‘Excuse me for saying so, but you’re not exactly a classic surfer shape. Most have a lower centre of gravity than you do. You’re more suited to a bike than a board.’
‘Perhaps that’s why I fell off and bumped my head.’
Unlike Chan, Sandy said what he meant. He was easier to understand. I was still some way from being adept at conversing with humans, but talking to Sandy, my synaptic firing turned itself into spoken word less clumsily. He seemed fascinated by what I had to say, without giving me the sense that he was trying to uncover any deceit I might be attempting to engineer, or wanting to intrude into areas of my mind where I myself had no wish to go. So I talked freely, and had soon told him that I was just visiting. And where I was from. He seemed neither surprised nor doubtful; simply accepting – again unlike Chan. But there was none of the magnetism she had quickly come to possess for me, none of the emotional pull or physical draw. It was strange, that awkwardness and attraction should be paired, but I took it to be an ungovernable aspect of human biology that must be closely aligned to the survival of the species.
‘Have you tried going back out on the water? To see what you can do? Surfing’s like riding a bike once you’ve learnt. Even after twenty years without stepping on a board you could go out and the years in-between would vanish. As long as you’d kept more or less in shape in between times, that is. Day like today when there’s no danger of the waves roughing you up, you’d be alright.’
I shook my head, and took another mouthful of the bittersweet liquid that Sandy had served me. I wasn’t going surfing again anytime soon. Assuming I had ever been surfing in the first place.
‘What happened to me might happen again. Except this time in reverse. I might be picked up, in the same way I was – dropped.’ With my fingers I mimicked the motion of the pincers of a crab closing and opening. Sandy looked at the point on the bar beneath my claw where the miniature, imaginary alien lay prone and in all likelihood seriously injured. He nodded slowly.
‘So you feel you have unfinished business here on earth?’
‘I don’t know. But not knowing suggests I do. I need to establish something indisputable. Everything has two explanations at the moment. At least two.’
The bar owner nodded, more to himself than to me.
I looked at Sandy for a moment, failing to picture either the vegetable or its relevance to our conversation. Then I said the word.
‘Now say ‘salary’.
I said that too. It seemed to me that I made a sound much the same as before. Sandy slapped his hand down on the top of the bar.
‘You’re from Victoria.’ Sandy had lived in Melbourne and surfed the nearby coastline when he was in his twenties. On the basis of this and his two word test, he was convinced that my accent had its origins there.
‘Mind if I ask you a few more questions? By way of testing what you know about the world? Might help you find your bearings.’
He threw a few names at me, and I told him a little of what I knew about them. First there were some British people who had in their various fields attained a degree of renown, which meant that most people would know who they were and what they did. Then there were their Australian equivalents. I knew who most of the British people were, and almost all the Australian, but what both sets had in common was that I knew what I knew about them in a cold, dispassionate way. I could tell Sandy approximately how many wickets Dennis Lillee or Shane Warne had taken in Test cricket, but I could not see either man bowling in my mind, nor could I quite picture the concept of bowling, even though I could define it as the act of propelling a cricket ball down a wicket – a piece of grass hardened by rolling with heavy iron and keeping water from it – with a straight arm and the intention of getting a batsman out by any one of a number of means. I had all the facts in the world, but nothing to turn those facts into the fluid, fleeting pictures that Chan described as part of her process of remembering a memory.
‘So who would be Warne’s equivalent on your world?’
I told him a name, one I knew instinctively, one which came unbidden. Of course it meant nothing to Sandy, just as it would mean nothing to you. Nothing but a short sequence of guttural sounds which for all anyone knew could be spontaneously and completely made up.