My carpet of the rainbows

By srinipal All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Romance

A broken sky

‘It is him.’ Rosana looks expectantly as she sees any foreigner with crew-cut auburn hair from behind. In the shops, on the roads, and on the beaches. No, she does not row any more. There is no more Dip and splash for her. Time and space. Slit and slash. Slit and slash.

She is cut off from her Antonio, and her own self. She does not recognise the old Rosana. She just sits quietly at a lonely corner of the river bank, or the beach. She looks for the face and doodles on the sand. Face of Antonio, profile of Antonio, soul of Antonio. She repeats the lines from his letters, which she gets off and on. He is busy fighting. He remembers her. He misses her. He misses Goa. The colours and the calm. Afternoon siesta, before-noon water sports. But he does not say when he will return. When his one colonial duty would be over and another colossal task will start. A colossal task of marrying a girl from a colony he rules. He knows he may have to leave his job. Or they may have to wait till Goa gets independence. And Rosana has to leave her father. A Father whose black blunder with a white girl still hurts, will never accept her choice. But that is so far off. Seems to be a few light years away. When can it happen to her or will it happen at all? Rosana’s fingers plough furrows in the sand. She has been ploughing a lonely furrow, how long she can’t remember.

Unfortunately, in spite of all the deep, daring ’Dip and splash’ she is not pregnant, much though she wanted to be. So desperately. Even at the cost of society’s fury. Antonio could be hers because of the child and through the child. His blood could run through her stream, mingling and jingling with it wildly. She wants a result. A result of her love, a reality for her dream. She wants a refuge in her own womb. She can’t go back to her mother’s. Her own fertile womb is a woman’s greatest refuge. Not her mother’s womb. Along with the embryo, her own entity is enclosed by the safe, secure, sheltering fluid. A morsel of life, an embryo is her mortal refuge for immortality. A dream,- breeding reality.

Rosana envies her sister Sabrina. Sitting pretty with two beautiful children. A fertile womb. Valentino is not half as passionate as Antonio. Rosana of today thanks God that Valentino did not choose her. She would never have known the depth of passion. The taste of ecstasy. Still, why is she deprived of motherhood? Rosana does not get the. answer. At home she draws the sketches of Antonio. Tipping her love for Antonio onto papers and touching him through Imagery. Tip and touch. Tip and touch.

This is the start of her artist’s life. An artist for artist’s own sake. She never wants to show them to anybody. A secret passion like her secret love. She dares to send one such to Antonio. along with her letter. An overwhelming reaction from him amazes her.

‘Darling. Your work is brilliant. You are a genius. Pursue it. Do some with colour. And do send a portrait of yours. During a campaign I have lost the only snap of yours I brought with me.’

She cannot draw, however, anything but Antonio. At his instance, she goes to sister Margarita, her teacher in her school days. A good artist. She sells the jewellery given by Antonio. To meet the expense of painting materials.

Margarita is a kind woman, she does not charge her, as she wants to help all hapless souls. But the cost of painting materials is high. So, Antonio’s mementoes are sold. One by one. Finally, she sells her canoe. No more rowing refuge for her. Now, it is sailing through the colours. Her strokes and brush. Her strokes and brush.

Rosana picks up the art of oil painting very fast. Within a couple of months. With her limitation to paint only one person. Even when she paints the dream of their reunion, her face remains veiled or she is shown from the back facing her beloved, who is in fierce focus.

With this brush she resists everything. Father’s advice, Sabrina’s advocacy and Vijay Naik’s advance for marriage. She has no time for anybody. Just no time. Yet, time and space never favours her. Slit and slash. Slit and slash.

Rosana bleeds. The first oil painting, a small portrait of Antonio sent to his regular address comes back to her as the addressee not available. Maybe, he is coming back. Rosana’s mind floats in a dream-jacket. The red cashew flowers spread the blooming blue scent all over. With time they faint, they fall. The kidney-shaped fruits dangle. Urrak soaks through the soul. Feni froths. A cashew-nut body gets roasted. As deserted. No news from Antonio. For months and months. Sand dunes shift from one beach to the other. The large universe expands a little larger. Rosana’s blue depth looks for Antonio. ‘Where is he? Where is he?’

‘Not here. She is not here.’ Viru was on the phone, no blank calls any more. Viru said, ‘I’ve checked everywhere in Margao station. She is not there. One passenger train was going to Vasco. I boarded that and reached here some time ago. She is not here either. What shall I do now?’

‘Come back.’

By now, I was getting ready to face the worse. Enquiries of the police, crowding of the reporters, curiosity of the customers. And a desolate and deserted looking Meena Aunty. ‘What would be Joy’s reaction if before his arrival, she does not come back?’ The first faint ray of the sun penetrated the overcast sky. It was still more than half dark. The rain had stopped but the weather was damp, heavy and gloomy. All the leaves of our garden were still dripping. I started preparing for the difficult day ahead. If I had to move from one hotel to another in the morning it would take a long time. Mom would be calling the police by then. Poor Mom. She had saved a home wreck. This time it would possibly wreck her business. A kidnap in a hotel. Who would come to stay in a place with this reputation? And the relationship with Joy’s family? Mom’s call came as I was thinking about her, and I informed her that Viru had not found her.

As I hung up, a cautious knock on the door startled me.

Who could be so early? I was not in the habit of taking bed tea. Even that would come not before seven at this time of the year. The soft rap sounded again. This could not be the rap made by some of our employees. An unearthly excitement ran through my spine. In a second, a series of possible events invaded my mind. Could it be Mom? Or Polly? She might have gone out with somebody. A friend from Darjeeling, who had followed her here. For a carefree night. For a forbidden pleasure. Or that face, I had been dying to see. Come to Goa and to me. To his reverie-refuge. Was I going to see his halo of a face after so many light years? I was dreaming even in this dreary situation. I lost my strength to move. A sparrow with soaked wings. The knocking grew a bit impatient. So did my heart. I wanted to go to the dressing table. The night I had spent almost sleepless. My eyelids were abnormally heavy and I could guess the eyes would be pretty reddish. My clothes were shabby, last evening’s casual wear. A skirt and a blouse. But I had hardly any time for make-up.

I dragged myself somehow, towards the door. With a heart-stopping squeak, the door opened. It was an anticlimax. Who was this man? An alien? The person standing outside with a bit hesitant look, I had never seen before. He was a foreigner. With a robust body and a, robotic stern face. Dark brown hair and hazel eyes. My hand felt a strong. urge to scratch off the unknown mask and discover that familiar one. I controlled myself

‘May I come in?’ a mechanical male voice sounded. A heavy voice with a digital sound effect. No, it could not be him.

‘No, you may not. I’m sorry.’ Indian custom does not allow a male stranger to come inside a woman’s room at this dark hour. He looked a bit puzzled at my apparent rudeness. I corrected myself.

‘Well, tell me what can I do for you?’ I asked and my eyes definitely suggested, ‘You can very well tell me standing there.’

His hazel eyes hesitated a bit. He started twirling a key chain round his finger. And instantly inside me, a faceless memory flashed. I had a collision with this man in the corridor yesterday. I remembered the twirling of the key and the white skin of the half-bare arm. He was a customer of our hotel. At the moment we had only one foreigner. So, it must be him, I concluded.

‘Yes?’ I repeated again, this time with the professional polish of a host.

‘You have to come with me. Now.’ His tone was quite unpolished.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean you want Miss Polly back?’

What a question! I wanted to ask him how he knew her. Who he was. Why he had taken Polly away. Finally I could only throw a simple question, ‘Do you know where she is?’

‘Yes. You have to come with me.’

For a moment my mind darted forward and my body was going to follow it. Then a sixth sense restrained me. ‘Why can’t you bring her here? Why do I have to go?’

‘I’ll explain things on the way. There’s nothing to worry about. She is absolutely okay.’

‘Who are you? Why did you kidnap her?’

‘Oh shit! It’s no kidnap. It’s a mistake. A big mistake. But will you hurry, Lucie?’

‘How on earth do you know my name?’ I was bewildered and gazed at my mysterious guest.

Jose holds out the mysterious envelope to Rosana. But the moment she takes it in her hand, she feels it. The familiar handwriting fascinates her. The brush drops down from her loosened grip. Smacks the floor with deep crimson. Rosana tears the envelope and finds a note inside.

‘I am back. See you later. Antonio.’

Antonio is back. Her Antonio is back. And she does not know. She is not informed! Rosana dips her present in a deep expectation and a splash of dream colours a rosy future.

The scenario in Goa, is however, not at all rosy at the moment. It is December I96I. The carefree air is heavy with mistrust. The exuberant colours are mixed with pale suspicion. India is knocking at the gate of Goa. The basking beaches of Goa are shuddering at the advent of war ships. Already in October, one Indian ship has entered in the Portuguese sea boundary. Sabrina’s one brother-in-law has been deported to Africa by the Portuguese government because he had taken part in the freedom struggle. Now, her three other brothers-in-law are working with the Azad Gomantak Party. The rich green palm fronds, the life-green coconut crowns are counting days when they will sway alongside an Indian tricolour. As free as them. As natural. Rosana’s mind counts days for only Antonio. For her he is not a Portuguese. She is not a Goan. He is a part of her sky, she is a part of his sea.

Rosana quickly gets dressed and rushes out of the house. It was only three at noon. The siesta time for Goans in a normal situation. But now the political turmoil is brewing. She takes Jose with her, in order to avoid the curious eyes of the clustering groups of people and the patrolling police at every corner. She walks madly to the house where she first met Antonio. Jose has to run to keep pace with her. This is the place where she was reborn, in the body of a woman. Earlier to that she had just been a living being. Within these four· walls is sealed that night, which is deeper than the sea and wider than the sky. Now, this afternoon, after about seven months, the house wears a different look. Rosana has to stop at a fair distance: The whole area is cordoned off by the soldiers. White and black. Portuguese and African. A lot of soldiers and ammunition have been unloaded on the peaceful beaches of Goa. From Portugal, from Africa. They have come all the way, not to smell the ravishing aroma of the baby dawn hanging on the branches of kokum and cashew nuts. They have come to smell the gunpowder. They have come to shell Goan resistance whereas, in the shell called Goa, the world has manifested all the rainbow colours. Rosana feels pity for them.

Rosana takes out the letter from her pocket. Posted in Panjim. She watches the note carefully. At the corner of the paper an ornamental M is printed. Rosana’s mind works out a solution. Could it be Hotel Mandovi? The spectacular extravaganza by the river Mandovi. Started some five years ago and the best place for the foreigners on a short visit to Goa. There is every possibility that he is on an unofficial tour and has put up at the hotel. Rosana moves along the bank of the Mandovi and not along the water. No more rowing for her. No more Dip and splash? Her stiletto collects dust. She asks Jose to catch the return ferry to Nerul and enters the hotel alone. The gateman hesitates a bit before pulling the door open for her. Her white skin, fair hair and the blue eyes are enough for her to be taken her for a foreigner, a European, notwithstanding her not so expensive dress. Rosana goes to the reception and inquires about Antonio. The receptionist looks up in the register and with a damp delicate smile says, ‘There is nobody by that name staying here at the moment, miss.’

‘Are you sure?’ Hope floats on Rosana’s blue eyes and the words do not sink in.

‘Yes miss, I’m very much sure. Nobody by that name has checked in or out in the last two days, miss. Any other help ... ?’

Rosana looks at the slit of a mouth-hole darned by lip-gloss, and desires to scratch outits dull drab dulcet tones. She controls herself and just manages to mutter, ‘Never mind.’

Rosana steps towards the door. Just then, some noise and a scream. A small girl of five or so, comes rushing down the stairs like a shot of a gun. Her golden brown hair flying. Her eyes fluttering and shedding tears. She tumbles while turning down from the half landing and she rolls over the steps. Rosana rushes madly towards the steps and saves a crash landing. The sweet flaccid lump lands safely in her arms. She holds her tightly. The baby sinks her face in her breast and breaks into sobs. An elderly lady, who has been running after the child and calling her to come back, comes down.

‘Thank you very much. God bless you. You have saved her. She could have been fatally injured. Now dear baby, come to me. Don’t be so stubborn, dear. It will harm you.’ She tries to take her back from Rosana’s arm. She exudes panic. Her dry fingers dig in her soft skin. The child resists. She kicks wildly in the air and clings to Rosana.

‘I won’t go to you. I won’t,’ she sobs out. ‘Take me to Mummy. Mummy, where are you?’ She starts crying. Bitterly.

A few hotel assistants come near them. The lady gets embarrassed. Her sagging chin sags further. She swallows a lump. She blinks fast.

‘Has she gone wild again?’ One of the assistants shows some sympathy for the helpless lady. Another asks, ‘Where is her father? When will he come?’

The lady nods meekly and her pale brown autumn-leave eyes dangle helplessly. Rosana strokes the silky hair and tries to console her.

‘Don’t cry dear. You’ll go to Mummy soon.’ She assures her, although she notices with annoyance that. the lady makes signs to her to say no such thing. But the words work on the child. She lifts her face and confronts her. A small cherubic face appears close to her eyes. Very close. A European face. White tear tracks on the pink cheeks, a red running nose, pouting lips and wet eyes. The eyes. The pale grey shade. The strong lines of the eyebrows. Reminds her of someone she found and lost somewhere. She can’t remember at the moment. The pale grey wet eyes look into hers, very directly.

‘Will you take me to my mummy? Will you? Do you know where she is?’

As Rosana gropes for a convincing answer in her mind, the lady with autumn-coloured eyes speaks out, ‘Well’ dear, your mother herself will come here. Don’t worry. Just wait. She will.′

A few hotel assistants come near them. The lady gets embarrassed. Her sagging chin sags further. She swallows a lump. She blinks fast.

‘Has she gone wild again?’ One of the assistants shows some sympathy for the helpless lady. Another asks, ‘Where is her father? When will he come?’

The lady nods meekly and her pale brown autumn-leave eyes dangle helplessly. Rosana strokes the silky hair and tries to console her.

‘Don’t cry dear. You’ll go to Mummy soon.’ She assures her, although she notices with annoyance that, the lady makes signs to her to say no such thing. But the words work on the child. She lifts her face and confronts her. A small cherubic face appears close to her eyes. Very close. A European face. White tear tracks on the pink cheeks, a red running nose, pouting lips and wet eyes. The eyes. The pale grey shade. The strong lines of the eyebrows. Reminds her of someone she found and lost somewhere. She can’t remember at the moment. The pale grey wet eyes look into hers, very directly.

‘Will you take me to my mummy? Will you? Do you know where she is?’

As Rosana gropes for a convincing answer in her mind, the lady with autumn-coloured eyes speaks out, ‘Well’ dear, your mother herself will come here. Don’t worry. Just wait. She will.′

‘No, she won’t. They’ve taken her. She is gone. You take me to her. Take me now.’

She kicks about impatiently. Rosana tries to comfort her, ‘I’ll take you dear. Let’s go out. To the beach. There you see. The river. It is flowing to the sea. The sea, very big vast blue sea. And there is a beach. Very beautiful. We shall go and wait there. There across the sea a ship will sail. A very big caravel. With seven sails. Square and lateen. All up and filled with air. The ship will come towards us and from that your mother will come to be with you. To take you.’

‘Will she?’ the child is excited and Rosana sees in her eyes, a dream sailing with erect masts and radiant sails. The child is now pacified but she gets impatient to go to the beach. They were speaking in Portuguese so far. Now, Rosana suggests to the lady in English to bring some food and some sleeping pills and follow her to the beach. The baby does not understand English but the lady goes up and brings a basket. They start for the Miramar Beach. Rosana has not come here for this. Yet, where is she going now?

‘We are now going to Leslie,’ the man grinned.

The sound of Leslie’s name sent a sudden sharp electric wave through my existence. Then, the shock numbed my senses for a few seconds. If only from the name I could erect that fantasy figure! Every bit of it. Every bit of me is for every bit of you.

‘Quick, please.’ The stranger’s voice shook me.

‘Wh ... where is he?’ A bit of me could not be controlled.

‘A few miles away. Sent me to pick you up. I made a mistake and took her,’ he grinned.

So that was it. It was all for me. It was possible. How could I not get it earlier? Those blank calls were a definite cue. It was possible only for him. Leslie and his queer way of doing things! Ending up in a mess, so often. Those daring arms. Those undaunted hands. Those aquamarine eyes. Oh! I had not seen him for aeons. Not touched those blond streams of hair. Those satin lips with killing curves and that deep dimple.

Every bit of me is for every bit of you.

And so love is born,

And life moves on till tomorrow’s dream.

My thought was kidnapped and although I could see the man’s lips moving, I could not hear anything. Maybe, he was elaborating the events and explaining the reasons. Everything was meaningless. Now that he was here. Now that he was waiting for me. Now that I was going to meet him. The smoke of red dry dust suddenly rushed into a damp dumb dawn.

‘Come on,’ he almost shouted, ‘Leslie is waiting for us.’

I gathered myself and picked up my purse. Then stopped at the doorway and asked the man,

‘But how should we go?’

‘I have my hired car.’ In Goa it was common for the tourists to hire a two or four-wheeler during their stay in Goa. Hiring vehicles to the tourists was a big business here. ‘No. Not your car. My scooter. I’ll take my scooter.’ I wanted to take control of the events as usual. ‘Well. Give me the key. And come quick.’

‘I’ll drive it. You may take your car or sit on the pillion.’ He looked at me for a few seconds. Smiled half-heartedly and we rushed.

‘Which hotel?’ I enquired as we were starting.

‘No hotel. It is Lino’s bungalow. Lino Mascarenhas, the singer. A good hideout for Leslie from the crazy fans,’ he informed me in a matter-of-fact tone.

Goan pop king, Lino Mascarenhas, was then riding high in the Indian music scenario. It was natural that Lino, the owner of the huge architectural extravaganza, should shelter a fellow singer. In any five-star hotel he would be exposed. Lino’s house is somewhere between crowded Calangute Beach and colourful Anjuna Beach. A prohibited place for common people. A celebrity never allows common people to approach the boundary of his larger-than-life entity, although it is the common people who increase their boundary of fame. Today, I would get a chance to be admitted into that no-admission area.

The sky was overcast. The first ray of the sun was seeping through the cloud. The air was cool. The sea was pampering the beach with white caresses that could be seen through the darkish veil of the cloudy dawn. Trees were still dripping. My love journey started. With a third person behind me and a fourth person in front of him, perhaps. A miserable humour hammered my mind. I steered like a water scooter. Glided like a skater. The roads were mostly empty. Road lights were still on and looking down at their distorted reflection on the wet road. We passed a few fishermen carrying their ramppons going towards the beach. I had never driven so fast before. Something was goading me on. I was Leslie-possessed. I was dying to see him, to talk to him. To touch him. The man behind me shouted something, most probably imploring me to slow down. But I was riding on a dream, towards a dream.

Reality touched me in the form of cold drops of water. A sizzling desire. A frenzied ride. In a hurry we had forgotten to bring our raincoats. However, I could not stop for that. I hailed the drops like a tree and just barrelled on. Over the long Mandovi bridge. Along the highway of Porvorim. Overtaking a couple of trucks. The rain was getting heavy and heavier. The drops were dancing on my body. Blurring my vision. The hazy white spire of the Saligao Church indicated that we were nearing our destination. ‘Roll on the reunion,’ I prayed. And the very next moment, my wheels rolled over the side of the road. I tried my best to control the machine. But it skidded, throwing us off the seats. We slid down the slope. The scooter dashed against a roadside tree, fell and stopped there. Fortunately for us, because of incessant heavy rain, the ground by the side of the road was soft like dough and muddy. We did not get hurt. We got covered with mud. We looked at each other in annoyed amusement.

‘Let’s take shelter somewhere. It’s pouring,’ he pleaded. ‘No. We are very near. Come on. Help me lift the scooter. If it’s okay we’ll carry on.’

The scooter started without any problem. ‘Will he see me after so many days bedraggled and grungy?’ I got worried. My companion pleaded with me not to drive so fast. But I was not myself My love was calling me. My scooter barrelled along the road. The next thing I knew, with a screech it stopped at the formidable gate of the famous Lino’s residence. Next stopped my heart. In suspense? In happiness?

Happiness flashes in the eyes of the child as they reach the beach. Rosana makes her busy in counting the waves, searching for the beautiful shells, and building sand castles. She gets busy and excited. Now, Rosana turns towards the lady with the autumn-coloured eyes.

‘What’s the matter, if I may ask?’

‘Thank you very much, miss, I feel so relieved. It is so difficult to manage such a capricious child. Right from the time we have come here she has been troublesome. Always asking for her mother. Wanting to go back home ... ’

Rosana stops her whining and asks, ‘I understand. But may I know who are you?’

‘Yes, miss. Certainly. You know magic. For the first time I see her so happy. Look at her, how she is cleaning that empty shell. Oh yes, what did you ask? Yes, I am Philomena D’Souza. Her governess. Well, I am not the real governess. The original one has refused to come here. She is my niece. I expressed my willingness to come to India. I am very fond of travelling and seeing new countries. I have already-’

Rosana has to stop her from elaborating, as she is least interested in the geographical names and details of some countries.

‘Very good. But where is her mother? Why does she want to go back home? Has her mother deserted her?’ Rosana asks eagerly as her own soul writhes in pain. The lady lowers her eyes and hesitates. Rosana stares at her confused and wavering countenance, then says, ‘Very well. I’d better take your leave. I have my own engagements. Take care of the baby. Elaborate on the ship story and if she is getting wild, give her the sleeping pill, dissolved in her milk or juice. Goodbye.’

Rosana stands up. Philomena stands up too. She fights her doubts. Then overcomes them and says, ‘Wait a minute, miss. Please. I feel very confused. I am not an expert in babysitting, you see. But you are a natural one.’

‘Watch your mouth, my dear lady. I am not a babysitter.’ Goan tradition as well as Indian tradition looks down on babysitting as a job. The babysitters were no better than the maidservants. ‘But you are certainly not efficient in babysitting.’

‘Yes, miss. I agree. But you see I am a spinster. Maybe, you are married with children and so taming a child is so natu... ’

‘Shut up. Will you? I am not married either.’ Rosana casts a glance at the frisky figure of the child and cools down. ‘I just love children.’

‘So nice of you, miss, so nice of you. Please, help me a little longer. Till she falls asleep. I’ll tell you her story. A sad one.’ Her autumn eyes darken. She continues, ‘But one thing is disturbing me. I am supposed to keep it all a secret. Won’t it be treachery? It’s a family matter. They believed me when they appointed me.’

‘Don’t worry dear. Don’t tell me anything if you don’t want to. I don’t want you to betray anybody. But you can always tell me a story without mentioning any names.’ Philomena likes the idea.

So, for the next half an hour or so, Rosana roams along the lanes of Lisbon. The story begins where the others usually end. A man marries a very beautiful woman. Definitely they don’t live happily ever after. Then, there would be no story. They have problems within a few months of their marriage. The woman is insecure. The Second World War broke up her family. She was brought up by her not-so-sympathetic uncle and aunt. She is extremely possessive. She is jealous of anybody the man shows a little interest in. She makes a scene every now and then. The man gasps for space. He is an officer in the army and so goes on assignments to various Portuguese colonies. When he comes back on leave, they both swear to be happy with each other. A few days of ecstasy. Then, they are at it again. Pride and prejudice, jealousy and arrogance, insecurity and incompatibility. He escapes again to his foreign assignment. In the meanwhile a baby daughter is born to them. And quiet flows the Tagus.

He takes his wife and child to Mozambique. Things seem to look up a bit. Her possessiveness subsides and his wildness wilts considerably. Then arrives the daughter of his boss. The man gets friendly with her. And suddenly it is night. They grope for each other.· They cannot reach each other. The woman tries to run away from her home back to Portugal. All alone. Mozambique was already in political turmoil. She gets into trouble. She gets raped. The man is devastated. They come back to Portugal. She develops psychological problems. Her condition deteriorates. Finally, the man has to get her admitted into a mental asylum. What will happen to the tender child? He takes her along with him, to give her to some of her relatives who will look after her.

‘And that’s why we are here,’ Philomena says. ‘He preferred not to keep her with his parents or brothers. He believes the relative here is the best person to look after her. After we hand over this child to her, we shall go back to Portugal again. But this is a beautiful place. Tell· me dear, are you away from Portugal for a very .. long time ? Your accent is a bit different.’

‘I’m not a Portuguese. I am a Goan.’ Rosana throws these words on her bewildered face. The autumn leaves crinkle up.

Rosana adds further, ‘You should not worry any more. Look there.’ She points at the golden child sleeping peacefully on the golden sand.

She was sleeping on the sofa, under the golden light of a decorative chandelier. Or so I thought, when I entered the living room of the cottage by the side of the big bungalow of Lino. Her tomato face was as fresh as ever. Not wilted as I was expecting. Rather a brighter tinge was added to it. I stood near the doorway unwilling to go inside and spoil the ravishing rug with my muddy shoes and wet clothes. My companion had already asked to be excused. He had gone to change just after ushering me into the room. It was a great relief to see Polly sound and safe. I looked around myself. A telephone was kept at the corner just a couple of steps away from the doorway. I went out of the door, took off my shoes, wrung out my frock, then re-entered and rang up Mom.

‘Mom, I’ve found her.’

‘Where, where are you speaking from? Is she all right?’ Mom asked impatiently.

‘Don’t worry. She is okay.’ I assured her.

‘Is she with you? Where did she go? Who kidnapped her?’ Mom sounded anxious.

‘Tell you all in detail later. If Aunty is not awake don’t tell her anything.’

‘She is sleeping. I’ll tell her you were out for the morning walk with her and got held up because of the rain. But will you be allowed to come back safely?’

‘There is absolutely no problem. We are coming back right now, Mom.’

‘No, we are not.’

I turned to see Polly near me. She burst into a peal of laughter. Definitely at the poor sight of my bedraggled figure. I hung up as I started sneezing badly. Controlling myself soon I said,

‘Let’s go Polly. We must leave without delay,’ I said looking around the room and then glancing through the doorway across the porch out at the garden and beyond where the heavy downpour had filled up the space in between the earth and the sky like an undulating white semi-transparent screen. I expected to see a face with green exuberance of the rain forest and blue lavishness of Goa. I saw black and white rainwater instead.

‘Where to go?’ Polly’s tomato face blinked blank.

‘Home. Everybody is worried about you,’ I said impatiently and then added, ‘only I wish we could get raincoats.’ Again, my eyes searched for the face in vain.

‘You’ve already told them I was okay. What is the hurry?’ She went back and stretched herself on the sofa comfortably. I was filled with amazement at seeing her careless attitude. She gave me a side glance and with a hint of a salty smile at the corner of her lips, asked almost maliciously, ‘And will you go without seeing him?’

A surged up wave froze abruptly. An inanimate, immobile feeling.

‘What are you talking about?’ I asked after a few still seconds.

’You know very well Lucie-di, what I’m talking about. You never told us you have a boyfriend called Leslie. Does my poor dada know it?′

‘He is my friend.’

‘A friend does not kidnap a friend, does he?’ Her tomato face was overripe.

‘Listen Polly, we can talk about it all when we get back home.’

‘I’m not going back home now.’ Her defiant note was emphatic.

My body was shivering all over in the soaked clothes. My mind shuddered looking at her stubborn peanut eyes. But where is he? Won’t he appear in front of me? Won’t he? My hope trembled with my drenched body.

‘Are you joking, Polly? Be serious and come with me.’

‘Who the hell is joking, darling. I’m serious. I’m not coming now unless I’m promised what I want. He has not promised me so far. I’ve asked only ... ’

I could not hear her as a fresh fit of sneezing seized me. The cold wind was blowing hard accompanying the rain. A chilly feeling cut across my mind. What was this saucy tomato up to? I could not help feeling a bit amused at the thought of a kidnapped asking for ransom from a kidnapper . Just then, a sound behind me made me almost jump.

No, it was not him. It was that customer of our hotel. He had changed and was looking fresh. Two was no company here, so three did not make a crowd. Rather I felt relieved. I wanted to shout at him, ‘Where is Leslie? Where is he? Why doesn’t he come running to see me, to touch me? Call him this moment.’ Instead, I just managed to ask, ‘Can you arrange a car or raincoats for us?’ He threw a pitiful glance towards me.

‘I’m sorry, you need a change. Come with me.’ As I was following him, Polly also got up and started with us.

‘You may wait here, Polly,’ the man said in an authoritative voice. However, it created hardly any impact on her.

‘I’ll come too. She must be going to meet him?’

‘Of course, she is.’

‘I’ll go with her.’

‘No, you won’t. He does not want to meet you.’

‘I don’t believe you. I’ll go.’

Deep inside me a green desire was sprouting. An impatient gale was gathering momentum. I decided to intervene. ‘Will you excuse us? I want to talk to her alone. Will you Mr ... ’

‘Call me Bill. First, you need a change. You’ll catch a cold.’

‘Thanks. But we are used to rain. I wish to take her back. Her mother is waiting. I only need two raincoats,’ I insisted.

‘Very well, as you wish.’ He shrugged his square shoulders and went out as I looked very calmly at the saucy youth. ‘Polly, will you please tell me what have you asked him?’

‘I’ve asked him to take me to the States and allow me to move around with his troupe all over the world. Bill, his secretary was telling me he would have an all-Europe tour for the next two months. It would be marvellous and I’ll be famous.’

‘What did he say?’

’He laughed it off. He thought I was a kid. I am not. But thanks Lucie-di, only because of you I could see him. Live. Oh God. It is just incredible. On the screen, he is gorgeous. In real life, it is killing. I could not breathe for quite some time. I thought I was still sleeping. I had to pinch myself hard to believe that it was all real. And you won’t believe this, he was so taken aback when we entered the room. He looked at me and asked Bill “Who is she?’”

‘How did you come here, do you remember?’

‘Not very clearly. I was sleeping heavily in your room you know. I don’t know how he carried me into the car. In fact, I got up when the car swerved sharply. It was a near thing, Bill said. A truck was rushing madly and wanted to overtake us on a turning. I was sleeping on the back seat and fell down from the seat. I got up. I did not understand anything. The effect of the drugs was still working. I sat up and for a few minutes could not feel anything. I thought we were in Bombay. Then, very slowly, I understood that I was alone with a driver. It was so puzzling. I asked that man where we were going. He told me, “Wait and see.” I waited and within five minutes we reached this palace. It is like a palace. Isn’t it? He was waiting for us. He was so upset when he knew it was a mistake. He abused Bill badly. Poor Bill, tried to explain the things. The power failure. The insufficient lantern light ... but he wouldn’t listen. He banged down the piano lid and stormed off.’

‘When did you ask him to promise then? Did he come back again?’

‘No. While going out, he ordered Bill to take me back immediately. Bill asked me to go and I refused. I wanted to know what it was all about, although I could get a hint from their conversation. But they were speaking very fast as they were excited. I could not follow everything. I understood that I had been mistaken for somebody else. They never used any force, so I never felt I was kidnapped. Of course, Bill told me it was never meant to be a kidnap. He was sent to bring you with him. He knew your room, did not know you well. Saw a girl was sleeping. It was dark and only a small lantern was lighting the big room. He wanted to wake me up, but as I was fast asleep he rang up Leslie and he ordered him to carry her down.’

I was visualising the whole thing in front of my eyes. My limbs yearned to see that man again who would never do anything in a straightforward way. Our engagement, Mukul’s admission to the orphanage, and now this kidnapping. He is still incorrigible, I thought with a sigh.

‘What does he actually want to do with you?’ Polly asked me.

‘I don’t know. But what you want to do ... Beats me.’

‘Naturally, I want to make the best of the present situation.’ A very calculated and cold brain answered me. I could not but stare at this teenaged arrogance.

‘Polly, look I’m very cold. Let’s go back and then we shall talk about this with Mom and Aunty.’

‘No way.’ The haughty head deprecated the idea vehemently with a vigorous shake. ‘I won’t go without signing a contract with him. Now that you are here, it is better. You are an adult and can be my guardian.’

‘You can’t force anybody like this.’

‘Can’t I?’ Her slanted look gave me a start. After a few seconds’ meaningful pause, she resumed, ‘I am kidnapped. I am a minor. I can always level the worst possible charge against him.’

An iceberg hit the Titanic. But I could not hit her, she held my wrist in a strong grip before that. Next, she pushed it away scornfully.

‘I think you better change your clothes and call your boyfriend. We will settle the matter amicably. Once I am with him, I shall know how to win him.’

Her conceit confounded me and I found myself speechless for some time. Then, I tried to reason with her. ‘Dear, you have gone crazy. You are an innocent little girl, your lie will be detected easily.’

‘I am not a virgin any more. You must be aware of that. It is now twenty first century. You can’t expect a sixteen-year-old intelligent girl to remain a virgin. I’m not an unattractive girl by any standard. He should accept my proposal. Otherwise, there would be a great scandal for him. I’m going to win either way. Going to hit the headlines. Don’t you see?’

The saucy tomato with a tangy tongue and a brazen insolence.

‘You can’t do this. This is immoral.’

’That word is no more in our dictionary Lucie-di. What kind of morality did you adopt when you were two-timing my dada? I don’t blame you, of course. That is the spirit of our times.

We must know how to make the most of a situation. I’ve a golden opportunity, It’d be foolish to lose it.′ She fluttered her eyes. Not starry, but tarry. An image of a fabricated future stuck on them. She came near.

‘Lucie-di. You are shivering. Please, change your clothes. Come on.’ She held my hand. A singed sensation. I ran away madly, out into the garden. Sad daylight entwined with mad rain, caught me in its web. I groped for my motorbike. I tumbled against something. Two strong arms held me. The world swooned in front of my eyes. Yet, I could feel his touch, I could perceive what was going to happen.

Whatever is going to happen will be for the better, Rosana thinks. She has been at the Dona Paula jetty waiting for the last two hours. Looking at the surf-trimmed waves. Dream-trimmed dreariness. The giant clam with hinged sky and sea has just concealed the crimson, soft, vulnerable body of the sun. Rosana does not have a shell. Rosana stands still with each wave of darkness beating on her. Each shred of expectation draping her and each passing moment stripping off the drapes. Rip and rush. Rip and rush.

As it darkens, Rosana cannot see things. An embracing wind shakes her. She shivers, buries her head in between her knees. A blue silence groans around her. A slug of a crescent moon creeps above. A pathetic tune of mando saddens the sky.

Antonio has sent a hand-written note to her this morning. Asking her to meet him at this place at seven in the evening. Seven in the evening in Goa is very calm. Roads become almost empty. No woman of a good family moves alone in the evening. Nowadays, military patrols are at every nook and corner of the state. They can arrest any woman for any suspicious action. Earlier, she used to move in the boat. Darkness used to disguise her. Today, she took the ferry to come across. She has actually come long ago, much before the sunset, when doubtful eyes do not rove. Now, she is hiding behind a big rock. This is more or less a desolate place, with a dripping nostalgia for Lady Dona and her lover. Some soft noise. Rosana peeps and she knows he is here. She slowly stands up.

‘I’m sorry. I’m late.’ The words dive deep into the blue, hitting the seabed. Hit and crash. All· the pain of separation crashes down to oblivion. Rosana looks up. A purple spasm. A splicer silence. A dovetail union. Two pairs of sea-licked lips. The spire of the Chapel of Our Lady of Cabo aspired still higher. A crowning green exuberance of palm fronds, after a tall total barrenness. Rosana’s silvery hair splashes against the rocky refuge. Or is it the ultimate refuge?

‘Where were you?’ ‘Why didn’t you write so long?’ ‘Did you forget me?’ All those obvious questions. Like the salt in the sea or in the tear. Antonio clasps her violently as if she is the fleeting tide or the evanescent time. Time and tide wait for none. She has been waiting for him. So long. Antonio does not speak. His slate eyes answer. His arms assure. His lips reply. And her reveries reverberate through his soul. The Oddavel Beach squeaks as the two solid waves roll along the rejoicing ripples. Dip and splash. Dip and splash. The darkness sparkle.

‘We need to talk. Come with me,’ Antonio’s voice wavers as the wavy bay palpitates. The listless islet languishes.

‘Tell me now. Have you come to take me with you?’ Rosana queries in a whispering voice.

‘Our Great Salazar has sent me here to fight the impending war with India. But that is not the only reason. I have come to give you what you wanted.’

‘I knew it.’ Rosana closes her eyes. A perishing pleasure. A spongy ‘full-fill-ness’. But may be a shell-stiff ignorance! Rosana resists Antonio’s effort to stand up.

‘Can’t we celebrate a little more?’ Rosana’s silvery hair covers the bronze body.

‘We don’t have much time, I’m afraid.’ As if the frail time speaks in Antonio’s voice.

Yes, time is the commodity Rosana is not aware of at the moment. Time. A shapeless, sizeless, characterless, intangible, uncontrollable, malignant enigma. Time may be a great healer, or stealer, even a fair leveller. But it can never provide a shelter. It can never be a refuge. We grope for taking refuge not in time, but away from time. And we fail. Miserably. There is no shell of time, no sale of time, time solely sails. The sailing time and the sound of shelling shake Rosana up. Antonio gets disturbed.

Somewhere in coral-coloured darkness some Goans and some Portuguese soldiers fight, face to face. Here they walk side by side. A Portuguese man, a Goan woman. From the beach to the quay. From the quay to the narrow path. Then, they roll not on the waves, but the wheels. Not towards the sheltering starry horizon, but towards the three-star luxury. The hotel Mandavi. The carpeted cosiness. The cushioned caresses and the pushbutton hospitality. Rosana goes out on the balcony, overlooking the river. Antonio orders drinks over the phone and calls Rosana.

‘Come inside Rosana, We have to talk.’

‘You come out. Get some blue in your eyes. They have witnessed enough red I believe, and are going to get some more.’

‘You have already enough blue in your eyes, dear. Do come In.’

The waiter comes in before Rosana does. Vermouth is served. Antonio drinks eagerly. Rosana holds the goblet in her hand. She is not thirsty. Antonio drinks heavily and blinks heavily. Rosana cannot decipher what is written on the slate. An uneasy silence. ferments.

‘What is it?’ Rosana asks as she takes away the vermouth from Antonio’s eager mouth.

‘I love you Rosana, I love you very, very much.’ Vermouth spills.

‘Yes? I know that dear.’ Rosana’s goblet reflects the enchanting chandelier. Antonio stands up, paces up and down. Restlessly. Helplessly.

‘What’s eating you?’ Rosana goes near him. A brownish body. Two brawny arms. A squeezing hug. Countless crushing kisses.

‘I want you Rosana, I want you more than anything in my life. I cannot live without you.’

‘Neither can I. I am yours. We are one, dear. I curse him who has created us separately.’ Rosana reciprocates. Her clear blue eyes darken. ‘Something wrong dear? Has your country not allowed you to marry me? What if you leave your job? You are not made for war. You are not meant to be a patriotic mercenary killer. You kill me. Kill me with your love. Destroy me with your desire.’

Rosana’s flying sea-gull eyebrows spread and soar. The sky is stooping, the sea is surging. Antonio rubs his face violently against her neck, shoulder, cheeks. Something is rubbed off. What? Rosana holds his face in her hands. Looks straight into the eyes. A pair of blank slates. Everything is rubbed out. Wiped clean. Even her own reflection. Rosana gets scared. Steps back. Antonio reaches out for her and opens his mouth, when the door clicks. Rosana turns around.

The door is flung open and a small golden wave comes splashing. Standing at the doorway is Philomena D’Souza. She goes out and closes the door.

‘Papa, Papa. Mummy is coming. Mummy’s coming you know?’ Rosana stares at the kid. At the dream, she has injected into her. Antonio kisses the child and chews out the bitter words.

‘I can’t marry you Rosana, I can’t. I’m sorry.’ Split and smash. Split and smash. ‘Forgive me Rosana. Forgive me. I am helpless.’ The slate cracks.

‘Why are you crying Papa, Mummy is coming. In the ship.’ The child comforts.

Rosana stands deluged with memories and reveries. And there was the sudden resurgence of the refugee in her. ’You’ve betrayed me. You’ve deceived me. You too ...

‘No dear, listen to me.’ Antonio holds her hand. A hard shell touch. A spiky tiger-conch. Rosana withdraws her bruised hand. Bruised self Rushes towards the door. Antonio quickly holds her by the shoulder from behind with his strong arms.

‘Stop, Rosana, stop. Just see, I have come to give you what you wanted from me. Yes, I have.’

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