When I woke up on Monday morning, It took me a moment to recall why I
was felling so miserable. Yesterday was an highly unusual Sunday. Not only for the fact, It was my birthday which only a single person remembered, but mostly because I'd my casual visit to a seafront turned into the most overwhelming night-out, I ever could have imagined.
I'd wasted the entire Sunday-afternoon, lying on bed, staring at the boring ceiling fan like a wounded grasshopper, cooking up a miraculous beginning for my book. Despite the story, I was struggling at an initial stage. Zillions of thoughts were in orbit around my woozy head. Finally, when all futile ideas were flushed into gutter, I tuned in to a random radio station. Shattered with failure, I was on a verge to sleep. At 4 pm precisely, Lightning flashed followed by a gigantic boom of cloudburst; Sky rained down in torrents. I sat up, jerked awake. No further in time, I heard a local radio station alerting about an expected high tide. Swallowed into my own imagination, I was too feeble to leave the room, though needed to wake up to reality.
Once and for all, I heaved out of my beloved bed and set-off for the most favoured tourist destination of 'Amchi mumbai', Marine Drive. The C-shaped, six-lane boulevard in southern mumbai, situated along the coastline of Arabian sea. In view after sundown, with the street-lamps on, It appears like a fiery curve trimmed with the indigo glitter of salt-water. Visiting mumbai, without an evening at marine drive, alias 'QUEEN'S NECKLACE', is like having pizza without cheese.
Being honest, I am not too fond of rain, never was. Whereas, Thirsty for a light adventure, I wanted it to spill continuously. Rain, nevertheless, dried up as I stepped out of my apartment. The sky still appeared unable to make up its mind whether it wanted to rain or not. I had five kilometres covered by my feet to get me to Marine drive. Facing the blue queen, I stood swaying on the promenade and cross checked the Weather report. It had stopped raining a hour ago. Vault of heaven was almost free of dark clouds. To make the matter worse, sun glared out from clear blue sky and sea gleamed in sunlight. 'Where is high tide? I wondered aloud.
Heartbroken I sat idle in a comparatively remote area of the deck of the seawall, breaking a despicable F word on the radio jockey. The sea was furiously encroaching all around the coast and with each strong wave pounding on the tetrapods, I was mounting a level on the graph of boredom. I twitched cellphone out from my pocket as I remembered about my book and opened the NOTES section hoping for an inspirational start for my book. Pondering on my story again, I gawked the curser over 40 minutes, which did nothing except blinked on and on. Densely Annoyed, I wanted to pull that virtual curser out from the three inch mobile-screen and crush it like a buzzing mosquito. My degradation continued until, all of a sudden, a voice knocked me by surprise -
"Teeth of a crab are in its stomach!" "Weird, isn't it?"
Shocked for a split second, I looked down the deck. It seemed like some average height guy in early twenties, standing over the interlocked-web of tetrapod blocks settled against the seawall, below the deck. He was wearing old fashioned round glasses on his awfully skinny face. Moreover, his excessively large shirt draping off his toneless shoulders and shaggy-haired head were adding to his geeky look. Maybe his appearance wasn't creepy enough as he was holding a live crab with his bare hand. My neck whirled here and there, confirming he was talking to me only.
"In stomach, really?" I replied somewhat reluctantly. "They can still bite you. It can be painful."
"They won't. I hold 50 of them today. Then I just let them go." he said as the fellow crab slipped off his grip, bounced off the tetrapod-block and dived headlong into the sea-water. "You are welcome to try."
"Er- No thank you. Happy watching." I said in an offhand sort of way and got engaged in the stare-hate relationship with my homely curser.
Within in a minute or so, he climbed up the tetrapods like a zooming squirrel and plonked down besides me (invading my privacy), his legs dangling from the edge of the seawall. We sat side by side in silence for a moment, while I preserved the illusion of my busyness.
"Perhaps I'm the last one left on earth without a cellphone." he said informally.
I nodded slowly in agreement, head swung in his direction. "Except your friendly crabs."
"Marvels of technology, ain't they? Cellphones?" he said, leering at the grasp of my fingers.
"Indeed." I said, stroking random letters on the virtual-keyboard and saw, to my relief, that I had hit the first word of my book- 'WHEN'.
"I always wanted one." he said, staring at me, and there was a puzzled, almost concerned look in his eyes. "I see you're conservative in your ways."
"I beg your pardon," I said, pretending politeness."why would you say so?"
He sneered, then said, "Man, you're sitting alone, digging your phone like Victoria's treasure is buried in it. What else you expect me to think?" "Look around a little bit!"
"I'm busy thinking." I responded with a gruff.
"About?" he asked and I ignored him completely, shifting a trifle on my left, away from him. "Thinking about what?" he reiterated, a bit louder this time.
My temper rose to the surface.
"Hey! Why is it so hard for you to not be curious, huh? It's my phone, I'll do whatever I want to,". "mind your own business!" I said with sheer irritation and though I did not meant to say it that way it came out a bit too harsh.
He shook his head, taken aback.
"I apologise for my nosy behaviour! I thought you're ... you're sad or something- just wanted to help." he said and sat quiet, sadly looking down at his feet. I immediately regretted my words; I had to concede that I'd overreacted.
"Sorry if I was brusque." I quavered after twenty uneasy seconds. "I'm not usually like this. It's just that today I'm..."
I left my sentence hanging and gave a short sigh.
"Frustrated?" he said sympathetically. "C'mon now ... spit it out! Tell me what's bothering you?"
"My book." I drawled. "I am writing one myself, yet don't know where to start."
A look of great excitement suddenly dawned on him.
"You are a writer?" he said chock-fully exited.
"Sort of." I said, exasperated by his manic enthusiasm.
"You see," he said over the narrow line of his mouth. "Writing a book is 'The voyage of self-discovery'. At the very end you'll get to know who you really are."
"Bravo!" I said thinly, still wanting to be left alone.
"What's it about- I mean, what's its genre?" he asked moreover.
"It's fiction ... set in distant future".
"Science fiction, right? Like Star Wars ... Interesting." he theorised brightly, allowing a hint of flattery to enter his voice and remained still, silent in a short, mute version of our conversation.
Then, quite abruptly, he lifted his shoulders in a dismissive shrug, wriggled his bare, brown toes. "You are wasting your time on Science-fiction. Write something else." he said as though ordered, with an abrupt impulsion, provoking me into loosing my patience.
I failed to follow the fleet, hasty change in his taste. "Excuse me?" I quickly rushed into action.
"No offence, but fictional stories will get you nowhere. In fact-" he said, rubbing salt into my wound. "I used to be a Sci-fi fan until I realise, as a matter of fact, it lacks conviction at a some point. Needless to say, realistic stories are always better."
My eyes blazed, soul screamed: I absolutely hated the note of insolence in his words.
Instead, I said impassively. "Fiction amaze me. Don't know if anything rational can be that much fun to write."
"In case, I've a story for you." he said, giving me another of his sideways smirk.
"Not interested." I said glibly, mind obsessed with revenge. "Unless, off course, your story is about- how you were abducted and gang-banged by a bunch of aliens in back of their space-shuttle." I paused for a moment, apparently to savour the pleasure of insulting him in return, before continuing. "No offence."
But, in contrast, I saw his mouth curving into an ironic smile.
"None taken." he chuckled to himself and said "It's a love story."
"I get it. Link ups, break ups, again link ups following the same, old rusty sequence." I said, sending out a vibe of repulse.
"Not exactly but I'm quite sure you'll be fascinated to hear who's story it is."
"Why? Who's story is it?"
"Mine." he said.
Brainstormed, I sat cross-legged, head hung in misery with nothing left to say. Worst to begin with, nobody wished me on my birthday. After rubbing my forehead for the whole goddamn day, I could only write a single word. I came to marine drive for fun, got nothing new to look at. And now a dull creature wanted to bake me with his puppy love. It was as if the universe itself was conspiring against me.
"I know what you're thinking. I'm not all tall and muscular ... doesn't mean I can't have a love story." he said protestingly, when, in an instant, I noticed the tattoo on his right arm. Apparently, they were carved bruising in delicate shade of green-black.
I couldn't read the whole thing as the most of it was screened below his half-folded sleeve. Only first two letters were visible to me, a large snell-rounded 'D' and a comparatively smaller 'I'.
"Is that real?" I asked pointing at his tattoo.
"Funny isn't it? How shallow people are and how much they believe that only good-looking people's feelings matter. And yes it's real, and permanent. Done with a pointy needle, which hurts a lot." he chattered without a halt, proudly folding his sleeve up to the elbow.
"DISHA?" I asked, reading his arm out loud and his face lit up with a impish glee.
"The girl I love." he said and I saw that as a dumb result of watching to much of romantic movies. However, I was little fancied. How often do you to meet someone who has his girlfriend's name engraved upon?
"My name is Vinay." he said, holding his hand out, and offering me a handshake.
I let go a limp handshake. "Ninad here."
"Pleasure to meet you ALLY OF AMITY" he mumbled, in a rapid, feverish way, shaking my hand vigorously.
I, caught unawares, felt as if his blurry words tripped off my ears and I pulled back my arm to break the handshake.
"What did you said?" I asked, quite sure I had misheard him.
Vinay bite his lip over the I-shouldn't-have-said-it simper.
"Oops! Umm-" "No, no..." "Nothing," "Slip of tongue." he fumbled repetitively and corrected, raising his voice dramatically, deliberately empathising on his words, "Pleasure to meet you," and laid a delicate stress on my name."Ninad."
There was a pause while I considered his feeble excuse.
"O ... k" I said, stung.
Vinay preserved his glad face for a whole minute. When the silence that followed had become uncomfortable, my eyes traveled over Vinay, resting for a fraction of a second on his arm and examining it I said "So, you and Disha!" and fishing too obviously I added, "Looks like you guys are planning to get married. The big tattoo, and everything?"
His face twirled quite expressionless. For a few seconds, he didn't move at all. Then, very slowly, he breathed "We're not."
I raised my eyebrows holding a big question mark. "Then why tattooed her name dude? I thought you must be deadly serious about her."
"I am, but-" he looked up in another heavy breath, hesitated and said "The girl I fell in love with ... WAS NOT REAL."
His last sentence drove me nuts; I'd never heard anything sillier.
"Well done, HARRY POTTER." I said laughing scornfully with no though in my mind other than 'Vinay has some serious issues'.
"It's true- she didn't had an existence," he continued, suddenly stern. " but with almost nothing she made the impossible real. And when my life was damaged beyond repair, when I had no hope to have, she retrieved me out of disaster like a Phoenix from ashes..."
"Wait, hold on," I said, working hard on my jaw to hold back my laugh. "If she wasn't real, then who was she?" I asked, unsure whether I really wanted to hear the answer.
"You'll have to listen to my story for that..." he spoke, in a terribly persuading tone as if he was desperate for me to hear him out.
At last, I ceased my laugh completely. There was an honest glint in Vinay's eyes which I'd never seen before. "Speak in one word." I insisted.
"It's hard to even describe it. I wish I could." said Vinay, shaking slightly, but his eyes solely steady on me. "I'll have no option but to tell you from the beginning."
I wasn't sure if he'd a slightest idea of what he was talking. Yawning, I glimpsed my wristwatch. Clocked 5.35 pm. Although, I'd an decisive assurance that every aspect of his story will throw its own idiocy, somehow his acute sight managed to pin me down to my seat. And finally excepting the fact that I live in a pathetic world of endless possibilities, I raised my head and quite unwillingly said-
"Alright go ahead." And the moment I finish, his somber atmosphere had given way to festive mood, yet his unfaltering gaze did not make me feel any more comfortable.
"Does that mean you'll listen?" he said in triumph.
"For anything more than 2 minutes, I'd might act like I am interested, but inside I'll be bored. " I said hoarsely."So be quick."
"It might take longer than that." said Vinay. "In case you get bored, you're free to leave."
"Deal." I agreed and he began.
While I was deeply sunk into his story, the sky above changed rapidly from deep, velvety blue to cold, steely grey and then, slowly, into dark of the night,
underlined by the breathtaking aroma of Marine Drive. Every now and then, I made predictions to escape the rest of his story; however, all my guesses fell short for his following moves. Thereafter, when he hit me with its end, I was shaken to my core; It struck me as though the very fabric of reality was torn apart in my presence. I couldn't find a better way to narrate his story other than in his own words.