The mosquitoes always make sure that I don’t sleep more than I need to… and at times… not as
much as I need to. Let me introduce myself. My name is Alfred Francine Douglas… known between
my friends as Alfi. I am a 71 years old, Anglo-Indian living in the economic capital (Kochi) of Kerala; a
southern state in India. Never married or have much family to brag about. I make my living by
cutting and shaving people’s hair. That makes me a barber. A profession that helped me fill my
stomach for the past 51 years. I have never cut the hair of any famous people till date. However
there are people who have become famous long after they have got a hair-cut from me. I make men
look more decent and kids cuter.
I was born in Goa. I have four sisters and three brothers. Father had his own fishing boat and that
provided the food on the table. We all used to sail to the middle of the sea every Sunday after
church and provided the joy on the childhood. My parents never fought. My mother was the most
beautiful woman on the entire coast. That’s what father used to say. The sun was never able to fade
her white glowing skin. She used to sing in the church. Father always said that he will not be able to
miss even one Sunday at the church as long as my mother’s voice enchanted the holy place.
Like all good things that must come to an end, this also was no different. I had to run away from
home at the age of 17. That was an old verse in my fainting memory. I hardly remember the reason
behind it. Whatever it was… it wasn’t worth the loneliness I went through.
It took me two years of roaming around before I reached Kochi, which eventually became my
home. Kochi gave me the new identity and a job that helps me sustain the air in my lungs. By the
age of 24 I had a saloon of my own near the railway station. Most of my life was spent on that place.
It was like my shell. It was a small room with two chairs and one waiting bench, one huge mirror, fan
and a wash basin. The fan was the luxury that came with the demand of changing time. I never
named it though. I had a board put on that says, ‘Saloon’.
At the olden days, barbers were expected to go to the houses of aristocrats to cut their and their
children’s hair. I am amongst the few who still does it even today. I have no issue with pride and
profession. They are my regular customers who treat me like a friend. I also like it as I get to see
their luxurious houses. All my life in this city, I have been living in a small lodge that charges me
monthly. If you can’t have luxury, at least see what it is about.
One or two thing that I have cherished throughout these years is movies and football matches. I
always find a way not to miss either. And this old man today, while cutting the hair of this friend of
mine could only think of one thing… call it a day and go to the cinema talkies. The silver screen
shows me the world I never had. I live through those emotions that I see on those great actors. I
have a young heart that helps me enjoy all this.
As you get older, few simple things of life gets really hard… like getting up from a place after sitting
for some time. Visit of Mr. Cramps whenever my stomach is free for him to occupy. An old man
should be aware of his liabilities. Keeping that in my mind I always wear my coat to the movies to
keep away the cold from getting into my bones and to keep away the hunger in me… some bread
and a flask of coffee. That will prevent the hunger-monster from taking his liberty in my stomach.
This movie has action, drama, love, sentiments and everything I needed to see. I always loved to
see Bollywood films. The movie also had a happy ending. Love winning against all odds. Splendid,
After the movie I usually walk to my hood. This day was no different. Sometimes someone would
offer me a lift. But today all vehicles were occupied. Even the bicycles had an extra passenger on the
carrier. But I didn’t mind walking. Not after watching the efforts of a man who fought through all
odds to win his love.
Today, there are street lights everywhere. Not like how it used be when I was young were we had
light a torch and find the way. There are 71 streetlights on the way home. I related each of them to a
memory of each and every year in my life. As you get older, one should try to put all those memories
from your life to well coordinated chapters in a book which should be kept safely hidden in your
mind. You keep revising it in every free time. It will more or less make a good reading. The content of
such a thick book will be different for each person who has lived as long as me. But they all will have
the same message. Life is too short, and most of it has been spent on unwanted grief. And if all
those thoughts still don’t do much to distract you from the task ahead of walking a long distance.
Then that means your body is not as young as your heart. But you got to do what you got to, until
life tells you to stop.
Few more blocks and I am home. Well, it’s just a small room in a building that is older than me. But
like someone said somewhere, home is where the heart is. Which makes me wonder where is this
home of mine? My heart certainly hasn’t been anywhere here.
I put my right hand inside my pant pocket to take out the key to my room, which they let me carry
with me. As I took the key out of my pocket, a one rupee coin fell of it… which means I have to be on
both my knees to take it… that too on the road-side. I dropped on to my knees which makes it easier
for me to take the coin. I was sure no one is there to witness this. I took the coin slowly tried to pick
Something whizzed past my head at that time… something, in a monstrous rage. It almost touched
my hair which was caught on the sudden formed wind. What was going on? I looked up and saw a
car furiously moving with not much control. It followed the curve on the road and was out of my
vision within a blink of the eye. It scared the living ghost out of me. I missed a few breathe. Did that
just happen? There was this sudden noise then. It was a crashing noise. It was as if a thunder strike.
This couldn’t be right. I didn’t know what to think. My legs are shaking. I just stood froze. I could
hear the sound of the tyre-rubber getting burned on the road after a brief moment of silence
following the large clamour. I was shaking all over. I expected the worse. I stood there like that for
almost a minute or even more. This is not the place to be. I am not the right person for this.
I finally decided that I should see what had happened. Every step I took was getting even scarier
and a difficult one. I almost passed the curve. My pace got slower. The tempo of my heart got
higher and higher. I kept walking. It appears to be that the worst had happened. There are three
people including me on the road right now. And I was the only one standing alive and breathing.
Beside us was a bike that lay completely wrecked on the front. The car must have run through these
children. Their bloodied bodies were so badly disfigured that it was sure that they didn’t survive. It
was brutal. I barely looked at the depth of their injuries. It was too frightening. As if they have been
squashed like a bug. There is nothing to be done now. My immediate thoughts were how are the
parents and the loved ones of this children going to take this. I couldn’t possibly imagine. The guy
who hit these children would be possibly drunk. I wonder if he would even remember this the next
morning. The brutality he caused knowingly or unknowingly would always scar the hearts of many
for whom these kids were a ray of new hope. And how could anyone ever repent to them?
There is nothing an old bag of bones like me can do. I slowly started to step back. I was still scared…
though concerned and hurt. I needed to do something. But I couldn’t tell what. My left foot stepped
on something as I was walking backwards.
“Aarghh…” Someone sighed with pain… I was shaken. My first thoughts were to run away.
Eventually I realized that what I stepped on was another human being. I have never been so scared
in my life. I couldn’t possibly imagine what state this third person will be in after this gruesome
accident. How traumatic will his injuries be? Once again, I just wanted to run away. But I also wanted
to help. I tried to regain all my inner strength and courage to turn around. I told myself that a man is
a man no matter how old he gets. No matter how handicapped he becomes. I had to be a bigger
man to help this living being if that means I have to somehow save his life… or assist him on passing
away to the next world.
I felt as if even my neck was shivering as I tried to turn. I was astonished to see this young man as I
turned around. I was relatively more at ease too. This boy didn’t appear to have any fatal injuries.
Not anything external at least. All my thought now is focused on saving his life and taking him to a
hospital. I have to say that all of a sudden I felt this sort of spiritual strength within me. As if I was
not alone. He looked pale and weak. I bent over to touch him. I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought I
would try to lift him by his shoulder.
“Don’t,” he said. “I can’t move. I shattered my rib cage.” His voice had a lot of pain involved in it.
“Can I have something to drink?” he asked.
I couldn’t react to his words. I couldn’t react to his request. I just stared at his eyes.
“Can I please have some water?” he asked again. I remembered that there was some black coffee
in the flask which I carried in my shoulder bag pack. I took out the flask and opened it. It wasn’t too
hot now. All I could offer was this coffee. He drank it with much difficulty. I couldn’t tell why.
Probably he had some obscurity swallowing it. And then he tried to smile at me.
“Thank you, “he said. “I don’t really feel a lot of pain, you know?” Thank god for that, I thought to
myself. “But I will definitely die rather soon.”
“How could you say that?” I asked.
“Oh… I know for sure my friend,” he said. “I could feel something in me bleed. I couldn’t say what.
But I surely know what time it is.” I didn’t know what to say. “Can you chant me a prayer before I
depart?” he asked.
“I…I don’t know what I am suppose to pray,” I said.
“Are you am atheist?” he asked. His tone and voice was now hardly of a person who was hurt in an
accident. What am I suppose to make out of it? Is he going to be ok? Or is it like the calmness before
a dreadful storm.
“No, I just didn’t follow any pattern in worshipping him,” I said. He smiled. But it was a smile that
seemed no connection with this world. In all these years of my life, I have never witnessed anyone
die. “I need to take you to a hospital. I need to find help. Just hold it all in. Let me go and look
around a bit.”
“No, don’t,” he said. “Please don’t leave me alone. Trust me. Nothing can save me now. I have
heard my call. Besides, I never wanted to carry this melancholy life,” he said with the smile still
showing on his face. Here is a young man, mostly 23 years old expressing his will not to live even
when he is dealing with the real possible departing pain. He definitely had all the luxurious of life
compared with me. He would have seen and learned and experienced and enjoyed all those things
which I wanted to but, couldn’t and even done more things that I couldn’t possibly imagine. And
yet… he finds life worthless.
“Why?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Life is too complicated my friend. The other side of it wouldn’t be so
convoluted or deprived.”
“Is that it?” I asked. He didn’t find it too hard to speak. I thought I should make him engaged till a
help comes over.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s just I am seeing all those things which is to follow,” he said looking
skyward lying flat on the road. “It is worth all the pain. It is better than all those other things
combined. It will only get better as it chose me.” He must be hallucinating or something.
Death… I am scared to think about it. I am too weak for it. I know I can’t escape it forever. I just try
to stop thinking about the inevitable. “You are a brave young fellow.”
“There is nothing brave in this my friend. There are more things to have and lesser things to be left
behind from what I foresee. And if you are not sure then you just have something missing
throughout your life. Something you wanted forever. You will be better off by going for it. See what
it would have…. It….” He stumbled. He was finding it tough to breathe now. His face showed pain.
That calmness he had was now diminishing. I held his hand. I feared I was going to witness the
inevitable. “How are my friends?” he enquired.
“They… they are taken to a hospital. They will be ok. Another ambulance will be here any moment.
Stay calm.” He was hardly listening. He seems to be breathing heavy now. I checked his pocket. No
cell phone. I can’t find any nearby either.
I could hear a motor vehicle coming towards us. It was a chance. Finally some help. I must save this
boy. I must convince them. But I feared that they might want to save the trouble. “Look… there is
something heading our way. Just stay strong. They will help us to get you to the clinic. Jus… just hold
on,” I said. He spat a thick clot of blood as I said that.
I let go of his hand… got up on my legs. I centred on the road with my hands held high. The vehicle
had made the turn not far from us and appeared in our vision. It was a bus… with a banner on the
front of it. I waved my hands. I was concerned that the driver might not be able to apply the brakes
on time. But I had a bigger task ahead. The bus stopped in front of us. I could hear people from
inside it chatter. They probably were wondering what is going on. I couldn’t say anything. One man
from inside got out of it. He is mostly in his forty’s… dressed well and formally even in these late
hours. He had a spectacles and a scarf protecting him from the cold. He looked confused and walked
ever so slowly. “Oh, no,” he said as he saw the damage. Few kids from inside the bus got out till the
exit door. One of the girls screamed as she saw something is terribly wrong.
“Everybody, get inside,” shouted the man.
“Sir, please help. One of them is still alive,” I said. He seemed tensed and puzzled. Another man and
an older nun came out of the bus.
“Sweet Jesus,” said the nun.
“What do we do?” said the second man.
“No time to think. Get all the kids out,” said the man with the spectacles. “You and Sister Teresa
stay here with the kids. Ask the driver to come out and help us carry the boy.”
“But the kids… in this time of the night staring at such a horrific situation,” said the Sister.
“No time, Sister,” said the second man and acted on getting the kids out of the bus to a spot much
further away from where the bodies lay. There must have been at least 50 boys and girls wearing
uniform in the age group of mostly 15. After giving quick instructions to the kids both the gentlemen
along with the driver took a cloth sheet and carefully put the injured boy in it and carried him in the
bus. They were cautious that they didn’t touch his body or put any pressure on it. I got along with
them. The second man and the nun stayed back with the kids. It was almost 2 am now. We were
going to the hospital as fast as possible. The boy was hardly responding. We reached the hospital
within 15 minutes. The driver kept honking the horn as we approached the hospital gates. That was
all it took. Male and female nurses rushed with their stretchers and took the boy within no time.
I and the gentleman sat there in the lobby. It had many bucket seats. And a TV set that was playing
on for nobody actually. The only two other people over there other than us were deep in their
“Coffee...” said the gentleman, lending forward a cup of coffee… I didn’t even realize when he got
up from his seat beside me. I must have been lost in my own worries for quite some time. He had
two cups in his hands.
“Thank you,” I said taking a cup.
“My name is Rashid,” he said shaking my hand. “I am a teacher. Those kids you saw on the bus
were my students. We were on a school excursion,” he said with a tired smile. I smiled back. “Well…
turned out to be a valuable life experience for them,” he said.
“Which place?” I asked.
“Calicut. St. Mary’s School,” he replied. It’s a place more toward the north of Kerala.
The doctor walked out of the theatre where the boy was taken into. He was looking at some other
chart. He seemed to be in a lot of hurry. Mr. Rashid got up and went towards him. They talked a
little. Then he came towards me… ever so slowly. He sat beside me. “What is your name, sir?”
“Alfred. What did the doctor say?” I enquired.
“Are you related to him?”
“No. I saw him just a few minutes before you all arrived. I live nearby.”
“Oh. Do you know this boy in anyway?” he asked.
“No, is he ok?”
“Well… he is clinically dead. Am sorry sir,” He said. Dead… I understand that. “They are finding hard
to identify the boy and contact the parents of the boy. Police have reached the accident spot and the
other two boys have been removed from the streets. Their whereabouts will be found as soon as
“Hmm...” that’s all I could respond.
“Look… you don’t need to stay, sir. What happened has happen. It is unfortunate. God bless their
soul. I am sure it must have been all too rough for you. And I am sorry for you. I will handle the
situations here. You can go home and have your rest, sir. Your family must be worried about you
also. What you say?” he asked. I wasn’t really listening. “Sire?” he called again.
“Yes… I will just head home now,” I replied.
“Good,” he said. He stood up now. “What you did today was really strong of you, sire. I have to
admit it inspired me.” I smiled and got up. He took the emptied coffee cup from my hand. “How can
I help you get home sir?” he asked.
“Can you arrange me something?” I enquired.
“With pleasure,” he said with a big smile.
He got me a cab which he paid personally from his pocket… a small consolation from the
gentleman’s side. I tried to talk him out of it… but was of not much affect. He shook my hand one
last time before I got in the car. An old man doesn’t have to be a part of fundamental policies. It
could make even a hero look preposterous.
The cab took me home in no time. I thanked the driver and slowly made my way inside my lodging
room. I closed the door behind me and quenched my thirst. As I sat on the bed with the lights still
turned off, all I could think of was the boy’s words. I started to wonder what is it that makes me feel
incomplete. What is it that brings me fear to face the predestined? Is it the guilt of hurting my
parents by running away? Is it the complex of not achieving a dignified position or not having any
possession? Is it that I haven’t been in my birth place for so long? Or is it her? Is it her absence that
incompletes me? Do I still love her? Do I?
“Wake up… wake up son,” called my father shaking me. I opened my eyes. It was only 3 in the
morning. “Wake up…” he said again in a low voice.
“Sshh...” he said closing my mouth with his hand. “Quiet now. You don’t need to wake your
brothers and sisters,” he whispered. We all slept on the same room. I got up and washed my face.
Put on my coat and boots as he asked me to. Mom waited with a warm glass of milk and even
warmer hug. I could tell Dad and me were going to sail on the boat… far from the shores. Away from
anything that walks on two legs. It was still dark and cold outside. Me, father and the helmsman
motored away to watch the sun break open. That’s what I thought. Dad was standing on the bow of
the boat. And I stood just behind him. “Happy Birthday my son,” he wished with a smile looking at
me and then faced the sea with excitement on the face. It was my birthday. I am 17.
After sometime the motor was turned off. The boat still kept on moving for a bit. It was still dark…
and cold. “What now?” I asked.
“We wait…” said my father.
“Wait for what?” I asked. He turned around and faced me. Caught me by the shoulders and looked
in to my eyes.
“Dolphins…” he said with excitement written all over.
“What?” I thought he must be kidding.
“Yes, yes… dolphins. You just wait young man.” So I waited. It was almost time for sunrise. Darkness
was getting torn apart bit by bit. We waited and waited. No sound made. No lapse in concentration.
“Look,” said the helmsman pointing at something. Yes, I could see something just a little away from
us. It was moving fast just under the surface of the sea. Now I can see more than one. The sun light
was getting more radiant. The water almost sparkled. My father got more excited. We couldn’t tell
how many were there. We had our eye-balls set on the target. And then one just rose of the water…
just jumped on to clinch the air. My heart just stopped there. And as it was to fall back in to the sea I
saw the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I saw her for the first time. She was dressed in white.
Hair held back. She was as fair as a white pearl. She must have been a good 100 meters away from
us. We didn’t realise there was another boat nearby. I just couldn’t take my eyes of her or even close
my mouth. And even more… she was looking back at me… eye to eye. Witnessed by the first
morning rays and the most beautiful creatures, that was responsible in setting my vision on her. I am
not sure if she has seen them before. Because I couldn’t tell how she was able to miss that
wonderful sight and just stare at someone like me. I don’t care. As I… am in love.
The dolphin’s unexpected cry made us aware where we are. And as they swam to the distance it’s
time for us to part. And I asked myself will the lands prevail in making us meet again? Or will the
tides be too stronger than what it is in the Arabian Sea and drift us further away? I will fight all odds
and make our love victorious. She was off my sight within moments. Our boat headed to the shore.
I was very close with 3 of my six siblings. And they were all younger than me… but old enough to
discuss love. I told them what a dramatic change is bound to happen in my life after an enlightened
experience that occurred this morning. They promised full support from their side. I am not sure
how much help they could be off.
My dad and mum certainly noticed quietness from my side. My sister, Shelly, told him I was just
mesmerised by the ravishing sight at the sea, the other day. My dad commented that I will be a
writer one day. Shelly, Rita and Stephen will be home for few more days as the schools have closed
for the summer. That allows me to bore them even more and more with the same story. I can’t draw
that well… but to my own astonishment I drew her picture. It looked exactly like her. Every detail
magnified perfectly. I felt her even closer to my heart. I held her against my chest.
I was lying in the bed wandering as usual when Shelly came running in from outside shouting my
name. She got inside the room and jumped on to the bed and caught both my hands. She was
panting hard. “What? What is it?” I asked.
“I… I… I saw her,” she said winded.
“Saw her where?” I asked with uncontrollable excitement.
“Grocery store,” she replied.
“Come,” I replied catching her by the hand and running towards the store. We must have missed
her as we got there. I was disappointed. My sister was sorry for me. I put an arm around her. As I
turned around I had the most pleasant shock my life. The girl I was searching for was walking away
from me with a bicycle on hand with another girl. She must have not seen me. I pushed my sister
gently and asked her to follow her secretly and find where she lives. This day surely would have been
a good workout for my thin sister. I went home and eagerly waited for her most awaited arrival ever
since she was born.
When she arrived it was almost dinner time and all the family members were home. I indicated her
not to say anything about this. We couldn’t talk about this even at bed time. So I told the 3 to
assemble outside tomorrow morning to brush. And we slept on that agreement.
Rita and Shelly looked a lot like mom. They will look like twins when they grow up. Rita is two years
younger to her. The surprise is that it is Stephen and Shelly who are the twins. Neither do they look
identical nor is their behaviour. We all got up in the same time… gathered in the fountain pond in
the lawn. Our elders are one step ahead in the morning as they have responsibilities.
“So?” I asked Shelly. She just looked back at me with a straight face. “What happened?” I asked.
“You idiot… she and her friend caught me following them,” she said with a certain degree of anger
in her voice. That wasn’t the answer I expected. Stephen saw the lighter side of it and laughed his
“And?” asked Stephen.
“I was forced to tell her… everything,” she said. I put my hand on forehead. The game seems to
have ended even before it commenced. “But it turned out to be a good thing,” she said. That caught
the attention of us 3. We were ardent to know how it could turn out to be a good thing. “She asked
you to be on the Basilica by 9am. You alone,” she informed.
“What? Why didn’t you say so?” I asked with excitement. “It’s almost that time.”
“Did I get time before?” she asked in rage. She is just upset of being caught. Plus she is always hot
headed after a cold night’s sleep.
“Okay, okay,” I tried to bring peace. “Thanks a million. You are the best. And I owe you in big,” I said
appreciating and calming her. Then I acted fast on dressing up and escaping my mother’s eyes. She
doesn’t go well with skipping breakfast. I took my stuff and asked Stephen to cover me up saying
that the coach took me or something. Then I took the bicycle and speeded to optimism.
I could hear the melodies sound of the choir practising as I reached there. I wondered if my girl was
in it. I walked ever so slowly. I wanted make sure that Father doesn’t see me roaming around. He
wouldn’t believe if I told him I was here for a confession. So I kept the bicycle outside the walls of
the church. I circled outside the church looking in through each window and each opening that
showed in. My eyes ran through each of the girls. I couldn’t find her. I kept seeking her. Someone
caught my collar from behind and pulled me as I tried to have a closer look at the group through the
window. That someone then caught my hand and ran taking me to the back of the church. That
someone was a girl. My heart beat rose. She led me through the narrow paths that would take us to
the beach. We ran fast. As we reached there she tried to throw me to the giant rocks on the shore
with all her might. Then she fell to her knees gasping for hair. Her face covered with long silky hair. I
couldn’t see her face which was bowed down to the earth. Then she raised her head to look at me.
And all the tides have come to a stand-still. She pulled her hair beside her ear… kept dazing at me…
still not recovered her breath. Her face has turned red. Her eyes pierced through my ticking flesh.
Her hair constantly caught on the wind that gets stronger and stronger. She rose to her feet. She was
nothing less than elegant. She was dressed in a Lilly blue dress. I never knew blue was such a
beautiful colour. She walked towards me. I was getting uncomfortable leaning on the rocks. My lips
got very dry. My hands started to shiver. She looked deep in to my eyes. But her look was as if I have
done something wrong. Something I shouldn’t have.
“Did you find me in the choir?” she asked.
“W- What?” I stammered.
“Anybody could tell in just one look that I wasn’t in the group. What were you looking again and
“I- I didn’t mean to…”
“I know… I know,” she interrupted. Then she looked at me from bottom to head. “Is that your
playing kit?” she enquired pointing at the bag I had in my hand.
“Yes, how did you…”
“I know everything about you, Alfred,” she said cutting me short. “I know where you live… who all
are in your home… who all are your friends… what all you do and how much you love me.” That was
some ending to the list of things she knows about me. “You are playing for Churchill brothers aren’t
you?” she asked. It was a major football club in Goa. I am in their 30… never played a match.
“Yes…” I replied. She smiled at me. She kept looking at me with not much been said.
“Do you know my name?” she asked. I would care nothing else in this world.
“No, I am afraid.” I said. She smiled.
“Matilda…” She said. I have never heard such a name. It was beautiful. But it couldn’t fit for any
“So tell me…”
“Tell you what?” I asked.
“Tell me why you are here. Tell me why that every time you see me you just drop your jaws and
freeze,” she said touching my chin. Her touch sends shivers to my spine.
“But this is only the second time I am seeing you,” I said. She laughed.
“That means even your brain froze whenever you saw me somewhere,” she mocked.
“Are you saying we have seen many times?” I enquired.
“Looks like I was the only one with sense all those times,” she said. I didn’t know what to say. “But
you know what… all those times your eyes had a sparkle in it. Just like the one you are having now.
And I wonder if it is always there or is it only when you see me.”
“All I can say is Matilda that I love you so much that I know it can’t be expressed even with an
entire lifetime together with you. I know little about you. But there is this feeling I have which keeps
telling me that I am going to know you well forever. And I can’t ask for anything more if it is so.” I am
not sure what I spoke. There were just more than a million words colliding in my head. I possibly can
choose the right combination of it. But I can see she has heard enough to get convinced of my true
feelings. She stood there like that in front of me gazing at my eyes. Then all of a sudden she just fell
on to me losing her footing balance.
“Sorry,” she said. Not that I mind. “My knees just felt a little weak.” For the first time, she talked in
her feminine self. We stood there for few more minutes. Not saying much… neither doing much. We
were just getting used to each other up-close.
“What’s that in your pocket? “ She asked putting her hand inside it even before I could react. My
white shirt was probably semi-transparent in the blazing sun. She took it out to see her own scribble.
“I was just… you know? Just… for the sake of…” She kissed my cheek all of a sudden and ran away. I
must be in a dream or something. I just kept my hands on my chest and tried to gather myself. How
wonderful is life. I stood there till the sun sunk beneath the sea… till the seagulls returned to their
nests. And I walked home with my bicycle in hand.
We met every single day after that at the same place. Matilda was from Bombay. She was the only
daughter of an advocate. She was here visiting her uncle for the holidays. Her uncle’s daughter was
the one who was in the choir. They were practising for the annual feast. Her name was Rita too. The
name was the only similarity she had with my sister. She didn’t seem to like me much.
Whenever I was with Matilda, minutes went like seconds, hours seemed like minutes and before
we even knew, almost a month had passed away and she leaves within the next few days. But today
will be the last time we will be able to meet before she leaves town.
“Let’s runaway,” she said.
“What? No, don’t be like that.”
“Why? You don’t like me anymore?”
“Don’t be silly, now. I will come to Bombay whenever you want to see me.”
“I can’t think about a day without seeing you,” she said. Neither could I. “Why are you silent? Say
something.” Her eyes now filled.
“Matilda… I swear… I will make myself something that both our parents could be proud of. And
then I will ask your father your hand.”
“I can’t ask for anything more,” she said. I tried to console her. Not that I was in any position to do
that. As I… was weeping inside. She cried on my shoulders for an entire hour. We must be going now
as Rita could be here any moment done with practise.
“Promise me that you will try hard and won’t stop till you have done enough to win me from my
father,” she obliged.
“I promise,” and then we hugged on that. I couldn’t let go of her. And I always wanted to do one
thing whenever I was with her… something that I will cherish forever.
I looked into her beautiful brown eyes. It was filled with tears. It was still the most wonderful thing I
have ever seen. Her hair smelled like hibiscus. Her face is so fair that you felt that it looked the full
moon. I wanted to touch her cheek so dearly. And her lips were red and so kissable. It was full and
perfect. Our breaths rise. I moved my face close to her. My eyes still meeting hers. I came closer and
closer till our lips almost touched. I saw her closing her eyes. I took it as a sign that she’s all mine. I
grow bold and our lips met. I kissed her. She tasted like the sweetest nectar. I know not if it is warm
or cold… if I was in heaven or earth. So what if humans can’t fly? This is the next best thing, if not the
best. I just wished that this kiss will never end. Ooh… the things that love does to me…
All of a sudden she pushed me. I opened my eyes to see Rita standing a bit away from us facing the
opposite side. No point now saying anything. It was better to be quiet. Yes, embarrassed… for sure.
Matilda looked at me and walked away briskly. Just like that. Not even able to say good-bye. I stood
there alone like that for a little more time. Then I slowly progressed home. Father was standing in
front of the Church. I just smiled at him and left. I didn’t feel like saying much to anyone.
I hardly slept that night. It rained heavy. It rained the entire night. My mother put vessels and
buckets on places inside our room and drawing hall and everywhere the roof leaked. I heard the
drops dripping on those vessels the entire night. What was there to cover the tears that wetted my
It was almost noon. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I lay still on the bad with the same answer to
anyone who asked me anything. I would just say, ‘headache’.
There was this sudden commotion from the women in the house in particular. Something seems to
be wrong. I got out of the bed and rushed out.
“What’s wrong?” I enquired. Father was sitting sideways on a chair in the dining table with both
hands on his knees. Mother and my elder sister Sheila was attending to him. He didn’t look well. The
button on his shirt appeared to be ripped. His face seemed dull. The ladies were in tears.
“Come here,” he said when he saw me. His teeth had blood stains. Sheila was the first to notice.
She was quick to alert mother about it. She ran in as she heard it… probably to get the first aid. “I
met Mr. David just a little while ago,” he said. This couldn’t be nice. Mr. David is a local politician and
businessman. Mr. David is Matilda’s uncle. “Alfred, you know what this is about? Don’t you?”
“Yes…” I replied.
“What is it?” asked Sheila. Father raised his hand to suggest none should talk. Mother came in with
medicines. She stayed behind understanding the situation.
“You should not see her again,” said father. I was shocked to hear this from him. He never
restricted me from anything. Moreover… here is a man who should understand me the most. Not
because he is my father. He also married mother as they were in love. They married against the
wishes of my grandparents. “Alfred… is that clear?”
“No,” I replied.
“What you mean?” he asked.
“I love her, dad,” I said. Sheila and mother seemed puzzled. Dad hushed them.
“You have to. They are Catholics and rich. We are not worthy of them,” he said. I can’t believe my
ears. This was the man who taught us to live with pride. This was the man who taught us not to bow
our heads in front of any. This was the man who taught us about love and care.
“Then I will make myself worthy. I will not forget her or let her go.”
“And how are you going to do that?” asked my father. It’s not that I have found an answer. But I
had my own pride. I had to defend myself if he was not going to.
“I will play football. I will play for our country one day… soon.” My father laughed.
“Look at you. Just hear yourself. And you think you are matured enough to love?”
“Well you aren’t much matured yourself either.”
“Alfred!” shouted my mother. “Don’t forget who you are talking to,” she reminded.
“No, let him say,” said my father. “You just remember one thing, young man. I provide for you all in
my own house. And as long as you live here, you do what I ask you to.”
“It’s not as if you are having this big mansion over here,” I said angrily. “All this fortune you have
here is because you married a wealthy man’s daughter.” My mother slapped me as I said that.
“Lisa,” called my father catching my mother’s hand indicating to her not to get physical.
“You are right that all this fortune here is made around your mother,” he said. “But I have never
had to bow down in front of any. These are all made from my sweat and blood. If god is on my side
then I will get my daughters married with my hard earned money. I don’t need anybodies help. What
you see here is all I got. And if you think you deserve more, then you be the man and earn it
yourself. Why stay here and bring insult to this family? But remember… as long as you live here, you
follow my rules.” He walked out of the house saying this… wearing that torn shirt.
“Francine… Francine….” My mother called out. But he kept walking without turning back.
Mathew was very angry when he came home. He said that he came to know that even a fight had
broken between father and David that morning. He got in to arguments with me which ended up
being a brawl between the brothers. This added up to my mother’s agony. She started blaming me
for all this. When father was not home even after hours in to his usual time all the blames now
became curses. I couldn’t take this anymore. Maria, my eldest sister came up to me and told me that
I should what I started. I decided that I am going to end what I started.
Father came home by midnight. Everyone got in to bed soon after. I made sure everyone was
asleep. I took my stuff and ran away from home. It was raining tonight also. I went to David’s house.
I climbed up to the first floor of the two store building. I knocked on the window of the room
Matilda and Rita slept. I knocked the window for some time. I called out her name in a low voice.
She finally woke up. Opened the window and saw me. I asked her to come to the balcony I was
standing. She came.
“What are you doing here?” she asked worriedly.
“We have no time. Do you love me?” I asked.
“Yes, why you ask me this now? Just go home now.” She said. I caught her by her hand.
“No Matilda. If you love me then come with me. Let’s go somewhere where we can be together.”
She tried to break my grip and let her hand loose.
“Look… I love you. But I can’t do this and hurt my family. I can’t bring shame to my father. You
better go now.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“That’s not what you said before. You asked me if we could run away. What’s the matter? Don’t
you trust me? Or was this an entire joke for you?”
“Just go, Alfred. Go before anyone sees,” she said and tried to walk away. I caught her by her
forearm firmly. “Just let go,” she said trying to free her.
“Don’t do this to me. I love you,” I said trying to convince her and holding on to her.
“Just let me go,” she said with desperation. Her voice was too high that it woke Rita who started to
panic and scream. Matilda also screamed and cried for help as if she was caught by a burglar. The
lights inside the house now turned on. I could hear people climbing up the stairs inside. I let her go.
Then I ran… I ran away from everything. I ran away from my father who showed me the beautiful
sea. I ran away from my mother who gave me care. I ran away from my brothers and sisters who
made me laugh. I ran away from my friends who showed me the good times. I ran away from my
birth place which gave me an identity. I ran away from hopes. I ran away from love. I kept on running
If only I knew life can change so dramatically in a small span. If only I knew what a sudden rush of
adrenaline could do to a wonderful life. If only I knew that you lost god the moment you let loose
with your family.
I never fell in love after that. I have never been with a woman after that. At first I felt cheated. I felt
betrayed. I felt hurt. But with time I realised how foolish I was and if anyone was betrayed or hurt…
it was my loved ones. I am not sure if she didn’t love me or if she really did. It didn’t occur to me that
how will a person react when you wake her up in the middle of the night and ask her to run away
with someone she met a month ago.
I was too ashamed of myself to go back. They must think of me as a fool. Now I realised that the
biggest foolishness was not running away. It was not going back. I don’t know if any of the rest is still
alive or not. I will have to see that for myself. I have only things to gain from here. I will not keep any
hopes. But I will be going home tomorrow with a little hope of finding a little peace before the final
It has been someday. I should get some rest now. Tomorrow is going to be a long day with some
distance to travel. I lay down with a small prayer to keep me alive for some time more. I hope I rise
early in the morning. The mosquitoes always make sure that I don’t sleep more than I need to… and
at times… not as much as I need to.