Bellies & Legs & Boys who play with fire

I am in a little railway station in a backwater of Goa, it is twenty past four in the morning, on a day early in January, huddled under a blanket, waiting for the Konkanan Express. I am seeing off my friend who has a ten hour journey to Mumbai ahead of her. The station is a small, unlike the bustling main line city stations there are just four other people waiting for the train, a German tourist couple and their teenage son, an Indian lady asleep  on a bench.

I look at a map of the line on the wall, trace my finger along the stations marked on the map in English script. The railway runs from Kerala in the south to Bombay in the North, it must be well over a thousand kilometres, dozens of place names along the line, I recognise almost none of them save Bombay and one or two place names in Goa. In this age of super communication, of accessible air travel it can be easy to forget how truly enormous the world is. I wonder if I will visit any of those places, those  names that mean nothing to me now, I think how short time is, how it  slips by, I want to see so much more than I have. Three minutes precisely before the train is due the Germans leave the waiting room and head to the platform, I think this is a rather naive step on their part, this is not Germany, this is India & trains run on an Indian time, which is a very different thing. I check with the station staff and am told that the train is running forty minutes late, I feel rather smug, I could have told the Germans there was no need to rush. As I sit on the bench my nose picks up the odour of petrol, I wonder if I am imagining it, and then a moment later a troop of half a dozen young boys wander past me, they look as if they are maybe eight to ten years old, they chatter away to each other, one following another, they are bare footed, black, covered in soot and dust and grime, tattered clothes, they reek of petrol. I can see them carrying fire sticks & billy cans, then I register that these are the boys one sees in the evening along the beach cafes, with fire-sticks, juggling for the tourists for a few rupees. I’ve seen boys like these many times whilst I am chomping away at my dinner or drinking cocktails at beach side bars in Goa & not really given them a second thought. Just glanced at them and watched the light shows with mild disinterest, and yet now in this moment I see them for what they are, little boys, who in England would be tucked up in comfortable beds soundly asleep, dreaming about football or video games, or the presents that Santa Claus had brought them. I think what a pampered life I have had in comparison to these youngsters, here I am the tourist, with money in his pocket and an easy life, the gang disappears down the platform and into the night.

In the distance the sound of an approaching train rises from the nothingness, a horn sounds, he platform comes to life, the empty station suddenly has people everywhere, the attendant waves a bright green lantern down the track and the noise of the approaching locomotive grows louder, the train pulls into the station, a metallic leviathan, I lift my friends back pack onto the carriage and we say goodbye hurriedly. The train pulls out of the station, carriage after carriage, it seems to go on forever but eventually I watch it disappear along the line into the jet black darkness of night.

I leave station steps and pick up my scooter and ride along the dusty track. As I whizz through the ink black night I dodge the cows sleeping in the road and feel a deep chill on my skin, here now it is winter and whilst the temperature in the daytime is well into the thirties at night it can feel remarkably cold. The chill makes me think of home, of England, how far away it feels,
I go back to sleep for a few hours, I am not good with sleeping, but tonight I want to sleep alone, my dreams take me to places that have little light, but I know I will wake once again under an Indian Sun.

As I walk back through the Yoga centre after my afternoon class I stop at the blackboard in the reception area, on it is a sentence from that annoying little shit, Eckhart Tolle. It’s another trite statement about the present being all there is, Really? No shit Sherlock, tell me something I don’t know.

Later that evening I join some friends on the beach, sipping mojitos, around the table is a mini UN crowd, Serbia, Finland, India, Israeli, England, Germany. The mood when I arrive is sombre, the Serb has just come out of Hospital, an emergency job, Kidney Stones, he recounts the pain, the Indian hospitals & medical intervention, a camera up his todger, and the most painful of all he says, the bill, ( 3000 Euros ). It sounds horrendous, personally a camera up my dick is probably as bad as it could get, (I hate having my photo taken at the best of times) but my insides on DVD no thanks. Just as he completes his narration another of the little gang limps to the table, he has a large bandage around his leg, what happened to you I ask? I have just come out of Hospital, an accident he says. He explains that he went to visit the friend in hospital, as he was leaving having done his good Samaritan bit he tripped, fell down a gully at the side of the road & impaled his leg on a metal spike. He ended up having to be admitted to the same hospital as the friend he had gone to visit. The irony was too much and the table, (minus the two injured parties who simply sat there rather forlorn and poorly looking) the rest of us laughed a lot.
As the cocktails flowed and the present trickled into the past I am thinking that time is like an hour glass slipping away, that there really are no certainties, you might as well be here and present, who knows what is round the corner. I chat to the girl next to me, more than the others at the table, as time goes on the conversation becomes exclusive, she has long legs, very beautiful long legs, she is young, far too young, but we get on rather well, she tells me I am good looking, I wonder if she is simply being kind, but by the late hours inexplicably we are playing footsie under the table. I think of all the sensible reasons why this is not a good idea, then I think of all the un-sensible ones why it is.

Some hours later I wake again before dawn, in my own bed, I lie there, waiting for daylight, I hear the call to prayer in the distance from the Mosque, that means it’s six am, my thoughts drift back to the evening before, what was I thinking? Why on earth would a young woman be the slightest bit interested in a podgy old fart like me.

I walk to the kitchen to make coffee, I pause at the mirror on the way and look at my reflection, I look at the figure looking back at me, I look into his eyes & down his torso towards his belly. Then I see the man looking back at me is holding in his stomach. Who is he fooling? I let go of my stomach muscles and my belly returns, all of it, the reality, the present.

I drink my coffee and head off to the Shala, I have a real knack for losing stuff, maybe I can even lose that belly on the Yoga mat.

Later that day as the sun is slips down down inexorably towards the horizon I climb on my scooter wearily, Lorenzo, cool dude Afro-American Yoga teacher with the west coast accent has I discover this afternoon got a mean streak. His class was hard labour, a corporal punishment, I barely made it through in one piece, now I need a shower, badly. I clean myself up, as I sit on my bed I wonder what to do this evening, do I eat at home, do I go out? Here in this Goan backwater its a tribal kind of place, groups of like minded people hang out together, I don’t really feel strongly connected with any one group, they all have their attractive sides, the ex-pats, the hippy/traveller crowd, the caners, the london luvvies, the Yogies, but not feeling at home with any one particular group I seem to edge around the peripheries of all of them, a kind of visiting guest who dips in and out, but doesn’t really belong. This plays on my messed up side, the part of me that is wandering and a little bit lost, I want to feel I belong somewhere.

I eventually decide to leave my shack and head out for dinner, I don’t want to be a hermit, billy no mates, but I go to the closest restaurant and eat alone. There are groups of people at other tables, I am feeling odd, and


left out,and yet this is what I have made myself,  I finish my meal and wander along the beach and find a bar with live music, it sounds good, there are ten musicians jamming together, a girl is singing in a language I really cannot make out at all. It’s a rather haunting melody. I pull up a chair and drink a beer and listen & watch. As the bar fills I have people on either side of me, to my left is a distinctly fey looking guy, I recognise him from the morning Yoga class, he is most definitely gay. to my right sits another face I recognise, during the course of the evening I talk to both Mr. Left & Mr.Right. Mr left is in fact Herr, or maybe that should be Her, from Berlin, a Kundalini Yoga teacher, Mr Right is Lewis from Southgate, I guess rather quickly that Lewis is Jewish & Ashkenasy, it’s not rocket science, he also looks familiar, were you in Dharmshala earlier this year I ask him, he confirms it, India is a small place sometimes. Lewis cadges cigarette papers off me and in return profers me his roll up and I take a a toke, the long legged beauty is in my head, I keep thinking about her, there is something about this girl, far to young for me that I am very drawn to. For a couple of days I keep myself to myself, I head off into the hills or to quiet beaches, or to Yoga, I try to fix the part of me that is not ok with his own company by being with myself, of course it doesn’t work.
Then I head to cocktail central on the beach and join Daniel, the Brit fixture, we chat and he tells me the long legged girl keeps asking about me, has he seen me, does he know where I am. It dawns on me that actually she is interested, I decide to go after the girl with the long legs, the next day I am on the beach and I see her on a lounger, she is beautiful, I am clearly deluded, I put my sarong on the sand and lie in the sun, a discreet thirty metres away, I see her get up from the lounger and head towards the water, as I watch her walking towards the sea I look at her ass in a little black bikini, hugging her contours, flowing movement, I follow her down to the water and swim out to sea and take a long circuit round, returning to the shoreline, where I bump into her in the surf line, she smiles, I smile, I’ve been thinking about you she says, asking where you are, I know I reply, I’ve been thinking about you as well, for a moment I  let myself slip down into the sea and the ocean washes over me…………………….

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