He is no one to be scared of, Adunola knows. She has known this for a long time. He is comfortable, kind, safe, a friend.
He drives her to the gorge on her 30th day home from the hospital.
They don’t talk much on the drive there; she stares at the corn fields that encumber the roads they drive on and imagines what it must be like to be a farmer. Many of the farmhouses don’t have neighbors for miles.
She thinks she would have made a great farmer. The potted plants in her Brooklyn apartment thrive even in tepid temperatures. She loves to tend things, to watch them grow.
The gorge, when they arrive, is packed with people hoping to enjoy the last bit of summer. All around them is an anxiousness, a wariness of the fast approaching winter.
He likes the winter; the snow and how pure it makes everyone and everything seem. He knows he is naïve and too much of a dreamer. It is why he has brought her here. Because he has dreamed this dream of being under water since he first loved her.
He isn’t sure exactly when he started to love her. His father tells him it was the day she got into NYU and he into Cornell but he thinks it was long before that.
“When someone you love is about to take their leave of you, that is when you realize just how much or how little you love them,” His father had said. That had been more almost 20 years ago. He remembers driving her to the bus station where he waited until the bus was out of sight before falling to pieces.
He manages to find them a spot in front of the water. She spreads their picnic blanket and takes off her clothes. He has never seen this swim suit before and he is suddenly afraid of the life she has lived without him.
She lets him go in first to test the waters.
“How is it?” She calls out.
He answers by extending an arm to her. When she gets in, she squeals but then as her body gets used to the temperature, she moans with delight. He laughs because only she can make the simple act of being in the water seem like the best thing in the world.
They swim, splashing around and for a little while, the years that have come are washed away with the tide and they are teenagers again, fooling around in the river after school with their friends.
“I used to want to be a mermaid” she tells him
“I was such a silly child!”
“You were anything but that. You are the most serious person I ever met.”
She laughs at that and swims to the bank. It is time to talk. He hands her the towel but she turns him down preferring for the sun to dry her. The sun rays bounces off her dark skin. She closes her eyes and wonders why it has taken her this long to come home, why it took him this long to offer his heart as home.
“Why would you want to marry me even? Is it out of pity?” She asks matter of factly.
He laughs thinking she can’t possibly be serious. She doesn’t laugh along with him and so he knows she is.
Neither of them says anything for a while. He wants to kiss the furrows on her brow away but he isn’t brave enough.
“You could have any woman you want Misha. I have known you most of my life and we never even out on a date. And now, when I have nothing left to give anyone, now you decide that you want me? It makes no sense.”
“I can’t have children. My body is a kaleidoscope of all the mistakes and wrong turns I have taken in my life. I have been married twice and I am barely 37. You, you have no scars, your heart is as pure, as new as it was the day I met you. Surely you can do better than this?”
He smiles sadly at her. He wants to tell her he has wanted her since she walked into his high school chemistry class. He wants to tell her how it is the scars she now has that have made loving her even seem possible. Before the scars, before life, before the ovarian cancer he had removed from her body 42 days ago, she had been more than he could ever dare to dream of, out of his league, unattainable. He wants to tell her about how for those few hours he had her to himself on the operating table, it had felt just right. Like that was what he had been practicing for all his life. To heal her.
Instead he says nothing. This has always been his way.
They eat the lunch she packed and he makes her take her medicine before they go back into the water.
In the water, she kisses him and then goes under. It isn’t easy but he knows to wait for her. He tries not to count the seconds. He is a Professor of Medicine after all- he knows just how long a body can survive without oxygen. 4 minutes. 240 seconds.
She stays under for about 80 seconds but it feels like forever. When she surfaces, she is smiling. It is a resurrection he knows.
“I want children,” She tells him when she can talk without gasping.
“We can do that,” He answers. Surrogacy, adoption, his medical mind already exploring options.
“I won’t take your last name,” She continues.
He laughs at that because he wouldn’t take his last name if he had the option. It is a tough last name, a heritage of his Russian father. His Nigerian mother still refuses to take it on despite having learned to speak Russian fluently for his father.
“Well, you can go down on one knee now,” She tells him when he is done laughing.
“What? Now? In the water? I didn’t even bring the ring,” he answers in a panic.
It is her turn to laugh now, at the man she should have chosen from the very beginning instead of all the imposters that had come along. She laughs and grabs his kind face. He has dark brown eyes that remind her of oak trees. His lips are full but not pouty. His hair curly and soft. He is beautiful. She has always known this.
“Yes!” She whispers into the crook of his neck as he holds her before they go under. “Yes”
Song of the day: VaShawn Mitchell – Joy