became regulars and we began to make friends with the other ladies there. During one lesson I noticed one lady continuously looking back at me. I flashed her a big smile thinking she must have felt sorry for me and my poor attempt at Zumba dancing. The instructor called a short water break and we all bounced to our bottles located at the side of the Zumba tent.
Resisting the urge to pour the water over my head marathon runner style I took a deep sip. ” Hello,” I heard a voice say, ” are you new here?”
It was the staring lady from earlier.
“No,” I replied, ” I have been coming for a few weeks now.”
This small chat continued for a couple more minutes until the music started up again, which was our cue to get back on the dance floor.
The lady continually to look over her shoulder at me, I was starting to feel a little paranoid and I began to wonder if I had something in my teeth.
Eventually the class finished and we stood talking to the instructor for a bit. I glanced over my shoulder and the staring lady was having a drink. Was that my bottle she was drinking from? I’m sure it was an accident though, it would be easy to confuse my flowery sports bottle with her Aquafina pure bottled water, water bottle, right?
She gave a little wave, I guess I was staring at her this time. I hope my mouth hadn’t been open as I stared at her in confusion. I dorkily waved back and wondered over.
“I like your hair,” she said.
Was this lady serious? I had just been getting my sweat on for the past hour. I was an absolute riot. This time my mouth my definitely open.
“Thanks,” I mumbled back. Not really sure how to respond, I picked up MY flowery water bottle and started to walk toward the exit.
She grabbed my wrist. “Do you want to get a drink with me?” She smiled at me, her head cocked to one side.
Was she serious? Had I been single that long that my body was giving out signals to everyone in my radius?
Would it be so bad to date a woman? Maybe it would be a nice change. My mind worked double time weighing up the pros and cons. Was I actually considering this? Could I be bisexual? They say that bisexuality is just a layover on the way to being gay. Am I gay?

Girls are beautiful, complex, hard to understand creatures. I can’t even understand my own decisions sometimes..
Stood in that Zumba tent questioning my sexuality I realised that I wasn’t gay. At least I didn’t want to be gay that day.
So I pulled my hand away and made my excuses.
I walked out of the Zumba tent and that was the last time I did Zumba. Maybe one day I might fancy a little bit of Zumba again. It was a nice feeling knowing that Zumba was there if I ever wanted to do a little bit of crazy dancing . But for the time being I didn’t want to go too far from the rock pool. Mermaids were possibly a touch too exotic for me.

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Never trust a man who packs his skateboard

It’s a rule of thumb that when you are in a relationship all of your friends are single and when you are single all of your friends will be in a relationship. So you guessed it, newly single and absolutely everyone I knew was married. Well almost everyone. I had one amazingly, awesome, single friend. (I will call her Tilly.)
On Thursday nights, because in Doha the weekend is Friday/Saturday, we would dress up ( and I mean dress up) and we would find somewhere noisy to drink our cocktails.
On one particular Thursday night, we decided we were going to pretend we were in a band. A very cliched band. We wore skin tight leather pants, grunge tops and fake glasses. I was naturally the singer and Tilly was the drummer.
After very blustery drinks at the sky view bar we made our way to Paloma Nightclub. We strolled, because people in bands stroll, over to the bar and before we had even reached the bar half a dozen people had asked to buy us a drink. But it wasn’t until we got to the bar that we acknowledged our pursuers.
That night we made friends with guys from South Africa. There were two of them but I only really have a recollection of one of them. He told us his ‘skateboard name’ was Booby Scooby. Clearly made up, but then again, so were our aliases. We spent the night dancing with our new friends and at the end of the night we didn’t want the night to end. However it’s not what you might think.
Yes we went back to their room, but we went to see their skateboard. I swear!

Turns out that not everyone has a fake name and identify because they did indeed have a skateboard in their room and as you can imagine hotel rooms do not offer you the freedom of movement that one requires when performing skateboard tricks. I’m almost certain that the deal was ‘we will do some skateboard tricks if you sing us one of your bands songs…’ (Challenge accepted.)
On the insistence of Booby Scooby we left put shoes in their room ( you cant ride a skateboard in heels) and we all stumbled downstairs to the pool/ beach area were there was less bedroom furniture and more skateboard appropriate materials. The tricks were mediocre at best. Who goes on a business trip and packs their skateboard when they aren’t even pro?

Feeling disappointed, sandy and tired we dragged ourselves back to the hotel room to fulfil our end of the bargain. Booby Scooby declared that we couldn’t possibly sing with sandy feet. So he led me to the bathroom, sat me in the side of the bath and proceeded to wash my feet. Yes he washed my feet but it wasn’t until Tilly burst into the room and demanded to know what was going on that it crossed my mind that this perhaps was a little strange. She made a Jesus type reference which ensured that I grabbed my feet back, I jumped out of the bath slid out of the room and we hot tailed it from the Skateboarding, foot fetished, South African hotel room.

In our haste we forgot to grab our shoes, just perfect. I’m sure that was his plan all along. If you can’t have feet have the next best thing… Shoes which feet have been in.
To this day whenever I look at my feet I still feel a little violated and I still do not like people touching my feet.

So unfortunately due to one bad experience I have drawn a line through the rock pool of South Africa and I will no longer be pursuing a career in music.

Have you tried the starfish m’am?

For anyone who has ever had to start over you will probably know that starting over is scary and hard. But starting over alone especially after being part of pair, (where one half of the pair is the calm, sensible, organiser) going it alone is terrifying. For the first week I lay awake every night teary eyed, questioning my latest life decisions.
Clearly losing it, I dealt with my inner turmoil by verbalising my questions to the dark, empty bedroom in the vain hope that an answer would come from somewhere. Obviously, the not so quiet, Doha night did not reply. But friends and family sent words of wisdom and I found the strength to not quit on my new life.

Fast forward three months after touch down in Doha and my inner turmoil had completely disappeared. However the words of wisdom still stuck with me. People’s response to a newly single person questioning their decision to take a step away from coupledom is always, ‘don’t worry. There are plenty of fish in the sea.’
Not being much of a fish person, I always respond with “I’d prefer a narwhale, octopus or shark.”
Why would we want a fish when there are so many other more exciting creatures in the sea?
I’ve had fish. Fish goes nicely with peas. Fish can be quite bland. Fish promises to travel the world with you. But fish likes to stay in its rock pool, where life is easy, where the tide comes and goes like clockwork. Fish bails on you when you no longer want to eat peas. Now I no longer enjoy fish. The british Cliche of battered fish and chips is just too ironic for me.
I’m looking for something more fulfilling. Something from a more tropical climate. Something with a bit more bite.

The question is, once you have left the safe environment of your rock pool where do you go from there?

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