Sanctuary is a place where you can carry out a clandestine love affair with whoever or whatever you are comfortable with. Some people’s sanctuary is a book, poetry, prayer place, a secluded corner etc etc. When I was very young, my sanctuary was the beach just beside my house. I lived in a small, peaceful village at the edge of Singapore. Across the sea was our neighboring country, Malaysia.
I love to go to the beach early in the morning, late at night or late in the evening. I love the smell of the sea, the sound of the waters, the gentle touch of the cool breeze on my skin and hair, the beautiful sunrise or sunset or the clear blue sky with intermittent sights of seagulls and other water birds.
I carried out a relationship with the beach – talking to the seashells, closing my eyes and feeling the touch of the breeze on my cheeks and listening to the song sung by the sea and hearing the water lapping at the shores and smiling at the sun or the moon. I felt restless whenever I was away from it and it was the first place I’d visit when I came home from school. It was the first place I’d bring my friends when they came over even before going inside my house. I was always so proud to show my friends or relatives my ‘lover’ and sure enough, they fell in love with it instantly.
When my dad died when I was 10, I sought sanctuary at the beach. It was more to reminisce the times I’d spend with him at the beach, watching him fish, mend fishing nets, repair his boat, construct or paint boats, (he was a carpenter and fisherman). He was a quiet person and was not much of a talker but I enjoyed the times I had with him anyway, just by watching him work and seeing him smile at me as I played with the tiny crabs or being chased by the waves.
When my mom died when I was 14, I again sought sanctuary at the beach. It was no longer to enjoy its beauty. I went there to cry, to let out my sadness of being an orphan at such a young age. I went there to vent out my anger as I threw stones or pieces of wood into the water or kicked the sand with my feet. I went there to tell my lover how much I missed my mom, how much I missed talking to her, missed looking at her face, missed hearing her voice and laughter and her presence.
I moved to the city when I was 17 years old. I left my lover without saying goodbye. I just left. I didn’t see it for the last time before I left. I didn’t and don’t know why. Over the years, whenever I went back to my old village to visit my stepsister, I’d visit the beach, my ex-lover. And all the memories came back. And I’d shed a tear or two. But most of all I’d say thank you to the beach, for being there for me during my growing up years.
A few years after I left my old house, the government resettled the whole village and paid the residents compensation. The place was rebuilt and redeveloped into a new housing estate, filled up with high-rise flats, shopping centers and recreation centers. My lover was gone. The beach had totally been given a new face lift. I couldn’t recognize it anymore. But deep down inside me, I could still remember everything about it, the smell, the sight, the touch, the taste, the sounds and the memories that come with it. These memories will forever be etched in my mind and nothing can ever replace it.