EMPTY PAGES — EPISODE 14
This marks the completion of 100 stories, if you can call them that. As with rainbow this is an experiment too, not sure how well it works but do tell me what you think about it.
His son had gifted him a camera and one of those expensive notebooks. He had just retired and finally could sit down next to his new typewriter — which was a pain to find, but it was a lovely experience using one. He wanted to finally sit down and start writing. He spent hours trying to come up with a plot but could find none.
Frustrated he decided to leave for the beach. He would photograph everything from morning to night and maybe, something would stir his interest.
He was there at 4.30 am the next morning — the beach was almost empty, but people were walking in, assembling for the sunrise. He was nervous, maybe he should go home. He saw the expensive camera in his hands. He was too far in to back out now.
He had watched the sun rise. The sun could have been setting, it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no more light in his life, no more joy. It dawned upon him that this was going to be every morning henceforth.
Hot ashes in his hands. The same hands that carried him home. The same hands that taught him how to tie his shoe laces. The same hand that slapped him when he yelled at his mother. The same hands that taught him to write. They now contained everything that was left of him. Dust.
He was numb on the inside. There was no pain, no agony. It would come soon enough but for now it was quiet. The waves were murmuring at his feet, almost apologetically. It was a low tide, the sea was withdrawing like it didn’t want to take his son from him.
He watched his son, mix with the water. This was his home now, he was now a part of the ocean. He couldn’t leave when the rituals were done. He knew there was no way to patch the fault line. His son was no longer in pain, no more medicines, no more needles. No more scares at 2am that the inevitable had occurred .The waves were soothing now.
She stood there watching the waves lash out at the shore. They seemed in sync with her parent’s emotions. She was sure this was exactly what was in store when she went home. She was just going to have to take it quietly like the shore.
She had been staying a hotel all week, to avoid her parents and their questions. That look of disappointment. All her life she had worked to make them happy, whether it was studies or otherwise. She had married the person of their choice to make them happy. She had done everything she could so she wouldn’t disappoint them.
She hoped one day they would tell her they were lucky to have her. Blessed to have a daughter who would do anything for them. The validation never came. They just expected more. More. More. The list never seemed to end. The list also never seemed to include what she wanted.
She had put up with the pressure in school — everyone had to deal with that, no big deal. She had dealt with the expectations that she had to be the best in everything she did.
She had put up with isolation throughout her life — since nobody thought Ms. Perfect needed friends, she was too good for them. All she wanted was to be like others for a while. Skip classes. Watch movies. Play pranks. They never asked because they thought she wouldn’t want to. She never asked because they never seemed welcoming .
She put up with her emotionally abusive in-laws — only because that is what her parents expected of her. To be the perfect daughter in law ( which translated as whatever your problems — everything should always appear rosy). They wouldn’t listen when she said her husband was abusive and manipulative. He was a well qualified man with a good job, he wouldn’t do such things. They wouldn’t listen when she said she didn’t want to go back.
She tried long enough. At a point she wondered if she was the one who had gone insane. Maybe she was really imagining things. She did everything she was asked to do, and more. She thought she could change him, fix him. Till she realised he was an emotional leech, he wasn’t going to stop till he felt he had had enough.
Luckily she lived far enough from her parents for them not to influence her into staying — again. She spoke to a few friends she knew would help and decided to take the plunge. She had been separated and living alone for a year now, finally a free woman since 3pm the day before. She could breathe. Felt like somebody had lifted the invisible pillow from her face.
She inhaled the sea air. What was she going to tell them? They were going to be angry with her. Disappointed. They’d remind her of every little mistake she had made ever and remind her she was a failure. Except she didn’t feel like one. She was happy with herself, her life.
She stood there watching the waves lash out at the shore. The waves were fickle. They’d change as needed. She felt as sturdy as the shore. They could lash, they could crash, she was here to stay.
The sound never stopped. The sound of the ocean. The thoughts were resonating like sound in a shell. She wanted to come out of it, but it looped. He was not going to come back home. Ever. It had to sink in.
Like the seashells under her toes, she was just the pod — there was nothing alive inside. Somebody used to live there, but not anymore. They had stood here at this same spot so many times, wondering what there future would be like. It was gone forever now, just like the shell that the ocean lapped up from the shore before she could pick it.
She waited, numbly, as another shell came her way. It was one of the spiral ones which always fascinated her, she had always wanted one . She couldn’t stop herself. Only to find a hairy tiny leg sticking out from the open end. She shrieked and dropped it back into the water. The waves brought her new gifts every time they touched her feet. She didn’t get what she wanted, probably wouldn’t ever, but it would be alright.
She was 5 years old. Her small hands safely enveloped in her grandfather’s 80 year old hands. She held on tightly, unable to hold on to her excitement though. She had never seen anything this massive. There was water everywhere. It just kept stretching on and on and on.
He watched her jump every time the waves touched her feet. It was her first time at the beach and she was stunned. She couldn’t contain her amazement at all. She wanted to know when the water would stop. Could they stay till the water stopped? Could they take some home?
He just smiled as picked up her first shell. She wanted to take it back to her mother. She would make a house full of shells. She picked a shell for her father too. She didn’t know she wasn’t going to see either of them anymore.
She was oblivious to the chaos around her. She was building a sandcastle. She told her grandpa he could come visit, he would get a room with a window. In her castle, everyone had to eat ice cream for breakfast. She went on babbling about the castle her mind was building.
In a fraction of a second though, her castle disappeared, taken away from her by the ocean. It took a while to sink in, then she started to cry. A few moments later though, she was back to her building castle. He could only smile as she built on whatever was left of it.
She watched her face as her 1 year old took her first steps in the water. She was squealing as the surf tickled her little toes. She held on her tightly, scared the water would pull her away. Her eyes were sparkling as the surf approached.
It hadn’t been easy, this one year. She was aware of the eyes staring at them, their glares prickling the back of her neck. People always expected a man would appear soon to complete the picture. There wasn’t any. Everyone she had known had distanced themselves from her since.
She had chosen to keep the child, much against the wishes of her parents, her ex and people she had never even met. She had been to this same beach not too long back, when she had made that decision. The ocean teeming with life just as she was, she remembered that morning only too clearly. Despite all the hatred she got, she had no regrets as she watched her daughter gurgling at the ocean.
Her father should have been back by now. He had left at 2am after a huge row with her brother. All the other catamarans were back by now. She had asked everyone, they had seen her father in the morning. He should have been back by now.
He was experienced, the ocean was his life. She wasn’t worried about turbulent waters or winds. She wasn’t worried about him drowning. Those were things she would never have to worry about. It was an old (and boring) family joke that there were greater chances of fish drowning in the ocean than her father.
A few people they had known had disappeared over the last few months and she was terrified somebody would take him away. He was the only person who supported her, irrespective of how far-fetched her ideas sounded. No other father in their area would dream of letting their daughters do things she had done. They didn’t want to know what would happen if they did either.
She was crying when she saw him coming back. He had something in the back of the catamaran. They had captured a turtle too accidentally and it was injured. He generally let them back into the ocean, it wasn’t what he was there for. She had, against his family’s wishes, been sent to college to learn what they already knew (according to them). He knew she’d want to help.
She used to tell him stories about creatures in the ocean he had never even heard of. She told him about different coasts all over the world and creatures that inhabited them. She wanted to save them all. He watched as she tried to fix the broken flipper. He didn’t know if he could help her with that — she had a tendency to dream things beyond his imagination. Her dreams might be at the horizon, but he knew how to adjust his sails.
Everyone around them thought they were a couple who was fighting. The silence told them that. The truth was they didn’t know each other. They both wanted some time alone and standing next to each other accidentally had meant people didn’t disturb them. The boy with snacks. The annoying man with the camera offering to take photographs. Nobody.
They were sitting together in silence. She was here to clear her mind. He was here to find direction. They both were going through turbulent times and didn’t know how to cope.
He didn’t know what she’d say if he tried to make conversation. She looked so annoyed already with her eyebrows furrowed. He decided to take a chance. He didn’t have anything worth losing at this point anyway.
She was annoyed and even more so when he tried talking to her. She just wanted to be left alone. Everything she did was failing. She wanted to run away from it all. She did not want to make conversation with anyone.
She decided to tell him random stuff. Maybe he’d shut up and bolt, they always did. They ended up talking about everything under the sun. Things she had never told anyone because who tells people 100 things that make them happy. He was just like her. Trying to improve everyday, and struggling as life hit him relentlessly like the waves hit the shore. They decided to help each other in whatever way they could. Everyone around were searching for shells to take home, she had found somebody who made her feel at home finally.
It started off as a fun day. They had the day off at school and decided to hang out together. What was better than a trip to the beach? They had planned for days. This was their first outing as a group.
There was always a little bit of leg pulling between them. Who was braver? Who was the smartest? Who was the strongest? Who could eat the most?
If there had been a question of who was the quietest — he would have won. He was never the best of anything else, grateful to be with the best of the class. They liked him because he didn’t try too hard to be one of them. Also mostly because he was in the teacher’s good books always. Pretty useful when you want to get out of trouble.
They challenged each other to do stupid things because they could. The benefit of being young — the ridiculous ideas seemed so appealing. Maybe being an adult was all about doing such fun stuff ( it isn’t ). One of them ate the maximum number of chillies. One downed bottle after bottle of soda. Till they had gone too far.
He didn’t know how to swim, they had challenged him and he decided to go with the flow. Except now he was really going with the flow. He tried to move back to the shore, but the water plucked him each time from the safety of the shore and pulled him back.
He really never had learnt to say no. Today he regretted being a pushover. He would do anything to get back on land, alive, safe. His small but vivid life flashed in front of him. He couldn’t fight anymore, he felt himself giving in to the rocking motions of the waves. Maybe dying would be like being put to sleep.
That could have been the end — with a fish bitten body washing on shore few weeks later. It wasn’t. When he woke up, familiar faces were peering at him, full of fear. He heard blips from his ECG machine nonstop. Traumatised, he vowed never to visit the beach again ever. Never to say yes to things, his gut said no to. The only waves he’d like to have in his life were the green ones running on the machine.
He met death everyday. He would try his best but death won eventually. He could only try to keep death waiting longer. He worked as an ambulance driver for as long as he could remember. He had gotten a driver’s license and started with a rickety white van. The ambulances had changed since. Technology within them had too. The struggle remained the same — man vs. death.
He had learnt so much over the years, he gave people the best first aid that could be given outside the hospital. The staff at most hospitals knew him by name now. He had seen many terrified, confused young doctors mature into specialists over the years — no longer shocked by the contents of his van.
Never in this span had he thought about death paying his house a visit. Despite his hours, his wife had never complained over the years. She was proud of what he did and never missed a chance to tell him that. He never told her most of the things he felt for her. Maybe one day he would retire and they would have time for a long conversation. Time was a luxury he couldn’t afford to give her now, not when somebody’s life was ticking away.
He wished he had had a chance to save her the way he had with so many strangers. She had slipped away from him, slipped through his fingers like water. He had woken up to find her cold. There was nothing he or anyone else could do. He couldn’t remember what he had said to her last. He racked his brains. What were his last words to her?
His days and nights had been empty since. He woke up and absentmindedly made two cups of tea for quite some time. The house was depressing. His empty bed was depressing. The ambulance — which couldn’t save the one person he loved, was depressing. His existence was depressing. He couldn’t take it anymore.
He looked at the waves. They would take him to her. They were a million ways to die, he had see most of them. He didn’t want to be found, treated or cured. He wanted to disappear into the depths of the ocean and never be found again.
He mentally prepared himself to take the plunge when he heard the sound of boys screaming — one of them had been pulled away in the current. He wanted to ignore it and be taken by the same current. He jumped into the water, only to resurface with the boy. He did what he could, what he did best.
Standing outside the ER, the boy’s parents were hugging him and crying, the boy would live. No, he wouldn’t take money. He was happy he could save the boy, but he felt nothing.
He walked back to the ambulance and got in. He only had memories of happiness, and a deep sadness sinking within. Nothing would make him happy anymore, he would have to live with that. He thought of each time she had smiled at him, the pride in her eyes when he told her stories of people he ferried back to the living. The engine roared back to life. For her.
The waves had stiff competition, for she was lashing out at him harder than they ever could. The words struck every nerve with a force they couldn’t compete with. They would just take a backseat today, the force of nature being the woman in front of them.
She had kept quiet for a year, but now it was all coming out. She unleashed wave after wave of anger. Resentment. Bitterness. She had hoped he would have at least thought about their future by now but he didn’t seem to catch up. She couldn’t wait longer for him to get ready.
He sat there sturdily. No words left his mouth. When she was finally out of words to hit him with, he started talking slowly.
Like the stream slowly depositing into the ocean, he started loading her with everything she didn’t know yet. Everything he had contained within himself all this time. Everything that had burdened him till now. When he was done there was silence. His words built up like a delta. He half expected her to leave. She slowly took it all in. Maybe like the ocean, she could handle more than he could.
He couldn’t make up his mind. He always felt peaceful when on the beach but today he couldn’t make up his mind. He was as agitated as the waves. Tossing and turning.
He wanted to turn around walk away, deal with this another day. It had to be done though. There was no escape from the truth. The sun would set in a few hours. The waves would not stop. He couldn’t start liking women in the way his parents felt he should.
Either they would understand, or this would backfire. He knew it would backfire though. He knew what to expect — either they would be in denial or they would be angry with him. They weren’t going to take this news easily.
Maybe if he gave it time, they’d figure it out on their own. Maybe. There were a lot of maybes. There was also the constant pressure to get married. He did not want to ruin somebody’s life to make his parents happy. He thought of the alternative. Having to tell his wife vs having to tell his parents.
He felt sick, like the waves were lashing against the sides of his throat, his stomach. He would have to do it. There was no running away from this. He could feel his insides churning like the ocean, a wave on its way out.
It was amazing how they actually got along, given they were so different. The diversity of this group would parallel that found on the ocean floor. Right from what they ate, to how to they functioned.
Different experiences, exposure had definitely shaped their temperaments. Yet, today none of that mattered. Their differences didn’t matter. They were here together as a family, to celebrate just that.
People stared at the ruckus as they started dividing the food they had brought. If Mary Poppins had a lunch basket — it was the one in front of them. The kids were predictably more interested in the local food which only increased the decibel levels.
When the sun rose again, they would all scatter to their respective homes. Maybe there would be turbulence again as they started arguing. Maybe they would just ignore each other and live in silence. For now, there was a sunset to be watched,balloons to be shot and boat-rides to be enjoyed. What brings people together like the promise of good food and the ocean…
He sat watching the waves in silence, his head lolling to their rhythm. He could make out the voices but they didn’t make sense. His brain went over and over the argument he had just had with his wife. He had come home to tell her he had finally gotten a job. The job. She never let him finish his sentence.
He couldn’t understand what she wanted from him. She was frustrated, he got that. He had really thought he would make it someday. She was tired of waiting for someday. Today was the day all that patience was answered. She wouldn’t hear him out though.
After a lot of screaming, fighting and crying, she had left with his only child. He didn’t mind her taking off for a few days to her parent’s house. Telling him he would never see his son again was what he couldn’t take.
He chased them, reaching his in — law’s house before their daughter, only to find out that she hadn’t come there. He searched for her every place he thought she could go, a million scenarios playing through his mind.
She wouldn’t pick his calls. After calling enough people, who he assumed had called her too, she replied — only to tell him she was leaving him for somebody better. The law was on her side. People had heard enough stories from her to believe he actually had hurt her. They’d vouch for her. She was the mother, she’d get the child too.
In a span of few hours, he had gone from having everything he wanted to having nothing at all. He didn’t care about anything anymore.He didn’t care if he woke up again.
The waves were so close, they could have taken him away. Ended his misery, but they didn’t seem to want him either. He drowned his sadness with the bottle, till it drowned his senses into peace.
He wasn’t sure if this beach ever ended, but his walk had come to an end. He didn’t know the stories of the people who he had captured today, he could only imagine though. It was amazing how so many people here at the same place, the same time, had such unconnected stories. They were like a million lines passing through a point, unaware of each other’s path. He sat down at the end of the day going through the pictures. He had enough material for an entire series with the people he had met and seen today. It was weird how none of this had ever struck him before. He could have written all his life and was complaining about lack of inspiration. The ink would flow all night as ideas kept whirling in his head.
If you made it this far, thank you. Do let me know how good/ bad you felt this episode was.