This is the tale of a stranger- she’s a perfect stranger to me at least. A defiant stranger who dared to trespass into my backyard. She came in the afternoon when the sands were boiling with heat, its muted hues glowing in the two-o-clock sun. She turned hesitantly towards the ocean, after all she didn’t know that two is the most awkward time of the day to come- the beach was completely deserted save cosseted couples strewn all around- in the shadows cast under rusted broken down joy rides, in the shade of fried fish stalls, between the fishing boats- lying down on beds of nets in the narrow gap. But she was no voyeur- as she walked self-consciously towards the shore, the angry stares scorched even more violently than the Madras sun did. But once he reached the shore, all doubts vanished, she forgot about the sun- which seemed to be walloping her with a red-hot whip, she forgot about the drops of sweat fighting low surface tension to cling to her skin, she forgot about the attention she was receiving- why would anyone walk without her shoes on- on a hot afternoon like this. And the shore isn’t exactly the cleanest area of the beach- your feet wont thank you to venture there barefoot, all kinds of debris was delivered to the loving lap of the beach by the persistently unbiased waves-bizarrely chosen refuse, the sea sure had an eccentric streak- banana skins, flower garlands from corpses, stray single pieces footwear (sandals, rubber chappals, a child’s shoe with red lights.) that had deserted unfortunate feet, and of course the ubiquitously present piles of dung- orange reeking masses waiting for waves to carry them away into the sea floor. She picked her way gingerly between these objects, wincing occasionally at the bite of tiny transparent crabs that scuttled up between her toes from small perfectly circular holes. But she was happy, she was perfectly deaf to her thoughts, the only sound that carried through were the waves growling gently in her ears, like a veiled warning- “Don’t get too close. You can’t even swim.”
But she didn’t care; her feet felt cool on the freshly wet sand that hungrily devoured the froth of the ocean to leave behind a lingering trace of foam. Sweat kept appearing and disappearing in a condensation- evaporation game between the sun and the sea- the breeze seemed to swallow those drops immediately after the sun commanded them to ooze out.
She had gone a long distance from Elliot’s, but she didn’t turn back to check, rather she looked forward. The colony of fishermen stood before her, their tsunami-reconstructed apartments- spanking new and tall besides the row of humble huts, their bright coloured fishing boats proudly bearing the names of the donors, the fishing nets hung between palm trees, the narrow gully of waste water that made its way quietly into the sea. She looked around at their leering faces in fear. They were men of the sea- the sea was their perpetual source of survival, their all-consuming sewer, their tolerant sanitation system, and their merciful cemetery. They were dangerous as dangerous as a tempestuous sea could get -these burly men in their lurid lungis fiercely proud of their tiny huts, their precarious lives, their perilous existence.
As she turned around in regret she shot a last look at the stretch that she hadn’t covered,would probably never cover- The Theosophical Society and the dense green foliage within its high walls fighting the infiltration of seaside weeds-their green lotus shaped leaves flapping in protest, the Adyar River mingling into a union with the sea with a joyous serenity that pierced her heart chillingly.
The towering hoardings on the beach seemed far away now like a distant haven of safety she was dying to reach- their smiling images were beckoning her forward – faster, faster, and faster. As she walked back, she smiled fondly at the footprints she’d made on her way forward- her large feet had made yawning cavities in the sand- her stride had been a forward thrusting motion that had the physical impact of a powerful punch- a punch in the sly face of alienation. Her footprints were so beautiful, she stopped to trace their pattern- they looked harmonious- a sinusoidal waveform flipped vertically in a right angle. He turned to gaze at the effect that both sets- from the forward and backward journeys- made together.
She staggered forward in surprise- the sea was obliterating her footprints gently wave after wave; and then a particularly resounding crash later they were gone.
The stranger sank into the sand, oblivious to the water entering her clothes. Her tears made ripples in the sea, ripples that distorted her reflected face. As the water engulfed her lovingly again, she spurned this wet embrace of consolation and walked away- still a stranger.