Music was the air around us. Contrapuntal violin and flute danced together between my ears, filling the mindscape normally reserved for spontaneous, toxic words with a sonic perfume. The mighty sun upon my face was uninhibited in the absence of any single cloud across the azure canopy overhead. The vivid colour framed his face, only for a moment, as I looked towards him - upwards slightly, as the difference between us in height sweetly allowed.
He looked powerful; statuesque.
If he was smiling, it was not immediately apparent, since the lower part of his face was shrouded in a mass of hair. Usually dark enough to bring a highlight his sallow skin, but thoroughly thick, serving as a featureless bed upon which his piercing eyes could sit like pearls at the depths of an ocean, his beard was now, in the sunlight, glinting a conspicuous and golden shimmer. The light was unusual for Scotland, but, as if by magic and goodwill, it had graced the festival grounds and all of the revellers on the land with its much yearned for ecstasy. It reminded me of being a young girl in Andalusia, where the heat was enough to make the skin feel like it was no longer there as a barrier between the self and the world, but instead a bridge. The previous March - traditionally spring - had brought cold, terrible, debilitating snow, which flew demonically through the biting wind in every direction, as disorderly in its deployment as in its fruitlessness. It had transformed the bustling, animated city into cold and uniform desolation.
There was no such problem with this scene. The sky, and his eyes. From my periphery, a flash of my scarf dashing between us; retreating towards me. Thrown violently by the gentle breeze, it was the tip of an owl’s wing, with the hand-painted print of the owl’s face on the back of my head, its enchanting eyes above me. I had carefully tied the cashmere, threading locks of my long, auburn hair through the front, free to follow the scarf’s trajectory. Like an aura, flashing a purple, starry night sky in broad daylight, with green-tipped, autumn-coloured wings as the backdrop to my hair. I imagined I looked as carefree to him as I was, in that foreign moment.
Unthinking, I found myself considering his hair, waving against the blue like a flag above his head, as though marking his undeniable presence. He stood, barefoot, in a kilt, with a sash of tartan across his otherwise naked torso. This was his uniform, for gatherings like this one, but it had the opposite effect than you would expect from seeing someone in the same dress every time you encountered them. Rather than diminishing his being, it bared his soul, and only more so with each appearance. Especially when each one was in the sunlight, and the festivals were interspersed with unforgiving winters.
One thought crystallised, despite the immersive environment. There had been a time when tartan had been illegal. Tartan, against the law of the land. A sight like this one banned. A heroic vision like him, forbidden to behold. His soul, anathema.
I felt in the instant that I knew every fibre of his being.
His silhouette was as foreboding as the sky behind it was enlightening. He stood perpendicular, looking at me. I aligned with my neck, fully facing him. He did not move. Despite myself, there was something of an understanding about him. I told him to look, although at what, I was unsure. Asking it of him entirely, perhaps.
Placing my fingertips on his lean biceps, I felt the fingers flutter as the pointed ends of my finely manicured nails pressed against his skin. Tiny hairs stood on end under my fingertips, and goosebumps filled the grooves of my fingerprints. I remembered the river we had sat by earlier flowing through the mountains. The sensation reminded me of that. I was one with myself, and one with nature, in this place. It was a sacred space. I felt he recognised this as well as I did, if not more so. Through this, I felt I recognised him. I wondered if he recognised me.
I moved my face towards the source of the feedback loop his stare had formed in the ether. He was taller than I anticipated. More by solar magnetism than tension at my feet, I tiptoed, feeling weightless. I moved my lips towards his. Then, the weight of my body on its feet reminded me of wearing heels. I was back in my body. I was scared.
Then, we were both strangers to me.
I blinked. He had been looking at briefly closed eyelids. At the skin of them, not at the eyes. Not at me. I withdrew and viewed my hands. They were the beastly hands of a man. The nails were out of place as a feature, taking on the Carnivalesque aspect of a wild animal's claws. How could he have recognised a freak of nature?
Winter encapsulated me. The people all around were no longer one body, but many, and among them, mine, the most peculiar. It hung shame over me like a blackened veil. My thoughts returned, punishing me for the fleeting freedom I had felt. He asked me why I had done what I had done, told me it was weird, and when I apologised, he said it had been a nice thing to do, and that he did not mean weird in "that" way. The word was meaningless.
I needed a cigarette. A dreadlocked girl with purple eyebrows provided one when I barked a strangled plea, and we went together to smoke it, him still staring at me, an empty chamber. I sat, barren as a desert, and she showed me her art on her iPhone. Her images were tortured. Grotesque apparitions and circus clowns. One image resembled a card from the tarot, which may have been, in essence, The Fool, World, or High Priestess.