Freedom (Summer ’98)

“It’s this left, right?”
“Nope. The next one a little further down.” I tell her, gesturing with my hand. She often gets confused at this point.

The sun beams down bounteously as we ride through the countryside in her father’s 1992 Honda Accord. Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix whistles quietly through the car stereo. She handles the steering with one hand, while her other motors a Marlboro Gold to and fro her lips. I am slouched on the passenger side with my left arm hanging out the window, tourism magazine in lap.

“What about Penang?”
“Pen-wha‘?” she says with her eyes fixed on the road.
“Penang. It’s on the north-western part of Malaysia.”
“Never heard of it, I don’t think. Does it sound good?”
“Well it says, Broadly known and admired for its affluence in culture, breath-taking natural history and jubilant festivities, Penang stands highly esteemed as Malaysia’s third most popular tourist destination, as of 1995. Unwind beneath the southeast Asian sun and witness some of Malaysia’s most stunning beaches and islands located on the northern side of Penang, not 30 minutes from the city’s capital, Georgetown. Venture through Penang National Park with an optional private tour guide or boat operator and view the beautifully exotic landscapes, jungles, rivers and wildlife that Penang has to offer. 

“Bountiful in historic architecture and temples, Penang displays an array of wonderful and memorable sights to ingest. It is also home to some of Asia’s finest and most diverse cuisine, blending recipes from Malaysia, China, India, Thailand and Indonesia.” I pause here and turn the page. She edges the half-smoked cigarette towards me and glances over to the magazine.
“Definitely some place I’d like to go to,” she says thoughtfully. “It kinda sounds like where Rishi and Dalia went in April. Bali, was it?”
“Yeah, Bali. The Indonesian islands are relatively close to this Penang.”
“We should check the prices and compare with our other options.”

It was now a toss-up between Penang, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. My girlfriend, Lana, and I had been planning to go on a holiday for some time, though we never actually got to taking any steps of actively looking for somewhere we’d like to visit. It was only recently, once we’d managed to put some money aside, that we’d started seriously considering destinations for the summer.

*

We’d known each other for just over a year now, though it was unclear when Lana became my “girlfriend”. I met her through a mutual friend and we started seeing each other, casually at first – you know, meeting up for a drink at a bar, or for a smoke session at her place. Then before long (and before either of us had realised), we were suddenly in physical and emotional entanglement with each other, so to speak.

I became more and more comfortable around Lana, and her around me. And when we started sleeping together more often, I would sometimes spend three or four nights at her place in a row. I suppose that’s roughly when you could say we solidified our commitment to each other. It became blatant to her that she meant more to me than just a casual friend or a girl I was sleeping with at the time. And it became increasingly clear to me that she, too, was serious about our brewing relationship.

*

I make note of the page number before tucking the tourism magazine in the small compartment under my seat, from which I also withdraw a small jar filled with marijuana. Lana veers off the main road into what we call one of our ‘out-of-town-chill-spots’. She turns up the volume on the stereo, singing along to Hendrix’s ‘Freedom’.

The sun continues to beat down with intensity. It’s the perfect type of weather for occasions such as this; when Lana and I go out of town and simply relax under the sun away from the city’s tireless engagements, and the various responsibilities in it. We both love the serenity the countryside offers. It’s somewhere we can escape to, alone, together. A place where the flow of time seems to spread itself throughout the openness, where everything slows down and becomes weightless.

A captivating selection of waist-high vegetation is spread through the expansive grassy plateau. Some would have thought it a shabby, neglected landscape, but we’ve always seen it as undisturbed. Natural. Somewhere where nature has been allowed to take its course. Beautifully and gracefully undomesticated.

Lana parks the car beside a tree at the edge of a small escarpment a few feet away from a slope that leads into the abundant sea of tall grass and wildflowers. Agave, purple asters, lace wildflowers, meadow buttercups, pale pink betony – too many to name. After I roll up a joint, we venture playfully into the tall grass.

We smoke and talk for some time. We talk about everything and nothing in particular. Getting high and engaging in deep (sometimes thoughtless) conversations is how we spend a considerable amount of our time together. Simply exploring the dynamics of each other’s mind. Extracting from the sunken crevices of our characters. Displaying to one another the abstract and innermost of our desires, fears and hopes. Or purely bantering. Lana and I always liked to share placid, unhurried moments together – whether it be over dinner, on a long night cruise in her father’s Honda Accord, a quiet night spent at her place, or away in the countryside.

Thank you for reading. This is an excerpt from something I’m planning to develop (the second part to this piece is here: https://mmwiinga.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/freedom-98-ii/). My focus was on trying to create something more comprehensive than what I usually post. Feel free to give criticisms and feedback!

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