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Intangible Souvenirs

It’s gorgeous, a perfect 72 degrees, and the sun spills over the already warmly-hued rocks and sparkles across the ocean’s calm surface. The small fishing boats splashed with an array of sun-washed color in the harbour are well-used, the result of years of their owners using them to make a living.

Sara is in her light fleece pullover, her hair glinting with red flecks less often evident now than when she was a little girl. I can’t help but think how beautiful she looks like this—not because of the light as much as because she’s happy. We can’t stop smiling at one another, pointing out fancy houses in neighborhoods that overlook the sea. Lately, I try to imagine us living everywhere. I see our name printed neatly in the list of tenants in an upper floor of a high-rent apartment building and hear her keys click the pins in the lock of our tiny, suburban bungalow. This place too feels perfect, but so does every place I’ve pictured with her. We forget about the stresses that we carried here, the ones we dragged thousands of miles; we left them on the docks at the edge of the water.

We walk up through a little cemetery with rows of headstones in uneven rows sprinkled up the hillside. She leans down, brushes off the dust, and hands me a small tile from a disintegrating shrine to someone well-loved and I tuck it into my pocket in hopes that it will later serve as a concrete reminder of this feeling.

I stand under the yellow awning of the bakery printed with unintelligible, Chinese characters as Sara takes a pineapple bun out of the case for us to share—a sort of makeshift birthday cake. It’s sweet and buttery and its crust flakes onto my fingers as I break it into pieces. It’s a surprise to my tongue—just as she’d intended when she’d told me its misleading name—when I’d expected the tart flavor of an actual pineapple fruit. I smile to myself at the flavor, half knowing even then that no bun I have after this one will be quite as close to perfection. We eat our pastry as we walk back to the ferry, walking past shops filled with various trinkets, up at cluttered balconies draped with rows of clean laundry, and peeking into a yogurt store whose patrons are a gaggle of teenagers chattering in Mandarin.

A few hours later, it’s dark. I always forget how quickly the sun goes down here. One minute we’re walking down a hill, past a tiny temple, breathing in the air that can only come off the sea, past vendors selling every kind of dried fish imaginable, the very next, we’re back in the heart of the city, glittering and rushing, loud, and fast. It feels so long ago already, like a foreign world or another lifetime. I know there will be other occasions but I want so badly to bottle this day’s worth of moments so they don’t slip out of my grasp.

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