I was given five words by my friend Cheryl to incorporate in a story. Those five words were: shallow, burnt, forehead, butter and window. The story lies ahead.
I’ve used Konkani in the story. The spellings are highly dubious; the meanings aren’t.
Sussegado: contentment. (pronounced as sus-eh-gaadh)
Dhaar uktem kor: Open the door.
Soglem ekhuch gho: It’s all the same.
Yeh ghe poishem yeh moinyechem: Take this month’s money.
Borem haan: It’s good.
Konkani shikla chhedu: The girl has learnt Konkani.
Chhedo borom haan: The boy is good.
Deo borem kor: Literally means God Bless You. But is used in various instances like wishing someone good night or thanking someone.
Mami: Mom’s sister.
A deep cut would have been better. Even a burnt finger wouldn’t have hurt as much. Staying alive was one thing; staying alone another. Claire was bored. And alone. And she knew not what to do. She’d tried reading the Stephen King and Murakami that she had beside her bed. Hernan had sent a few CDs over with the newest movies, but she had watched just one from it. Midnight in Paris. For a day or two, she too wanted to return to the past. To the city of Bombay where she had a few friends.
“Goa is fine for me when it’s a holiday. I can’t dream of staying there. Maybe when I’m old; after I retire. When I want to be lazy, when I’m content with life. Sussegado. Not now; it’s too soon,” Hernan had said, sitting with Claire at Marine Drive, the evening before she was to leave for Mapusa.
“You’re scaring me, Hernan.”
“Oh! Don’t be. Who knows, you may like it. Solitude is plenty there. That’s what you want, right?”
Loneliness was what she was experiencing now. She looked out of her first floor window towards the bus station. A horde of travellers were entering Goa; most dressed in the floral shirts and Goa-print tees that she had come to know Goans hated. It was 9 am and Carnival time. She’d go to watch the one at Panjim that evening. But she had nothing to do for the rest of the day.
The sun was beating down on her forehead. It was still not hot, not the sweltering heat Mapusa experienced later during March. Her short hair would keep her from sweating. She had been to the beaches so often since she’d landed in Goa that she had tanned herself. She was dreading travelling in the summers, but it was still February now, so it was fine. She slept with a bedsheet every night. She tossed about and by the morning the bedsheet was lying at the bottom of the bed. She woke up slightly later than usual. Establishments were by and large shut down in Goa for four days due to the Carnival.
“They just need an excuse,” Claire had told Hernan over the phone the night before.
“Man, what I’d not give to be in your place! Work here is killing me.”
“You’re the one who wanted it, Hernan. Don’t cry.”
“I’m not crying!” Hernan screamed. “I’m just saying.”
“Just saying, my foot! Have you had dinner?”
“We ordered butter chicken. Looks like I might have to stay till one or two tonight.”
“You should start looking out, you know.”
“I am. I am. You should too.”
Claire looked at her calendar. It was the 15th. The landlady would come anytime now. It was already past nine. She went about clearing her dishes when she heard a knock on the door.
“Clara!” the matron hollered. “Dhaar uktem kor.”
“Coming.” Claire shouted and ran to open the door. “Aunty Marie, my name is Claire. How many times should I tell you?”
“Claire, Clara, soglem ekhuch gho,” Aunty Marie said. She was the typical Goan aunty Hernan had told her about. Sweet, short hair, and wore a dress. Her English was passable, but she was fluent in Konkani. Claire had heard the 45 year old sing at the morning mass on Sundays too. She liked her.
“Yeh ghe poishem yeh moinyechem,” Claire said. She had learnt a little Konkani in the past ten months.
“Borem haan. Konkani shikla chhedu,” Aunty Marie said counting the money. “Going for Carnival?”
“You going with any friend?”
“No aunty. I am alone. I’ll be going by myself.”
“Borem. See, my nephew is come from Bombay. He wants to go for Carnival but no one at home free today. Can you take along?”
“Your nephew?” Claire hesitated. She would have preferred company, but she did not know the nephew.
“Don’t be scared, Clara. Chhedo borom haan. You want to meet?” Aunty Marie asked politely.
“Be careful of these Goan aunties. We could be very good matchmakers if we wanted to, you know,” Hernan had said the first time Claire told him about Aunty Marie.
“Come on ya, you tend to generalise everything,” Claire rebuked him.
“If I don’t generalise my own people, who will?” Hernan asked innocently over the phone.
“I’ll give you his phone number, Clara. You speak to him when he comes back, okay? He’s gone to the market. Here, take his number. Five…” Aunty Marie started after seeing Claire’s phone in her hand.
Claire saved his number to realise that she did not know his name. She cried out to Aunty Marie, “What is your nephew’s name, aunty?”
“Savio, Clara. Savio D’souza.”
“Savio,” Claire entered his name. “Deo borem kor, aunty.”
“Deo borem kor.”
Claire shut the door and wondered what to do. Should she call him or just go alone? She did not even know the guy: how he looked, who he was. Nothing. She decided to log onto Facebook to see if she could come up with something.
She logged onto the social networking site that had been her lifeline for the past few months. She typed Savio D’souza in the search box only to come to face with at least fifty results. Savio D’souza was a very common Goan name.
“Savio, Joseph, Francis, Peter, Paul, you’ll find one at every street corner and sausage shop in Goa,” Hernan told her that evening at the Drive.
“Why is your name so different then? Hernan.”
“Ask my mother; don’t ask me. She found this in a book she was reading,” Hernan said as he threw a stone into the water. “Thought it went well with our surname.”
“Hernan Heredia. Hmm.” The sun had set and the Drive’s streetlights had taken over.
“Hello!” said a deep voice on the other side.
“Hello,” Claire said softly.
“Hello, who is this? Can you speak louder?”
“Hello, hello!” Claire spoke in a slightly louder voice which was still shaky. “Is this Savio? I’m Claire speaking.”
“Who Claire?” Savio said in a highly suspicious tone.
“You won’t know me. Your aunty Marie gave me your phone number. She told me that you wanted to go to the Carnival today and since I was going alone, she asked me to take you.”
“WHAT!” Savio screamed on the other line.
“Yes. Really, Hernan.” Claire told him as he just stood outside her door looking at her. He hugged Claire tightly, something she would come to miss over the next few months.
“Mapusa. Why are you going away ya?” Hernan asked. Claire could not make out if he was happy or displeased.
“I want to. Twenty six years in the same city. I need to see other places too.”
“Oh well, I can’t argue with that.” Hernan said, avoiding Claire’s eyes.
“Of course you can’t argue with her Savio!” Claire said to the 23 year old seated on her couch.
“But how could she just do this without telling me?” Savio sat with his head hung low, not able to meet Claire’s eyes.
“Savio, it would seem as if you think I’m some mean person. The interest you are not showing makes me think I’m worthless,” Claire said, constructing her sentence carefully.
“Oh,” Savio looked at Claire. “Nothing like that, Claire. Nothing like that. You seem like a wonderful person. Just that I would have preferred that Mami had told me first.”
“So what do you want to do now? Claire asked, still weighing every word she uttered.
* * * * *
Claire splashed some water on Savio as he was coming into the water. Bagha was crowded for a weekday but then she reminded herself that it was the Carnival.
“So how many more days, Savio?” Claire asked while Savio threw some water on her.
“A week more, and I’m back to Bombay,” Savio said as he stood still looking at the people enjoying themselves around him.
“So you still think you shouldn’t have come to the Carnival with me the other day?”
“Actually I told myself I’d go when you told me on the phone itself. It all depended on how beautiful you were though,” he said nonchalantly. “I’m quite shallow that way.”
Claire looked at him and then both burst out laughing.
“I’ll come to Bombay to meet you,” Claire said.
“Or maybe I’ll come to Mapusa to meet you.” Hernan said.
“You won’t forget me, will you?” Claire asked.
“Are you crazy?” Savio shouted, and hugged Claire.
They continued walking on the seabed. There was still some time for the sun to set. Claire’s foot tripped over a log in the water.
“Does it hurt?” Savio asked.
“No, not as much as I was hurting a few days ago.”
“That’s pleasing to hear,” Hernan said softly, when he called her that night.
“What happened?” Savio repeated.
“Nothing,” she smiled.
Hernan smiled too. Claire turned around to walk inside the airport. She waved to her parents and younger brother. But mostly to Hernan.
“I love you,” she mouthed.
“I love you too.” Savio said as they wrote their names on the Bagha sand.
The Carnival had begun in Mapusa.