Drinks Like a Sand Dune

He drinks like a sand dune.

In the early evening, when we arrive in the restaurant after our surf session he is already at the bar, soaking up glass after glass of booze. By the time we retire to the little thatch huts between the trees for the night, he is still there, leaning heavily on the counter in front of him, eyeing us blearily.

When we get back in the morning following the first surf of the day, we find him in the same place, knocking back tooth-loosening cups of coffee just to get straight before he heads off to bed. Caffeine hardly touches him; he’s done so many hard drugs, his body is indifferent to most stimulants. And it shows in every line on his face. He is about forty-five, but he looks seventy.

He used to be a very good surfer; the best guy in the water on almost any given day, no matter where he surfed. He could have been a real contender on the world tour during the eighties and nineties, but he never quite got there. He did well in some contests, but failed in too many other events on the tour. He said that he was a free-surfer at heart, that the desire to win was not strong enough in him. “Winning isn’t everything.” But lets be honest, he was lazy. He lacked the drive and the work ethic to beat the rest of the field, especially when the waves were poor. So he faded back into obscurity after a few years of notoriety and fame. The pretty girls were no longer that interested and neither were the sponsors. He gradually retreated to the comfort and consolation that booze and drugs offered and from that point on his life unraveled quickly. On a good night, when his head is clear he’ll tell you stories about it all, cautionary tales.

Tonight he is in a pensive mood, thinking back on the years when he stayed under those palm trees along the point, long before the hotel had been built here.

“Those were the days, mate.” He looks out towards the point break where translucent green waves break along a row of black rocks and yellow sand. There is a wistful expression in his eyes and for a second or two they light up with the memories of those years when he was truly alive.

“We used to sleep in hammocks that we strung up between the trees and when it rained we all had to huddle under the tarp that we used as a cooking shelter. There were never more than ten of us here and not everyone surfed. Six guys in the water were considered a crowd.”

Then his countenance changes again and he retreats back into that familiar, negative mindset.

“Now look at it: fifty clueless kooks on a good day. And you wonder why I no longer surf!”

But we both know he can’t surf because his body has packed up. The drugs have shriveled his nerve endings and fried his neurons. His muscles have atrophied, his lungs can no longer expand and his heart only flutters. The hotel has become his home now; the owner puts him up for free. (His bar tab makes up for the missed rent.) Apparently the two of them go way back, to the times when they used to camp under the palms. His friend had built the hotel and things progressed from there. But now they are acquaintances only. The friendship has faded, like all his other relationships. Nobody can put up with the mood swings, the anger and the unpredictability. One ex-girlfriend still sends money, a kind of alimony born out of pity and guilt and he hates her for it.

I try to lighten the conversation by asking him about the surf. Will there be waves tomorrow? But he no longer knows the ocean. He has forgotten the rhythms and the cycles of nature. For him the world is constant and predictable: tomorrow he will wake up in a haze and when he eventually makes it out of his room, he will find his way to the bar, where he will drink and watch as the tourists and the surfers come and go. A good looking girl might attract his attention, but he won’t really be interested, he has no chance of catching her eye and anyway, his body has long ago lost any impetus to respond to the opposite sex. He will drink until dawn and then he will go to bed.

The next day will be the same. He will continue to drink like a sand dune.

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