The Time to Go





The Time to Go

 
  
It is strange to feel that the sea has not changed after all when I am back here now.

Even after so many days, so much time, and the fading of perhaps twenty calendars, the sea remains the same. It always does...I think. It is obsessed in her own madness. She cannot stop or else she will die. But the moment the waves touched and splashed my face I felt like I had been kissed again.

The peace of returning to my home came to me and I remembered how I often took a train in this part of India and came here in my college days. No one knew about this beach back then. Well, except some backpackers, like us. The Russians, the French, and the Americans. One day I met one man on a train who told me about this little gem of Heaven. A place where the sea is untouched, and there is a calmness that is almost primitive. With that, and a little Keralite bag, the man was off!

That was the summer vacation I, with hardly any money, boarded the train with a second class compartment ticket. I still remember the feeling. The feeling of being somewhere where something changed in me. The sea gripped me, the world opened before me, and I became of the world. I started writing there on the beach and I felt like I had never written so clean, so pure, in times past. As if in the first sunrise, when I first saw the sea, I found the Meaning of Life and I knew what I had to do in order to acquire the things I desire out of my life. The sea that day made a man of me.

I walked through the grand boulevard of the beach city which overlook the sea. That old virgin beach has changed a lot, but not the sea. It is good to see that this remote, mapless place has earned such a reputation! So many hotels and hostels popping up everywhere. At the same time, I felt a strange pang of pain for those romances of sleeping on the beach with almost nothing around except the beauty and the wildness of a less traversed place. Footprints, there were hardly any footprints at that time on the sands. It was almost my own place of exile where I could take refuge at anytime I wanted. Life bleeds us so much that often you need shelter somewhere in a serene place. A place where you can cry out loud with no one to hear but your heart gets clean and empty and then you can breathe light. I still know these places around the laterite cliffs where there is still enough solace.

Day by day, solitude became my best surrender. I was walking towards that place when someone called me to stop. I turned back and saw among the endless dark sea (aside from trollers blinking) that there was a lady, a Keralite woman, who stood smiling at me. A wind came from the sea and I somehow felt, 'this is a wind that wants to say something else'. She asked me to follow her. I did so by walking through a lovely colourful alley of souvenir and beach shops. Tourists, mainly Europeans, are here in large numbers. Some saluted me in French, and, I too replied, "Bonjour!", to them. There were some Spanish girls trying on  jewellery, and among them, a boatman. A dark skinned, white moustached person walking back at days end with his net and tired face. The moon is shining now on the sea, and a girl is playing a tabla in a nearby instrument shop just beside a tattoo parlour. Again came the roar of the sea and the flight of the night bird.

At that time, a man came out from a small room full of shells and a painting of a Mohini Natyam dance and I heard him saying, "I can see that time has gifted you the pain of emptiness for being creative. You write, right?"

That moment broke something in me.  Broke something, as well as collected. It is like in a strange paradox you are seeing your past life. The present moment hangs on to me with all the unwanted exposure of right and wrong and, 'what have I done to and with my life?'. I felt vulnerable. Why, I don't know. But at the same time, in me, a truth came to witness someone who has turned my life once. In a crowded train, on a warm sunny morning, forever.

"You are the man who first told me of this beach years ago.", I said.

He brought a stool, and we sat there. The roar of the surfs filled up the air in between us. He, with the yellow bulb on above his face, and the sound of the tabla still sounding from the instrument shop, smiled at me.  

"Perhaps I was wrong to tell you about this beach. It destroyed you for being a normal man, didn't it?"

"I don't think so. I think that whatever has happened with my life, I would take it as a gift, and I am happy for that. We change all the time, in every moment. One new wave comes in and the old one goes out."

"Very well said. I am contented to see that you have identified your life in your own way. Yes, everything in every moment is breaking down. So much so, that even the old traces are removed in a whisper. Somewhere the remnants are there, so I am back at this beach, that which perhaps I discovered one night. The night I thought I would finish myself off. But this sea, this old, beautiful, seductive woman, wouldn't let me die that day."

"Why did you want to die? Besides, I forgot your name."

"I never told you. I hate to tell my name. It is the soul which has our real name. You can call me Altamiro. I am from Spain, but not from Altamira, a rhythm my name pronounces! In my thirties, I left Spain to travel the world, and after travelling Europe, came to Vietnam. There, among a desolated war country with nothing to see except beauty, I found Nadira. The woman with whom I fell in love. She was a courageous lady coming from a family of army men who fought the Vietnam war. Nadira and I lived together for ten years. As obsessive a couple may have lived, loving each moment we spent with each other. Then I got a good job of a travel guide in Syria. I, with all my knowledge of travelling the world, started working well and we were planning to get married and have a child. Nadira was not well for some days so we consulted a doctor. Even so, she still was not doing well. I had to leave with a tourist group to Lebanon for six months for my job, and when I came back, Nadira had left. I found a letter, and the letter said that Nadira had been diagnosed with cancer. Also, after so long, she is finally expecting a baby. The shock made me numb for a week. I couldn't figure out what I should do! Then I realized that she can only return back to one place only. I immediately came back to Vietnam, but didn't find her until after three months later when I was standing before her tombstone. I inquired all about her last days and came to hear the news I was searching for. She had given birth to a baby girl before her death. I ran to the hospital where she was born, but an European couple, childless, had taken her back with them. They gave me an address in Istanbul. I immediately left Vietnam and went to Istanbul. But I didn't find them. I stayed there for five years searching but no, I didn't find them. Perhaps they left Istanbul. A country gradually becoming disturbed by then. I gave up all hopes of finding my daughter and started looking for job as I was almost bankrupt with all the travelling and staying abroad. I went back to Europe, but can no more settle there. My heart wanted to come back to that place where it all began. I came back to India. I was staying at a Pondicherry post office for some months serving the Auroville Ashram when one day, came a letter. There was one line written.

                    'I just want to meet you once, Papa. I am coming to India. I will be in Kerala in the backwaters.'

At once I booked a ticket for Alleppy, to reach there three days before she would come. But she never came. I waited for a year there in Alleppy. There was no sign of her. In this world of social media it is not too difficult to find a man. Especially me, a solo traveller who, for money, often makes tours. Even in this age. Now it is over.  I feel like I will never meet my daughter. I am bankrupt, destroyed, and moreover, my body is giving up. I wanted to tell someone my story-a cursed story of a cursed life. I took the train to the very beach where I found myself. Strangely, you came today. A man is not to end always uncontent. I believed that. I found you today. I told you everything today. That's it." 

I sat there, speechless. The moon is still high in the sky but the wind is picking up and the sea rough. Some lightning sparked near the horizon.

 Altamiro smiled.

 "A storm is coming. Just the right time."

 He looked tired.

 "How long will you be here?", I asked him.

 "Not for long. The waves know that."

"Perhaps I can help you in finding your daughter? Shall I come with you?"

"It is too late my son. Too late."

 He stood, kissed my forehead, took the beer bottle and dumped it on the garbage can, then went inside.

 The music from the instrument shop has stopped now. The shop is closed. The beach is silent now. Strangely silent. Only the sea roaring and the winds blowing. Almost in a mood of plunder. The moon is vanished. It's started raining. The blinking green lights of the trollers can no longer be seen. Only the crushing of the white waves on a desolate, empty beach. Suddenly, I can recognize the place. It is still a virgin, unknown beach. It is still primitive, mapless, and very much mine. The long gap of twenty years has vanished and it is me and the old sea again.

 The rain came in no time.
 
The first blow of the storm hit the earth.

I started running towards my hotel.

That night the storm didn't stop. Each time I woke I found the earth shaking, the glass of the window, rambling. Yet, a silence prevailed, in spite of all the rampage, and there I find a refuge again, like I did in my first youth.
 
The next morning after breakfast, I walked to the shop where I found Altamiro.


But he was not there.

The Keralite lady, almost in tears, said, "Around three in the morning, I found him walking through the gate towards the sea within a ferocious storm. Then a boatman found him jumping on the waves and that was the last time he was seen."

 I rushed into his room without asking the lady.

As far as I know he should have written something.

But no, there is nothing.

No there is.

 Something.

 A letter covered with a paperweight.

 A letter from a woman.

 'Papa, I am in Syria, in Damascus. I know I cannot meet you now. I have to do something for these merciless killings. At least I will try to save some life. I never saw my mother, but I have seen you, hearing about you from many people who have seen you. Perhaps one day when we can meet, you would tell me the reason why you, the person who travelled the world, never came to see me, his own daughter.

More than my father you are still my hero.

I am the daughter of that hero.

I love you Papa,

Zina.'

I looked upwards towards the sea.

The last word of Altamiro came to me.

'A storm is coming. Perhaps it is the right time.'

 I cannot deny the truth that, perhaps, truly, it was the right time.

 For a man to go.
 
 
Subhadip Majumdar


Subhadip Majumdar is a writer poet from India. He is certified in Creative Writing from University of Iowa.He also edited for a long time a reputed Bengali poetry journal. Wrote a short novel as Tumbleweed writer in Shakespeare and Company, Paris.Two poetry books published and one novel in process of publication.

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