And tourists and terrorists
Two young orange cats have made Aloysius’s property their nesting sites. One is clean and fluffy and her three kittens are tucked into a pile of leaves in the rear corner of the property wall. This is not the best hiding spot, as the kittens like to play in the clatter of plate-sized fallen leaves and the racket draws the attention of hungry crows.
The other female is lean and rangy and better at securing her kittens. On December 31 I woke up to the scratch and mewling of kittens at play and – hanging my head upside down over the edge of the bed – glimpsed two of them chasing each other across the red tiles of my bedroom floor. They’d spent the night curled up between the coils of my box spring mattress.
I called John and Melissa over and we spent most of the last day of the year just watching them play. At one point the three of them climbed up to my bedroom window and the kittens rolled and wrestled on its wide sill while their mum kept a watchful eye.
After a while she tensed up and stared out the window. I tip-toed outside and sighted three other neighbourhood cats watching like crows from the nearby bushes. I shooed them away but the kittens’ antics (and perhaps our presence) had created too much attention. The mum wrapped her mouth around the neck of a protesting kitten and jumped out the window. She loped across the front yard, scrambled up a tree, followed a branch out until it swayed, and hesitated.
For a moment it looked like she was going to purposefully drop the still-mewing kitten, but instead she leaped to the clay tiles of the house’s roof, then padded to a shelter of bent corrugated metal. They would be safe from crows up there, for now.
Baga beach bonanza
We tore ourselves away from the nature show to prepare for a wildlife show of a different sort: New Year’s at the Sunset Bar and Restaurant north of Baga Beach. We sipped Kingfisher beer, snacked on tandoor chicken and beef chili fry and took in Goa’s holiday revelers working themselves into a frenzy at the neon beach shacks across the Baga river.
We watched the distant flickers of a fire juggler from our table and talked about kittens and terrorism. We marveled that three little animals could hold our attention for most of the day, and we wondered if
we had our own preditors to worry about. Goa’s beaches – and the crowds they’d attract on New Year’s Eve – had been in the news as a possible terrorist target for weeks. Should the Big Event occur, we’d be front row, centre here at our riverside enclave.
Despite the presence of police officers at every road entrance, possible terrorist entry points were everywhere: the stubborn bulkhead of the “River Princess” – a commercial ship abandoned six years ago – lay empty and rusting in the water just a few hundred metres from Candolim’s swimming beach. Freighter-sized factory fishing boats dotted the darkening horizon. Charter boats brought tourists in from adjoining beaches by sea, and parasail rides brought them in by air.
“I read that when the terrorists arrived in Mumbai, they disguised themselves as backpackers,” I said, thinking of the thousands of travellers who’d been filing into this area over the last few days. Young and fresh-faced, it wasn’t difficult for the Mumbai terrorists to insinuate themselves into tourist locations and blast their way out. Here on Goa’s packed New Year’s Eve beaches, it wouldn’t take much to do the same.
Later, we met two friends of John’s who’d arrived in Anjuna the night before. Looking around at the tables of backpackers and travellers at Cafe Looda, I thought about our earlier conversation and how it related to jeopardy and travel.
Like John and Melissa’s friends and family, Jenny and Anastasia’s loved ones had worried about their coming to India. And yet, as the new year approached, here we all sat: locals and visitors of all ages and nationalities in a comfortable open air restaurant on the sea; frosty beers in our hands, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall being sung by a tattooed British ex-pat on stage.
There was everything and nothing to fear. The only difference between the two was that we didn’t know the difference. Like the kittens and the crows.
Before he finished his set, the performer recited an earnest but Monty Python-sounding poem on how our time on the earth was just “moments in a movie.” It was corny and a few in the audience gave a quiet groan, but I thought it oddly appropriate.
When the clock struck twelve, John, Melissa and myself were already back in Nilesh’s taxi, having promised that he’d be back with his family as soon as possible. Driving through mist and countryside darkness we heard a few pops in the distance but they sounded more like firecrackers than machine guns. I gave a silent thanks that it had been a peaceful evening.
“Happy New Year,” John called back from the front seat. I slipped him some money to help pay for the taxi, and we climbed out to the silent streets of Defence Colony.
“I wonder how the kittens are?” Melissa was the first to ask when we unlocked the front door. We checked my room and then the corrugated rooftop. Their little eyes squinted when I turned on the light, and their mum was not far away.
“They’re safe from the crows for now,” I said, flicking the light back off. “Good night, and Happy 2009.”