Looking Back

There's no point looking back.

I'm walking away, and I know already that there's no point looking back. I look down; sunlight through the acacia trees dapples grass and pavements alike, and gold on green brings to mind every summer, every series of endings and partings. My eyes fill with tears, the pillar of salt that I might have become melting away like all our yesterdays.

You didn't look back once. You walked away, your battered leather jacket disappearing into the sea of tourists, and I didn't move from the spot until I could no longer pick you out from the crowd. Then I knew I had surrendered you to the city; your vanishing back was no longer a place for my hands to meet around you.

We'd parted awkwardly, with embarrassed embraces, knowing that we'd only be apart for the summer yet feeling that goodbyes were necessary. As usual, I had invested more significance in the occasion than you; even then, even after we had come to our agreement, I could not unlearn my part -- the habit of reading between your lines. You said "goodbye", and I heard the regret that I wanted to; the relief that I didn't. Earlier you had said "hello", and I had heard the ripening "goodbye" already hanging heavy on your words.

To be fair, we'd spent an idyllic day together. We had spent the afternoon in the park, sitting shirtsleeved on a bench, pretending the day was warmer than it was, and talking of nothing until the breeze had sent us seeking warmth -- at least the warmth of movement. Before that we'd met for lunch, on impulse; we had eaten overpriced baguettes in one of the city's many sandwich shops, and then pursued a rambling, pointless route through shop-infested streets. I was never happier than when wandering aimlessly with you; I followed in your footsteps, and for a time they were the only path I needed.

We'd been on the point of parting then -- I would have returned to my studying, you to your research, and perhaps the parting wouldn't have been so awkward, wouldn't have become an endlessly deferred inevitability. But there's no point looking back: what happened, happened. The sun shone on the museum walls, and the air was bright and clear and full of promise, and neither of us had the will to work. We bought cans of Coke and headed to the park. The cold metal froze our fingers; the layers of the past prevented us from seeking the warmth of a held hand.

The agreement -- such as it was -- had been necessary; even I had acknowledged that. If we wanted to carry on idling away afternoons together, I had to put aside all other feelings for you. And so I had to forget the way your smile lifted my soul; no more half-glances or half-meanings, no more half-touching in the half-light of a dark nightclub. I had to forget the heat that coursed through my body as I saw you dance, your hips moving to a rhythm that my body dreamed of remembering; and I had to forget the pain that I felt when I knew that you were dancing to someone else's tune. There's no point looking back to see you take the last dance with someone else: better to leave the dancefloor, knock back the last plastic cup of vodka, and depart clutching the tatters of my dreams. The steps back to the surface were sticky beneath my feet, and if I had looked back I would barely have seen you. The smoke clung to my clothes like a bad habit, but I didn't cling to you, and I didn't look back.

It had taken years to get to the point where I could walk away. Years of longing, years of looking back through my tears at every moment of closeness. You had comforted me as I cried and clung to your battered leather jacket; and I had cried longer and harder than I needed just to prolong the moment of contact. Before that I had held you as you cried over another, and yet another, unknowingly twisting the knife; your head on my shoulder, and your heart always looking back to the last one, the best one, the lost one.

I thought all those years were enough. But now as you vanish into the crowd, it only takes a splash of sunlight on a paving-stone to unravel my heart. This summer is every summer, and these tears are all my tears, and today joins all my yesterdays in a boxful of memories which I must not open. I stumble forwards, my vision clouded, into a forest of tomorrows without you. After all, there's no point looking back.