Right from the start, Paul didn’t like Maria. She had nothing against him but we are careful with people who dislike us. Gabriel had many gay friends in the city. It was a part of his life that Maria had had no contact with until they were housemates. Now, she met some of those friends when they visited the house. One of them was Paul.
Maria was sitting in the back courtyard in a bit of afternoon sunshine which had forced its way through the surrounding buildings. She heard Gabriel and Paul walking from the house and was about to make her presence known when Paul stopped walking.
“Why is that girl from the country living here?” said Paul.
“She’s just a housemate,” said Gabriel.
Something in Gabriel’s voice surprised Maria. Just a housemate, she repeated. I thought we were friends.
“She seems a bit strange to me,” said Paul. “And she has that room at the side of the house. What’s that all about?”
“I don’t know,” said Gabriel getting edgy. “It’s nothing to do with me.”
Nothing to do with me? thought Maria.
“You seem very buddy-buddy with her,” probed Paul not yet satisfied with the response.
“Nah, bro. I already told you,” said Gabriel. “She just lives here. What she does or doesn’t do is of no interest to me.”
Paul took a few more steps and Maria and Gabriel were unavoidably facing each other. Maria did not try to hide the look of hurt on her face.
Gabriel looked mortified but quickly regained his composure and said, “Oh, hi Maria, we are just on our way out.”
Paul, on the other hand, looked neither surprised to see Maria nor sorry about anything that was said.
That evening, Maria saw Gabriel in the hallway. “Have you finished with the bathroom?” he asked.
“Yes, I have,” said Maria. However, she didn’t move from the doorway and so Gabriel had to look at her. “I’m not homophobic but some of your friends are heterophobic,” she said.
“Don’t worry about it, Maria. It’s nothing,” said Gabriel.
“You mean nothing like I am to you?” asked Maria. “I don’t care how body appendages and holes relate to each other,” she said with uncharacteristic bluntness.
“That’s not very nice,” interrupted Gabriel. It wasn’t clear if he thought it wasn’t nice to talk about body appendages and holes or it wasn’t nice to talk about his friends like that.
“You lot have made an invisible club,” said Maria, “and if anyone questions its tenets then the brotherhood turns on them. You all have token women as if to prove how well adjusted you are. They might as well be trophy wives. You don’t want to be equal. You want to be exclusive and special. You are no more special than anyone else.”
Gabriel turned for downstairs and Maria heard the front door close.
Early next morning, Maria was sitting on the bus to Waldmeer staring out the window. The bus was weaving its way around the endless coastal curves. She opened the window slightly, even though the morning air was cold, and breathed in the fresh saltiness as if it was an all-purpose remedy. Mist rose from the ocean in uneven clouds, hit the surrounding green hills, and then settled back to form a blanket of translucent magic which hovered above the water but below the road.
None of the four of them had returned to Waldmeer since their departure six months ago. Charlie, and therefore Gabriel, no longer had a house to return to. Of course, Maria and Mary had family in Waldmeer. Maria’s parents belonged to a long line of Waldmeer dwellers. Mary’s parents owned the local dairy. Along with Mary’s twin brother, Harry, the girls were school peers since children. Both the girls missed Waldmeer deeply and it was for this very reason that neither had been home. They had Waldmeer in their blood. They were born and fed on its invisible energy. Living in the city was a marked contrast. If they returned too soon, they might not get back on the return bus, although Charlie would have come looking for Mary.
Maria had put a note for Gabriel, Charlie, and Mary on the kitchen table when she left in the dark at 5.00 am. She explained that the children she minded, Marilyn and Bianca, would be away with their parents and Maria’s mother said she could use some help in Waldmeer Corner Store and Cafe.
The rhythmic movement of the bus and the continuous rolling of the sea had a calming effect on Maria as it did on everyone. She didn’t exactly regret what she said to Gabriel. There was a lot of truth in it. Besides, some things need to be said. However, she had been in the spiritual slipstream too long to fool herself that what she said was the real issue. It was not her calling to challenge the gay community. Its problems would not have made her that upset. However, Gabriel’s dismissal of her would have. Anger is a cover for fear.
It was almost 8.00 a.m. and Maria could see her little home town in the distance as the bus rounded the last of the coastal bends. She stepped from the bus as if re-entering a curious and irresistible world and headed to the cafe to start work for the day.
Each day after work, Maria roamed the beach before trekking up the big hill to her parent’s cottage. Wind, silence, waves, far-sea – it was all beautiful. She wanted the conflict to bless her; not leave its mark without its benefit.
“Why are you being so dramatic?” asked Amira whose voice had no static here on the beach.
“I don’t have many friends,” said Maria. “The ones I do have are important to me.”
Her few friends were carefully chosen, although not exactly chosen by her. She faltered as if searching for that point in the centre of a problem from which all the pain radiates. We have to be brave enough to pull the simple, biting answer from the depths of our murky consciousness. Maria saw a spurt of water in the ocean and knew a mother whale and her calf were out there. During winter and early spring, Waldmeer became a calving ground. Like other herd mammals, pregnant whales often isolate themselves and go to a safe place to give birth. The high swells, surrounding cliffs, and deep waters provided an environment which protected them from predators.
“If Gabriel feels pressured by other people,” said Maria, “he will retreat into doing whatever seems least stressful and confrontational.” She looked out to the mother who was now playing with her calf; breaching and catching the sunlight on her massive wet body. “He will not protect me.”
“You are being too harsh,” said Amira after a while. “You have been on the path a long time. You cannot expect Gabriel to know everything you know. It is only when we are far enough along to realise the sorry state that most people are in that we lose our concern with what other people think.”
The whales were quiet now. The sea was still as the gentle glow of dusk began pulling itself over the settling giant.
“It takes courage to tread one’s own course,” said Amira, “but only at the beginning of each new stage. We hope that we are safe but we are not yet sure. Go back to Eraldus now. There is nothing to be angry about and nothing to fear.”
Eraldus means the dividing line. Maria had sometimes wondered what it was the dividing line between. She would soon find out.