A little ways into the forest is a row of nipa huts. The huts overlook a river. Lining the riverbank are coconut trees, and at the foot of one tree, on a narrow wooden bench, is where she sits, staring at the green water.
Downriver, a short distance away, a boy in an ascot cap rises from a fallen log and walks over to her. He sits on the ground beside the bench and asks her for her name.
She points to the red welts dotting his legs and says, where did you get those?
He answers, mosquito bites.
She digs into her purse and hands him a bottle of citronella oil. Keeps off the bugs, she says, offering her markless forearm as evidence. Do you smell it?
He pours oil onto his palms and rubs them down his long, fair limbs. He tells her, now we taste the same.
She laughs at his misuse of the word.
In the open-air dining hall, sitting at the table by the balustrade, they gaze at nothingness, the black mountain in front of them hiding any other view. The forest is alive with the chirping of crickets, and various animal calls.
In a corner of the balcony, across the hammocks, is a large bamboo bed, with a worn mattress, pillows, and quilted covers. With the plates cleared and the evening still young, she moves to recline on the bed, and opens the book she brought. He follows, as if tied to her wrist by a string, and lies back by her side, only their knees touching. From the bed they see patches of sky and tree boughs aglow with fireflies.
The innkeeper approaches them, asks if they would be staying in one of the double rooms. But we’re not a couple, she laughs. A few moments later and she is asleep, her head nestled on his shoulder.
Your skin is so beautiful, he tells her as her eyes flutter open, and your hands so small, as he presses his palm against hers. Yes, like caramel, she yawns, like a child’s, she smiles.
Under a makeshift shed in the mountain, they stop to take a rest. Shaded from the glare of the sun, she surveys the landscape. She has seen grander vistas, and closes her eyes. The wind is cool, the air dry and crisp and refreshing.
Hey, he calls her name, won’t you give me a smile? Stop taking pictures of me, she tells him, even as she yields. She doesn’t like striking a pose for the lens, arranging her features for a screen. But she doesn’t mind smiling for him.
As they descend on muddy slopes, he offers her his hand. It’s okay, I got it, she tells him, again and again, wondering that he doesn’t tire of trying to help her anyway.
Back at the lodge, after the hike, he pauses at the threshold of the hut they shared, expecting her to say goodbye. Instead, she kicks off her sandals, steps into the room, and asks him if he’d like to have lunch.
I’m glad you’re staying another day, he tells her, laying his head on her shoulder. For an answer, she rests her head against his.
The night before her departure, he asks for her email address and number, asks if he could visit her when he comes to the city. Maybe, she says. I’d like that. He moves to embrace her, and she looks up to meet his gaze.
In the balcony they bathe in warm lamplight. Beyond the balcony are shadows, unknown and unconsidered.
She leaves at dawn. She does not wake him up. At the foot of his bed she places a calling card.
One morning two weeks later, he texts her to say that he is flying home that evening, and that he had a wonderful vacation, also because of her. Thanks and take care, she texts back, wishing she had left no number, no word, no address.