It is peak summer on Hydra, and my twin sister says her husband will lend me a pair of his swimming trunks. She didn’t ask him first, nor has he offered, but he doesn’t protest. He just glances at me, sets his book down, slides his long feet into his flip-flops and goes inside the villa. I follow. There he is, upstairs, squatting in front of an open suitcase, rummaging. The triangle of his bare back is taut, trained.
Here, he says, standing up, the pair of red trunks in his hand, and I go to the bathroom to try them on. When I come out, he can see clearly, and I can feel clearly, that they are far too small, the mesh biting into my groin. Not to worry, he says. His fingers land on the waistband of his own trunks. He explains they’re a longer and looser fit. So he bends over and slides them down his legs, wrangles his feet. And he is naked. Today’s heat, thirty-six degrees, means he hangs low and heavy, in constant half-tumescence. My twin sister’s husband holds the trunks out to me, expects me to do the same, because he is taller and slimmer, and the red trunks will fit him perfectly. He thinks nothing of it, we are men, he’s easy-going, this is normal. Sure. Looking out of the window rather than at him, to the marine goblet trembling beyond the pine trees, I lower the trunks and we swap.
When we make it to the beach, the itch born in that moment still lingers in my flank, its little teeth hooked between my sweaty ribs. I feel nauseous and I hate the sand. But my twin sister and her husband are bickering about something, their shoulders already bare in the relentless sun. I keep my T-shirt on and pretend not to listen. As always, my twin sister’s husband turns their argument into a joke, makes ridiculous faces, speaks in silly voices. Feigning annoyance, he makes a dramatic exit towards the sea. I pretend again: that my eyes are closed behind the sunglasses and that I am not watching how he enters the water, how his chest rips the water like linen. Arms in motion, he says something back to us, my name perhaps – who knows, these days I’m becoming less and less sensitive to it – and he continues, the dot of the red trunks fading.
Only then, when he is gone, I notice my sister is applying tanning oil, the shea butter hitting my nose. She stretches out her limbs, smooths the shininess along her skin. You want some? she asks and still I pretend not to hear. Watching her body, I wonder again as I’ve been wondering with increasing regularity: how is it that, without seeking permission, the zygote split in two in our mother’s womb and now I must live separate from her, this furious gap between us, and she separate from me? And I wonder: why did she not, sensing the cluster of cells neighbouring hers, a cluster trembling with the horror of being alive, why did she not engulf me then and make us whole again? I would remain as vestigial tissue then. I would be a migratory organ coursing her – our – body, nestling under all the parts he looks at, touches, stretches.
I sit up and scan the blue surface for the muscled arms, the supple legs. The red trunks. He is nowhere to be seen. There is a cave, I see, in the rocky promontory on the left, its mouth hidden by a tuft of carob trees. I pretend yet again: that he is in there, waiting, but the pretense falls short because for what, why does he wait, when I am too weak to swim that far and he knows this weakness. My twin sister looks up from her book. I think she’s reading my thoughts, but because she doesn’t keep this skill up, doesn’t do it as often as me, she can only see their vague contours.
You’ve got the trunks, she says, why aren’t you swimming?
I don’t know, it was all your idea, I reply. There is suddenness in my words and for a moment I think I’m going to say more but in the end I only think: Just like this holiday. Just like everything.
When he finally returns, rising out of the water in slow, wading steps, the angle of the sun, the tint of my sunglasses, the remnants of sunscreen on his skin, all of these things combine to refract the light bathing his body, shifting its tones, giving his skin a deep red tinge: blood? If not that, then what else? Blood. A thought begins to well up within me, its foundations mapped perfectly onto the structure of his bones, the muscles stretched over them like drum skin, the nerves festering within. The thought is tightly packaged. Only when the sun is at its highest and my peeling skin is most unbearable and I hear nothing but the water splashing in its vast, rocky container, only then can I begin to unwrap and savour it, the lone grains of sand nestled between the rim of his trunks and my navel.
DAWID MOBOLAJI — Dawid (b. 1996) is a Polish-Nigerian writer and translator based in London. He is currently taking part in the Emerging Translator Mentorship at the National Centre for Writing, UK. Day to day, he works as a trainee medical doctor. Find Dawid on Twitter @dawidmobolaji.
Art by RURI KATO –Ruri is an artist and a full-time qualitative researcher based in Tokyo, Japan. She loves her cat, reading, eating, and taking walks through beautiful places. More of her art can viewed on Instagram as @rurilourdek.