My carpet of the rainbows

By srinipal All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Romance

Book 3. To a refuge? 1. The lonely sea

‘How long will you count waves?’ Somebody asked me from behind as I was standing by the sea, the blue, billowing sea of Goa. I looked back to see my Granny. ‘He is coming to India. Next Sunday. Does it mean anything to you?’ Granny asked me while picking up an empty shell of an oyster. Cold and dead, half buried in the wet sand of the beach.

My granny, Rosana Fernandez. My mother’s aunt, her mother’s sister. Beautiful Granny, with lonely, blue eyes; a lonely spinster. Time has adorned her face with embroidery of wrinkles. Still she was beautiful. Granny’s beautiful question rolled back with the retreating waves. Went back further away, near the horizon, to invade the sun, a rare, red existence in the abundance of the blue. I looked at the sinking grandeur. With a mind sinking in a deep nothingness. The waves were rolling out of nothing, rolling back to nothing. Near the earthy shore they were stretching their tentacles to grab something. Sand and sand castles. Granny was building some. Only to offer them to the waves pawing at the shore. To the awe of the unknown. Yes, we build everything in our lives; castle, home, nest, or road, only to offer them to that unknown. Every known thing to that one abstract unknown.

I looked at Granny. Her Dead Sea eyes. Heavy and drooping. The cold blue of the pupils spilled over into the white of the eyes. The poisoned blue poised for death. She was now sitting with her feet reaching out for the pawing waves. Sand on her hands, on her clothes and hair, and sadness on her puckered lips. I was standing by her side, facing the sea and with my back towards our hotel-cum-home ‘Casa no Duna’, i.e. ‘a house on a sand hill’. A three-storeyed prosaic relief on a poetic panorama. The usual sunset scene at a beach in Goa. This was Bambolim Beach. Faces of the floating crowd. Tinges of floating colours. A plethora of floating sounds. Yet, Granny was lonely. I was lonely. A smell of loneliness floating in the languid breeze.

I sat down by her side. A wet touch at the bottom. A shivering sensation. She looked at me. From the other side of the world. From the other side of the sea, a message had come the other day. Joy would be coming to India for a month’s break. A homeland vacation. To nestle against his familiar family circle. He would witness an ocean of changes in me. Two children, rolling down from the Kanchenjunga peak of childish innocence to the earthy plains to the sea level of sultry Goa. Into the sea of youth. A man and a woman. With an unfathomable distance in between. As Granny would say. My granny, Rosana Fernandez, now a museum meteorite and once a luminous meteor in the sky of youth.

Rosana Fernandez in another era. Another sky with constant constellations and alien lonely stars. Rosana of Nerul village, floats alone in a small boat, along the long backwaters of the sea. A blue strip of calmness, away from the turbulent sea. A part and yet so much apart in nature. Rosana’s lonely canoe floats. It floats along the river Sinquerim, river Mandovi too at times. Lazes at the confluence of the Mandovi and the sea. Turns back towards the land. The velvety Quegdevelim Beach waves an invitation, the lanky coconut trees with their swaying umbrella fronds beckon her towards the· horizon, where the bottle green hillocks in the distance, reach for the blue beyond. Rosana’s canoe lingers on along the sleepy bank, laced with serene green. As if an indelible dot in the picturesque landscape. No mother at home to call back or wait. Father is a busy doctor, with an MBBS degree, a rare species. that time. He has buried his bitterness and impatience in numerous needy patients. Rosana’s body mirrors her mother. Rosana’s mind remembers her mother. Always. Father married her when he was studying medicine in Bombay. Father’s ancestors had been converted to Christianity by the great Saint Francis Xavier, people say. People also say he had been turned on by Rosana’s mother’s beautiful silvery hair. Shining and foaming like surf on the sea waves. They further say, she is just like her mother. Silvery hair. A white creeper-slim body. Transparent blue eyes. A pointed nose, vulnerably upturned. Father hates to look at her she knows, in order to evade the shadow of his dead love. She carries a ghost for her father. A ghost of a dead relationship he had with her mother. She deserted him and fled back to her England with her English man. Father has been left with two growing girls, his ageing youth and a lot of old memories. Old and cold. Rosana has ever since been rowing. Rowing away from home, life and even herself.

Rowing along the rivers and backwaters of the water-fed Nerul. Sometimes alone, sometimes with Jose, a deaf and dumb boy of fourteen, their domestic help. His silent presence does not make much of a difference to Rosana, but it makes to the others. The busy fishermen on the banks, with their baskets full of mackerel and mussel. The women carrying water from the river. For them, Jose’s presence is necessary. For Rosana it is redundant. She can move alone. On and on. On some days, when Jose cannot accompany her, her foreign looks give her one advantage. She can move alone. Otherwise, in Goa, a Goan girl or woman of a good family, does not move alone in ordinary circumstances. But her sea-foam hair, her blue eyes and her European features and complexion give people an impression that she is a foreigner, perhaps a Portuguese. So, she is secure in her boat and insecure in her abode.

Her sister Sabrina, is Father’s favourite. Except for her extra-fair complexion, she is an Indian. Pitch-black hair. Long and wavy. Black-pearl eyes. Indian features with a faint foreign tinge. Even her name has an Indian touch. She is commonly called Rina by all. Rina is an Indian name. She married a Goan Christian. Valentino Pinto. Two sisters met him one day, on the way to their convent. Later, he used to wait everyday near the jujube tree. With the brown shadow of the church steeple on his body, to make it darker. Facing a lake of flickering water lilies, emitting an unknown smell of serenity. His eyes - kokum thirsty. Rosana thought it was for her. But Rosana and her cashew-nut body could serve only fatally intoxicating feni. Valentino wanted cool, cool kokum sherbet. Like any simple Indian. So, one day, when she discovered Sabrina missing from the school and rediscovered her in the shady palm grove, in the shade of Valentino, she covered herself with a beach aloofness. Now, Sabrina remains inside the house with a swelling family, a husband and children and in-laws while Rosana rows and rows away. ‘Row, row, row the boat ... ’

‘My rowing days are over,’ Granny told the young energetic boy in the motorboat.

The motorboat had just approached us with the driver, an acquaintance of Granny. A handsome Goan boy with an athletic built. Chocolate brown body. Black sunglasses. Spiky hair stood up as audaciously as his spirited youth. A rough and tough square face. And a soft touch. A swinging earring on his left ear. He had shouted at the top of his voice, to overpower the roar of the sea waves.

‘Come ma’am, a free ride for you. Both of you. Your kin eh?’ The boy had been looking at me, I thought, from the angle of his face. His eyes were hidden behind the black glasses.

‘My rowing days are over,’ Granny said more to the sea than to the boy. As if she was complaining to the sea. The sea had never missed her or her rowing. Then, she turned to me and asked, ‘Are you interested?’ I shook my head.

‘Thank you Mauvin. Some other time, my boy,’ Granny threw the watery words towards the sea. He waved his hand and his motor roared away, lacerating the swaying sea.

A motorbike roared in my memory. A vroom and a visor and a voice as deep as the sound of the soul of this sea. That voice had now made its voyage all over the world. Sailed to assail so many hearts with sweetness. Yes, Leslie’s first music album had been out two months ago and it had been a success. Success for the critics and excess of excitement for women of all ages. Just the other day, I heard a classmate of Mom sigh, ‘I wish I could be young.’ He was now a celebrity. Yet, just as unpredictable as ever. He would not give up his privacy and avoid interviewers and reporters cleverly. I did not like the album in particular. I had liked him much more when he had been by my side with his musical aquamarine waves against the red backdrop. His voice had first called my name, ‘Lucie’, around six months ago. I heard it again. And now it was a duet.

‘Lucie, Lucia,’ Granny was looking at me, ‘he wanted you in his boat. Not me. Now nobody wants me as his company, not even the boat.’ Granny’s voice crumbled like a sand castle.

A sand castle crumbles under the feet of Rosana. In a hurry she has stepped on some child’s creation. The child, a small chubby boy of five or six, looks up at her with wonder in his eyes. How a castle can be reduced to nothing within no time! Next he pouts, cries and goes into a tantrum. He takes handfuls of sand and throws them at Rosana. Tiny hands, the grains of sand do not even reach Rosana. She squats by the side of the boy and gives him some chewing gum she always carries with her, on her rowing expeditions. They look colourful. Rosana rolls them on her palm. They look more colourful. Kaleidoscopic. The boy looks at them, allows Rosana to put one in his mouth. Rosana gives him some more in his hand. He is calm now. But Rosana is disturbed. Somebody has taken her canoe away.

It is Quegdevelim Beach. The confluence of the river Mandovi and the sea. This is one of the days when Jose is not with her. She stopped here to have some coconut water, to quench her thirst. From here, she had to turn back again. She was having coconut water, standing by the row of the fishing boats which emitted a slithery smell of fish and a decaying smell of the bright oil paint. Just then, an unknown male figure emerged from the clump of the shady coconut splendour along the beach, took her boat and paddled away. She was chasing him when she unknowingly trampled over the sand castle and had lost track of the man. Now she walks slowly, towards the sea. The man is rowing in the sea. It is low tide and her boat is moving away from her, swaying on the gentle waves. Soon, it becomes a speck in the blue, like a fading memory.

Rosana flops down hopelessly, on the wet sand. Her sky blue pupils dilate to accommodate the vast sea and to get back her only refuge from the world. Instead, diluted helplessness trickles down in tiny drops from the aching blue. Some fishermen, to whom she is as mysteriously familiar as the sea waves, come up and ask her about the boat. She does not want anybody’s help. Just like the child, she grabs a handful of sand and throws it towards the sea. Half falls on the beach, half into the sea. Sand to sand, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. She gets nothing. She stands up with her light kitbag and a heavy existence.

‘A Portuguese Fidalgo, miss.’ One fisherman almost hisses out those words, as she asks him in pure Konkani. This is one of the last few days of Portuguese rule in Goa. It is not yet I9th December I96I. It is a summer afternoon of I96I. The Portuguese flag is still flapping on the Governor’s house. Sad and shocked, Rosana gets up after a couple of minutes and plods along the sandy beach, with a blank mind trampling her small shadow all through. She hates to sit anchored on the beach, waiting for a presumptuous Portuguese. Yet, she waits. With expectation like the undulating wings of a ray. Time rolls with the waves. The shadows of the palm trees grow longer and darker. Rosana’s canoe does not come back. Rage crests inside while the outside looks crestfallen. She gets up, limps with time, with her fate. An old friend LuizinIho, calls her. His family was their neighbour once. Now, he is a successful fish businessman. They exchange a few words, talk about their childhood. Then, she quickly bids goodbye, before their conversation reaches the present from the past and gallops towards the future. She has nothing to talk about the present, an empty boat without pearls and coral, without even Luizinho’s shrimps and prawns. And at present, that too is lost. The future for her is a bleak canvas. She now goes away from the sea, the golden beach, the missing boat and herself. Walks with the spire of the church of Our Lady of Remedies in her eyes. The long shadow, of the palatial house of the Bishop of Halicarnasso, grows even more mystic. She has to go back home.

‘Should we go home?’ I asked Granny with some hesitation in my voice.

‘You go dear, I would like to count a few more waves.’ Granny was still lost somewhere. I knelt down by her side.

‘Why don’t you also come Granny? It is getting dark here. How will you count the waves? I need to talk to you.’

‘About what? Joy’s homecoming?’

‘No. About Leslie.’

‘Leslie! Have you heard from him?’ She looked at me with the question quivering in her eyes. I shook my head and remained silent. A gust of wind blew, all of a sudden. Whirled away the sand, stirred the waves. The sea threw the white flying foamy scarf to cover the beach, only to let it slip off, the very next moment. Like the long scarf of Gene Kelley, in ‘Singing in the Rain’. Singing in the rain. Dancing in the ray, the dying ray of the setting sun.

‘I feel he is here. In India,’ I said slowly, looking at his blue diamond ring, which now I wear on my middle finger. ‘You feel!’ Granny smiled. ‘How do you exactly feel?’ The wrinkles on her forehead and the crow’s feet under her eyes emitted a sigh of time, lost time.

‘Well Granny, today I received an envelope with a white paper inside. Milky white and absolutely blank. I guess ... ’

‘It is from him,’ Granny completed my sentence. Then, she got lost in thought. I saw or imagined a faint smile on her dry lips.

‘Handwriting on the envelope?’

‘The address is typewritten, but it is from somewhere in India. I could not make out the post mark on the stamp.’

‘Don’t you think of any other friend of yours who can play such a prank on you? I think there must be a dozen.’

I could not think of anybody, however. ‘Let me see...Two of my classmates of Shantiniketan have continued writing to me. Both have left Shantiniketan now. One of them has got a job while the other has got married. I have lost touch with Deepa. She wrote to me a couple of times, but I did not reply...’ Yes, I wanted to dismember my aching memory. No more looking back. No more plodding along memory lane that had petered out somewhere into eternity.

But could I really sever those feelings? Obliterate all those memories? I reflected. Every gust of runaway wind spreads the melancholy, Mahua smell. Every drop of the golden sun mirrors every moment of togetherness under the Chhatim tree. The breakers with their thorny crests turn into the blue cacti from the forlorn barrenness of Shantiniketan. Red barrenness, red agony. A love account has run into red. Each prism of red blood reflects each colour of love.

Every bit of me misses every bit of you.

Every atom crumbles in the world without you.

The world-less world. The lonely rainbow in the wet sky of Goa melts into a shapeless, formless jumble of colour. A smudge of pain. Permanent. Permeating.

I would regularly interact with Granny to learn how she had survived it all. A timepiece. Big size. Big golden numbers. Long shining pendulum. Only the hands are missing. And the whole existence is meaningless. I would always wonder at her, how she had kept all the broken fragments inside and carried those rattling piercing pieces for so many years.

Granny’s agony rattled.

‘So, she feels! Only the fools feel a lot. And women are the worst kind of fools. They feel a lot.’ She almost mumbled these words and then looking into my eyes, she asked, ‘Don’t you think if he comes to India there would be some news about it? At least in some women’s magazine?’ Granny smiled with a bitter sweetness.

I saw the logic in her argument. Yet my dream, my god heard those footsteps on the soil of India.

‘Ships come and ships go.’ She shook her head seriously.

A remoteness sailed in her blue eyes. She was on another plane, at this moment. The next moment she sprang up, ‘I want to see that letter.’ The usual temperamental way of hers. Time and tide had waited for none, even Antonio de Rosario D’Mello had not waited for her, but the tide of time had wetted her wit to a spongy pulp.

We came back to our hotel-cum-home. Granny asked me to bring the letter to her place. She did not stay with us in the hotel building. There was a small cottage for her, a few yards away from the hotel building. A motionless museum of mutilated emotions. A lost world. I used to spend almost half the time with her. Two bedrooms. In the storeroom, a. very old, obsolete loom of Granny’s great grandpa had been stored. People say he was a great craftsman. Granny used to often look at that decrepit machine. She used to spend most of the time in the larger bedroom, which was her studio also. It was a half-dark room, and always reminded me of our shop at Darjeeling. The whole room was full of life-size paintings, medium size portraits, big and small sketches and large well-framed photographs. Of two persons. Antonio and no, not Rosana, Granny’s picture was nowhere. It was Angela, Antonio’s daughter. A teenage girl, like myself in Darjeeling. A young dashing man and a cute little girl. Granny had captured their image from every possible angle. In fact Granny started painting only to keep them near her. She could not keep them in person and so kept them in their abstract form.

The man I thought was very dashing, I wouldn’t say he was handsome. He was just wildly charming. He seemed to be popping out of the picture or photo with his vivacious charm. A splashing sea wave. The girl appeared serene. In one picture, a trickling teardrop had frozen on her cheeks, forever. Granny told me this was the last time she saw her. The teardrop was so unrealistically real. A white bubble, a shining pain. Another picture on the same topic was weird. A small face and a bigger teardrop, with a distorted reflection of barren thorny boughs. Granny kept on painting even now, in spite of her failing eyesight and trembling hand. She painted for herself and only for herself She never wanted to show them, to bring them out in the sunlight. It would be as if she was baring a bleeding wound. Had she done it, I am sure she would have been famous. But Granny did not want fame. Fame is as fleeting as Antonio. Or even worse. Granny stretched herself on the armchair and reached out a hand for my letter. For a moment she looked like a piece of taxidermy. I slowly touched her hand to feel the rhythm of her pulse, under her raisin-like skin. Dry desiccated rusty raisin, with a juicy grape-history.

‘Granny, dear. You are very cold. Cover yourself. The letter is in my room. I’ll go and bring it.’

I went out of the cottage and climbed the steps of our home with swift speed.

Rosana climbs the stairs feverishly. She enters the room of her father. It is night. Mr Fernandez is writing a letter. The door is ajar. Rosana knocks on the door to draw the attention of the busy doctor.

‘What’s it, Rosy?’ he asks without even looking up.

‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ Rosana’s whispering voice gives out a sigh. A restless rustle among the palm groves. The sea can hear it. Mr Fernandez closes the cap of his pen and puts down the specs he uses for reading and writing.

‘Yes?’ His two greying eyes get fixed on Rosana. He looks not at her but at some grey memory. Groomed in a grave. But the greying eyes fail to see the insecure inertia, so much in contrast with her mother. Rosana slowly comes in and closes the door. She goes near the dated figure.

’My canoe has been taken away by a Portuguese patrao.′ Rosana pauses after relating a bare fact in an emotionless voice. She waits for her father’s reaction.

‘These white people! They only know how to take away. Have they ever given anybody anything?’ A resentful voice resonates in the silence of the night. Rosana waits for it to fade out completely.

‘I want it back. Please, do something.’ Two blue pupils float up in a pool of helplessness.

‘Who is the man? Do I know him?’ Rosana shakes her head. The greying eyes grow impatient more because of an old wound, rather than a young helplessness.

‘What do you expect of me? To know his whereabouts?’

‘He is a big officer, sort of a nobleman. So it seems. Came here recently. This, I gathered from the conversation of the fishermen there. You are an eminent person, a doctor. You know so many people in the government, Father, why don’t you ... ’

‘Impossible, just impossible.’ He stands up. ‘A big officer. Maybe, a nobleman. I just can’t do anything here. It is out of question. We are still not independent. I can’t do anything. This is their usual way. You know cases, where they have even taken land and properties from the common Goan people.’

‘Please, Father, I want my boat back. I don’t have anything else.’ The importunate soul faces the impatient mind. ‘You can at least try.’

‘I hardly get any time out from my patients. Moreover, I don’t feel it will be of any use. They will start asking hundreds of questions, why you move alone in the boat, being a girl etc. etc. That won’t be very pleasant for us. For my social position you know.’

‘Father, please. I hardly ask you for anything.’

‘This is not a request. This is… something of an imposition. I am sorry, Rosy.’

‘Get me a new boat, then, will you?’

A wave of silence claws at the rocks of Dona Paula.

Mr Fernandez looks stunned for a few minutes. He starts pacing up and down, as if chased by the question. Rosana stands like a stationary rock. Repeats the question, after a few seconds.

‘Give me a new boat Father, please.’

Greying eyes grow dark. Mr Fernandez comes very near to his daughter.

‘It is a lot of money. I can’t give you one right now. I’ll have to think about it.’

‘How long will it take?’

‘I can’t say.’ His anger bursts on the blue eyes. He walks away towards the window. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself asking me like this. Why don’t you try to do something meaningful, instead of killing time by paddling. I sent you, you and your sister to the best girls’ convent in Goa. What for? I wanted you to be educated, to help me, if not as a doctor, as a nurse at least. Rina married. At least, she is happy. And you ... just squandering away your time. Valuable time. Always unhappy, making others unhappy. Isn’t it time you settled down? I shall talk to your sister to finalise your marriage with the boy ... ′

Mr Fernandez hears a click behind him, turns around to see the door is ajar and the room is absolutely empty.

I found my room entirely empty in the shadow-coloured loneliness as I entered it. Not that I expected somebody to be here, but I did not even find my own dreams. The windows were open and the curtains were pulled. The sultry sea was framed in the window and fragmented by the grill. The air smelt salty. I switched on the light. Somebody sprang up on the sofa. A face, no, not of my dream, not of childhood, not of my loneliness, not of my very own god. It had a chubby and complacent face like a fresh ripe red tomato on a flaunting green stalk, ready to be picked up.

‘Bet, you can’t tell who I am.’ Her eyes fluttered. A twang of a rusty string. Somewhere I had seen her, but where? She seemed to enjoy my bewildered look thoroughly.

‘Well, why don’t you help me?’ I asked a bit helplessly.

And just at the same moment a piece of Darjeeling cloud drifted into the Goan shed to shed some shrouded memories. I saw two tiny hands, two rosy cheeks under the five o’clock shadow of Joy. Yes, indeed, it was none other than Polly. So many times, I had carried her in my arms and today she was taller than I. When I had faced the home wreck at Darjeeling, I was fourteen and a half Polly would be about sixteen now. I saw not Polly, but a mirror in front of me and in that magic mirror I saw myself in Darjeeling. The scent of fog, the touch of chill, the sound of the Himalayan silence and an avalanche of myself.

‘Lucie, are you home? Come and see who is here.’

The memory-mirror cracked and Mom came in. Polly was saying something, which I could not hear at all. She now went out and I heard a voice. From the voice, I knew her. The voice with a soft snowfall touch. Meena Aunty. She had not changed much. Only some silvery touch of time added to her natural grace. I had not seen her nor Polly since I had left Darjeeling, though they had come a couple of times to Goa to meet my parents. My father had been twice to Darjeeling to dispose of our property. Mom had never gone back even once, nor would she go, I believe. She had never grown roots in the hills of DarjeeIing, and her sweet memories had got all charred by the fuming finale.

‘When did you come, Aunty?’ I asked as she came and hugged me.

‘By the evening flight. We were looking for you before going to the airport. Where were you?’ Mom asked. I could not remember when Mom had told me about their coming to Goa. I had grown a habit of listening to my own thoughts most of the time nowadays.

‘I was with Granny.’

‘Oh you were. Were you? You should give sometimes to yourself dear,’ Mom said. I remembered Granny would be waiting for me and my mysterious letter. Mom asked me to go out with them.

‘I’ll come in a minute Mom, she’ll be waiting for me. I’ve to give her something.’

‘Viru will take it to her.’ Viru was one of our hotel boys.

‘This one I’ve to give her Mom. Excuse me for five minutes, please.’ I looked at our Darjeeling darlings.

‘Must be some of their artistic matter or materials!’ Mom explained to them. She said to me, ‘We’ll be waiting for you in the balcony of our room.’

My parents’ room was on the first floor, just above mine. Mom was going up with Meena Aunty while I felt a tug at my sleeves, ‘I want to go with you.’ Polly did not wait for my permission and waving at our mothers, accompanied me to Granny’s cottage. Granny was not very easy with outsiders, so I hesitated at the door and knocked twice.

Rosana knocks twice at a closed door. Sabrina opens the door. Sabrina, her sibling. The wife of Valentino. Valentino. Rosana’s dead dream of yesterday. Sabrina’s reality of today.

Rosana has avoided him, her dead dream. She hardly comes to their house, except, for some social occasions. Valentino has never known her feelings, neither Sabrina. Rosana has grown out of her feelings. Her boat has taken her away from that unreachable bank.

‘Rosy! What a surprise! So, at last you’ve got some time for your sister. But why so late? It is already six.’

Rosana rushes past her into the house. The whole day today she has spent around the banks to get a glimpse of her boat. But it remained out of sight. She crossed the ferry to come to her sister at Taleigao. She pants hard as she goes inside and sits on the armchair.

‘Something wrong? You look so terribly exhausted.’ Sabrina is worried. Her black eyes shower white affection. Both very much Indian. Goan monsoon. Makes everything green. Rosana is in a blue funk. Sabrina’s five-year-old daughter Eva comes in. She has broken her doll and wants to get it repaired.

‘It can’t be set right dear, I’ll get you a new one. I shall ask your dad to bring one when he comes home.’ Sabrina tries to convince her, but she wants just that doll to be mended. Rosana takes it and assures her that she will do it. She takes the child in her arm. The mad rush of blood inside her subsides. She kisses her. A bit fervently. Sabrina takes her away.

‘Go and play.’ She persuades her to leave the room. Then, turns towards Rosana, ‘Why did you tell her a lie? This doll is beyond repair. She will throw a tantrum if you fail to keep your promise. I can’t handle it.’ She seems thoroughly annoyed.

‘Who has made you a mother, I don’t know. You don’t understand a child’s psychology.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean I’ll purchase one doll just like this one and deface it a bit, to give it that older look. Replace the new frock with the old one. She won’t know the difference and will be very happy to get back her own doll.’

‘That’s a good idea. My god, Rosy, you have our mother’s shrewd brain!’

‘This is just common sense.’ Rosana feels scandalised. ‘Don’t you people always compare me with her. I have nothing in common with her. Nothing.’ Her voice sounded violent. ‘She’s got two husbands, maybe, by now many more. I don’t have even one.’

’Calm down Rosy, I please. I’ll bring some kokum sherbet for you. Just wait.′

‘No. I need whisky.’

‘Rosy dear, this is not the time ... ’

‘Just go and bring one. I need to talk to you. Something serious.’

Sabrina brings the drinks and closes the door. Hers is a joint family. Just like most of the Goan families. She does not like them to hear the sisters’ confidential conversation. Rosana swigs a big gulp. One more and one more. Then, the two sisters sit face to face.

‘I want some money, Rina.’

‘Money? How much? What for?’

‘Not very much. Around 200 bucks to purchase a new boat.’

‘New boat! My word. What has happened to the old one?’

‘Gone. Gone. Taken away from me by some Portuguese Fidalgo.’

‘How come? Taken by force?’

‘He just stole it. They seem to think that the whole of Goa is their property and they can take anything, just like that.’ She elaborated the incident to her sister, who sighed in despair, ‘I wish we could be in India. Now, all the talks are going on to take us in India, Nehruji is trying so hard. But when will it actually happen dear?’

’Don’t know. Maybe, not as long as that grande ditador Salazar is in command. But at the moment, I just think of today Rina, and I want a boat. Papa won’t offend the Portuguese. Neither will he give me the money. I can get some seventy-five bucks by selling off my gold chain. I’d need around one hundred and fifty more.′

Rosana looks at Sabrina with expectation in her eyes.

Sabrina’s pitch-black eyes hide themselves under the quivering eyelids. Time limps. Finally, Sabrina gathers enough strength to look up into her sister’s eyes, ’Rosy, I’m sorry. We have just started our new restaurant. It needs a lot of money, dear. Just now it will be difficult. He has even taken some loan from his relatives. You know he is crazy about having his own hotel, one day. I can give you some fifty bucks I saved for buying a foddo.′

‘Why don’t you talk to Valentino?’ Rosana suggests as a green malachite chain sways gently in front of her eyes.

‘I don’t think it will be of any use. Rather, I think Rosy, it is a boon in disguise. You can now forget paddling and meddling. Now, try and be a good girl. Marry and settle down. You know Valentino’s friend, Vijay. You will be lucky to have him as your husband. He is a Hindu, so Papa will be happy at heart. You know papa became Christian to marry mom and he still... Anyway, Vijay works in the Vasco Iron Mines. He is from a good family, as far as I know. Lost his parents when he was a baby. His uncle has brought him up. He is crazy about you. I have told Papa about it. He wants to meet the boy soon.’

‘Will he become a Christian?’

‘He is ready to do that for you, but his family may not allow. They are freedom-fighters. His cousin was involved in the Daman uprising. Remember Vasudev Dhawalikar? You can also get converted to Hinduism. People are going back to Hinduism nowadays. You know such cases, don’t you? You won’t have any problems either. Vijay is all set to go to Bombay. Wants a better job. The Portuguese officials have been after his family since his cousin’s death in the Daman uprising. Now, tell me one thing Rosy, hasn’t Vijay expressed his feelings to you?’

Rosana recalls a weedy figure with a large cashew apple-shaped head and two big protruding iron-black eyes. Following her silently everywhere, to the beach, near the river bank, around her house at times. But very silent. No dash, no élan. They have spoken to each other only in some social gatherings or in the company of others like Sabrina or Valentino. She does not reply Sabrina’s question. She questions, ‘He is a Hindu boy, so Papa has to give dowry for my marriage, two thousand or three thousand. Hasn’t he?’

‘Yes, he will. Papa has saved money for that. Papa’s clinic is more of a charitable institution. But he gets a good share from our grandpa’s cashew plantation in Chimbel, you know.’

‘Why can’t he give money for my boat then?’

‘That’d be a waste of money ... ’ The words slip out of Sabrina’s silly tongue. ‘I mean you have had enough of paddling, now you should settle down. You are already twenty-five. It is time you had your family, husband, children ... ’

‘Shut up,’ Rosana shouts impatiently. She hates to look at the dull-black coal eyes of her sister. ‘You want me to marry that stupid boy and get settled like the ore in the mine? You had your quota of joy, courting Valentino, eloping with him and for me you prescribe the darkness of an iron mine! You selfish crab.’

‘But Rosy, you are so self-centred, you don’t reach out to people. You live like a snail. If somebody shows interest in you, you avoid him. Vijay is reasonably good for you. You can’t expect some prince for you. Here, only beauty does not matter. You are now overage for marriage. You don’t have a good reputation because of all your silly· habits like moving alone in a boat. Most of all, you are from a broken home. You should feel lucky that Vijay has agreed to marry you. Papa can’t carry your burden forever.’

The words are darker and heavier than cold iron and hotter than a burning piece on the anvil. Rosana darts towards the door, flings it open and slams it behind her. A singed soul. She now wants to cool off her burn. But where? She lugs her heavy mind along the lonely road of Santa Inez. A swaying palm grove sighs. A yellow ripe pumpkin-moon hangs from a trailing darkness. It is a full-moon night. The sea is on high tide. A staggering spirit steers a body at a high speed. Mad speed. To the sea.

‘To the sea? You want to go to the sea at night? There is nothing but roaring darkness,’ Granny said to Polly after listening to her importunate demand. ‘You’ll get enough time tomorrow, young lady. And the next day ... by the way how many days will you be here?’

‘A few more days. Dada, my big brother is reaching Bombay day after tomorrow. From London, you know. We were there last summer. What a life! If you had ever been to a foreign country you would know.’ Her superfluous snobbery disturbed Granny. With a scowl she asked, ‘You are going to London now?’

‘No, Dada is coming back from London. On vacation. He’ll come here via Bombay. There’ll be the engagement ceremony.’ She winked at me mischievously.

‘There’s still enough time.’

‘But I’ll be going with my father to receive Dada at Bombay tomorrow. Bombay is a fantastic city. I would like to stay there for one day and do some shopping. Also it will be a great pleasure to see Dada, fresh from London.’

Polly’s face got extra radiant as she mentioned him. She was proud of her successful sibling. But I saw agony on Granny’s face. Must be seeing the shadow of Angela, her own little angel

She was a teenager too when she left her, I mused.

Polly was looking at the pictures on the wall. ‘I’ve never come here before, have I?’

‘Nobody comes here, except Lucia.’

‘Is her name Lucia? We know her as Lucie.’ Polly was a bit surprised.

‘Lucia is the Portuguese name. I love to call her Lucia. Her mother named her Lucie. She has some fascination for French names. And Lucia’s father is fond of Wordsworth’s Lucy, isn’t he?’ She looked at me not to get the answer, but to recite a few lines from the poem. Then, she fell silent. Polly moved from one picture to another, passing black and white comments on each of them. Granny didn’t listen. I went near her and said,

‘Granny, I’ve brought it.’

‘Oh the newspaper? Give me. Today I’ve not read the newspaper. ’

‘The letter, Granny,’ I whispered and looked into her eyes. She had remembered it perfectly. I could read it in her transparent blue eyes.

‘I’ve kept it in your drawer. See it later.’ Granny got the drift and kept the secret intact. I didn’t like to discuss it in front of a stranger. Polly was a stranger for me and would always be. She was so different. And so indifferent to the black happenings on the white summit of Nepal! As though nothing very unusual and shameful had ever happened in her life.

‘Who are these two people? Why can’t there be pictures of any other persons? Who are these two?’ Polly was moving along the decorated wall.

‘They are Granny’s creation.’ I answered, before Granny could say anything.

‘You mean they are not real?’ Polly looked surprised.

‘For an artist his every creation is real,’ Granny said and stared at Polly with narrowed eyes as if she was a piece of art. Or was she looking through a telescope, towards a bygone time and was peering at her Angela?

‘Will you draw a picture of me, Grandma?’ Polly’s question splashed out of the blue against a shocked shell.

Nobody had ever asked or dared to ask Granny this, I believe. Did I hear a squeak at the hinge of a clam? Granny’s eyes looked crystallised, a piece of taxidermy. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. This could be the best for the lady of Shalott, to break out of the reflection of her memory-mirror. To get out of the ever-stretching entangled lines of the two figures. Warp and woof Warp and woof. The ancient, obsolete loom of Granny’s great grandpa loomed large. She could now knit some new neat lines. Of a stranger. A strange experience in her last twenty seven or twenty-eight years of life.

Granny stood up with an awkward jerk. An uneasy silence stretched its body on the bed of inertia. The air smelt lonely.

‘I don’t paint anymore.’ The battered words came out of her mouth bitterly. Her face winced. The eyelashes wilted in lassitude.

‘Can’t you do it for my sake?’ Polly was as obstinate as any teenager. ‘Make me look my best. I’d hang it in my room and show off to my friends. I have many photographs. Every boy who gets friendly with me wants to take my photo. But I don’t have a portrait. This would be great. To have a portrait of myself on my wall.’ She went on, without paying heed to the obvious pain of the painter.

‘Should I wear a swimsuit? Like that picture?’ She pointed at one picture of Angela, in a shocking white swimsuit against the backdrop of blue towering waves. Every possible shade of blue had been used in the picture to sharpen the sparkling splash of the implausible white. Granny paced up to the picture, covered her eyes with two hands, probably blinded by the dazzling whiteness.

‘Let me alone. Let me alone, kids. I want to be alone. Just alone,’ she shouted. I grabbed Polly’s hand and dragged her out of the room. Granny really needed to be alone at the moment. All alone.

‘We shall talk to her tomorrow. She is in a bad mood today. Old age you know,’ I whispered to Polly.

‘Let’s go to the sea.’

‘Sea in the dark?’

‘Yes, I’d love it.’ She got bubbly. ‘Let’s race, who can reach there first.’ And she flew past me. A child surged inside me. A Darjeeling snowball rolled. I rushed to catch up with her. I almost ran to reach an impoverished beach in dark tatters. There was no shimmering gold. Only our feet crunched on the scattered shells.

The crunch of her footsteps on the shells makes Rosana conscious that she has reached the beach. Yes, she has. Without her refuge. Her cosy canoe. The roaring sea is flashing its teeth, sneering at her. She is twenty-five. Not married. Not tied to anybody with any emotion. Her life is the voice of death. A white face churns up her memory. A lingering jasmine perfume. Two butterfly-hands holding the paddles of a canoe and teaching her to row merrily, merrily, merrily. Two red-wine lips kissing her all over, leaving lipstick stains here and there. Five white lilac-fingers running through her hair, rested on a padded lap and a mellow mouth crooning a lullaby. Just eleven years. Just eleven years of her life could relish it all. Then, she had left her. Why didn’t she take her with her? Sabrina was Father’s favourite right from her birth. She was her mother’s darling. Still, why did she leave her and take with her only baby Rita? Why? People here say that she was scared. Did not want to expose beautiful budding Rosana to her stepfather, much younger than Rosana’s mother. But didn’t she fear to leave her to a ‘step-life’? More monstrous than a step-parent? She thought only about herself, although she taught her the gospel messages. She taught her to row merrily, merrily, merrily down the stream when life was but a dream. Her dreamboat is gone. Now, there is nothing but Rosana and the raging sea waves.

The sea is on a high tide. A blotch of a moon adulterates the darkness. Her last refuge. Rosana folds her hands. Unfolds her strength. Deflates a three-dimensional entity into a one-dimensional existence. Rosana throws her deflated self to float on the high tides without the refuge of her boat. The naked waves, the nude depth devour her. The girdling palm grove sighs out a lullaby for an eternal sleep:

Row, row, row the boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily. Life is but a dream.

‘Life is but a dream.’ A Hindi popular song was being played on my music system. Polly was half listening to it. She was with me in my room tonight. She was given a room. But she did not like to sleep alone in a hotel room. So, I had to give up my privacy temporarily. She was lying down on the bed and staring at me with a mischievous smile.

‘If I were you I’d have married him just now and flown off to London happily. Why are you wasting time?’ Her big ice-flake eyes exuded warm wisdom. My small mouth shrank smaller.

‘Mummy wants to have the wedding now. But Daddy thinks only engagement now and marriage after Dada comes back permanently from London. In that case, you will lose the chance to stay in London. Don’t you want to be there? I wouldn’t have lost such an opportunity.’

Polly was talking like a mature practical woman. After all, she was a child of a successful business family. I had a close look at her. I could not find myself in her cool icy eyes. Her naughtiness was just like a rolling snowball. Moving but cool. Cool and cooler. A cool canned teenage. All the qualities intact, except a whirling freshness. Her cool eyes scrutinised my room, my cupboard, my bookcase. She pointed at the video cassettes kept on the TV side rack.

‘Wow, you’ve a damn good collection. Let me see.’ She went to the rack and started examining them. Behind the visible row one cassette was tucked away. She took it out. The vulnerable softness was taken out of the shell of a crustacean.

‘Good God! “Killer” Leslie Fraser! Boy, doesn’t your heart stop when you see him?’

My heart did stop indeed, at the utterance of his name. For a few seconds. Next, it started beating wildly and I just could not hear her babbling. But I could see her going to the rack. She inserted the cassette in the VCR. I didn’t want to watch him with anybody else. I had always watched it alone. I could not see it with anybody else. It would be like sharing your night dream with somebody. You can share a bed, not a dream.

‘Please Polly, not now,’ I pleaded.

‘Why not? I don’t have it at home. Mummy doesn’t like all these Western music albums. I saw it twice at one of my friend’s house. Marvellous. Isn’t he?’ She switched on the VCR and got ready with the remote.

‘Oh, I’ve forgotten my magazine in Mom’s room. I’ll go and pick it.’ I wanted to go out of the room on some excuse.

‘No,’ she held my hand. ‘Just sit down and see it. There he comes.’

I had my back towards the TV. Her exclamations and interjections pricked my ears.

I freed my hands and said, ’I have left some important papers at Granny’s place. I’ll go and fetch ‘em.’ I stepped out quickly and she shouted from behind, ‘Come back soon. I can’t sleep alone in a new place.’

I wanted to go to Granny’s cottage. But as I was passing the corridor I saw Mom coming towards my suite.

‘Lucie, you’re here. The music is too loud. It is already ten. The customers will be disturbed.’

‘It’s Polly. What can I do? Why does she have to share a room with me? I don’t like it.’

’She can’t stay alone, so I thought this would be the best arrangement. After all, it is for just a couple of days,′ Mom said in a wise tone. ‘Please, go and ask her to turn it down.’

‘I can’t. She won’t listen. I asked her not to play it in the first place.’

‘Well, I’ll see. Come with me.’ Mom hurried down the corridor. I didn’t go with her but kept waiting there.

After a few minutes, she came back. She was looking grave. Didn’t she listen to you? I wondered, as hardly ever did Mom fail in doing things. If she knew that she would fail, she did not attempt it.

‘I want to talk to you,’ she said without answering my question.

She must have succeeded in her mission but it is something else, I thought and I was disturbed. I followed Mom out of the hotel, into the back garden. We went near the boundary wall. Tall trees were crowded along the wall waving their leaves in the soft breeze. Far away, somewhere in the dark sea, the searchlight of the lighthouse was flashing off and on.

‘When did you buy that cassette? You never told me?’ Her eyes as sharp as the pine needles pierced my heart. Bleeding. I could not answer.

‘You told me you’re trying to forget him. I believed you.’ She waited for me to answer. The pine trees murmured, pining for the bygone days. I could not even mumble.

‘You know very well, you have to marry Joy. It is now all fixed. It is best for all of us.’ I grew as silent as the surrounding plants.

‘Don’t you remember your Darjeeling days? So happy you were with Joy.’ Mom started telling me some interesting anecdotes from frozen memory. Half of the words did not enter my ear. Today, Mom was telling about all that happiness. Yet she had not hesitated a bit while leaving Darjeeling and Joy. Joy’s sad and helpless face on the last day at Darjeeling, still lingered in my memory.

‘He still loves you so much. You will make a perfect couple.’ I could clearly hear these words.

‘But Mom, what’s wrong if I watch his album?’

‘There’s nothing wrong in watching his album. But something is seriously wrong, when you watch it hiding from others. Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you hide it from us? I’d never have objected.’

‘I thought you would and so ... ’ my voice trailed off as I looked at her searchlight eyes, stripping my soul to the buff. The wet leaves shed two drops of dew.

A shrill voice rang through the silence of the night. Polly had come out on the verandah, looking for me. Mom held me in her arms and planted a sympathetic kiss on my forehead and whispered, ‘I love you, dear. I’m with you.’ I rushed back to my musical room with my whimsical roommate. The music had, however, stopped. She came in from the verandah, as I entered and lay down quietly on the bed. I was going to switch off the light but she stopped me.

‘I always sleep with the light on. Don’t switch it off.’

‘The night lamp will be on.’ I assured her, although I was used to sleeping in the darkness without any night lamp. Darkness was my darling. In the light you see, in the darkness you feel.

‘No, no, one of the tube lights must be on. I hate darkness.’

Just one night. I would have to get along with these things. Polly rolled over on the bed and giggled.

‘It’s difficult to sleep without any blanket or quilt. I can’t sleep without that. I always miss it. On top of that, this sound of the sea. How do you sleep ? You must be pretty used to it.’

She was forcing a conversation and I could not respond. ‘Your pillows smell great. Do you spray perfume on them?’ I nodded to her query.

‘Good idea. I’ll also do it at home.’ She sank her face in the pillow to smell the scent and I could not help blurting out, ‘Peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo.’

She sprang up on the bed, pretty amused. We laughed. Our Darjeeling days came swaying back to us. For a moment I could not hear the roar of the sea, although the sea was at a high tide.

The sea is at a high tide. The waves are on a high. The mad wild body of water plunders the body of Rosana, the body, the consciousness, the life. A crab digs up a void. The palm fronds pant hard. The seabed sinks deeper. The water churns up turbulence. Rosana has submitted herself unconditionally. To the lacerating lust of the sea. A violent, terrible transit from the conscious to the unconscious. A complete surrender to be torn asunder. The roaring sea wraps up a heart-rending story.

One solitary figure emerges from the palm grove. The long scarf flies. The strong legs sprint. An expert kingfisher dive. A war with wild water. With obscuring darkness. With rapacious rip tide. Miramar Beach murmurs a prayer. Finally, a slug existence comes out of the water, sheltered in two shell-arms. The man puts her down on the wet beach. Turns her over, flat on the stomach, pumps her body. Once, twice, three times, four times ... To the beat of the waves, to the beat of life. He rolls the lifeless body again on to its back. An inflatable beach ball. He leans over her.

The moonlight and the light darkness have painted her face with all grace. The sea and the beach have adorned· her with glistening silica atoms, on her eyelashes, on her cheekbones, on the tip of her upturned nose. The motionless figure arouses a nameless emotion in him. He rips open the drapes around her body. He eyes the white-beach body, lays his head on the two white sand dunes. A quicksand as if pulls him down passionately. No, he has come out of it. For the time being. And this time, no, he is not kissing the deflated lips, perhaps he is trying to blow some life-air into her paralysed lungs. He is probably trying some artificial respiration. The wet cold body is oozing out fire. The darkness is burning.

Without darkness my eyes were burning. I was unable to sleep. All of a sudden the phone rang. So late? I looked at the clock, it was eleven. Perhaps, Meena Aunty wanted to talk to Polly. I picked up the receiver. Said, ‘Hello.’ There was no response. But some breathing whispered into my ears. Was it my imagination? I said, ‘hello’ again. Again, all quiet. A disturbing silence which was almost speaking to me. After a third hello I put down the receiver.

‘Who was it?’ Polly was inquisitive. ‘Nobody spoke.’ I shook my head.

‘I got it.’ She snapped her fingers. ‘Must be Dada. Many times, these calls get one way; one person can hear while the other cannot. When we call him or he calls us it happens often. He will call again, you’ll see.’

The phone really rang again just as she finished. I picked it up and again the same distant and disturbing presence puzzled me. It was not any one-way snag, I could clearly hear the soft breathing. A faint tap too, perhaps.

‘I can’t hear you. Will you, please, speak loudly?’ I said impatiently. And this time I heard a clear sound. The blank caller just hung up. The click was loud and clear.

‘Bad luck.’ Polly’s tut-tut was loud and teasing. She yawned and covered herself with a light bed sheet. ‘Good night.’ She turned her face to the wall. Within a few minutes, she was fast asleep. I switched off the light. The deep darkness got filled with that soft breathing sound. It grew much louder than the roar of the sea.

The roaring sea rapped loudly on the side of our boat. Polly had taken me out to the sea and we were rowing along. No, Granny was not with us. Her rowing days were over. She would now be rowing only through the waves of memories. Rowing or wallowing. I looked at her solitary figure from our boat. On a crowded, secure golden beach she looked obscure, brassed off, with an infinite insecurity. Polly was bubbly like the waves. She was listening to Mauvin Gonsalves, the rower and the owner of the boat. He had a few rowing boats and speedboats. This was his business. To provide boating services to the tourists. In fact, it was their family business. His father had been doing it for ages. His brother also helped him apart from doing his part-time job as a tourist guide. Mauvin had been to Kuwait and had worked there for a few years. He had come back just recently, a couple of months ago. He was explaining things to Polly like a tourist guide. His English was pretty good. She was throwing hundreds of questions towards him about Goa, about the sea, or seasons. Her tomato face looked more juicy and shiny under the bright sun.

‘You don’t talk much miss.’ Mauvin tried to attract my attention. My answer was a semi-smile.

He didn’t quite like it and said again, ‘This boat is meant for old people. You should come with me on my speedboat. That would be fun. Look at that.’ He pointed at a speedboat flying past us with a long white surfy trail.

But Polly almost yelled, ‘Oh no. I’m not going in that. My head will reel. I’ll fall down.’

‘I’ll drive miss and I won’t allow you to fall. You’ll wear a life jacket. I’m a great swimmer. Nothing to worry at all. You just tell me.’

Polly gazed at the speedboats moving at a great speed, cutting through the liquid sea waves. Then, she glanced at the solid rippling waves of the muscles of the two strong tanned arms, paddling hard. I saw her looking straight at the hairy chest of Mauvin, half bare under his unbuttoned sleeveless denim jacket.

‘Would you like to ... ?’ Polly turned towards me.

‘You go. I’ve done it many times.’ I assured her.

After a few minutes, I saw them speeding through the blue in a speedboat and watched its long white foamy wake. She was holding his waist very tight and both of them were laughing in a carefree way. A sixteen-year-old bubble and a twenty-five plus ripple. Under the bright sun of a cloudless day, they were looking marvellous. I stood on the white sand. Waves came and washed my feet now and then. The beach was full of tourists, Indian and foreign. Some of the foreigners were lying on their stomach, in swimsuits under parasols and were being massaged by the local boys.

‘Where is that sassy brat?’ somebody asked from behind and without looking back I knew it was Granny. She came up and stood by my side. I just pointed at them, without saying anything. She smiled sweetly and the haggard lines around her eyes deepened. We stood for some time, in silence. Both with our own loneliness, own memories and helplessness.

‘What did you decide about painting a portrait of hers?’ I asked Granny whose remote eyes were fixed on those two closely glued, glowing figures. Granny did not reply immediately.

She narrowed her blue eyes and gloom spilled.

’Why do you think I should? There’s nothing spectacular about the girl. She countered without looking at me.

‘You’ll make her spectacular. Your brush will. After all, there is all success and radiance about her . Your brush will smile for a change.’

‘Radiance blinds me as does love. A blind person cannot paint,’ Granny sounded obstinate.

The radiant pair came back to the shore in high spirits.

‘It was really great fun. Oh, I enjoyed it so much.’ She flopped down on the sunny sand and rolled all over. Mauvin left the boat and came near us. His conch-white teeth flashed.

‘Miss. This is not enough. Let’s go for some water sport. Surfing? Waterskiing? That’d be still more fun.’ Will you do it with me? I don’t enjoy it alone.′

‘Of course miss. I will, with pleasure. Come on.’ They ran away, hand in hand, towards the part of the beach where water sports facilities were available.

‘Come back before lunch,’ I shouted after them.

But they came back much later. After many rounds of waterskiing and swimming.

Around 5 p.m. I finished my painting. I used to take orders and supply paintings to the hotels and rich families. One such order was completed. I was worried about Polly and went out to look for her, as she was getting late. I was a bit absent-minded, and in the corridor I just walked into somebody. Something fell down near my feet. A key ring, with a bunch of keys. I picked it up and handed it over with a ‘sorry’. He was a customer at our hotel. A foreigner. He whistled and breezed past me, twirling the key ring around his finger.

Just then I saw Mom and Meena Aunty and between them was Polly, almost flaked out. She was literally carried in by Mom and Meena Aunty. Her tomato face looked like a grilled delicacy. But she was in pain. Long exposure under the bright sun had made her sick. She had a terrible headache. She had not eaten a proper lunch, but some junk seafood, offered by Mauvin from some beachside food joint. She started vomiting too. Mom called our physician and he gave her some medicine. Polly was crying and cursing. Cursing the hot sun, the beach, the food and of course, Mauvin.

‘What kept you so long at the beach? I told you to come back before lunch,’ I asked.

‘I should have.’ She was tossing on the bed with a splitting headache, even after having popped a couple of strong painkillers.

‘This girl. She never knows when to stop.’ Meena Aunty grumbled, ‘If she likes something, she goes beyond the limit, to the extreme. She always overdoes things. Unnecessarily. Doesn’t listen to anybody.’

‘Aunty we should let her alone. She needs some sleep,’ I said and started drawing all the curtains of my room.

‘No, don’t make it dark,’ Polly clamoured. I remembered last night and how she wanted to sleep with the light on. I pulled the curtains and made signs to others to go out as I did not want Aunty to go on with some indulgent criticisms of hers. But as we were approaching the doorway Polly shouted again, ‘No, no, don’t go. Don’t leave me alone. I get bored. Be with me. Mummy, stroke my hair, oh Mummy.’

Meena Aunty sat by her side and ran her fingers through Polly’s hair.

‘Doesn’t she sleep alone, even now?’ Mom asked Meena Aunty.

‘Manasi shares the room with her.’ Manasi was Ramesh Uncle’s daughter who had been left behind by her mother. ‘Sometimes, whenever she insists, I too have to be with her, till she falls asleep. Then only can I come to our room. Many a time, I fall asleep before she does and spend the night in her room.’

Naresh Uncle came in to check if she would be okay within an hour as their flight for Bombay would start at nine.

‘I can’t go,’ Polly said firmly. Meena Aunty also said that in this condition she would not be able to go.

‘Let’s postpone,’ Polly urged, her face winced in pain. ‘Can’t we go tomorrow?’

‘No.’ Naresh Uncle was firm enough. ‘Joyee will reach Bombay before us, in that case. That’s absurd.’

‘He can wait, can’t he?’ Polly was stubborn as usual. But Naresh Uncle did not wait for her. It was decided that instead of Polly, Father would accompany Naresh Uncle to Bombay to receive Joy. They would come back with Joy the same day as without Polly, shopping at Bombay would not be necessary. It was the most sensible decision. However, we held it back from Polly. She would throw a tantrum, Meena Aunty feared. So, the two adults started for the airport when a strong tranquilliser was injected into Polly’s arm to give her relief from pain. It started working on Polly and soon, she closed her eyes in a deep slumber.

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