Goan ordeal X

It was 1993, close to Christmas if memory serves. That’s the point of attempting to write this all down — to see if it will serve.

We were all sat at the large table, all in our myriad-patterned, heat-resistant cotton garb. I say ‘we’, but there weren’t many tables to sit at. I was 25, arrogant, funky, over-confident, chock full of the aristocracy of youth. These guys & girls were laughing & relaxed, I had merely drawn up a chair as casual as can be, expecting to join in the social at some point.

Bad Guys were at the table: English. Aura: murky, eyes: sinister. Droogs lifted straight from the pages of Burgess’ classic novel. There was also the requisite chief among them, but I was unaware of the fact. This bunch were never going to pay for their drinks. Later in the evening I had noticed them waiving a timid Hindu waiter away with vicious contempt when he had appealed for someone to view his bill. I was revolted by the behaviour. Worse was the resignation of the staff, who it struck me were already accustomed to this type of clientele, and had decided to tolerate them.

A few moments later there was a sudden commotion: apparently a pigeon had just flown over and it had crapped directly on to the shoulder of one of the henchmen. This action simultaneously broke the social ice, and shattered the self-esteem of one of the tough guys. His fire-red outrage fuelled the mirth that travelled rapidly around the table. I heard myself speaking some nonsense about blessings from the bird of peace — for the pigeon is practically a dove — isn’t it? In my own mind at least, I played the comic.

Now, apart from a pervasive gentility which Western ruffians can abuse, India happens also to be a place where you can, and you should have a set of clothes custom-made. You can afford this human service and it is a privilege that must be exercised. However, more crucial to this story, one of the tough guys (not pigeon target but another), who I now consider to have been the chief of the crew, appeared to be wearing children’s pyjamas! He looked like the gangster who had ordered his five-year old self’s bedclothes to be remade for adult proportions. And there he was sitting in the middle of his child pyjamas once more, but as a fully, ridiculously grown man. ‘Clown’ didn’t cover the impression it made upon me.

As my eyes fell upon the chieftain’s extraordinary hand-custom-built garb. I began to laugh. I pointed at his clothes, I really can’t remember what I said, except that it was very funny. And once I had started laughing, I just couldn’t stop. Then the mood changed.

I noticed a furtive glance-exchanging among the mob. I decided to leave the table immediately. At least one of the bad guys had stood up to follow me. I broke into a run. Along the way, further down the beach - the cafe now at least one hundred yards behind me - and nobody behind me, I could see a man wheeling a bicycle. I am ashamed to admit that I insisted that I ‘borrow’ the bike and pushed him away from it. As I wobbled off I think I said over my shoulder, “I will bring it back, don’t worry”. But I am not entirely sure...

Then I heard a motorbike engine firing up in the distance. And as I peddled rapidly I encountered a large deserted stone barn. I dropped the bicycle and climbed in through one of its open windows. It was pitch dark inside. I could hear the motorbike engine drawing up. My instinct was to remain as quiet as possible. But I was out of breath. Somehow, to this day I’ve never repeated the feat, I had found a way to draw in enormous drafting breaths, but somehow in complete silence.

At the same time, I had the total conviction that somebody had a gun and I was about to get a bullet in the head. The feeling was so strong that while I drafted in these large gulps of oxygen, I tried to make my final peace with the world. I itemised loved ones, telling each one that I loved them dearly. I prepared myself for impending exit. But then after a few more vastly elongated seconds, I did somehow, make my peace, as they say.

It was then that the motorbike fired up again, and I felt tremendous relief. I wasn’t going to die, after all. I had actually escaped.

I left the barn and delved into the woods that run behind the beach. After a while I came across a burrow. A family was living in the sand! I kid you not one bit.

Can I admit that I was very drunk at the time? It is about time that I did. But anyway, the mother of the family, an ancient looking thing, considering the age of one of the bairns (was it a toddler?) greeted me as if I was one of her own.

She took my hand passionately, and we lay down together in the sand and dirt for a few moments. I felt intense love. Mother love. She was my True Mother for those moments, and I was her long lost son. To this day I do not quite understand the miracle of the encounter. And after a time, I know not how long, I had to wrench myself away to tears and wailing and her arms waiving after me.

Later in the morning when I was half convinced that the whole of the previous night was nothing but a fantastic dream, and I had returned to my own beach hut, I remember smelling my hand, it still reeked intensely of my sand mother and I knew with conviction that only scent can deliver that at least that part of my adventure had been real.

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