When Lightning Strikes

artemis and raul kissing naked in the garden

I only have a handful of days left in Brasil and its already late in the evening when Milton asks me if I’m going to come and see him one last time before I leave. He tells me Raul, his best friend he’s staying with, wants to meet me, and those simple words are enough to spark that unmistakeable pull in my chest, the same pull that led me to Brasil in the first place. That pull is my heart urging me on towards whatever it is out there that is beckoning, calling my name, and I have learnt to always answer that call.

My heart races as I search for buses online and relief floods me when I find one leaving soon. I pack my backpack quickly and lightly and call an uber. By the time the car arrives I have only 10 minutes to make it to the bus station – a 10 minute drive away – and onto the bus.

My resolution begins to waver as I wait downstairs for the car to arrive. Night time in this city is unfriendly and discouraging and cowardice gnaws at me, pleading to go back inside, to the quiet room and warm safe bed where nothing bad can happen. But the car arrives before I give in, and I rush from the gate into the relative safety of the car. Time is fast running out but optimism burns like a fire in my chest as I repeat over and over in my head I’m going to make it. Everywhere we go, the traffic lights are green and we make good progress. Occasionally the car begins to slow down for a red light ahead but every time it does I close my eyes and repeat I’m going to make it even more fervently and every time without fail, when I open my eyes, the light has changed to green and we carry on speeding through the night.

I arrive at the bus station at midnight with no idea where to go, and fear at being alone in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place buzzing in the back of my mind. I make my way to the first ticket booth I lay eyes on, which thankfully turns out to be the right one. With my ticket in hand I hurriedly turn left, looking for box 46, but I’ve only taken a few steps when I feel it’s the wrong way. I do a 180 and immediately spot a bus up ahead. But I can’t see the number of the box its parked in and as I’m searching blindly the bus driver who is standing in front of it asks to see my ticket. I hand it over in a fluster and he tells me yes, it’s this bus, get on, and I leap up the stairs, giddy with glee because I’ve made it, I’m on my way and now all I have to do is enjoy the ride.

The journey the bus makes turns out to be the infamous ‘drip drop’ route – it means many, many stops all through the long night, and although the comfort of these buses have improved greatly since my childhood, I can’t fall asleep. A girl around my age sits next to me and practically cuddles me in her sleep, and I marvel once more at the strange intimacy that comes with sharing long bus rides or airplane journeys with strangers.

We stop in the early hours for a break and as I sit in the snack bar looking around at the sleepy strangers sat at nearby tables, the strangers that I’m sharing this bus journey with, I feel independent, and capable. It was not so long ago that I was in the depths of a deep depression, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come – both literally and metaphorically. I know that if things ever get so bad again, I will look back on this moment and remember; that I can, I have, and I will.

I eventually arrive at Raul’s house around 9am, where I find Milton waiting for me at the gate. I wrap him up in a hug and tell him how wonderful it is to see him again before I leave. He tells me Raul woke up with intense pain and has gone to the hospital, so we spend the morning talking and watching videos on youtube.

It’s early afternoon when the two dogs start barking, signalling Raul’s arrival. He opens the bedroom door and it’s instant; it’s like something inside of me recognises something inside him, and he comes to greet me with a hug and a kiss and the same slightly bewildered look in his eyes I feel in mine. Weeks from now, he’ll tell me that he felt that same instant recognition, that same feeling that is beyond description, and we’ll wonder about how many lifetimes we have found each other in.

He tells us the tale of his adventures in the hospital and his kidney stone diagnosis and we spend the rest of the afternoon talking and playing guitar. I do my best not to stare at him but he is so beautiful and when he sings I am utterly entranced. I’ve been listening to Beirut all week long and when he chooses one of their songs to play of his own accord I can’t help letting out a gleeful yelp and tell him I love them, when what I really mean is I love him.

We watch Monty Python’s Holy Grail and I spend the entire film leaning against the wall wishing I was leaning against Raul. We catch each other’s eyes when we laugh and suddenly the grin on my face is half due to the film’s silly jokes and half due to the joy of sharing them with him. Milton has fallen asleep stretched out next to me on the single bed and together we giggle at his chronic inability to stay awake whenever a film is on.

Milton pops out for a bit later in the evening, leaving me and Raul alone together. We talk about leaving fears behind and taking risks, really living. I tell him that normally I would feel shy being left alone with someone I had so recently met but that I feel so comfortable with him and he tells me he does too and asks if he can give me a hug and of course I say yes and close my eyes as we hold each other, basking in just how wonderful it is to be so close to him.

It’s getting late and the lack of sleep is catching up with me, but not before the hunger does. Milton is hungry too and Raul says he’ll get us a snack – next thing we know he’s put an entire lasagna in the microwave to cook and I laugh at this absurdity of this crazy, beautiful boy.

He tells us that he’s going to lie down in the other room to see if his pain lessens, and whoever gets sleepy first is welcome to join him in the double bed, and I do my best not to immediately get up and follow him. Milton serves himself and asks if I want a piece and I lie through my teeth that my hunger has passed and that I’m actually feeling pretty sleepy now.

Raul looks up as I open the door to the other bedroom. I ask if he minds if I sleep here, and my heart leaps when he says “no, of course not”. I take my shorts off and climb under the blankets with him. We talk a while and then drift into silence in an attempt to sleep, but I’m wide awake, hyper-aware of the distance between us – how can there be so much space in one bed? I long to be wrapped around him, but he gets waves of pain from the kidney stones and I don’t want to make a move while he’s suffering. He asks me why I think we can’t sleep but I’m shy and just say “maybe we’re supposed to be doing something else”.

Many sleepless hours pass, drifting in and out of conversation but never out of consciousness. I’m uncomfortably hot, not being used to sleeping with a t-shirt on, and ask if he minds if I take mine off. He says not at all and I breath a sigh of relief.

Every now and again the pain hits him anew and I hear his breath sharply intake as he begins to writhe, trying to find a position where the pain is lesser. Each time it happens I close my eyes and concentrate on emanating as much love as I can towards him – and every time I do the pain quickly fades away and he settles down again.

Time passes somehow quickly yet slowly and I become increasingly aware that at some point this night will come to an end. Dogs bark incessantly in the night and soon the birds are joining in the chorus and I wonder if we’ll ever sleep. I realise he’s still entirely clothed and ask him if he usually sleeps with clothes on. He says he doesn’t, but wasn’t sure if it would make me uncomfortable and I say go ahead, of course I don’t mind – I took mine off a long time ago. As he does, I catch a glimpse of his body which is unsurprisingly, but no less breathtakingly, just as beautiful as the rest of him.

Now dawn has arrived and after tossing and turning all night we end up very close together. My skin tingles with awareness at the closeness of his body. I ask if he minds me being so close and when he replies “quite on the contrary” I laugh with relief and tell him I’ve been wanting to hug him and hold his hand for hours and now he’s laughing and saying “me too” and we both hurriedly roll over, there’s not another moment to lose, and fervently push our bodies close together and wrap our arms round each other and finally, finally we’re holding each other and we’re skin to skin and it is pure bliss. Our lips find each other in the dark and he is so soft and warm and there is nothing but this, nothing but us, nothing but this moment.

We say we’ll go out to watch the sunrise, it must be so beautiful, but its impossible to untangle ourselves, impossible to stop gazing into each others eyes, impossible to stop kissing and softly tracing shapes on each others bodies. We eventually do manage to venture outside but we’ve been so lost in each other its now long past daybreak, and the world outside is bright and awake and full of people hurrying to work. We rush back to the dark bedroom and warm bed and lose ourselves in each other again.

Later on in the morning he leaves the room to take his medicine and when he comes back he’s carrying a tray with coffee and breakfast and an unawareness of just how happy this simple act makes me. The tiredness of two sleepless nights in a row finally catches up to me and I manage only half a pão de queijo and a few sips of coffee before the promise of sleep beckons irresistibly and we lay down again, finally falling asleep curled around each other.

It’s almost midday when we wake again and go to Raul’s room to see Milton, but he’s in the shower so we put on some music and cuddle, which is how Milton finds us when he walks in with his towel wrapped around his head. “Que lindos” he says, and we grin and kiss each other. When Raul leaves the room Milton looks at me and asks what kind of a smile is that? And I tell him simply “happiness”.

All too soon, it’s time for me to catch a bus back to Porto Alegre. I leave for London tomorrow and I still have to pack. I say goodbye to Milton and tell him I love him, and it gives me the courage I needed to turn to Raul and tell him I love him too, and it is the sweetest joy to hear him say it back.

There’s traffic on the way to the bus station and I miss my bus. The next departing one is, of course, the infamous ‘drip drop’ route I took on the way here, but I’m on such a high nothing can bring me down, not this long bus ride or the intense thirst that plagues me the whole journey home, or the fact that I leave Brasil tomorrow. My phone battery is low, and 3G unreliable, but in the evening a message comes through from an unknown number and now I’ve got that stupid grin on my face, the one that will become so familiar and frequent, the one that says ‘I’ve found my soulmate’.

He sends me a poem he’s written about the time we spent together, and it is so beautiful and has me all warm and full of butterflies. I eventually arrive home and lay stretched out on the floor, listening to Beirut and daydreaming, grinning at the ceiling like a teenager falling in love for the first time. The beauty of the events that have unfolded, the beauty of this boy and our connection, is so much, so intense, it keeps me on a high that will last for months. It seems absurd, that we should meet and connect this way the day before I leave the country, but I believe everything is connected and happens when its meant to, so I just ride this wave of joy and enjoy it all. I have no expectations, no attachments. I love, and that is enough.

artemis and raul naked in the garden, holding hands and gazing at one another