Perhaps, all we can know about someone’s life is three stories. A story they tell us, a story we make up from the cacophonous unsaid and a story we write together – a paragraph, a consequence or two, an ellipsis that walks away into the void. Here, in Tarangambadi, ‘where the waves sing’, there is the old story of a modest fishing village. There is another story of a colonial outpost, triangulated by the Sahib’s restored bungalow, the Dansborg fort that rises from the sand like a dull Shakespearean pause and the silhouettes of East India Company ships astride the water. And there is the story of the Tsunami that gathered all loss into its blue lap. Loss, beyond the comprehension of human hearts, that becomes wordless flotsam, catching the moonlight after the town has cried itself to sleep.
She had told him her first story, wet like fresh paint. Childhood welts remain welts, scab remains scab and torn flesh remains open and bleeding forever. He had counted them and covered them and been gentle as his pain poured into her wounds. He deduced the second. Adult life learns self-healing. Haphazardly. Hurriedly. Ugly mattress stitches fusing reality and hope, probability and time, failure and a corner of the morning sky. There is a looping calligraphy to the repair, beyond common lexicon. A patient ear can hear the words, discerning skin can feel the knots and the unravelling, a warm mouth can hold a thread in place that has long threatened to come loose.
They had come here, walked along the beach, past three hundred year old churches and a giant gate that must have guarded the white settlement. They had watched the stars, drinking rum and coconut water till a placid sun wove up between swollen clouds and erect palm fronds. And taken a rickshaw a few kilometres down to Poompuhar to watch the irrepressible Cauvery trickle into the Bay of Bengal: a mating of waters, the sweet river having travelled across the peninsula to find the inconstant brine – like a penance, like an incongruity, like destiny. It’s final story.
She had known him as one knows twilight. Real but book-ended. Impossible but reassuring. Like watching cricket in the afternoon, the shadow crossing the line before the ball. His real story was elsewhere. She was a second story, no, perhaps only a reflection of the first. Not manifest until the two came face to face, looking in opposite directions. His third story was his silence. But silence is not the absence of sound. In Tarangambadi, it is the alternating hush and roar of the waves. A saline Morse dotting and dashing sea-stories we cannot know. Ocean. Troubadour. Retelling in drowned dialects.
He hadn’t asked her about her third story. He didn’t know two would not be enough. He didn’t know two didn’t make up a whole lifetime. He didn’t know when the sea backed up preparing to strike. Didn’t know in the hush. Or in the roar. Or when the waves stopped singing. Or when they climbed the walls of the fort. Or when they began to hunt for prey.
Flash Fiction #3
Flash Fiction #2