This week’s Stylist Short Story is Wants by Tunde Oyebode, a thought-provoking tale of desire and the male gaze.
Positano bites deep, Steinbeck was right. You got here on a Sita bus, corkscrewing down a narrow relentless road, carved into the hills, on the edge of nothing, high above the coastal blue sea. It was challenging for your nerves. But not as much as the woman dancing with you at the club: “Music on the Rocks.”
It’s your last night in Positano. You’re the only one in your group of four lads who’s had the chance to dance with a woman. She owes you a lay; their British-lad way of thinking. How can a man and a woman share the beautiful connection of two bodies entwined, in sync, hot, sweating and liberated with no lay at the end? How can you not want more than a dance? But your last two years were loveless. You want more but not the more they think.
‘Whatta lad!’ You imagine this is what three of them say, standing at the corner of the room, watching you dance with her, their smiles and laughs illuminated by the flickering disco light.
‘Roberta,’ she says, short brown hair, blue eyes and smooth sun-kissed skin. She sips your negroni. It leaks from her mouth and you wipe her lips, feeling the plump softness against your fingertips. You want more, but not the more the lads think. ‘La dolce vita,’ you whisper in her ear. She laughs and it’s soft, tender and deep. You laugh too and dance closer to her. And Frank Ocean comes on, singing the words sweet life, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet life. And she dances to his serenading voice. You both dance till your feet are as fluid as the waves knocking against the beach outside – until you can’t stand straight anymore. Then she leads you out of the club to the pebble beach.
You both watch and listen to the waves of the sea in the warm night, lost in its calmness. The yellow lights from the houses built against the side of the hills twinkle in the night. ‘Fireflies,’ you say while pointing to the cluster of buildings. She looks at you, confused. ‘Fireflies,’ you repeat, flapping your hands, mimicking the wings of an insect. ‘Ah, Lucciola,’ she says and smiles. She takes your hand pulls you off your ass that has been embedded deep into the pebbles. She pulls you to the sea, but you resist. ‘I don’t have swimming shorts,’ you say. She continues without you. You’re glad as she walks to the water with a light gait that barely disturbs the pebbles underneath her feet, taking off each clothing item as she approaches the sea. You’re in awe of her silhouette against the backdrop of the deep dark Mediterranean and yellow-orange lights of floating yachts. You take off your shirt, shorts, shoes and socks, plod after her, into the salty waves. The water is cold, but it’s just right. It doesn’t matter you can’t swim because you want more. Not the more the lads think. The waves swallow you with each trashing attempt you make to tame them. She grabs your hand and pulls you to her, keeping you afloat.
Hand in hand you gaze at each other and gently her body floats up, legs and arms stretched, flat, like a starfish. Still holding her hand, you do the same. But not so elegantly. The waves lash until you lose grip of her hand, and she screams and disappears. Scared, you thrash around until your feet touch the pebbled seabed. You wade around looking for Roberta, with your toes for support and your head just above the water. You can’t see her anywhere. ‘Roberta…Roberta…ROBERTA…’ you shout. You’re cold, scared and lost. You’ve just met her. And just like that, she’s gone.
Your ankle is caught on something, which drags you down and you kick it free. Then your foot is stuck again and you feel a tight clamp around your waist. Terrified, you shake until you’re loose again. Then Roberta appears out of the water. Her deep and tender laugh echoes across the beach. ‘Don’t scare me like that,’ you say. But she staggers to shore and as she makes her way she’s hit by a wave that sends her rolling like a hamper of bananas. She reappears again and wades to shore, almost like nothing happened. And you follow behind her and lay on the pebbles together. ‘That’s what you get,’ you say and laugh. She laughs.
You continue talking in English and hold her hand and she listens. It is deep into the night and she understands little, but she listens anyway as she plays with the pebbles. ‘The stars are beautiful, Positano is beautiful.’
‘Lucciola,’ you say.
‘Si, molte lucciole,’ she says drowsily. And you both fall asleep. Holding hands.
You grab for her as you wake, but your hands fill with pebbles. You’re still in your shorts and hot from the rising sun. Her clothes are gone. She’s gone. You wear your clothes then walk towards your bed in your hotel room. You feel sad. It isn’t because of the sobering 800 steps from the beach to your bed. It’s because you didn’t get her phone number. You’ve lost her. And now it can never be anything.
‘Whatta lad!’ they say as you arrive in the hotel room. ‘Smashed that, eh? Damn, I wish I’d smashed that!’
‘Mm-hmm, I did,’ you say and smile. You wanted more, and you let them think you got the more they wanted.
You all check out and navigate the blistering sun to the bus stop back to Naples airport. Sitting on the bus, just as it’s about to join traffic you see a woman crossing the road with the same light gait, brown hair and sun-kissed skin. You want to jump out and run after her. But she smiles as she meets another man. They’re both laughing. So you stay put and listen to the sound of the bus as it starts up and slowly joins the winding traffic, retreating from Positano.