Turbulent Tides (c)

He walked quietly, looking at the sullen river a few feet away. The sky was purple, streaked with orange and red: the typical colours of sunset in the small town. The light green of the grass was broken only by the mottled dark brown of rocks here and there, more prominent near the water. The silence was broken by the occasional gurgle of a pigeon flying home, racing to beat the sunset. In the distance, a dog barked moodily, then fell silent. 


He kicked the can away. What did it matter now, he thought bitterly. 


Nothing you can do can make a difference, no more. 


And for a moment, even the skies seemed to laugh at him. 




While about 500 metres away, she hobbled painfully, knowing that the end of days was near. It wasn’t always like this, no, she had to admit. Why, she was beautiful at one time, had men lining up to make love to her, smile at her, provide for her. How she had loved twirling under the lights .. the music, the admiration, the delicacies, the embraces… ahh. She lived for those moments. And when she was too old for that kind of amusement, she had retired to her little cottage in the village near the river, adjusting her lifestyle to her income, physically comfortable but missing something in her life terribly. 


And then, slowly but sure, the effects of old age and poverty: torn clothes, stitched with patches; the thinning down of food stocks in the kitchen; fewer friends visiting than before, and now most of them women like her; the days hanging longer, the evenings oppressive and still. 


But she was a fighter, a born warrior, who was not the kind who would accept fate .. she always looked for something to do. 


She grunted as she stepped on a stone, then nudged it away with her foot, taking care not to touch it with the more sensitive part of her undersole. 



He knew then what he would have to do, or so he thought. Walk into the water, now, he commanded himself. It may be a little cold to start with but you will get used to it. And keep walking. If you slip, so much the better. Choose a point where the current is strong. Before you know it, there will be water in your lungs. 


He shivered slightly even as a single tear coursed it’s way down his cheek. Would it hurt?. Maybe, maybe not, came the distracted response. 


Fuck, you can’t even decide whether to kill yourself, mocked the voice in his head. 




She knew he was in the village of course. In the nature of gossip and neighbourly talk in small places, everyone knew he was there. The famous writer, retired and here from the city, wanting some peace and quiet! Could he not be left alone for a while, he said! Maria went to clean his house, Suman left the food on the kitchen table and he was rarely seen! How his mastery of the language was evident .. books sold by the millions, people lining up to hear his lectures, his sense of humour matched only by his sparkling prose! And how appropriate that he should come to this village, out of the millions available in the country! Her hearing was bad now, of course, but more than that she knew she lacked the courage to stand in front of him again. He might recognise her .. or he might not. She didn’t know which would be more painful. Would he turn his face away, embarrassed to be seen with her, a shadow of her old self, now haggard and tired? but there was no denying that merely looking at him from a distance made her heart leap again. There was something about his eyes .. his smile .. despite her tiredness, her steps became lighter. 



And it was the hour just gone that had defeated him. He had fought all his life .. wanted to stay positive, write his heart out, create moving images based on what you read .. that’s how he saw his work. He had started out without the least idea of whether he would make money at all, and what he would do if he did. I want to,  was his simple response when his parents asked him why he was struggling to make a living as a writer instead of taking up the job in the local government that was offered to him. They were not well off, and his salary would have been useful. He was adamant about not doing something that his heart forbade.  He wrote for the sheer pleasure of it and after the mandatory period of waiting and slogging … paying your dues…  and after living in near-penury and poverty for 6 years, not knowing where the next meal would come from, who the rent would be paid by and so on .. his fourth book hit the bestseller list, and the publisher, during his fortnightly meeting, had handed over a six digit cheque with the mild admonition, “Don’t go spending it all at once”. 


As if he would. He had never seen a cheque of that value in his life and all of 34 years old, had to figure out how to open a bank account, talking to a bank manager who was struggling to comprehend how a person wearing torn and unwashed trousers could possibly have earned such a cheque honestly. But then he saw the book on his table, and flipped to the author’s profile and saw the photo. Of such coincidences and identity proof is life made. 



She had walked down to the gazebo and ordered a martini for herself, humming the tune that was playing in the background and listening to the street noises filtering in through the windows. The boyish looking man had walked up to her and introduced himself. An author, he said. He mentioned the current bestseller and noted her brief response: if she was a fan, she didn’t make it evident. Drinks had led to dinner, and an after dinner walk: they were not anxious to get into bed and more keen to talk about their lives. They had both experienced pain and had not lost their sensitivity to it: she was at least conscious that some of her behaviour around men was compulsive, driven by her need to forget her abandonment in childhood and the string of foster parents, some abusive, some indifferent, and mostly distant. 


There was that moment of course when their vulnerability united them. But then, fear took over and she was reminded of her pain: she withdrew and saw the confusion and pain in his eyes. That frightened her more and she ran. He followed her, but even as she stumbled, the car careening round the corner screeched as it went over her legs. 




“Go” she said from her hospital bed. 

He hesitated, but she repeated the word. 

He went. 

For a lifetime, he wondered if she had meant it. If he had wanted to stay.. Should he have? 

Did he want to? 

Does life offer guarantees? 

Take out an insurance policy on love, sniggered the voice in his head. 

All that seemed certain was that he could write and that he did like a maniac. 

And they never stopped buying his books. 

And the voice grew stronger and louder. 




Ah, and what was I thinking of, the last hour, he thought sadly. When he found out that years later, she had descended into penury. And that was why he had come to the same village. Hoping to catch a look, a smile. She never came out of her house, mostly. 


And when she did, she ignored him. 


He walked up to her once, hello, Rajita, how are you. 


She looked at him, through him and walked on. Let the past remain there, she thought. There is no need for more pain. 



He walked into the river and gasped as the cold water hit his ankles. He paused. 


The old woman hobbled closer to him. He still had not seen her. 


Wait, Archit. I have been in your head so far. I am now here in flesh and blood. 


He turned around slowly, and saw it was her. Her face remained unmoving, expressionless. She read the expression in his eyes. Nothing has changed, Archit. Not you. Not me. 


She entered the water, and he held out his hands. She touched him delicately, first his fingers, then his palms, then his arms. 


That familiar pressure, that same smile twitching at the corners. 


“We are still a bunch of kids, Rajita”, he smiled wanly. 


“Still wanting to put an end to it, running away”, she said soberly. 


They remained in the water, oblivious to the darkening skies, the increasing pace of the current. The water was now audible, sighing and hissing, a dark, coiling snake that had risen to their knees by then. 


“We go back”, she said, quietly, trusting herself finally to open up. She had ignored him in the village, had seen the pain in his eyes for the second time in his life and had followed him. 


“To where we came from”, he smiled wanly and as she stumbled towards the shore, caught her and lifted her, even as the water rose to waist level, the streak of lightning lighting up the sky and the roar of thunder drowning out everything else.





This story is so beautifully crafted. It flowed like the rive...swift in places then smoothly. I was in these two people's lives as the story unfolded. I culd see them as they met in the water, tentatively touching, seeing if the other would accept or reject the touch. This becomes a metaphor for the whole story, for the way their lives weaved in and out.