The sea waves hit the shore like never before. They reminded of shattering glass, of broken hearts and of the storms of life. The miracles were often too less in this part of the country, but they did happen, time and again. Last year, this place was among the top tourists spots around the world, and that made everyone proud. There was a festival held to celebrate the place’s 89th spot in the list. This happens a lot here, we do find ways to make ourselves happy. This time, it was the 89th place in a list produced by the US, enough to tell you that called for a celebration.
But how? This place was one of the most noisy, disturbed, dark places ever, Matthew thought, as he took a sip of coconut water he longed to throw away, but couldn’t bring himself up to it. The clouds didn’t seem white anymore, the sky wasn’t blue. The sun came and tanned the skins but never felt pleasant. The winds blew by his ear and went past mocking him of his loneliness. The beaches were always empty, though you could see a crowd swarming at or around it. The boats, the dolphins, the adventure sports as some might say, all just outer appearances to save what was left of Goa. Nothing made sense anymore. Tourists came and went, and they seemed as if they enjoyed a lot, but who could tell about a heart that had sat at one corner of almost every Goan beach and yearned for someone he could never get back, perhaps? The world seemed so joyous from outside, people were so happy, he too smiled at them, only his inner world had been destroyed.
He never lost hope, though there were times when he realized he was just being stubborn. He was never anyone’s favourite, especially after his parents kicked him out of his house when he decided he won’t go in the family business, and then one day his girlfriend dumped him. These were old stories though. Now he was 40, and as he saw it, he was more wrecked, wretched, and hurt. But he felt this was the last time he would ever be hurt. People don’t get hurt after reaching a certain age. They get used to it one day. He would sit under a tree, drinking his wine and looking at people and trying to guess if they were actually happy, or just came here to wipe off their pain they had back in their cities. His accessories included a loose shirt, shorts, a bottle of wine, and a notebook and a pen. He never loved writing, never even liked it, but he did write letters. Because, he never lost hope.
Time is such a bully. I never thought I would one day sit like this and write something to you. I thought you would come to see me. It’s been five years since you left the city you said would never leave. It’s been five years since we promised we would open our business here, and you would write a book on your life here. How’s the US? I know you’re busy there. Your job, journalism and all that. But I always sensed life in you, that you would leave your job and stay here, where your heart actually was.
I am alone now. I hardly had any friends who never stabbed me in the back. You were my only friend, and two years on the wild beaches of Goa where we would spend our time bird-watching and talking about life and fulfillment of our souls had made me sort of a writer. I had decided I would write the letter only when I would feel the urge to. Now that I am writing, expect more from me. The storm of emotions isn’t one to calm easily, for it would actually be emotionless then if it did.
I had thought of asking a lot of things. I forgot all of them. But I don’t mind. I think this letter was meant to be like this. This has its own essence, and hopefully it isn’t cliched. How’s your work going on by the way? Just now the thought struck that you actually might be working on our book there, in your beautiful apartment at peace, the only thing you missed when you were here.
Do reply soon. I’ll be waiting.
Sand covered his feet and hid them. The sun was ready to set and he looked at some children running towards the sea, yelling. It was that time of the day again, when he had to go back to his home, to his wife whose very first question would pierce right through his heart. ‘Did he write back?’, she would ask. He wouldn’t say anything. An empty look at his wife would tell her everything, and she would regret asking the question. But in vain. She would repeat it the next day, for she loved him, and her husband’s happiness was the only thing that mattered to her, ever.
Matthew always wondered why she married him, when she could have married a handsomer guy, with riches to give her what she deserved. She ended up being with a loner, and a part of himself always felt guilty. He wasn’t rich, he was unemployed, his days would spend on the beaches and after Alan left, his world torn apart. He wasn’t someone girls would swoon over. He was lean, short, and usually kept beard. But Nicole, his wife, told him everyday she loved him because he loved her more. And she was always okay with his life, and wanted to heal him. She worked as a teacher in a school for poor kids, and was also interested in handicraft, which garnered lots of tourist attractions. She believed in Jesus, and thanked everyday for every day, and the beautiful place they got to live in.
Her husband went to the washroom and she kept his notebook on her bed, then turned to look at the waves that crashed in to the shore and screamed in joy. The sun peeped from the horizon and many came by the shore to capture the last glimpse of the burning star on their cameras. Light wind blew and Goan songs were being played somewhere. A smile came on her lips and she hummed the song, while watching the birds flying above the sea, and the joyous murmurs from the people at the beach made her feel alive, like always.
It was midnight, fortunately the time when Matthew felt better, for the coolness of the atmosphere reminded him of his mother’s hands that stroke his hair once. Nicole was happier to see her husband better. He would smile, talk to her, kiss her, sometimes make love to her, and eventually would sit in one corner and would watch the darkness at the sea. He would get a bottle of whiskey and would try to guzzle it down in one go. This was a moment when he really liked that he was married, without any feeling of guilt, as Nicole would always be there to hold him before he drank more than he should. She wouldn’t say anything. She would simply take the bottle gently from his hands, and he wouldn’t protest, realizing the next drop would cause havoc within him. She knew him more than he knew himself, but the weight of the pain his heart carried was something only he understood.
Just as it happens everywhere, there were people who mocked him of his condition, and said he missed a guy like a lover, even when he was married. A few infuriated him by reaching him and telling him he should take a divorce because he was a gay. He would start telling her that she did arouse him every night, and he loved her, but would stop before he could even start telling, knowing there was no need, and eventually they would start commenting on his wife. He once pondered over this, and talked to Nicole and asked her to tell him if she thought the same too about his sexual orientation. Though he was glad she didn’t think of him like that, he often wondered why he was so fixated at Alan. When the thought would start to bother him like a fly in a closed room, he would conclude that he would never know. Only God knew this and it didn’t really matter as well.
The waves made for the background score of his life – unsettled, angry, crying in vain. As the minutes went by, silence consolidated itself in the atmosphere. That was the moment when Nicole saw something twinkling in her spouse’s left eye. A moment later, she successfully identified it as a tear drop, and her hand went to cover her mouth as she sobbed in pain. Matthew heard her and wiped his tears. He wondered if she understood what this friendship meant to him. He gestured her to bring his notebook. The only way he expressed his love was silence. Once a talkative guy and an intelligent one too had made silence a medium to convey his emotions. Strangely, her wife found that more romantic.
She handed him his notebook, and he gently took it without looking at him. Waves were still his favourite thing to watch. He stared and stared, and then looked down at the notebook to open it and started writing.
I am sitting by the same tree at my home where you used to sit and talk about your goals and ambitions. As I see the waves taking out their grudge at the shore, a thought crosses my mind. We all are the same. All the people, things, animals, the nature, rejoice and sing in joy and mourn and wail when sad. We all have emotions, and it’s God’s way to show us that we are not alone. I talk to them. I hear them. Perhaps the waves too are waiting for the sands of the shore to immerse with them.
I see you have changed. Now the winds hail the loneliness of my soul, the tides dance when they see they are not the only ones gloomy, and I see people talking to their colleagues, friends, and I have started to envy them. Seems my safety days are over, really. I see myself getting into brawls for no reason. I have started talking to Jesus, thinking He might help me. Do you remember you brought a DVD of Winter Light? We watched that Bergman movie and what the priest felt in the movie, I’m feeling that now – God’s silence.
Nothing could help me now, my friend. I was lonely, I am lonely, and even though my wife tries her best to pull me out of that situation, I end up hurting her, which I regret everyday. I can’t go on like this. I’ve been writing to you since a long time. But I don’t think you have enough time to even hold a single envelope with my name on it. I still understand that you are busy and progressing. That’s what friends do, sacrifice their feelings, want to see their friend grow. I feel sick these days, a lot. Nicole says I am thinking too much, and that has taken a toll on me. I think it’s just the weather. You might remember how you had to spend a week on bed due to fever when you were here. I think this one will last a week too.
The only thing I wish now is peace, and not a single thing more, not a single thing less.
The outside of his apartment displayed a beautiful view of the morning where he could see the cars lined up on the road and the footpaths crowded by walkers and joggers. The factories honked their sirens and satisfaction prevailed in the atmosphere. Everything was calm and happening, and a drive to go out and live the day always danced inside. There was nothing much to worry about, but though life seemed flowing like a pleasant river on its way, how can life be life without hardships?
He stood 6 ft tall, and had perfect, thick, black hair and a stocky build, but with complications inside. His stomach always caused problems, and he never admitted it but he always kept the glass of whiskey in his hand back when the stomach-ache would appear. That was the first thing he would do. He wanted to go to a doctor but he took that on his ego. His colleagues would often praise him for his looks and girls would look at him, and if they knew he had some problems which could be related to liver, that would be a disastrous turn off.
He looked himself in the mirror and smiled. He wouldn’t age anytime soon, he thought. 39 isn’t old. He walked back to his bed and lay down, contemplating about the day to come. Newspapers lay beside him on the bedside. He looked at them and that reminded him to go outside and have a look of the beautiful New York City. He put on a t shirt and dragged himself to stand up. Morning air was something he would never compromise on. He went ahead to unlock the door and inhaled deeply as he stepped out. The sharp rays of the sun fell right at his face, bringing him another smile. The atmosphere carried a minty fragrance. The delightful aroma of nature filled his nose.
His eyes fell on his mail box, which had two or three envelopes peeping out. He walked towards the box, took those envelope out, and regretted doing so the very next moment. His pupils dilated, a sigh escaped his lips, and he looked up at the sky in disbelief. Something watery came up at the corners of his eyes, and he couldn’t believe it were his tears, the tears that had been inside for years. The letter had the alphabets that formed up a name he had been seeing for a long time, almost everyday – Matthew Cordo.
He had always known the fact that Matthew was constantly trying to talk to him, but the life in New York was so lively, complete and ecstatic that he wanted to live in the present. He had decided not to reply to any of Matthew’s messages because that would weaken him, and somehow bring forth his hidden desire to go back to Goa and live all those moments again. He thought that ignoring the letters would send Matthew a message, but the letters kept coming still, and made him wonder why even after that he wasn’t annoyed with Matthew. He wanted to tear the letter away, but somehow that couldn’t happen, and he found himself taking the envelope inside, tearing it instead, and reading the letter.
He didn’t sleep that afternoon. The living room was a large one, with a big portrait of him hanging on the wall on one side, that would tell people of his status and achievements. He held a certificate in that picture, and at the bottom, in big font, was printed ‘ALAN ROBINSON Senior Correspondent, For News’. Darkness prevailed in the room. All of a sudden, rain had arrived. The raindrops that crept up the glass of the windows were the only thing that seemed pleasant to him. The rest was all gloomy. Life of New York was the same. It kept running, just like time. His had become a broken clock. He looked around the room and noticed the futility of the big house he had. His limbs were jammed, and he preferred sitting where he was – by the portrait on a chair, facing the rain. He kept brooding over the situation he was in. He replayed all the moments he had lived in Goa, and regretted that he didn’t let a single picture to be taken. Somehow, back then, he did have in mind the prospect of coming to the US and never leaving. He loved his life here, but had hidden the love for the life there, where he had gone after his breakup for a vacation. He couldn’t admit that at first, but faces of Matthew and Nicole kept showing up in his mind. He actually never forgot them. He had tried his best to avoid letters, phone calls from unknown numbers, social media to an extent, all because he feared he might bump into Matthew or Nicole or somebody else who knew them, and that would compel him to go back to India.
The letter said, along with other things, that Matthew had been sick for a long time. Had it been somebody else, Alan would have easily presumed that the guy was faking. It wasn’t the same with Matthew, who never lied. He felt restless, and thirst played a part too. He had to force himself to get up from the chair and make his limbs work to make them take him to the kitchen. He staggered, and unwillingly reached the destination. He took a glass and poured himself some water, then took some water again. A long, relaxing sigh and a sip of water afterwards fulfilled him, and when he went out of the bathroom, he was a little bit different.
He didn’t go back to the living room. Instead, he changed his route and proceeded towards his room, which was darker. Immediately, the wardrobe was opened and an opened suitcase was kept on the bed. Then, the clothes were being taken out of the wardrobe, and a smile began to appear around his lips but just then, his eyes fell on a name scribbled on the right door of the wardrobe – SUSAN, it said, and he kept looking at it, until the corners of his eyes went watery all over again.
He met Susan Wilkes through one of his colleagues a year ago. They started going out, having a great time, and they had become great friends. She had always maintained though that they could never be together, despite him telling her a lot of times that he loved her. Once, they got drunk and the room where he was right now became the one where they had sex. Later, when they gained their senses back, Alan had hoped for something but Susan started feeling uncomfortable. She couldn’t face him anymore and all of a sudden, she disappeared one day. It was three months later that he learnt she was marrying someone whom her parents had seen for her. He, with all the grief he had, decided at that moment that he would never marry.
He came back from his train of thoughts and resumed packing. After he was done, a moment of realization froze him. All this while, he had been running from something, and someone he loved. He had prepared himself to be harsh to Matthew, and had hoped the pain would go away someday, and he would forget everything. But pain doesn’t just goes away. It’s like the rain, it keeps coming at you, and finds its place in a pothole in your heart. When the rain is gone, the pain stays in the hole, and comes out to haunt you, torment you, take your peace away, make you wonder things you didn’t wonder or the things you avoided before. Outside it rained heavily, and it would end sometime, but the inner rain, the inner conflict created more disasters than a lightning ever would, than any natural calamity ever would. It was a slow and painful death, coming from all sides to snatch away from you the tranquility of your life.
Alan stared at the clothes piled up in the suitcase. One of them was the shirts he had worn the most in Goa. He had taken it out after five years, and it looked as fresh as it looked back then, or perhaps his eyes had changed, his perspective too. He smiled, tears rolled down his cheeks, then closed the suitcase, then went to grab his phone to check for flights.
He had expected it, but sometimes even when you expect something to happen, you are surprised when you see it. It wasn’t the same Goa he had left five years ago. Pretty much was the same, of course, but he could notice the changes and improvements done to the area near the airport. The smell was still the same. Petrichor smelt all around. The rain had followed him here too. All the same greenery, the same markets, the boats, fishes, roads, and the rain. He had booked a cab and sat by the window. He kept changing the sides whenever a familiar place came up. Some of the churches were renovated. Some were the same. He could smell the beaches around. He could smell the sea, the tides, the waves, that had had him years ago, and these smell. the fragrances never left him at the first place. It all seemed real, it all seemed him.
He began sobbing, and his heart felt like a weight on his chest. The scenic beauty were overwhelming, and the nostalgia had taken over him. He could not help but feel the skin of the situation, the city, everything that had once held him and made it difficult for him to leave and forget. All had come back, and it was immersing him again. He was helpless, but perhaps he wanted to be helpless. He was weak, and sometimes, only sometimes, weak is good.
As the car went ahead and the distance to Baga Beach lessened, his heart started pounding more and more. It was like the headlights in the night. He thought he had forgotten the places, landmarks, signs, but as he kept looking at them, they, from the subconscious, started coming ahead, and he could tell at most of the places what would come ahead. A grin came across his lips, and he started laughing in joy. The driver looked at him through the mirror and tried to decipher the reason for the laughter, but gave up the very next moment.
The cab finally reached its destination after a not-so-long trip which amused Alan a lot more than he had expected and wanted to. He paid the driver and stepped out of the car. There were a few small houses lined up in the vicinity. They were all similar. He looked at them and reminded himself that there used to be only one house like that, and it was Matthew’s. He remembered it was the one closest to the sea. Now, as he walked up the rocks to go towards the beach, he could see a couple of houses nearby. There wasn’t just one house nearest to the sea, but three. His mind got puzzled, but he didn’t waste a moment to walk ahead and look at the houses closely. He could hear his heart beat louder and louder as he proceeded closer to the houses. The waves roared, the weather was cloudy, and lightning happened almost every second in the sky. The winds brushed against his hair, and he had to force himself a little bit to keep up with his pace. He reached the first house with a single door, and called a name. No one answered. He hesitated for a moment, then entered.
The very first thing he saw was a table, on which a basket was kept. There were old pictures hung on the wall. The house was small. The kitchen was too. There were some clothes hung on the hooks on the wall. Cold wind blew and it reached inside effortlessly. Alan felt home. He looked around and saw some pictures on the wall. He went closer and had a look at them.
The first picture showed a man with a lady. They both sat by the shore. One picture showed the same man with a big fish in his arms. Another picture showed both of them in their wedding attires. One picture, hung a little aloof from the rest of them, showed the man sitting on a bed, smiling.
‘Matthew’, Alan sighed. Tears rolled down his cheek.
He immediately looked around the house. His heart was filled with joy, he started whistling, and singing, then he yelled names of Matthew and Nicole. Then he realized his friend was sick, so he either must be at a clinic. He still walked further inside to the other rooms. The next room had a huge pile of clothes, and on one side was the bed. He looked at the bed and memories came back. He used to laugh and sing and the trio – Matthew, Nicole and him, used to play cards here. They would teach him Goan songs and would talk about music, movies and life. Theirs had become a small world, which they loved and didn’t regret at all. It was all peaceful, and joyous.
He went back to the previous room, and looked back at the pictures, when suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. He couldn’t tell if the footsteps were meant for the same house he was in or the other ones. But he kept on reliving his memories through the pictures. The next moment, a woman stepped in, dressed in black. He saw her, and immediately was taken aback. She was beautiful, and had long, black hair. Her eyes were puffy, and skin was dull, until a stream of tears flowed down from her left eye.
‘Nicole…how are you?’, Alan asked hesitantly.
‘How are you, Alan?’
Alan came closer to her, and he wanted to ask her about her condition, but perhaps he knew already, and he wished he was innocent enough to not know the reason of the sadness she wore at the moment. He was struggling with words and the only thing breaking the silence between them was the loud waves and the thunders in the sky. He wanted to hug her to comfort her, but that seemed awkward given that they were meeting after five years. And just then…
‘He always remembered you. He waited for you till his last breath.’
Alan began shaking his head in disbelief, then his eyes turned full of tears. He sat down on the floor, digging his head in his palms. Nicole grabbed him and hugged him. He started wailing and shouting, beating himself, slapping himself. Nicole held him tighter, but he broke free and kept on. Cursing himself, he started pulling his hair. Nicole grabbed him again, and began crying too.
‘I am not a good person. I’m a coward, the most selfish man, that’s what I am’, he said.
It wasn’t easy for him. Nicole told him he waited till the last breath. He recalled all those moments when he could have replied and gone back. He would’ve then seen him laugh, gone to fishing with him, they would have dived in the sea together. He would’ve played cards together, gone to the market together, learnt from him, would’ve inspired him, as he himself was inspired. But the thing with life is, when it chooses to displease you, it chooses the worst way possible. He tried to convince himself that he wasn’t at fault, but his instincts screamed and cursed him. He was a self-centred person who loved his comfort zone, and that cost him his inner comforts for life now.
Nicole had just come from the funeral, and she went to the bedroom, closed the room from inside, and slept. Alan remembered she used to say sleep is the best way to forget things, to kill the time. That day it meant to be a joke, and he had never imagined he would see her apply that quote of hers like this. He looked at the pictures again, and sighed deeply to acknowledge the bitter fact that he would have to live with this regret for the rest of his life. He went out of the house. It had started raining, everywhere. The waves crashed against the shore, the thunder wailed, the lightning sobbed. The gloom took over and made the clouds dark.There was emptiness, a hollowness, a life that couldn’t be a life anymore. The waves always meet the shore, somehow. They rage, they cry, they regret, but they always have the fortune to meet the shores and get immersed in their sands. Matthew had always said nature is us, and we all are the same. We too can meet like shore and waves do. We too, can.
Alan kept thinking about Matthew’s words, and his brisk pace led him nearer and nearer to the sea. Agony and joy are all the parts of the life, and while we don’t get to choose the pain most of the times, some of the times, we are in charge, and one mistake leads to a deep regret, and that can scar us right down to our souls. That regret is a reflection of your wrong actions, which may last for the rest of the life, which may even lessen the life.
And sometimes, it may immediately end the life.
© Shahrukh Jamal