By: Supriya Rakesh
She stood still, still as time.
Toes immersed in lavish soft sands, soft waves rhythmically unfurling and colliding at her bare feet. Humid breeze ruffling through her hair, making it unruly, free-willed. The occasional salty spray in her eyes. At one with the surrounding expanse of green-blue. In the horizon gleamed the most magnificent mountain range, immersed in a yellow-gold summer haze.
Her face lit up with the most serene smile. In that moment, everything felt perfect!
She was a creature of the sea, having grown up by its shores.
“Little fishie, where is your little fishie tail?” her father would tease, on their evening walks together by the beach. But did not want to be just any fish. She wanted to be mermaid, with beautiful golden locks and a sashaying tail.
Now, years later, standing on a beach thousands of miles away from home, she felt like that little girl again. Water made her come alive like nothing else. Anything was possible!
Taking a deep breath, she waded a few steps further into the ocean.
“Don’t go too far in sweetie. You’ll get wet…”
Face crinkling into a frown, she turned to face the voice.
It was her husband; he stood about ten feet away, at the very spot she had kicked off her sandals in the sand. Dressed in his suit-n-tie with glistening black shoes, he waved at her uncomfortably, clutching his Blackberry in the other hand.
“Let’s go, it’s getting hot…” he called out again.
In an attempt to conceal her irritation, she turned back away. Of course it was getting hot! And of course she would get wet! It was summer noon, and they were standing at the beach. These were pointless observations- they did nothing to add to her knowledge and everything to take away from her feeling of pure thrill, just moments ago.
“You come in too, honey!” she had tried while approaching the waters.
“Oh come on, it’s so much fun,” ten minutes after.
“We’ll come back another time, let’s go now,” he had replied, pointing to his clothes and shoes. What does it take to pull out a coat, or kick off some shoes? she had fumed.
But now, after his fifth call, there was just no point.
“Two minutes more,” she replied with resignation, her enthusiasm crushed under the weight of freshly polished business shoes and a brand new Rolex.
She stared at the ocean for a few minutes, blinking away the unexpected tears. God forbid he saw her crying, he would then worry, fuss, and call out to her even more. She just needed her two minutes of silent contemplation, by the water, before she went back to live amongst the dull creatures of the land.
She didn’t quite fit in with them, those land creatures. Her husband, he was one of them. They liked showing their strength, building things, marking territories, and guarding their possessions with an irrational ferocity. A life of constant struggle and competition, pre-occupied with survival. She belonged with sea creatures – the dreamers, wanderers, the intuits, who went with the flow, fluid, unconstrained.
Though living together, they inhabited completely different worlds.
When they were married three years ago, it had seemed like such a great match. Complementary , opposites attract. Funny observations by people trying to make sense of their poor choices. He had dazzled everyone on their wedding day- dressed in a cashmere brown suit, next to her pearl white dress.
‘Such a great guy, you are one lucky girl!’ The verdict had been unanimous, and she had basked in the compliments, unabashed. But today, in a suit, not unlike that one, he was a complete misfit in the picture post-card of her life.
As the noise in her head slowly quietened, she became aware of the scene unfolding on the beach – other sea creatures blissfully flocked together.
Two kids were playing in the sand, perhaps building sand-castles, while their mother watched over them, applying lotion over her sculpted body. A couple lay sprawled on the beach, arms around each other, mouths locked in a passionate kiss. Closer to the sea, a group of three friends passed her – wading through the waves, engrossed in animated conversation. It was difficult not to get drawn into their drama.
In the centre was a young girl, energetically waving her arms, making some sort of a point. Her opponent was a boy, roughly the same age, who continued to heckle her with a bemused smugness. The third friend was another boy, observing this exchange with silent adoration in his eyes, urging the girl to calm down.
Who would she end up with, that girl? Who would she choose? How would she choose? How could she know how? Barely an adult, what life experience did she have to make this decision? And even if she did make it, would she, at any point in her life, come to regret it? And if she did, would life give her a second chance?
And, would life give her a second chance?
Suddenly, amidst the endless ocean, she felt completely alone. No friend. No lover. No family.
“It’s almost lunch time. Aren’t you hungry, sweetie?” Last call. She knew her sea time was up.
Trudging back through the sand, she pretended to shield her eyes from the sun, while staring in plain sight at the kissing couple. They had finally stopped, and lay under the sun, barely parted, holding hands silently. The children had finished playing with their sand-castle and were now at their mother’s feet, trying to get her attention. The three friends and their voices had slowly trailed away. Perhaps it was them – the happy figures in the distance, blissfully ignorant of first chances, and second.
Soon she reached the spot where she had kicked off her sandals and left behind her husband. As she bent down to pick them up, she noticed they were clean; like some-one had, just moments ago, brushed the sand off them.
The land creature grinned and put away his phone for a second, to help her balance as she strapped on her sandals, one by one. Then he placed her bag on her shoulders, slinging it from left to right, just the way she liked it.
She was tired, a tad hungry. It was lunch-time after all. It was difficult to walk through the remaining stretch of sand in her high-heeled sandals, so it was best to continue leaning on him as they walked toward their car, arm-in-arm.
Once out of ear-shot, he nudged her elbow, pointing to the lovers-in-sand.
“Did you see them making out? Right in the open, like that?” his scandalized tone, a tad exaggerated for effect. Aaah yes, the laws of the land did not approve of such uninhibited displays of passion.
“I think it’s sweet, very romantic!” she declared in defiance, keen to defend the honour of fellow sea creatures.
“Oh, romantic like this?” he teased, suddenly tipping her, in a playful demonstration, and planting a large, wet kiss on her mouth.
“Yes, something…like that!” she barely managed, steadying herself, trying hard to conceal her fluster.
From a distance, onlookers witnessed the rare sight of sea creature and land creature mating for life.
Supriya Rakesh is a social researcher and writer from Mumbai. Her work engages with the notion of ‘storied selves’ in multiple ways- narrative research, community theatre, and writing fiction. Her stories are often set in urban India, exploring the lives and choices of young adults in a society-in-transition. Her work has been published in Kitaab, Dastaan World magazine, Culture Cult magazine and anthologies titled ‘The Other’ and ‘Rapture’. She is also the Editor of ‘ang(st)’, a feminist zine. She loves the Mumbai rains, strong cups of cappuccino and stories of unrequited love.