We Own the Sky(8)


I waited for her out on the court, feeling a little uncomfortable in my West Ham United football shirt and Umbro shorts. The court smelled of rubber and fresh sweat. I wanted to impress on her that I was sporty, that I didn’t just spend my time in front of my computer. So we agreed to a game of squash, which Anna said she had played once or twice at school.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she came out onto the court. In her flappy men’s shorts and regular blouse, she looked like a 1920s tennis star.

“What?” she said.

“What, what?” I said, stifling a laugh.

“Well, your clothes aren’t exactly regulation either. With your football jersey.”

“I didn’t say anything,” I protested, smirking and looking away from her.

“Right. Shall we play then?” she said, awkwardly holding her racket with two hands.

We started warming up, slowly hitting the ball back and forth. Except Anna

wasn’t really hitting the ball, but flailing, struggling to connect even when she was serving.

“I’m not so good without my glasses,” Anna said, as she scooped the ball up toward the ceiling.

We carried on like that for a while, not having anything that would resemble a game.

“Okay, I admit it. I lied,” Anna said, after she missed the ball yet again while attempting to serve.

“You lied?”

“I’ve actually never played squash.”

“Oh,” I said, once again stifling a laugh.

“I asked Lola and she said it was easy. She said that anyone could do it.

Apparently not.”

I wished then I could have taken a picture of her on that squash court. She looked so beautiful, her dark flannel shorts accentuating her pale legs, her dimpled cheeks flushed with exercise.

“Have you really only played a few times?” Anna asked.

“I don’t know, four or five. At school.”

Anna was quiet, bit her lip. “Well, the truth is, I hate sports.”

“I thought you wanted to play?” I said, putting my arm around her cold


“Not really. I thought you wanted to,” she said, gently tapping her racket against her leg. “I only did it because, well, I didn’t want you to think that I was sedentary.”

I smiled when she said that. Sedentary. It was a very Anna word. After another five minutes of pretending, we gave up and went outside.

It was sweltering in the sun. We sat on a small wall that overlooked an

enclosed field hockey turf. Children, mostly infants and a few older teenagers, were running around at some kind of sports camp.

We had both decided that we would stay the summer in Cambridge, living off the rest of our student loans. Anna said she wanted to do all the touristy Cambridge things she had never done because she had been working so hard to get her first-class honors. So we went punting and walked around some of the colleges and spent an afternoon in the Fitzwilliam Museum and a morning in the botanical gardens. Much of the time we just spent in bed.

As the summer went on, our friends gradually left. They went off traveling: backpacking in Australia, a camper van across South America. While I felt a pang of regret when they left, a sense that I was missing out on something, Anna and I were both agreed that traveling wasn’t for us. We hadn’t gone to Cambridge just to piss it all away “finding ourselves” somewhere in the Andes.

Besides, I had my maps to think about, the software I was writing, the company I wanted to start.

The real reason, though, was that we didn’t want to be apart. We were

inseparable, like love-struck teens whose parents and friends can see are headed for a fall. Whenever we tried to spend just one night alone in our own rooms, we were miserable and antsy. We broke, usually within an hour. There was a line in an old Blur song that we both liked: collapsed in love. And that was what had happened. We collapsed in love.

People thought Anna was closed, a cold fish, but she wasn’t like that with me.

One evening, without probing, she told me about her life in Kenya and her missionary parents. In these careful, considered sentences, she talked about her father, his affairs, his estrangement from the church. She talked about her mother: how she would not accept her father’s wrongdoing; how she channeled her love into her good works.

It was like a flood, an epiphany, to find out that this person that I thought was so guarded actually lay entirely open, exposed, and the one she wanted to let in was not her father, or Lola, or one of her housemates, but me.

The sun was getting hotter, and we sat on the wall drinking some water that Anna had brought in a thermos.

“Do you want to go and play squash again?”

“No,” Anna said. “I think I’ve humiliated myself enough today.”

“I enjoyed it.”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m sure you did.”

“You do look very cute in your shorts.”

She smiled and dug me gently in the ribs. “God, it’s hot, isn’t it,” Anna said, wiping her brow.

The momentary respite of breeze had gone and it felt like it was 100 degrees.

“We could go in the shade over there?” I said, pointing to an awning on the other side of the field.

Anna looked up. “We could, but we’d have to cross the field,” she said. “And look.”

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