Coastal Hike

Gabriele Korn
Coastal Hike
He always has a 50 metre head start. I often stand still, looking out over the water. Sail boats on a sea that looks like unironed blue silk. My pace is clearly slower than his.

One can see all the way over to Split. See houses coloured like vanilla ice cream stacked up the grey cliffs of stone far away.
It is calm. As I start walking again, the landscape passes slowly by. A film in tones of blue and grey, over which the soundtrack plays very quietly. Only a light chirping from the trees.

He is playing with Siwa, his female mixed breed, part Husky, part Teddy bear. He pets her deeply into her fur, throws sticks across the beach which she fetches with flapping ears. Suddenly the stick falls into the water. She hesitates for a while before she jumps in and swims. That is the first time that she experiences salt water.
Sometimes he turns around to me as if to see that I am following him. He is pale underneath his seven-day beard, in spite of the sun.

Our path leads us along the cliffs, over pebbles and stones, where only the strongest trees survive. One trunk, split into many winding branches latches itself tightly onto the rock. We have to climb its roots for a bit to get further.

He is an early riser. On three consecutive mornings he sat at eight in the morning in the small bar by the harbour with a cup of tea. At the table next to mine. On the fourth morning he spoke to me.
“A short walk to the next village,” he suggests. “The path by the shore is so beautiful.”

At first we chat. His family doesn't like hiking or camping.
“I think they are very nice,” I say. “On the ferry I had a good conversation with your wife and your daughter. Only your son looked at me all cross.”
“In my youth,” he says and combs his fingers through his grey locks, “We were also rebels. But we demonstrated and were politically engaged.”
His voice becomes louder. He shrugs his shoulders.
“When I look at my children, I ask myself, why. They don't care about social equality. Or clean water. All they want to do is shop and hang around... ah,” he laughs embarrassedly, “I sound like I'm 80. I should stay quiet.”

He shows me a pine cone; a perfect symmetry in brown, with green specks in the middle of each scale.
I can hardly keep up with him; he has long legs and is pretty fit for a physicist working a 10-hour laboratory job.
“Yes, let us be silent for a while,” I say. I am tired of discussion. I can easily talk to many people, but not be quiet. With him it is pleasant to be silent.
Stone pines bend over the massive stones. Green dancers with billowing dresses on a grey, rough dance floor.
“I would love to live here,” we say at the same time.

Siwa pants, gasps, yet climbs just as easily as her master. In a small cove both of them wait for me. The sea here is the colour of dark emerald with enclosures.
A swimmer is out in the water; one can see a head and arms between the waves popping up and disappearing.

“Picnic?” he asks and sets his backpack down. He spreads out a mat on one of the smooth stone surfaces and sits down legs crossed. My bones ache as I do the same.
The coffee from his thermos flask is jet black and rich. He drips olive oil onto a piece of bread, sprinkles some salt over it and hands it to me. The oil tastes a little bitter. “That flavour comes from the pits which they grind up as well; that's how they do it here,” he says.
Siwa has rolled herself up on a neighbouring stone chewing pieces of bread.

I lay myself down on my side and close my eyelids until the green of the olive trees and the palms blend with the turquoise of the water into an abstract painting.
“I don't need anything else,” he says. “Sun and wind on the skin, calmness.”

“The stone plates look like thick flakes of chocolate,” I say. He laughs quietly. “Ah, you’re in the mood for something sweet it seems. Try the honey.”
It tastes like sage. I find it to be as sticky as being in love. I don't say that out loud.
For dessert there is dark red wine which he pours into a cup and fills it up with water. It remains the same colour. “The grapes here are really ripe from the sun,” he laughs. “And so am I.”

The female swimmer comes out of the water. Her page-boy cut, perfectly styled in a layered cut in spite of the water and sea wind. Above her red bikini bottoms with turquoise blossoms a roll of belly fat. Carefully she balances her way over the gravel beach. She makes a face and rubs her feet. Her flip-flops squeak by us; we hear the puttering of a moped, then nothing else but the cicadas, the breaking of the waves, a few seagulls.

“Look over there,” he exclaims, “rosemary! Growing right by the water!” He takes a few steps, leans over tiny yellow blossoms. Stars stretching out of cracks in the rocks.
His red shirt is wet on the back and is stretched over his muscles.
We sniff them together, breathing in deeply the savoury herb smell.

His eyes are as grey as the clouds above us. Clouds, thick and fluffy, which have laid themselves over the blue of the sky like a soft blanket.
“I think it is going to rain soon,” he says and caresses first the rosemary leaves and then my finger.
“We need to go back.”

On the way back, he holds my hand tightly. It doesn't seem to bother him that it’s sweaty and sticky with honey.
As we reach the first houses of the village, I am drenched from the rain on the outside and warm with joy on the inside.
He brings me to the door of my rental apartment and embraces me. I breathe in his smell of sweat and salty air and push him gently away.
“Greet your wife and kids!” I say. “Have a nice afternoon!”
“I'm going out again this evening with Siwa. If you would like...” he says. “A little further, perhaps!”
“Yes,” I whisper and unlock my apartment. The hum of the refrigerator sounds so gentle.

Perhaps a little further. Later this evening.
I leave my door slightly open.

Translated from German by Shan Wardell
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