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3.13 Free Form
Lost & Found

Written by Sayani De

April 2024

A traveler's log about the balance between solitude and apprehension.

Lost & Found | Free Form | Mysticeti Magazine

Illustration  by Vishnu Baiju

I peek into my allotted beach hut.

‘There are no peeping Toms here, south Goa is safe,’ the hotel manager assures me. The glow of the afternoon sun reflects off his bald spot.

 

I labour at putting on my most confident smile, waiting for him to leave. My thoughts run wild as I imagine scenarios that could have led to this need for assurance.

 

The hay-coloured roof sitting on loosely woven bamboo walls promises an idyllic beach stay. This is what I am here for, a break from it all. Alone. The guy leaves, much to my relief. I inspect the hut and my jaw drops as I discover the gap between the top of the door and the roof. It is large enough to let sea breeze or a grown man in. But right now, a gecko is hanging out there, making a clicking sound that feels pitiful. I chide myself for my unreasonable fear of reptiles and other potential intruders.

 

It’s the end of the tourist season in Goa. Travel has not picked up full-swing after the third wave of the virus. This, to me, is an upside, as I get the beach almost to myself. As I swim in the shallow water, the cool water washes over my sore muscles. I relish the fact that no one or nothing is waiting for me at the shore.

*

The near-full-moon casts a glow that makes the beach restaurant and huts look like part of a lost world.The powdery white sand caresses my toes. Darkness from the routine power cuts envelops the village. A lone candle burns at my little table.I hold a sweating glass of watermelon juice.

 

An hour passes listening to waves and occasionally fiddling with my phone. My son’s photos from toddlerhood cheer me up. Soon, I am aware of stares from a few groups of men. I instinctively regret the deep V-neck of my flowy dress. My old habit of trying to spot solo women travellers kicks in. There are none tonight.

 

As I devour my pan-fried Kingfish, a man from a group at a nearby table comes up and asks if I have a lighter. I am taken aback. He walks away in a swaying motion, disappointed when I say ‘no’. I shuffle in my seat and try to look like an ice queen. A lone woman who looks like a smoker. Did they infer other things about me? Was I being watched?

 

Gazing at the luminous sea, I count all that I have lost to the pandemic; an uncle, a cousin, some confidence. Two Buddhist Lamas in maroon robes walk across the beach. The taller one smiles at me. I nod like an old friend. His face bears a familiarity I can’t put a finger on.

 

I scream into the night but no sound comes out. A man is breaking into the room through the gap between the top of the door and the roof. Grabbing the sheets of the bed, I scream again. I hear my voice this time and open my eyes. There is no one but me in the room. It is 4.30 AM.

 

I am determined to go back to sleep; a rare luxury with a family and child back home. After trying and failing for an hour, I decide to freshen up. The soap in the bathroom has gone missing. I search every nook and corner but in vain. Did someone play a prank while I went out for dinner? I consider checking out earlier than planned.

 

I stop by the reception and request for housekeeping services. I consider reporting the missing soap but I decide against it. I don’t want to be labelled a ‘nutcase’ by the staff here.

 

I jump in and out of the sea all day, soaking in the dancing sunlight on the waves. The light and warmth of the day wash away the fear and chills of the previous night. I call home and hear about my family’s day. Contrary to my apprehension, things have not fallen apart without me at home.

 

At dinner, a boisterous group of Japanese men at a nearby table share laughs over drinks. They seem to be having the time of their life. I sink into the jazz playing in the background. 

 

Back in the hut, the air feels different. My favourite white dress that I left on the chair is missing. Rummaging through my little rucksack, the wardrobe, my head spins a little. Not knowing what to do, I scroll through my phone for easy distraction. 

 

A Facebook post by a friend about a missing person in Goa pops up. My stomach turns. Does the photo look like the intruder I dreamt of last night? 

 

I dial ‘Home’. No answer. It is midnight. My ‘Home’ must be in deep slumber by now. Soon, exhaustion from the swims puts me into a deep sleep

 

*

 

The next morning, I stand at the reception and report my missing dress. The manager looks away but I stand there leaning on the counter with crossed arms. After a brief chat in Konkani with the housekeeping staff, he flashes a smile.

 

 ‘The cleaning guy accidentally picked it up with the white towels. The good part is that your dress has been washed at no extra charge!’

 

I feel the lines on my forehead relax despite my annoyance. Then I report the missing soaps. The second one went missing right before I left the room.

 

‘Did you close the soap case that we provided?’ 

 

‘No, was I supposed to?’ 

 

‘Umm…sort of. Sometimes the rats like to play with soap.’

 

‘Rats? Really?’

 

‘The jungle is right behind the huts. We try but still, geckos, squirrels, and sometimes rats come in. They tend to be playful. I’m sorry for the trouble.’ 

 

I take notes on what to expect at a beautiful, raw site like this. As I stroll towards the sea, I cross the tall Lama.

 

‘How are you?’ he beams at me with his familiar smile. 

 

I want to say ‘good’ but mumble instead. What does ‘good’ feel like? The tall Lama is playing football with his friends on the beach. The misty haze on the horizon starts to lift its veil. 

About Mysticeti's friends:

Sayani is a bibliophile, compulsive traveller and sustainability enthusiast. Her work has been featured on Muse India, Borderless Journal, Women's Web and won a contest at Story mirror. One of her recent pieces has been selected by The Selkie for an upcoming issue. .

 
Vishnu is a fine arts graduate. He lives in Trivandrum and spends most of his time experimenting on various mediums to make art. He is currently in love with 2D animation.
 
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