28 Feb 2023




The Datai, Langkawi, Tuesday, February 7th 2023, 2 a.m.


How that luminous, moonlit expanse of sea beyond the gate and the trees haunts me. I so want to go down and look at it, awestruck. I know it would be insane, poetic but also silly: a woman alone on a mile of beach at 2 a.m., completely defenseless. Anything could happen, even to a man. Even I know how stupid, reckless and idiotic it would be. Just before dawn… maybe. Before the coming day alters that eerie, translucent light.

But I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t. Any one, anything could be out there. Or nothing, only a great vastness of universe, some life-changing experience. Possibly not in a good way. “Yes, she left the safety of the villa and went down to the shore to see the moonlight and hear the voice of the sea… she must have been, not only bitten by mosquitoes, but completely insane.”

This is a kind of insanity in which my younger Douglas, my lover, would have joined me. In those days.

“She must have been mad….”


7 p.m.

My instinctive and overwhelming desire to commune with the sea surprised neither of the two young naturalists at the Nature Centre around noon today. They were actually on the beach at 2 a.m. in that moonlight keeping watch for sea turtles: the turtles come up out of the water once a year under the full moon at this season to lay their eggs in the sand, and because there are wild boars around here (eek, who knew?) which eat the eggs, the naturalists have twenty-four hours to rescue the eggs and “put them in our hatchery”, they told me, where they hatch in safety, are nurtured, and later released into the sea. The turtles were expected last night, and didn’t show.

The moon will be up and almost full, I was told, by 9 p.m. tonight. And the young naturalists (and the security patrol) will be out on that mile-long beach in shifts all night, waiting for the turtles.


Wednesday, February 8th, 0:47 a.m.

Well, I did it. Woke up just now, saw the dim luminosity of the sea, heard its murmur, rhythmic as a pulse, locked up and went down with my camera and stood, only for a few minutes (thinking of wild boars and what I would do.) The tide high, the water close, the sky now cloudless and studded with stars, the moon approaching the meridian.

I had hoped it would be “me in the wide awe and wisdom of the night”. It wasn’t, really: just me thinking, all right, I’ve got that out of my system, and the sea quietly insisting on its own presence. So now a glass of Veuve to mark the occasion, or maybe the passing of the moment. I’ve done it. Philosophy— enlightenment— lies elsewhere, it seems.

As with everything for me, never straightforward. Always convoluted— never quite the fast track, never simple, easy, ordinary. It was me on a moonwashed shore with my shadow etched sharply at my feet, and the voice of the sea. Nothing more. And, perhaps, nothing less.


Friday, February 10th, 0:45 a.m.

My emotions now, at the witching hour, are these: the anticipation, the exaltation, the hope, are all distilling into this, which I believe is… loneliness. I am alone. When I arrive at a restaurant the staff say to me (until they get the picture), “Are you alone, Mrs. Kimberley?” Well, yes. Very. Utterly. And (apparently now being revealed to me as a permanent part of the design) forever until the end of my life.

And life hasn’t changed. I’ll still write this book and nobody will give a damn, and I will remain what I am: a novelist of whom nobody has ever heard; a widow; a woman who sees the years on her face in the pitiless morning light while applying her make-up outside at the table on the deck at 8 a.m. to the eternal commentary of the sea, because nobody who designs hotel bathrooms has ever understood the symbiotic relationship of mirror, myopia and natural lighting.

The Canadian who can never live in Canada again because she has been changed, and her country is no longer the country she knew.

The strange soul who found her soulmate, the man who accepted her otherness because he, too, as a writer who stood apart and observed and told the stories, was “other”, was not ordinary, but who was mortal. And who was claimed, in his time, by that mortality. But, in his life, he dared to live.

Maybe that is the Great Enlightenment. Dare to live.

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”


Saturday, February 11th, 9:10 p.m.

Still jetlagged out of my mind, and having fallen asleep in the cool dimness of the villa and woken up half an hour after I had a table booked here at the Beach Club, I leaped up, pulled myself together and trotted down the hard sand thirty minutes late. Sitting here now in the candlelit darkness under the stars, the wind from the sea pleasantly warm, the fishermen’s green squid lights on the horizon. Voices around me, Australian, English, French, Scandinavian, a couple of little kids, carrying above the endless, soft surge of the sea. Some of the English the “hah-hah, well done!” old colonel types Douglas so loved to imitate and poke fun at: some of them could be the voices of the Raj, of John Masters’ India, of Malaya before the fall.

I wonder what drew them all together here this evening, to this place at this particular point in time, in February of 2023: like me, seeking something? All couples, so many much older than me, conversing in monosyllables, checking their phones: was there ever a time when they were fully present for one another? Were they ever passionate lovers?

I realize what a striking couple Douglas and I must have made. Unconventional, obviously of different generations, he with his white hair and elegance and easy-going courtesy, me the (would-be) glamorous young Canadian… how he would sit back while I ordered the wine, quietly watching as I came out of my shyness and inexperience and acquired this veneer of sophistication and Zen-like calm… I realize, looking around, how unusual that must have seemed. Here, older men are offered the wine list as a matter of course, take it as a matter of course, order the wine… I used to do all that. When offered the wine list, Douglas would subtly indicate that it should be given to me (and it was) and I used to take it, equally quietly… how he was preparing me for this.

What a strange, withdrawn, dispassionate observer of the human condition I’ve become. What strengths he gave me. I hear his voice: I feel his presence.

“My girl,” he says. “My Kim. We’ll show them.” And I hope he would be proud of me, out here on my own.


Thursday, February 16th, aboard SQ322, 2:15 a.m. London time

And I have just done what you would expect me to do in the middle of the night, Dougie, as the kite went through a bit of a chop over the Bay of Bengal… I heard your voice saying, “One hand for the Comtes, girl,” so I held it throughout the turbulence and drank a toast to you. And now in, not the wide awe and wisdom of the night, which is possibly star-hung outside these windows somewhere over Europe, but the quiet introspection of being awake and travelling solo aboard an aircraft at 2 a.m., time for deep contemplation.

Profoundly spiritual experiences: the sea in the moonlight, the sound, the luminosity, the spell of it, the power.

The moon setting as the dawn came up, not like thunder but as an iridescence over sea and sky, as I lay on my back in the sand on the hotel’s green yoga mat and gazed up at it, eyes and heart opening to its message.

The rainforest. The mangroves. The python in the tree. The river, in this dry season, running shallow over stones.

The dawns. The beach. The shells. Blake’s world in a grain of sand. Infinity in the palm of my hand. Eternity in an hour.

The orchids in Singapore, drenched with rain. Your dedication to me so many years ago: “orchids in the rain, and so many memories.” So many, Dougie. Too many without you.

The past. The anguish. The darkness. The constant inner narrative of my thoughts, which may clarify what I should do, must do, will do, as my life, closing around me now with every mile flown, waits to reclaim me. Embrace, enfold, challenge, annoy: my life as it is. Whatever comes.

Was it all worth it?

Yes. Yes. No matter how poignant these memories will be in the blue hours of spring to come. Yes. Worth it. Did I find the answers I was seeking? Some of them. Did I attain Enlightenment? I was certainly touched by something… something soul-changing. Illuminating.

You gave me the East when we were married, the scent of jasmine in the humid nights, the fall of bougainvillea on a balcony, incense in the temples, orchids in the rain. And joy, so much joy. And, in your absence, so many tears.

I went seeking ghosts, yours and mine among them. I sought peace and healing, catharsis, renaissance. And I was afraid, my darling. So afraid without you.

You feared nothing. Not the sea, not the enemy, not death. You gave me strength and courage. You taught me how to live.

You dared. And so must I. So will I.