Leila walks along the wide pavement that leads in a straight line past the park to the sea. It’s evening, January. Obviously she’s not going swimming, she doesn’t even have to go onto the beach, she’s just heading that way. Thinking about how to spend the evening had paralysed her, until she considered what Marlijn would do. Marlijn was in the habit of going out after dinner. Leila didn’t feel the need, but she nearly always chose Marlijn’s company over staying behind at home. What remains: the possibility of bumping into Marlijn on the street.
During her stroll, Leila recalls memories of the park she is walking parallel to. Running along under the trees, the benches where she and Marlijn sat making guesses about the bank accounts of passers-by, the summer evening when Marlijn led her down one of the overgrown side paths, kissed her, and pushed her dress up over her thighs. But soon enough it starts raining thoughts of men with their greedy gazes again, escape routes, and a bunch of keys that can be used as a weapon. She has never managed to shake off the fear that hits her as soon as it begins to get dark outside. In her head there is always a man roughly dragging her into the bushes, raping her, leaving her for dead.
Every few minutes, someone passes her.
You’re so intimidatingly beautiful that people only grasp much later that you’re real, Marlijn once said. It doesn’t occur to anyone to approach you.
But Leila knows what men are really like, even though certain people think she brings it on herself. When did she last speak to her mother? In the past she had to phone her whenever she was walking the streets after sunset.
Marlijn also claimed that on the night they met and, after hours of dancing and kissing in the alcove between the bar and the toilets, they were walking home together from the café, it was only during that walk she could believe she was really touching Leila. Leila found that admiration just as delicious as Marlijn’s fingertips on her skin.
After that, Leila tried so very hard to be admirable that she just ended up doing less and less. She preferred to wait and see what Marlijn would suggest doing. Marlijn found that passivity off-putting. Leila has to admit that her inexperience paralyzed her, ultimately in bed too.
Every couple of steps, she looks to the right, but even if Marlijn were walking in the park, it would be impossible to spot her. In the distance she can make out the large roundabout and, beyond it, the beach and, after that, the thick, black plinth that is the sea. She wonders if couples break up more often in the winter or the summer. It is unlikely that a relationship has ever ended under a beach umbrella.
At the roundabout, Leila halts. The sea is in front of her. She turns right, to the parking area – that’s where the most streetlights are. In the summertime, every spot is occupied until sunset and even on a night like this, there are ten, perhaps twenty, cars parked there. The flatness of the coastline bored Marlijn, that was why she always walked through the park instead of past it. It bothers Leila that, because of her infatuation, she forgot to ask herself if Marlijn was right for her, and that, now the distance between them allows for a clearer perspective, she still misses her ex.
She’s so deep in thought that she doesn’t notice the movements inside one of the parked cars until she’s standing right in front of it. A woman is sitting in the passenger seat, her curved back towards Leila, on top of a man. She is moving her hips jerkily. By the light of the lamppost, Leila sees the man’s hand slide under the woman’s blouse, sees the bare skin, and the knuckles of her backbone.
A couple of years ago, Leila was lying here on the beach. It was a weekday, warm, but not yet sweltering enough to lure hordes of people to the sea. Tens of metres of free sand lay between the various beachgoers. Leila’s sunhat partially covered her face. She saw two young women coming along the beach. They must have been in their twenties and looked Spanish or Portuguese. Or Italian. Tourists, she thought, and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, the couple were sitting close to the water. The one at the front was between the legs of the other one, her back leaning against her friend’s chest. Leila’s attention was drawn to the woman in front. She was gently jolting her hips up and down. Her face to the sky, eyes closed, mouth open. Leila was too far away to hear anything, but she knew that the woman was groaning. She looked around to see if anyone else had noticed, but nobody seemed surprised. Then the woman became soft, languid, as if she might fall asleep against her friend’s chest. At that moment, Leila realised she was aroused. For the first time in ages and so unexpectedly. She thought it was the public nature of the lovemaking that had turned her on. It was only much later that she dared to admit to herself that it was all about the two women.
Leila stands in a patch of street lighting, looking through the steamed-up windscreen. Her hand is clutching her telephone in her coat pocket. She’d like to make a video of the couple and send it to Marlijn. That night in the café was one of the first times she’d felt the same desire as on the beach. She is still searching for the significance of that feeling. She is not exactly making a good job of searching, she thinks, it is as if she has never learned to look at herself.
What a show tonight, eh? says someone close to her.
Leila stiffens. Outside the beam cast by the streetlight, a man is sitting on a concrete bollard. He is wearing a blue tracksuit that looks familiar. Ah, yes, he passed her about ten minutes ago. Now he is sitting less than five metres away from Leila, but he feels closer than the couple riding each other in the parked car beside her. Leila wonders if she has enough time to pull her phone out of her pocket and call someone. First she thinks of Marlijn, then her mother, and only then of the emergency number. What would Marlijn do in this situation? It infuriates Leila that precisely that thought shoots through her mind right now. She screams and slaps the bonnet of the car with the flat of her hand. The people inside turn their faces to the noise and for a moment everyone wonders what Leila will do next.