He is walking down the road. Vaguely remembers how he got here but that does not really seem important right now. Doesn’t really know where he is. He tries asking people around him, where am I? what am I doing here? All he knows is that he wants to go to the beach! His odd accent does not sit well with the local dialect. They all stare at him, what a freak. Look at his clothes even! Who wears a sweater vest in this weather? He has tried to talk to whoever he meets, mostly to ask directions. The roads here are like a maze and he has no idea how to get anywhere. He finds it difficult to remember all the roads merging or splitting, all the turns and is relying heavily on hope and optimism to stay on track. Not that he knows what that is either. He has been told [by whom? He does not remember anymore again, seems unimportant to remember] to follow the shadows in the morning and the sun in the evening. Simple instructions. What time is it? he asks an old guy with longish hair in a hammock between the trees. Siesta baby, do not shout please the guy shouts back.
He keeps walking. Sometimes the local response to his mumbling questions are helpful… Like Vidalo [was that her name? Virula? aah, whatever. Vi] last week. Call me Vi, its easier, she told him. You don’t know what you doing here? Do you think anybody does? That shut him up for a while. Then he thought, wait… that didn’t really answer my question. I may not know where I am, but I sure know where I am going he says. Oh, and where is that? counters Vi, with a knowing smile. That smile, he remembers that smug smile. Not condescending, but how to describe it.. umm… the slightly upturned lips, eyes a-twinkle…no no… never mind. He prefers to stick to smug for the lack of a better description. He told her he was going to the beach. That was his goal in life. Why the beach? They say it is pretty, he trotted out his usual argument. It will be the best experience of my life! She looked at him again, that smile. Which way are you going said Vi, pointing to the three way fork in front. Umm… Would you be able to tell me which way is the beach? Vi … who do you think I am, a geographer? He was unsure of what to say then, already a little off balance by the whole experience. Why would you need to be a geographer to know that? Maybe a cartographer, but that is absurd too.. Do you not know, you know, just like that? Vi, hands on hips, turned to him: Do you know where it is, just like that? As she left him at the next intersection she shouted in her funny basso voice, by the way, I am a photographer…
He can feel a change in the wind. Despite the byzantine roadways he has managed to keep a somewhat westerly path. Is this the beach? Hey there kiddo, can you tell me where… umm.. wait. If you had to go to the beach which way will you go? Kid looks at him, why you wanna go to the beach for? Never mind, I don’t care. I am going there myself. Gotta make a few stops first, come along. You gotta tell me why you want to go there though. He smiles. Finally, someone to lead him up to the beach itself. It must be close. That is the change in the smell. Word of warning, do not breathe in too deeply here, this chemical factory spews bad things in the air says the kid. False start then, but no matter. Surely the holy grail is within reach. I am going to the beach, because that is my goal in life. to have a nice evening out, watch the sun go down says he. I have never experienced that, and by all accounts, it will be my life’s fulfillment. The kid skips along, probably has no idea about life or stuff like that. Kid looks up, says so you don’t got a girlfriend? No family? Isnt that supposed to be life’s fulfillment, happiness and all? What about these relationships in life? Are you going to marry the beach? Damn kids these days. He is stumped again. By now he has gotten used to this feeling, of feeling confident about his motives and actions one minute, and completely questioning his motives the next.
He nervously runs his hands through his thinning hair, the beach will enrich my life. That will broaden my horizons, make me prepared to take on life and as they say from where I come from, milk the tits of life to the fullest. He sniggers at the puerile joke while the kid solemnly walks on, how childish. Grow up dude. The kid has these old sandals on. they make a curious slapping sound, every other step. Flap….Flap…Flap… Hey! I asked a question… Huh? sorry, I was thinking about something my old man once said. never you mind, what was the question again? The kid asked, with exaggerated tones, What do you plan to do after the beach? He looks at the kid. Can we not talk about the beach, please? Let me enjoy this scenery, I have never seen a chemical factory before… A few minutes of silence later, he feels compelled to make conversation again. What do you do, kid? The kid with his standard I’ve-had-it-up-to-here face says, what do you think? I go to school. Then fuck around a bit, like now. What do you care anyway? Silence again. I quite like the beach, I go there sometimes with my school mates. It is pretty like they say, sometimes, the kid seems to have let his guard down for a minute. Do you live around here? He asks. Yeah man, just around the corner there. I dont want to go home right now though. Buy me a popsicle will you? That probably lifts the spirits of the kid, but the expression of studied exasperation with the world stays glued on. The popsicle girl has very odd flavors [and many of them] on offer. He cannot pass on trying the Tibetan Areca-nut and the kid settles for guava-coffee. The nondescript popsicle girl looks on as they taste their lollys and asudden she reminds him of Flora.
He saw many people on the road in the last few days, but no one stands out like Flora. Why do you have a girl’s name was the first question he asked when told the name. Flora was not bothered by that all, he kept driving. A lift until next town on this odd looking almost DIY jalopy was a god send. Walking through the fields was a bit boring, not to mention tiring. I made it all by myself you know, from scratch! You dont get to do that by going to the beach you know. Whoa whoa, who told you that? how did you know where I am going? It felt like an utter invasion of privacy, this was his most treasured piece of memory, that was most of what knew, where to go. How did this young man with no hair on his head and odd socks know about his life? Flora continued, Bah. Everyone here goes to the beach. They all say it is the best thing in the world. Not really boss… Smell my perfume. Its made from Himalayan palm trees. Still better than your precious beach, said Flora.
He did not know what Himalayan or palm was, not in the local patois at least. The smell did fit the word perfectly though, he remembers even today. He tries to match the words he learned over the last few days to the smell of the shrubs lining the road. Nothing fits “Palm” nor “Himalayan”. Something exotic then, that is what Flora meant. Yeah. Flora would not stop talking though. This beach you say, is the best thing yada yada, how do you know other things are not just as good. you have not tried them. He is stumped for a minute there. Well, you cannot do everything. You gotta make your choices as they are presented to you, go ahead with best option. Flora ploughs on, nothing like a glass of cold water at the end of the day. Beach is ok for some (wink wink) fun times, but ultimately you gotta come home man. Eat up, be merry, why spoil that time by smelling smelly sea-water? He remembers a fire engine blaring the annoying siren behind them, but Flora drives on, oblivious. All the other cars lined up the side of the road, waiting for the fire truck to pass. Look at all these idiots, their cars breaking down. You should build your own cars stupid beach goers. I hope you are not one of them man, just do something else, not the beach. This Flora was one piece of work. He wasnt sure he felt happy or sad leaving Flora. Ok bye, mumbles the kid. Go on from here, straight down. Stop before you drown. He is so happy to get straight advice for once that he forgets the girl [pouting at the lack of a tip] and stumbles along the path, absently licking at his dessert. The kid winks at the girl and runs away. He could care less, he can hear the surf by now.
He is here. It is almost sunset time. The waves lap at the sandy shore, there is no one there, he is alone with the sea. His hands sticky from the popsicle, face prickly from the salty breeze, he sits on a dune. Little eucalyptus needles create a cushion of spiny yet oddly comfortable combination with the sand. Nothing registers though, he is focused on trying to drink in this beach scene with his eyes only, remember it for later. The last few days of his life are the only other memories he has, surreal memories that make little sense if he thinks about it. He does not. Why? What happened before, whats going to happen now? He is afraid to ask, to dwell on it. Is this as good as I expected, was this what I really wanted? Maybe it is, but what if it is not? No, stop thinking. Just observe, enjoy the scenery. Surely it is pretty, yes? Look at those blue crabs there, burrowing under the wet sand just near where the waves break, he tries to distract himself. Each time they manage to get out, catch something, and run back in when the next wave comes and obliterates their little cave. He feels like there is a lesson to be learnt here, but he is afraid to analyse the situation. The shadows grow longer, he feels a little drowsy. The crab cycle is riveting though and he manages to keep sleep at bay, watching the fascinating circle repeating itself. Cave out. Run. Run. Flat. Again. Rinse, lather, repeat… a phrase from that unknown past of his floats around his head. The words float around his head, like satellites.
He glances over the sandy expanse of the beach, his eyes drawn towards this one giant crab. Somehow, this one guy builds very intricate structures. He is the master of time itself, it seems. Within the short amount of time, between waves, he builds fantastical sand-castles. Some of them are strong enough to withstand a couple of weak waves even. Each time, as the last one fades away in the water, he builds even more intense houses. No, these aren’t houses, these are homes. They belong to the crab. he adorns each house with custom fixtures, to woo girl crabs. He has a distinctive style, and he improves it with each iteration. Has to start from scratch every time though. Now he brings in some color into the home. To match the blue pincers, there is some blue ribbon. Where did he get that!? The sea brings him stuff now. It is relentless though, No matter what the crab builds it has to go down. Now some red plastic scraps, to offset the blue. Some sea weed too. This can go on forever… Rinse-Lather-Repeat. Lather rigorously, repeat.
He jerks awake, tired bloodshot grey eyes reflecting the pretty pinks and oranges of the sunset suddenly alert. What was that throaty shout he heard from behind those palm fronds? A startled flock of small birds flaps their way awkwardly out of the trees. A figure emerges, that fragrance! This person looks at him for a minute. comes forward, and sits beside him. He is mildly upset. What am I supposed to do now? Do I talk? What do I talk about? Whats the social protocol for someone randomly sitting beside you on a beach? The initial moment is gone and now he is even more awkward to say anything. They just sit there, in silence. He sneaks a peek at the face next to him. The only thing he can read from it is the unreadably faint smile. Nothing on that face, blank. Calm. Except for a faint smile. He looks back at the sun. This time, he ignores what he sees and tries to drink in the person next to him by listening, smelling, feeling. Slowly, he begins to collect scraps of signals. Light breathing, a faint fragrance [Himalayan? maybe not] and other indescribable things. He feels it, cannot enunciate it. Nobody speaks.
The sun sets, night falls. Nobody speaks. He is parched, but afraid to say anything or even clear his throat. Hesitant to break the moment, like he is standing in a room filled with glass figurines. The slightest movement will cause everything to shatter. He has built a picture of the person next to him, with just that one glance and the silent absorption. He has forgotten the beach, the crabs everything. He steals another glance and a pair of eyes meet his. Coal black, pupils dilated in the faint twilight. A hand extends a canteen of water. He takes a swill savoring the sweet water. Thanks! he says, but there is no one to hear it. He is alone. Undisturbed sand all around him, no traces of anyone being there, except for maybe a faint fragrance… Too faint. A bird calls in the gloom, hurrying to its nest. He looks out to the waves, even the crabs are gone. He lays on his back and closes his eyes. Lips turn up, that smile again. Smug? Knowing. Rinse, lather, repeat.
It is morning, the sun rises behind him.