Monday Afternoon [September 2010]

Ibrahim Waheed “Kalaavehi”

One more drab Monday afternoon. One more drizzly day of toil on the rusty sand carrier almost ended, the tough, middle-aged sailor took a brief breather. Reaching into the side pocket of his diesel-stained cords, he pulled out what looked like a thick wad of dirty cellophane containing a few pieces of rough-sliced arecanut, three or four tired-looking betel leaves, a small homemade sachet of huni quicklime, a dollop of shredded and wetted tobacco leaf, a small container of cloves and cardamom, and two or three crumpled cigarettes giving comforting company to a couple of hand-rolled local bidi. This precious stash of goodies was his indispensible chew pack.

Unrolling the chew pack to get at its treasured innards, the man slowly prepared himself a good, relaxing chomp. After he had carefully placed the betel-leaf-wrapped indulgence in his right cheek and masticated it to just the right consistency, he spat out a few times in blood red, and nodded his head in appreciation. He took out an ancient, battered Zippo from another pocket, flicked it expertly in his hand a few times to make sure the fluid hit the wick just right, and lit a reluctant bidi of indeterminate age, ending the ritual most gracelessly by sitting down on a wooden crate on the deck to think a little bit about probably nothing in particular.

As the man on the sand carrier followed the tendrils of smoke rising from his bidi into the still, gray air of the sunless later afternoon, he saw what looked like a buzzing, reddish moth flying in from the west. An expert would have identified it as a DeHavilland DH-6; sailors in island circles would have called it a Twin Otter seaplane and some might have even made remarks to the effect that its floats hung like rude appendages under its belly. The seasoned sailor, however, thought about how the propellers on the machine chewed into the still air just as the propellers on his sand carrier bit into the salty water of the sea.

“Hello friend!” said the sailor softly to the unhearing, unseen pilot of the aircraft, “I carry sand to many beaches to do the so-called enrichment and you carry the tourists there for the definite enrichment of the few. You and I, my friend, we do the same thing. The difference is that you fly and I sail. Go in peace, buddy. Fly in peace!”

As the man reached for his chew pack again, looking for a clove to spice up his chew, he heard the sound of faint feminine laughter behind him. He looked around saw a couple of young women on the waterfront, both clad in skinny jeans, flamboyant T-shirts and carefree attitudes, engaged in animated conversation with each other. Fragments of words that came to him past the still air told him that the topic under discussion was a man or men who happened to give them jolts of electricity for reasons best known to them and probably not known at all to the nearest voltmeter. The man did not say anything, even to himself. Instead, he chose to turn towards the sea again, just before the young things noticed him looking. Having achieved success in doing so, he smiled meaningfully at his bidi which was slowly and steadily burning itself out, giving pleasure to the man smoking it.

Suddenly the man saw an angel in the sky. Formed of cloud, shaded in all monochrome hues ranging from near-white to dull graphite gray, the apparition in the sky looked supremely beautiful. Formed like a Rubenesque Madonna from his vantage point, or even stretched to Albaesque super-model proportions from another, she certainly looked like an omen of good things to come. An angel, after all, always brought some sort of benefit to man, be it an indication of a bright future, a fortune to be discovered, or even glad tidings of a better life. But the old sailor knew from solid, down-to-earth experience gained at the grindstone of life that no cloud born of water vapor ever made an angel.

“You false goddess of impossible dreams and unfulfilled fantasy, you!” the sailor said to the cloud masquerading as an angel. “You started that life of yours right here in the water at my feet. The sun took you up there and first made a beautiful pearl out of you. Soon you started attracting and then absorbing into your soul other bits of water vapor that did not have the courage to remain free individuals. As you gorged on the unfortunates, one after the other, they gave of themselves freely to you but you gave them nothing. You kept all they had to give and strengthened yourself but then forgot that they had ever existed. But keep this in mind, you gray harlot of nothingness. One day you are going to be too full of yourself to hold yourself up there. And when that day comes….”

The sailor spat another blood-red stream of spittle into the diesel-filmed water at his feet, re-lit his bidi which had decided to go out for no apparent reason, blew a few satisfying puffs of acrid smoke into the air, looked up at the sky again and continued, “Ah yes, and when that day comes, you beautiful, deceitful hussy! You will rain down till you are empty and gone, just like the miserable nothingness you really are! And I shall be here to see and enjoy seeing more of you come and go….”

It was just another Monday afternoon. And world-weary, middle-aged, Chinese monkey sailors, who do nothing except shifting sand from virgin beach to rich man’s resort, have nothing to do in their spare time other than chewing a few arecanuts and smoking the odd bidi. And when they do so, they think about nothing in particular.

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  • kaiydha  On September 28, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    Almost tasted that dhufungan’du…

    • ldive  On September 29, 2010 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you!

  • mysterystar  On September 29, 2010 at 3:08 am

    Lovely story. Bidi I got it. : ) Bless you……..

    • ldive  On September 29, 2010 at 9:34 pm

      Thank you, Star!

  • silentfingers  On September 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

    “But keep this in mind, you gray harlot of nothingness. One day you are going to be too full of yourself to hold yourself up there.”

    Oh, such bitter words coming from a torn, tormentded heart of a once loving and kind man, speaking profoundly about his anguished life. And certainly a man betrayed so viciously that he has lost all interest in the alluring femininity! Perhaps a lonely husband… Perhaps a struggling father… Perhaps a forgotten hero; working all day to make sure that no one in his family ‘feels’ the difference between a pilot and a sailor!

    Marvellous story. I am blessed to have found your blog. Through your work I learn so much: about literature and about life. Thank you!        

    • ldive  On September 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Perhaps it is about a woman trapped by herself and her false loyalties to Nothing? The man is perhaps tormented but still loving so desperately that he takes solace in bitterness?

  • shifa  On September 30, 2010 at 12:03 am

    excellent description …… so deep and meaningful

  • Cheap Supra shoes  On January 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm

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    • ldive  On January 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm

      You are welcome. And why the cheap shoes?

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