Tears and fears and no place called home
I’m in the living room of Marie’s Defence Colony home. She’s seated regally – as always – in a divan. Her four-footed cane stands nearby, as do several of her staff. A stuffed toy tiger watches from a half wall behind her.
I’ve come to say goodbye to my 81-year-old neighbour of six months and – after a morning of continuously fighting, then submitting to tears – I find myself once again emptying sadness.
“Why are you crying?” she asks gently.
“I’m sad to leave,” I sniff, but there’s more to it than that.
“You have done and seen a great deal in your time here in Goa,” she says approvingly. “And,” she holds up a Herald newspaper where my story promoting cycling in Goa features on the front page of the Sunday supplement, “You have left your mark.”
This makes me cry a little harder.
It’s true: I’d made a conscious effort to get to know my grandparents’ Goa as best I could. I joined a writers’ groups, a quiz club, a bike expedition, a rural journalism workshop, and a yoga class. I’d attended art shows, music performances, wine festivals, book readings, and even started a cycling club. I’d met award-winning authors, famous actors, newsmakers, politicians and cultural icons. I’d befriended cyclists, columnists, editors, educators, artists, advocates, musicicans, and cooks. And I caught daily glimpse of the lives of inspiring, humble, beautiful strangers.
But I hadn’t started “my book,” I hadn’t met the love of my life, and I hadn’t had a revelation. For many of us travellers, that’s what it’s all about. You are willing to leave your home because you are certain that your life’s purpose awaits you elsewhere. It’s like a bargain: “I’ll give up my comfortable, predictable life for something less certain, less defined – I’m willing to do this for the greater good.”
To rub salt in the wound, two weeks previous – while I was holed up in Patnem Beach trying to write a piece on cycle culture for Vancouver Review magazine – I had received terrible news. It threw my life, my self-worth and my time in Goa into shadow.
The housemates who I shared a home with in Vancouver and who had agreed to let me sublet my room while I was gone, sent an email saying that two of them had already given notice, and two more were considering it. Apparently their enjoyment of living at the house had increased in my absence, and they were apprehensive about continuing to live with me when I returned.
I was devastated. This was personal. This was “home.” This was the first I’d heard of it, and – after almost six months of joy and discovery in a foreign country – this is what I had to return to in my own country.
It’s hard to leave a place where you’ve experienced friendship and beauty, but it’s harder to return to a place where you are not wanted. What did I have in Vancouver, really?
Purpose, love, job, home: no. Health, community, beauty: yes. Hope? Faith? Promise? Maybe.
In Patnem beach, I coped as best as I could: I drank Kingfisher beer and cried on the shoulders of strangers. They tried to reassure me not to take it personally – and that maybe this was a sign, something to learn from? I’d been asking for a sign, I agreed, but I was hoping for something a little more positive. And I’m tired of learning. They shook their heads sympathetically, and told me to hang in there.
In Marie’s living room, I cry because – I realize at that moment – I feel devastatingly alone.
Marie holds a photo in her hand. On the back I wrote, “To my inspiration, Marie”. It’s a snapshot of me on my bicycle on Chorao Island. Some cousins had shot it “action style” from their scooter. In the photo I’m pedalling and grinning from under my sunhat, hair flying out and behind.
Marie looks very pleased. “I shall put it in a frame and display there with my grandsons,” she gestures to a bureau near the front door. “It will be there for all to see, and,” she looks at me significantly, “I will always remember you.”
This touches me deeply, and my next round of tears causes Marie to tear up as well. “Tell me,” she says in a uncharacteristically Goan singsong, “When will you be back?”
This has been the question on the lips of everyone I’ve met to say goodbye to over the last few weeks. They point out how reasonable and logical it would be for me to return to Goa. My heart aches with their kind interest and I wonder myself how it could be.
Will I return, I wonder, or will I disappear as my father and his brothers did? Could Goa stand one more desertion, or would it accommodate one more returned Person-of-Indian-Origin? Someone who loves the state – what little she knows of it – and would work for a fraction of her North American salary to live amongst cashews, kind souls and people who can pronounce her name.
“Deo bore kurung,” Marie calls after me in Konkani, when I descend her front steps for the last time of this visit, God Bless You. Thank you, I call back, God bless you too.