She was always finding things. It started on a rainy day in Kerala, where she studied for a year staying with her grandparents. She found a rupee coin in the puddle at her feet, as she got down from the autorikshaw chartered ferrying her and two of her cousins from their home in the countryside to the convent in the center of the town. Those rides to and fro in the rain were, for her, right out of a mystery book. The flaps of tarpaulin were drawn and tied to the rods, and from the dark interiors, she could hear the traffic swizzing by, an occasional fish monger whose cry started from his stomach but came out as a whiplash, bits and pieces of conversations at the railway crossing as they waited for the train to pass. She would try to picture the people and fix faces to the voices. She would put her eye to an opening in the flap to peep one-eyed at the voices. She dreamt of finding clues of murders and thefts in those conversations.
The year spent there was the best. She had felt a kinship with nature, life in Mumbai never allowed. Getting her face and hands dirty, and her clothes stained with coconut, mango and banana sap, were for her the ultimate in joy.
The year spent there was the best. She had felt a kinship with nature, life in Mumbai never allowed. Getting her face and hands dirty, and her clothes stained with coconut, mango and banana sap, were for her the ultimate in joy.
Her parents, both doctors, ran a polyclinic in Bandra. Her mother was a gynecologist and her father, a dentist. They had a roaring practice but when her mother got pregnant again after ten years, she found looking after Rhea, her extended hours of work and monitoring of the maids and staff, a little too much to handle. So till after the delivery and till the baby was about three months old, Rhea was sent to her grandmother’s. Rhea had no complaints at all, in fact, she was happy for the change. She rarely saw her parents in Mumbai, and together, never. At least now they rang her up every day and she would tell them everything she did. She told them about the one rupee coin she had found that day, and of her plans for this and the next coin she would find. Finders, Keepers, her father had said to her and she truly believed it with all her heart.
From that day till today, she has always kept her eyes open for the little things that would find their way into her life, lost by someone who too may have treasured it if it were still theirs. Little pieces of bangle, bright and shiny; a pencil with ‘Cherry’ carved on it; a hair clip with a strand of hair still dangling from it; a large orange plastic button shaped like the sun; valuable things like a gold chain or ring; and lots and lots of coins, notes, wallets and purses with or without money in them. The wallets and purses with any ID in them would be returned to the owners very diligently.
She wondered why she found them at all. Her mother had told her it was because she cared for people and for the things they cared for. She said that some people attract the lost. She never understood the prophecy of those words till it happened.
Her cottage, in the Coconut Creek Beach Resort at the beautiful Bogmalo Beach of South Goa, was a treat. She deserved it, she told herself as she walked the half kilometer to the beach. The beach was a flat and broad one which promised to be quiet, and offered diving and water-sport which she was craving for, after the tragedy and the pressing demands of her job that kept her pinned to the drawing board for days and sometimes nights too. She had decided on this trip as she gave finishing touches to the interiors she designed for the 8 exclusive guest house bungalows of the L & T at their Navi Mumbai campus. She had given each of them a different theme. Some were based on countries and in some she played with moods and colour.
She had picked up brochures of Goa from a travel agent but was spoilt for choice as each of the hotels offered to placate and charm with spas and aroma therapies, and heated pools and Jacuzzis. As she explored the web, looking at the map of Goa, her eyes were for ever going back to a spot she least heard about - a small fishing village in a flat valley, surrounded by the low ghats and completely dotted by coconut palms with not an inch to spare, 8 km from Vasco da Gama. The Oberoi’s had their famous 5 Star Hotel Oberoi Bogmalo Beach there but that did not interest her. She chose, instead, the Coconut Creek set within a thick coconut plantation. Beyond the sea were the promised two mysterious little islands with shipwrecks in the silt. Around the resort, they said, there were plenty of pleasant eateries-each one of them claiming to be Osibisa's favorite. The resort boasted in detail about their pool and food but she wanted to tasted the local fare and swim in the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
As she walked she diverted her mind consciously to the sand seeping through her toes. That felt nice and may be it would save her a pedicure, she thought; the parlour was relaxing but getting nature to scrape away all the dead skin was the fun way. She wanted to with this trip, to wipe away a lot of things from her loaded mind. Everything everyday reminded her of them. She needed to think about herself again, about her needs, her feelings and her future. The properties had been sold for a sum which amazed her and she had to hire a finance manager to help her invest it wisely. All the paperwork was done and her project too had been a grand success. She was getting calls from other clients as well, but she needed to think, to get away from it all. She had to escape into nature, get some dirt on her face and hands again, and get a chance to genuinely feel the pain and loneliness work had not allowed her to feel.
She walked past the white washed chapel, the line of beach shacks which advertised their menu on large notice boards, ‘Goa Diving’ that had all one would need for diving at the Grande Island coral head and the ‘Watersports Goa’ for booking boat trips and for water scooters. She planned to get a taste of everything. The last shack was called the ‘Sandy Treat’. She found this place very attractive since it was set on a little protuberance of the beach, with the sea walking in to its doorstep. She liked the name and wondered if she was going to find sand in the food too.
She found the place empty. Round tables were scattered all around with chairs sitting on them upside-down. She wondered if she was early for breakfast. She looked out over the sea and saw two sail puffed up with wind. She now wondered if she was late. She turned around and shouted a hello into the interiors. A head peeped out through the curtains. It had a toothpick stuck in the mouth succeeding in pulling it to the left. At its neck, tied in a knot, was a scarf that had seen better days. The head brought out with it a body dressed in a yellow shirt and blue jeans. The shirt was knotted at the waist and the jeans folded half way up the shin.
“Any breakfast?” She asked him doubtfully.
“Oh, yes, breakfast is always there, man”, he said through his teeth, his lips not moving, anchored by the peg in his mouth. “Toast, jam, omelet, butter or paratta with chicken curry, you name it, man, and Joey will have it ready in ten minutes.”
“Who’s Joey?” I asked, trying to guess how hungry I really was.
“I, Joey. You have toast with butter if you want to swim now“, he suggested in an all knowing tone.
“Okay, bring me two slices and a cup of coffee too”, Rhea said, pulling out her large dark shades from her handbag. The sun looked really hot and she didn’t want a headache to spoil her day. She scanned the horizon for activity. A motor scooter roared somewhere but she saw nothing. To her left, an outcrop of rock was being washed at its feet by gentle waves that created no foam. She wanted to get up and go search for a tide pool she knew could be found between such rocks. They fascinated her; they had a life so different from the surroundings, species of crabs, polychaetes, starfishes, anemone and algae so delightfully different from ordinary. She craned her neck to look and she saw a man sitting there, on the highest rock.
Just then her breakfast arrived and she lost no time tucking into the toast so generously smeared with butter. The coffee was great and she felt an awakening seeping into her. She searched inside a bag, brought out a huge bottle of sunscreen and proceeded to it apply liberally on her exposed skin. Her skin was the colour of honey and was only going to get golden in the sun. She never burnt and would joke with her fair-skinned friends saying global warming would finish them off sooner than later. But she didn’t want her skin to absorb any of the dreaded UV radiations.
Petite with a small frame giving her a school-girlish look, she had hair that added to the look, extremely curly bangs that fell to her shoulder. They bounced and played in the breeze but never got untidy as they always stayed bonded into long spring-like locks covering her head in a thick cloud of dancing curls. Her sister too had looked like her but a taller version. At 15 she had been a cool 3 inches taller.
Her eyes filled up and a knot threatened to form at her throat. She took a deep breath and let the feeling wash over her. She felt truly alone now as she eyed the vast horizon and the cloudless sky. The sand felt hot under her bare feet and she let her top and skirt drop around her. She wore a deep orange swimsuit with fine green and yellow creepers wounding around her slim body. She stuffed her silicone swim-cap back into her bag. She wanted to feel the water in her hair today.
Lunch was a big fried mackerel and Goan fish curry with boiled rice and papad. The fish curry was nice and spicy with juicy pieces of lady’s finger, which held a lot of the curry inside, floating in it.
“Hey man, go give Jiji some food. He hasn’t eaten the toast today”, Joey shouted at the woman who helped him with the cooking. “Poor fellow”, he said under his breath.
Rhea watched Bela take a plate full of rice and fish curry to the man she had seen sitting on the rock in the morning. He accepted the plate and drank thirstily from the bottle she handed him. She could hear her motherly voice in the wind asking him why he needed to sit in the sun drying like a Bombay duck. She held him by his elbow and gently led him to the shack. She sat him down on a chair and placed his food on the table in front of him. He ate quickly but obviously to Rhea who watched him, he was unused to eating with his hands. He rinsed his hands, washed his face at the basin and went back to sit on the rock.
Rhea turned to Joey and was about to ask him about the man when he said, “Poor man, we found him sitting in the shack one early morning in June last year. He doesn’t speak much but knows English. He had an ugly wound on the left side of his head that healed in a week.”
“Did you contact the police?” Rhea asked shocked by what she had heard.
“Oh yes, man, they came but they got no response for the ads they put in the papers”, replied Joey busy with serving the other customers.
“Is he dangerous?...or violent?” Rhea asked, unable to resist asking Joey a few more questions.
“He? He won’t hurt a fly, man!” shouted Bela from behind the curtain. “He is as harmless as a poor little rabbit. I have taken him home, only to find him on the rock again the next morning. Poor chap, he has nobody but us.”
She no longer tasted the food in front of her. Rhea’s heart went out to the man on the rocks. He was a fair man of medium height and his straight thick hair had grown down to his shoulders. He was dressed in shirt and jeans that hung from his slim body, and she guessed they had been given to him by a kind villager. She decided to go look at the tide pool and try chatting him up to learn more about him. He did not look up as she approached the rocks. She squatted on a rock and peered into the depression in the middle. As she had guessed, there was indeed a tide pool there. She watched the crabs dart in and out of the small holes and the algae as it moved about with the breeze starting to blow towards the sea.
“What is your name?” Rhea shouted out from across the tide pool. He looked up at her, seeing her for the first time. He was silent but did not take his eyes off her. She got up to walk to his side of the rocks. His eyes followed her.
“Jiji “, he said holding up the gold locket for her to see. She saw ‘GG’ written in a beautiful Gothic script. It was hanging from a thin gold chain around his neck.
“Where are you from?” she asked him.
He looked at the sea with unseeing eyes and replied, “From there.”
“Would you like to walk with me on the beach?” she asked him and added, “I had a heavy lunch and don’t want to fall asleep in my room. This weather is too wonderful to waste sleeping, don’t you think so?”
He looked up and down the beach but did not get up from his rock. She waited a while for him to answer and when she got none, with a wave of her hand, she turned around and walked towards the shore. He did not follow her but his eyes never left her. They followed her to the shack in the evening and watched as she had a cup of tea. She, aware of his eyes on her, turned around to wave at him.
Back at the cottage that evening, she decided to order beer and dinner from the resort. She had spent the whole day in the open; and the sun and sea was making her quite drowsy. She sat on the long wooden lounge chair in her veranda, smoking a cigarette through a holder Amit had presented her on her 24th birthday. Those days were a dream. Her father and mother threw huge parties at their bungalow in Bandra on all their 4 birthdays. Food, friends and liquor-life was kept on hold for a day. They were all always so busy with their work, they relaxed and let their hair down on such days. She remembered her parents dancing together the whole evening. They were a couple so much in love with each other, and with life.
Today she was alone. Her father, mother and sister had perished in a plane crash on the way to South Africa to attend the wedding of a close friend’s daughter. The plane crashed in the sea shortly after takeoff. Of the 190 passengers and 23 crew on board, 208 bodies had been fished out and identified. The bodies of her parents and sister arrived at their residence, identified and ready for cremation the very next day. Her exams had kept her away from the trip.
Rhea was beyond grief, she was too numbed to cry. The frenzy of activity the following day, had kept her from mourning. Her exams and the property sale went on in a daze. Her first job, for which she had already been selected during the campus selections, had to be taken on. The project which seemed to be launching her career as a successful interior designer was concluded with satisfaction. Now, she cried wondering why she had been spared, why she had been left behind to carry this burden of sorrow. Nineteen months had to pass for her to be able to cry. Hot tears flowed down her cheeks and her heart seems as if in a viser, pinched and squeezed. This time she felt the pain. She clenched her teeth to stop the scream from leaving her body. Her moans only got louder. She cried till there were no more tears. When she opened her eyes, she saw her dinner laid out on the side table. The food had gone cold and the beer warm. She rang the bell for both to be replaced.
She slept till noon totally exhausted from the night before. She was woken up by the ringing doorbell. A waiter stood there with a glass of sweet lime soda.
“How are you today, Madam?” he said respectfully, and as she stepped away from the door, he entered to place the glass on the center table. He went outside to clear the food and bottles.
“If Madam pleases, we will send a maid tonight to keep Madam company”, he said again with his eyes on the floor.
“Oh no, Saloo”, she said reading from the badge on his breast pocket; “I am fine today. I lost my family 19 months back and never got the time to cry over the loss. Thank you for the concern. I should remember to write this down in the guest book before I leave. Ah, this soda is so refreshing! Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed taking a nice long sip.
“And Madam, the lost man, GG, asked for you. He is waiting at the gates since nine and has been asking for you every half hour. He is a little agitated. No one has seen him so alive since he suddenly appeared on Bogmalo last year“, said Saloo in a voice filled with apprehension. “Should I send him away, Madam?” he added in a hurry.
“No! I will meet him after I freshen up. Go tell him that!” she said over her shoulder as she walked into the bathroom.
“Would you like to walk with me on the beach?” he asked her as she walked out of the gate. He seemed eager to talk. Though he looked at her often, he hardly said a word. They walked with their sandals in their hand in the shallow cool waters.
“Tell me about yourself. Come, let’s sit here for a while,” she said and patted the sand next to her.
“There is nothing to tell. It’s as if I have no past. I remember only Joey and Bela washing the gash on my head. They fed me and nursed me back to health,” he said sadly, “I wish I could remember something.”
“Does your head hurt anymore?” she asked peering to check for the scar. He parted his hair to show a nasty red swollen scar that seemed still soft to touch.
“It does, at night when the nightmares come. The feeling of sinking lasts for about 10 minutes and that’s when it hurts like hell,” he said gingerly running his fingers beneath his hair.
“Koi picture victure dekha kya?” she asked for which he promptly replied, “Ek bhi nahi.”
“So you speak English and Hindi. That’s some progress.” And she proceeded to talk to him in all the languages she knew. When she came to Marathi, she asked, “tvu maazhyaashee lagna karasheel kaa?’
He smiled at her question, and said, “Hey, aren’t we going too fast?” But he understood she was trying to help him, and she was the first. She deciphered from his language and accent that he was well educated and from a city. Strange, she thought, he had lost his memory but not his language skills.
“What did you do, man?” Bela asked her a hundred times. “God bless you, my dear angel!” she said every time she met her. Three days in Bogmalo was enough for her to realize that if he were to get any help, it had to be from her. Joey and Bela were surprised to see the change in him. As Saloo had said, GG had come alive. He was full of fun as they boarded the ferry to Grande Island. Half way across, with the sea all around, his smile became fixed on his face. From the yellow knuckles of the hands which gripped the rod at side of the ferry, she perceived his fear for the open waters. She went to stand beside him and slid her arm into the crook of his elbow. He seemed to relax a bit. Scuba diving and the water scooters were too much adventure for him but he stood on the deck and the jetty to cheer her on.
He had moved to the Coconut Creek. She booked him a cottage right next to hers. She didn’t have the heart to leave him sitting on his rock. They planned to drive back to Mumbai the next day. She found talking to him very refreshing. He had no preconceived notions, no hang-ups, about anything. All of it had been washed away by the sea. But he did have intriguing theories about life and death, destiny and choices, money and happiness. And since she enjoyed the thought-provoking discussion and enjoyed even more the serious look on his face as he explained his points to her.
“My amnesia has helped me figure out a lot of things about life,” he said with his fingers waving in the conditioned air of the car, “Life offers choices but your choice makes your destiny. I chose to wait on the rock. It was my thinking pad. I knew my life was going to change. And you appeared. Can you believe it? Do you believe in destiny, Rhea? “
“I don’t know about destiny but the choice I made has changed my life too,” she said with her eyes fixed on the road.
“How?” he asked wishing she would tell him something about herself.
“Will tell you about it another time, GG. It still hurts to remember”, Rhea suddenly needed some fresh air; and stopped the car at a bunk for cool drinks and bhajiyas.
Getting into the car again and driving down the pictorial ghat roads of the Konkan Coast, she found her back into a buoyant mood. She looked at his face; he was looking at the road lost in thought.
“Penny for your thoughts, GG!” she said with a smile, in an attempt to tease him back into a casual banter, and added lightly, “Let’s not talk about destiny, that’s a no-no topic for today. You are like the 100 rupee note I found one day. I have it framed and hanging on my bedroom wall just above my head.”
“So, am I to be nailed to a frame, to be hanged too?” He asked much too seriously but as he turned to face her she saw his eyes smiling at her. “Well?”
“Well what?” She said happy again. She realized he had a lot more healing to do than she. Life had been cruel to her for it had made living with her memories painful. She couldn’t imagine the confusion he would be in, not knowing who he was, with his memories obliterated without a trace. She had to give him a leg up if he were to remain sane. He was attached to her like he was to nobody and it would be unthinkable to let him, for even a second, think she was withdrawing the helping hand extended.
“The 100 rupee note story! Aren’t you going to tell me? Looks like pennies will drop into this car with both of us so lost in thought”, he said resuming the light wordplay he so enjoyed with her. He loved being with her. And he asked himself, “Who wouldn’t love this tomboy of a girl, who had not a mean bone in her slight body.”
“Oh! That? Well!…One day Unni, my cousin, and I were on his dad’s motorcycle - speeding, which of course we were told not to. But that day was spectacular. The monsoon clouds were in; and the day was just fabulous with a strong wind blowing into us. As we raced down the road, singing and shouting, the man on the pillion seat of the motorcycle we were to overtake, pulled out some papers from his breast pocket. I saw something fly into the air. It flew past us. I yelled at Unni to stop the bike and go back about 300 meters. I searched to the left side of the road for half an hour. All the time Unni was screaming in my ear asking me if I had gone mad or something. But I found it, waving at me from a Lanterna bush, sitting there stuck below a bunch of yellow and orange flowers. A 100 rupee note – not very new- but a 100 rupee note all the same! Unni was angry and jealous and kept repeating on and on- “how come you find all these things? Are you a witch or something?” That day sort of cemented in my mind the incorrigible truth. I had the ability to find things that were there to be found – lost things that had nowhere to go. And now, you too. You are my latest find. Right, GG?”
GG put his tongue out to one side and posed dead with his hands spread out like Jesus Christ. She stopped the car and they laughed so much together. They didn’t realize when they had fallen into an embrace and when they did, it seemed the most natural thing to have happen. Suddenly he was kissing her, softly and gently at first, and then as passions rose they kissed almost desperately, covering each other’s faces with hot kisses.
They lived together in her apartment and life was a fairy tale. Her career was picking up and it was as if she never took a holiday. He kept himself busy with the house and daily visits to the library. He loved to cook and would plan elaborate 4 course dinners for her on Saturday nights. He was also busy on the internet searching for clues about his past. His nightmares were now a rarity. He realized what she had gone through and admired the way she had stitched back life. He drew courage from her strength and her repeated assurances that he will remember soon.
Today was the 2nd anniversary of the plane crash and she had got an invitation to attend a prayer meeting at Nariman point. She had not attended the previous one; and was apprehensive as well as eager about this time. She wondered if her wounds would bleed afresh. GG was supportive, willing her to give it a try, telling her meeting the other families would help her heal faster.
The prayers started at 4 in the evening and there was dinner afterwards. Rhea had brought photos of her family and GG helped her find a place for them among the hundreds that had been pinned to the wall. They lit and placed three candles under them like all the others had. Rhea was glad they had come. The collective grief of all the families made her feel one with them. She had never shared sorrow. There were photos of the wreck on one wall and the names of the missing persons on another. They walked slowly and Rhea stopped to look at the floating bodies trying to find her people in them. Someone came up to her and told her refreshments were ready and she left the board to fetch two glasses of a fruit punch from a big bowl. She returned to the photos and saw GG standing there motionless. He had one hand on the board and with the other he clutched his GG locket. There was something about him had Rhea worried. She placed the glasses on the ground and rushed to his side. His finger had stopped at the name Gaurav Gupta.
He turned to her with eyes wide open. And she knew doors had opened in his mind too.
“You look exactly like your sister. I tried to pull her out but something hit me on the head,” he said to her and turned around to ask for a pen. In bold letters, he calmly wrote against his name –
FOUND BY RHEA NAIR ON 23rd NOVEMBER, 2009, AT BOGMALO BEACH, GOA.