substancebooks
 sweet magazine
 books
 submissions
 who we are
 contact us
 
 join our mailing list

change text size

  PDF  Print  E-mail 

back

AARTI SRIJEYAKUMAR
coming home

I run all the way, carelessly jumping over the rough terrain till I reach the shore, breathless. I am now home.

I dig my feet into the wet sand and stand transfixed, drinking in the beauty of this place. A wave reminiscent of thousands of metres of navy silk unfurls at my feet, clashes against the rocky coast sending up fine sprays of salty water. The wind is up, tugs at my skirt and plays with my hair, making walking difficult. It blows sand into my eyes, stinging, making them water. I always think of this place when I seek solace. With a rush of delight I kick off my takkies and plunge into the inviting waves. Even though Uma made me promise not to swim, the sun-dappled blue sea is impossible to resist.

It's a well-known fact that on this rocky shoreline a few careless people have been dragged to an early watery grave. Would it be so terrible? I muse to myself. Perhaps the Sea Gods would claim me as their next life sacrifice? I wouldn't complain if that happened: I'll gladly disappear, forever.

The rocks littering the beach, sunlight sparkling on the waves, the whiff of fish, all have a still, timeless quality. This is how it must have been for centuries, except for the shoreline, which shifted owing to the ocean's unquenchable thirst for the land, patiently eroding golden sand, grain by grain. I often feel closer to God when I have this spread before my eyes, especially at sunrise and sunset. It's difficult to deny God's existence when I am here. There are many descriptions of God: God is Love, God is Truth, God is Life, but the one I like best is: God is Beauty. Whenever I see something exceptionally beautiful, I end up thinking about God. I like to imagine that if I try hard enough, I can see God's face in between the space where the blue sea meets the blue sky. I don't know why I feel as if I'm standing in God's presence whenever I visit this place. yet acutely feel his absence when I'm in church, where God supposedly lives.

Uma doesn't understand my fascination for this place. To her, all beaches are the same and in a way, she's right: whether I sit on this side of the Indian Ocean, off the East coast of South Africa or on its other side, the West coast of India, it's still the same ocean. On the few occasions she has accompanied me here, she gets quickly bored and makes me go home with her. I can understand - it is a lonely, deserted place, and if I get into trouble, there will be no-one to call for help. She is particularly terrified that I will take a tumble down the steep cliff on my way here. It's a narrow path, not much more than a goat track, coiling its way precariously around the steep hillside. She feels responsible for me and if she were to ever find out that I swim here, she would throw a fit. That's why I don't tell her: to protect her from her overwrought imagination (and to save myself from yet another scolding).

I know Uma doesn't love me. Her concern is not for my safety. She feels it is her 'Christian Duty' to take in the abandoned child of her dead sister. She is only bound by duty to keep me in her house and I don't feel I should be compelled to love her for it. She is forever telling me that I should feel grateful to her. Boy, would she howl like a banshee if I were to tell her that I like it even less than her to be with her than she likes to be with me. Maybe I should tell her? No, it's too late now.

My mind wonders back to my last conversation with Uma. She had been highhanded and condescending, as usual. She had somehow found out that I had not been going to church. I have been coming here instead. It probably was Mrs. Busybody Alphonsus who ratted on me - Uma couldn't have found out otherwise, since she herself is too sick to go to church. I can still hear her screaming, "If you carry on like this, my girlie, you are going to end up in Hell", as I dashed out of her back door. Her hysterical cries faded the further I ran, vowing I would never come back to her or this house. Why does she always think that she can act as God's spokesperson? Just thinking about it makes my eyes burn with unshed tears and frustration. Salty tears fuse with the salty sea. I don't want to think about it anymore.

I reluctantly swim toward the beach and crawl out of the shallow end: it looks like even the Sea Gods don't want me. My wet clothes stick to me, like another layer of skin. I look up at the sun and console myself that it will soon dry them. But what to do when the sun sets?

To distract myself, I search for signs that other people have been here - cigarette buts, burnt wood, footsteps in the sand, litter - and feel relief wash over me when I find none. I have unconsciously taken this stretch of sea as my own, and guard it jealously. If I do find evidence of other visitors, as I sometimes do, I feel as if my place has been desecrated by trespassers. I wish I could put my arms around this place and shelter it from sacrilege. I wish someone would put their arms around me because they care about me.

The sun is already drowning in the bloodstained waters. I can't save it from its daily drowning just like I can't change my past. With the encroaching darkness comes apprehension. Fear gnaws the edges of my brain. I'm NOT going back to Uma's! I could just stay here, I suppose. This feels more like home anyway. I have been stupid though: I should have planned my escape better. Uma wouldn't have noticed if I had snuck some of my stuff out of my room and stashed it here. A blanket, food and touch light. And matches would have come in handy. But now it's too late to go back and claim them from Uma's house, its already dusk now. I have always wanted to see the magical moment when sunset spills over into dusk, but I have failed again today. Maybe I shall be luckier tomorrow.

How could a warm Spring day turn into a cold, clear night? A thousand star points dazzle like chips of ice and the beaten goat track gleams blue-white under the half-crescent moon. Somewhere far out beyond in the crouching shadows a vixen calls, an eerie, high-pitched scream. Please don't come near me, I silently pray. I nestle down more comfortably on the sand, lean my back against a nearby rock, rest my head on my bent knees.

The soothing breeze carries the sound of someone muttering an obscenity on the cliffs. As I lift my head, frowning, half puzzled, half afraid, a man's figure, black against the pearly moonlight, is silhouetted against the sky.