The sun was still below the horizon, the orange and pink tint in the sky not yet reflected in the grey and black water. He reached the top of the hill and stopped, the ground falling away at his feet in a gentle slope, soft and damp, until it reached the sand. It was still cold from the night, the breeze lifting the tiny hairs on the nape of his neck. He felt the hairs on his bare arms prickling. He loved this time. It was quiet. The stirring birds, the runners on the beach near the waves, were all part of a peaceful picture.
He looked down at the runners. Why did they wake so early? Had they all had nightmares all night? Was that man with the huge dog running so fast to escape from a terrible night? Was he scared? Did he ever look behind him to check whether the nightmares had taken solid shape and were chasing him? Was the tall man running because he knew that the rising sun would scare away the shadows surrounding him, in a blaze of brilliant golden light?
There was not a cloud in the sky. The pink, orange and golden hues heralded the onset of another spectacular summer day. He stretched his arms up heavenward, rising up on tiptoe, allowing his toes to wriggle into the damp, dewy grass. He let out a huge sigh, his eyes upwards, where the pinks and purples had not reached the paling blue from the night. The aching shoulders and tight wrists were testimony to another night hunched in front of the laptop. Proof that one did not need to sleep in order to have nightmares. The dry eyes hurting from the constant trawling for jobs, writing, rewriting and re editing his résumé, cover letter and files of work. All those years of careful planning. Of carefully balancing University degrees and part time work. All the advice from the wise and the experienced. All the well heeded counselling from the careers counsellors. The degrees propped up in their frames on the floor next to the well read and beloved books. The published work in various publications. Prestige. Really?
He lowered his eyes, arms and heels. Each bare foot rested completely on the giving grass. He brought his gaze down to the beach. A fluttering caught his attention. Far along, to his right he could barely make out a runner, … golly…
As the first tip of the sun rose above the water, and lit up the beach, he felt a sharp intake of breath, as he watched the runner come into clearer view. She was tall. She was flying, really, not running. Her long black hair was left loose, streaming out behind her, and down her back. She was wearing flowing pants of a vivid blue. She was in a soft flowing top of some shimmery material also in blue green colours. A gauze of brightly hued purples and yellows floated around her in the breeze and around her throat. She was in sharp contrast to all the others, in their running gear, taut around their bodies, sensible and protective. She was free and, well, flowing.
Was she mad? Even as the thought broke out on the edge of a snort, it disappeared, as did the feeling of derision. She was closer now, loping along with the grace of an Amazonian Jaguar, but coloured in the clothes of an Australian Rainbow Lorikeet. Her mouth was moving, it seemed. He squinted to catch a better glimpse. She had no earphones on, so she might be mumbling, or singing, or… chanting? Praying? She was past him now, disappearing down the beach on his left. The bright blues and greens and yellows she was wearing, blazed a trail as other runners stopped, and stared. He became aware of the time.
When he entered the house, it was quiet. Someone was awake upstairs, but no one was down yet. The weariness of a few sleepless nights seemed a thing of the past. He became aware that his shoulders were straight and his spine upright.
He walked into his room and turned off the light. He pulled the ivory blinds apart to meet the pale curtains. His unslept in bed still seemed uninviting. He sat down at his desk, turned on the hibernating laptop and opened up the folder containing his résumé and accompanying portfolio.
Cover Letter. Check.
Portfolio of work. Che.. e..ck.
He opened up the email from the famous overseas research institution. “… looking for people … bring about shift in knowledge … can you excite us … enthusiasm …”
That had been bothering him. He was enthused alright. On the inside. How could he excite a bunch of people who were across that ocean next to his home, when he could barely look his Mum’s yoga teacher in the eye without going red in the face, or speak to his sister’s giggly friends without stuttering? He just did not know how.
From his subconscious a picture grew bright in front of him. He typed Rainbow Lorikeet on Google’s search bar and clicked on Images. A host of bright blues and greens assailed his eyes. He smiled.
A hand softly touched his head, and his mother asked, “Does the genius want his breakfast now?”
He turned and gave her a hug, “Sure, can I have some freshly squeezed orange juice, please? And some…”
“Okay, Okay!” she sounded a little stunned, probably at his animated response. “Come and help me, I have to leave soon.”
He pattered to the kitchen where Ellie was already bringing her oats to the table and Dad was eating his toast.
“Have you finished your résumé yet?” asked Dad, and then glared at Ellie. She had possibly kicked him under the table to shut him up.
“I am sure he has everything under control”, murmured Mum soothingly.
He smiled in answer to Dad’s query. “Almost, just jazzing things up a little.”
“Jazzing! Jazzing up a résumé? What are you doing? Splashing it with bright red paint?” Dad’s glare was now directed at him.
“Something like that.” He took the halved oranges from Mum and started squeezing them. “Only, I am using blue”.
His uncharacteristically joking tone shocked Dad into silence. Ellie giggled. He winked at her.
He did get some sleep that night, but awoke as usual in the pre dawn. He walked down to the beach and paused at his usual spot. The customary runners and their dogs were there. He walked down to the edge of the grass, and sat down on the still damp bench. He felt calm. He had sent in his résumé before he went to bed last night. He wondered how long it would take for them to respond, if at all. He wondered if his gamble would pay off. He had re-illustrated his papers with colour. The graphs and pictures were now bold and looked almost like they had been drawn in for kindergarten, though they were still the same erudite, learned dissertations. He had inserted photos he had taken during his research of his subjects – birds in their full glory, and had captioned them with touches of Pooh-esque philosophy. He had used images and ideas that usually stayed locked inside his head, or in his own private journals because he was a scientist, not a kindergarten teacher. He dealt in deep knowledge, not vibrant colour. He stirred. Really?
There she was! She was here again today! She must have recently moved into the neighbourhood, or else she was holidaying, and staying in one of the houses let out for the purpose. She was again dressed in bright, flowing, rainbow colours. He could not tell if they were the same clothes, all he remembered from yesterday were the flashes of colour. He was closer to her path today, and could clearly see her muscly power swathed in her shimmering clothes. She still appeared to be singing. Other runners turned and stared at her as she passed them, but she did not appear to notice anyone. It felt like she was running in slow motion, but all of a sudden, she had run past him, and was becoming smaller in the distance. He smiled.
As he pushed open the door to the kitchen he saw Ellie jumping about excitedly just beyond. Dad was waving a phone around and yelling “…where IS he? GAARGH!! Does he always have to disappear just when… Oh there you are!”
It was his phone. They were calling from San Francisco, and before his voice had a chance to shut down or his brain to freeze, he had plunged straight into the middle of an interview.
Half an hour later, he hung up and looked around. Mum, Dad, and Ellie were sitting at the dining table, quiet, tense, staring at him. He had not realised that they were still there, or that he had not left the room.
“They want me to go in at 9:30 and meet with the “Head of Research” who is at a convention in Sydney at the moment”.
“I’ll drop you in”, Dad rushed off to shave, presumably.
“I’ll iron you a shirt,” Ellie skidded down the hallway.
Giving chase, he yelled, “Blue shirt, green socks.”
He heard Mum call out from the kitchen, “Quick, shower! Your breakfast will be ready in 10 minutes”.
It became a habit to watch out for the Rainbow Runner each dawn. He had noticed by now that she wore different clothes each day, though in the same Rainbow Lorikeet colours. A predominance of green, a lot of blue. Dashes and flashes of orange, red and yellow. Often, violet as well. The clothes were always flowing, not the kind of clothes runners wear. None of the tight fitting “wick moisture away from body” type stuff. No shoes, either, though that is common among runners on the beach. A scarf streaming behind her. She always looked like she was flying, making his heart soar each time he saw her.
Soon, he knew exactly when to expect her, just before the sun first peeked above the horizon. That was always when he spotted her running along the edge of the water in his direction. Then she would be abreast, and then past him, disappearing on the other side, just as the sun popped above the horizon completely. The colours in the sky would be starting to pale, and the sun itself would be brightening to yellow from its bright red-orange glow.
He found a spot on the sand to watch out for her. He would come and sit there, watching the dawn, as he had from childhood. He always knew when to glance to the right to see her approaching. He noticed that the other regulars ignored her nowadays, but his own fascination continued.
That last day, fully dressed for travel, he went down to the beach at the usual time. He stood close to her usual path, and when she approached, stepped up.
“He-hello”, he said, doing his best to ignore the sweat trickling down his back., telling himself it was a cool morning.
She stopped, and looked into his eyes. Was she aware how hard it was for him to not look away? She was panting a little, but smiled and said, “Hello.”
“I… I… I just wanted to say…”. What did he want to say? He had forgotten. All he was aware that it was vital he said it before he left, and that his tongue was stuck to his palate.
The silence did not feel awkward. She just stood there, still smiling. He noticed the wrinkled corners of her eyes, the grey flecks in her hair, the sun in her smile.
He started over. “Just… just… thank you, and… and… goodbye”. He felt his face crack into a smile, quite unaware of how boyish and vulnerable he looked.
She took a step towards him, and involuntarily, petrified that she was about to hug him, he leaned away, willing his feet to stay put. But all she did was put out her hand. “Thank you! And Good luck”. Her low voice resonated within him, and he knew he would remember it forever.
They shook hands and stepped away from each other. With another wave, she was off, running again.
He turned and came back home. Dad had just finished putting breakfast on the table. Ellie was securing two orange and red flimsy scarves to the handle of his carry on suitcase. Mum had got the car out, and was just sitting down to breakfast. They were all wearing different shades of blue, and he realised, he was in bright parrot green.
“Come on”, said Dad, “we need to be at the airport soon.”