The strap of my bag, heavy and final, chafes my shoulders, and a trickle of sweat runs down between my shoulder-blades. My arm, still held awkwardly, has stiffened, and the blood-stained fabric of my shirt rasps against my skin. The late summer’s sultry harvest dust and smell of cut grass are remote and unreal, deadened by the curtain of exhaustion. Somewhere in my bubble of pain I’m grateful for the shade of the trees.
My vision is already clouding, my gut clenched around the days without food. I drift in and out of focus: somehow the drone of the distant combine harvester is also his voice, a hateful snarl of rejection. I tune it out fiercely, and hear instead the cry of seabirds.
I blink. There are small birds twitting sleepily in the trees, and a gentle shushing of the wind in the branches, like waves on a beach. I can smell the sea, the sharp, cinnamon tang of wrack and driftwood and something stranger, like musk. My feet sink into the sand and an unseen hand steadies me gently. The road catches my feet: unsupported, I overbalance, sink to the sticky tar, jarring hands and arms still bruised and grazed by the gravel when he knocked me down. I stand painfully, and carry on.
The air is hazy with sunset, the slopes of stubbled fields complacent in the evening calm. The city rises out of the haze, spired rose and umber in the dawn light. The breeze from the golden ocean is crisp and cool and tinged with vanilla and musk.
I drop my bag onto the ground, kick off my shoes. Lightened, I walk down the beach towards the glass spires. In the empty road my bag and shoes sit on the tarmac, dusted with lemon-scented sand.