The idea of a physically imperfect Arnav has intrigued me for quite some time. How would his confidence and pride translate in such a situation? This piece of writing is my attempt at tackling the concept. It’s broken down into 4 mini-parts since its difficult as hell to write. 😀
Let’s go have an adventure!
He felt the hum of anticipation under his skin as he walked along the shoreline, his bare feet sinking into the wet sand. This was his last day on the island. It was fitting to spend it in the place he’d loved exploring as a child.
Diving cleanly into the pristine turquoise water, he swam easily past the reefs, until he reached the site of the steamship wrecks. Marine life was vibrant around the wreckage, creating an unusual beauty that needed to be seen to be believed. The feeling of wonder hit him as hard as the first time he and Akash had discovered the spot. Amongst the rusted giant propellers, the sun shimmered through the clear water as fishes of all colors darted around. Orange, pink, yellow. It’s almost like someone was splattering paint on a blue canvas all around him.
There seems to be a lesson here that such splendor could co-exist with human destruction. He allowed himself a few extra minutes to watch the anemones sway in the gentle current, taking in how the skinny eels weaved through nooks and crannies. He reached a finger out to lightly touch the iridescent starfish clinging to the ruddy rocks. This was goodbye.
With a minor pang he turned away, swimming back to the top. Gulping in fresh air, he made towards the shore, sinking down onto the inviting white sands to soak in the last rays of the afternoon sun.
Five generations of Raizada men have made this place their home. Five generations of seamen who left it to travel the world, yet always returning to settle down once the urge to explore left them. They were born here. They were buried here.
He, Arnav Raizada, was about to break tradition.
Once he left, he had no intention of every coming back to these shores. To Maliku.
An island at the southernmost atoll of the archipelago of Lakshadweep, India. At a mere ten kilometers in length and roughly one kilometer wide in its broadest area, it was nothing more than a blip in the vast ocean.
Eighteen years he’d lived on this small crescent-shaped piece of land. Most of his youth spent climbing the palm trees, exploring the lagoon, and learning to fish. It was an idyllic life, a simple one. And he couldn’t understand why the men in his family ever came back.
The island was tiny, stifling. Sure it was picturesque, but he itched to explore the world beyond these waters. The only time he felt true freedom was on his Flying Fifteen keelboat, a gift from Pop for his thirteenth birthday.
Nothing could ever beat the feeling of sailing across the water, when the wind causes waves to swell and sea spray hits your face…In those moments, he felt completely alive.
And he wanted more of that feeling, more of that excitement. It was time to pursue it. To see what the world’s oceans had to offer.
He was going to have his adventure and he was never coming back.
7 years later
Cruising World News: Fatal accident ends three year championship streak of the Raizada brothers
Wired: ISAF World Cup accident raises safety concerns on sail racing practices
Reuters: High winds serve a crippling blow to Sailing World Champ Arnav Raizada
Sail World: Olympian Akash Raizada’s death sparks investigation over sailing safety
Lighthouse Digest: What Went Wrong in the Deadly ISAF Sailing World Cup Crash?
4 months later
He was back. Not exactly triumphant, and more than a little bruised. Would battered be too dramatic?
The island hasn’t changed. It was the only thing that hasn’t.
Reality of what he had lost in the accident hasn’t really sunk in yet. His big brother’s death was still too raw to penetrate. He didn’t want to know what life was going to feel like when it finally did.
Why didn’t the sea take him as well? It would have been more merciful.
No, he was left injured just badly enough to come crawling back to a place he swore never to return to. Back to lick his wounds.
He sat watching the blue-green waves roll onto the blindingly white sand. The gulls swooped in and out of his vision, their high-pitched cries piercing his ears. A bitter smile tinged thin lips. Best get to use to it. His future will be marked similarly, endless days of doing nothing more than observing the waves and listening to the muted roar of the surf.
Once, the waves had called out to him, the promise of adventure in every roll and ridge.
Akash’s gentle voice sounded in his ear, “We have the sea foam in our veins little brother, Raizadas were born to understand the language of the waves.”*
He had believed it, taking it to heart as he chased one adventure after another. Then he’d gotten cocky. Thinking he had mastered the sea. But the fucking bitch wanted no master. He hadn’t understood that until it was too late.
Every successful race had added to his arrogance. Winning the World Cup has made him overconfident in his skills. Akash had warned him he was becoming reckless, taking too many unnecessary risks.
A warning he hadn’t heeded.
He hadn’t seen the ragged line of rocks thrusting out of the water, gaining height and power. By the time he did, nothing could be done. Then there was only searing pain.
He had been captain of his ship. Now he was simply adrift, a useless log floating aimlessly in the water with no shore in sight. Lost. Hopeless.
His days were marked by the rising and setting of the golden orb that controlled the island and its inhabitants.
Each morning he sat and watched as fishermen rush out to greet the pre-dawn, preparing for the day’s catch.
As light danced over the water, transforming the dark depths into shimmering blue, enthusiastic surfers would come to ride the waves.
He spent the afternoons observing families play in the hot sand, noting how the tourists were quick to leave when the sun sunk into the water, turning the sea briefly into liquid flame.
In the twilight hours, he watched lovers stroll along the shore, bathed in the soft glow of torch lights. He hated that the most.
He sat in the same spot each day, not leaving until the sky finally catches up with his mood – turning black as night.
Something was different tonight. There were no stars, but the moon appeared impossibly round, an irritating lamp in an otherwise pitch dark sky.
He neared the end of the wooden ramp and came to an abrupt halt. For a few surreal seconds, he wondered if he still lay in his bed in the cottage, sleeping. For the girl before him was something from a dream.
She twirled on the beach, an angel forged from moonlight. She appeared transported by her dance, at the mercy of the movement compelled by some invisible force. Her body was gracefully delicate and exquisitely proportioned. Arnav could easily make out the lithe outline of it, scantily dressed as she was on the humid summer night.
His eyes traveled from her bare feet up to the bikini top. Her hair was straight and long. The ends of the tresses swished against her naked waist in tune with the light breeze. Her skin flickered in shadow and silver light as she moved in solitary magic.
A tingling sensation buzzed beneath his skin as he watched her arched her back, her long hair nearly touching the sand, her arms gliding through the air, her breasts thrust forward, as though she was seducing the moon itself. He couldn’t tear his eyes off the vision of beauty. Her arms stilled and she held the pose for a moment, while his breath burned in his lungs. Then her curving back straightened and he realized with sharp disappointment that her dance was complete.
Unable to help himself, he moved towards her. Suddenly dark hair flew about her shoulders as she spun around in alarm. She looked towards him in the shadow for brief moments before she turned and ran inland, quick as a startled deer. He resisted the urge to go after her. Not that he could even catch up with her. Still, as he watched the darkness claim her an odd yearning pierced through him.
The island held magic Pop had once told him. Arnav had always scoffed at the idea.
Was the dancing angel a figment of his imagination?
Was his mind as broken as his body?
*adapted from Le Testament d’Orphée by Jean Cocteau
A sailboat, as brightly colored as a butterfly, caught his attention today. He watched as it lazily tacked toward shore, not realizing his gaze held longing.
He was so engrossed in watching the boat he was unaware of someone approaching until the vibration of the wooden planks alerted him. His entire body was suddenly coiled, he didn’t want visitors, had made it very clear.
He looked up. A woman, young and very pretty. His face hardened, too fucking bad he wasn’t in the mood for pretty.
So his voice was cold when he addressed her, “This is private property and you’re trespassing.”
“Hi! Are you a guest? I have an open invitation from the owner,” her tone was annoyingly cheerful. It was also melodious, if you enjoyed the soprano variety. Arnav hated it.
“I’m the fucking owner, and sweetheart I would’ve remembered if I issued such an invitation to you.”
She blinked at him, surprise clouding her eyes, a soft flush coloring her cheeks. Taking her from pretty to fucking gorgeous. Great.
His frown deepened, of course Pop.
His grandfather. Wily old bastard.
“Pop’s in town.”
“Oh! You must be his grandson… the one who doesn’t visit.”
He heard the reprimand in her voice, but chose to remain silent. Silence made people uncomfortable. And it made them go away.
“I’ve baked some lemon cookies, you mind moving over? I’ll just leave it in the kitchen.”
Her lips turned down, “Can’t or won’t?”
Furious, he reached for her hand, yanking down hard until she was at eye level, “You blind or just stupid?”
It was then that she realized that he was sitting in a wheelchair. She hadn’t noticed. Too busy taking in his jet-black hair, it was lush and seriously untidy. Sleep-tousled her wayward mind decided. His nose had been broken at some point, lending masculine character to his angular face. But up close she could see the tautness of his feature, the burn in his eyes. This was a man in terrible pain. It went far beyond the physical. She blanched.
Arnav took in the pleading eyes and pale face, she was genuinely distressed.
How had she not noticed the chair? After his accident that was the first and often the only thing women noticed.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
It was his turn to cringe. Sorry. He hated the word. Everyone was fucking sorry.
“Don’t you fucking dare, I don’t want it. I’m sick to hell of everyone’s sorrys. It doesn’t change shit,” he shoved her back, “Now get the fuck off my property. Next time you want to be neighborly – call first.”
She took a deep breath, it would be wrong to yell at someone so vulnerable, even if he was acting like an ass. “I am sorry. Sorry to have bothered you. However your grandfather called yesterday to invite me over. I’m here as his guest. And you’re just rude.”
He registered mild surprise over her snappishness and raised an eyebrow. Pretty came with a backbone, huh.
“Your name sweetheart.”
“I don’t allow strangers into my home. You wanna leave your shit in my kitchen, give me a name.” He folded his arms across his chest in what she supposed could be viewed as a civil gesture. But it also looked challenging, and that, she mused, was probably closer to his intention.
She looked at him suspiciously, and then grudgingly gave in, “Khushi.”
“Figures,” he muttered, then looked straight into her eyes. Khushi forced herself to meet his gaze. Despite his arrogance, he had a disconcerting way of staring. His expression was shaded with enigma, giving no indication of what he was thinking.
“Well, go on then.”
“You’re still in the way.”
“You always like this or am I getting special treatment?”
“No, I’m usually pleasant and well mannered. I only serve rude to the deserving.”
“You wound me.”
“I doubt I have that kind of power.”
“All women think they have that kind of power.”
“You must have a small circle of acquaintance then.”
Then to his surprise, she moved around him, hopped onto the window sill and placed her basket onto the counter.
“There, no need to bother you further. Goodbye, Arnav.”
With that she spun around and left, missing the lip twitch that graced his face for the first time in months.
It wasn’t until much later that he realized she knew his name.
Seasons bled abruptly into one another after a man reaches a certain age. Spring fading to summer so swiftly you hardly see the flower bloom before they withered. Without family, without the love of them, the passing of time would be a kind of loneliness.
Paranjay Raizada, Pop, to his loved ones, stood looking out the window of his family home. It had started as a cottage and they still called it as such. But every generation of Raizada had added to the structure, the result now a comfortably large lodge home with enough space to raise a family.
He was grateful for the life the island had bestowed upon him. For the fine woman who’d spent all the passing seasons by his side until the day she had to leave. The children they raised, the babies those children gave them. When a man’s been given such bounty, he was responsible for caring for them.
He had thought nothing could hurt more than when he buried his wife. He learned differently when the sea took his son and daughter. Now, he was still reeling from the heavy blow six months ago when he buried one grandson and took a broken one home.
The sea gave and took. It was nature’s cycle. A man could either drown in it, or learn to live with it. Arnav was drowning. For the first time in his life, he felt completely helpless. His old bones were too weak to pull the boy to safety. He could only toss him a lifeline, hoping it will be enough. It had to be enough.
“I met your Arnav yesterday, Pop.” He turned to look at the young woman he had come to love like a granddaughter. She was a rosebud still, when she bloomed to full womanhood, she would be an incomparable beauty. But it was her unaffected manners and open heart he was betting on.
“What did you think of my boy?”
“He … umm,” she struggled to find words that wouldn’t offend.
“Arrogant, Sarcastic, and Rude?”
“Well… yes. It’s rather unfortunate that the Raizada charm skipped a generation.”
He tilted his head back and laughed heartily.
Khushi smiled as she watched him. She certainly hadn’t expected to ever find herself in love with a eighty-year old man. But three years ago, when her family moved to the island, she fell, head over heels for Paranjay Raizada.
His mind was a razor, his heart sentimental mush. An irresistible combination. He was also a hotheaded rogue, and Khushi delighted pitting her own temper against an equal.
Her parents were loving and affectionate, but with both grandparents dead before she was born, Khushi never had the pleasure of being a granddaughter. She cherished the day ‘Mr. Raizada’ became ‘Pop’.
She felt a pang as the older man’s eyes darkened.
“It’s understandable,” she rushed to add.
“No it isn’t. It’s been half a year and he’s moping. Thinking his life is over because he can’t sail off into the sun. God has his reasons for taking that from him. But I know, the key reason was that he needed to come back to the island.”
“Why do you think that?”
“There’s a treasure here waiting for him.”
Khushi looked up and had the unnerving thought that Pop meant her. “Pop…”
“Khushi, have I ever told you who you remind me of?”
“No, you haven’t.”
“Kallol, my wife.”
“Really. She shared your love for life. How she embraced it! She saved me you know.”
“I saw a lot of things when I left the island. Things that turned me bitter, I would have stayed that way if she hadn’t found me. Raizada men are a suspicious lot. It takes a strong woman to bring out the better man.”
“You miss her,” she said softly.
“Every single day. She truly was my better half.”
Khushi placed a gentle hand over his. “I’m glad you had that.”
He turned to her, old eyes crinkled with joyful sorrow. “Yes, I was lucky. I want the same for my grandson. Arnav’s a fine boy—sharp as a whiplash, if a bit temperamental. Handsome, too. Looks a bit like I did at his age, so he doesn’t lack for female companionship. That’s part of the problem, as I see it. Too much quantity in his life and not enough quality. He’s not the friendliest man you’ll meet, but very true once he lets someone in.”
“Pop, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.”
“Save my boy, Khushi.”
“I… I don’t think I can… or know how to.”
“Be you. That’ll be enough.”
“I’m not what he wants, Pop,” she said seriously.
“No, but you’re what he needs.”
She looked startled by the thought. After long minutes, she gave him a small nod. A promise given.
The tension eased from his body, he gave her hand a soft pat. He had prayed for his grandson to come back to the island. This wasn’t how he wanted it, but he had never been a man who bemoaned how fate dealt her cards. He’d learn to play with the hand he was given, and this time, he held an ace.
He turned to the sea. Not long now darling, just need to set our Arnav on his course.
He sat alone, a solitary figure against the silvery mist that sheathed the tides in the early morning.
As Khushi approached, his eyes narrowed, “Bored little girl?”
“Would you like to go for a walk?”
She winced when he stared pointed at his legs. Squaring her shoulders, she continued, “You look like you could use some fresh air.”
“Ocean’s about thirty feet away, I think I have plenty of fresh air.”
“But you haven’t left the house in weeks!”
Arnav felt anger course through him. Of course, his fucking matchmaking grandfather probably roped the poor girl into this.
“I don’t want nor need your pity.”
“It’s not pity.”
“Leave,” he bit off.
“Know when you’re not wanted sweetheart.”
She turned and walked away.
1 week later
She marched right up the ramp and plopped down beside him. For a time, both sat quietly. The night had cloaked the sea, only the crash of waves revealed her presence.
“You’re a very determined woman.”
“I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
He stared out as though he could penetrate the darkness and see the surf. Khushi gave him this time. If he was balancing the pros and cons of a decision, she wanted to say nothing that might tip the scales against her.
He was quiet for so long, she was about to admit another round of defeat when he broke the silence.
“I hate the island.”
“There’s only loss here. It took my grandmother, my parents. I can’t understand how Pop can still love it.”
“He sees the beauty.”
“He’s in denial.”
“Fine, think that if it makes you feel better. I came to make a deal with you.”
“No wonder the old man likes you. What do you want?”
“Spend a day with me.”
“I told you before I don’t want your pity.”
“And I told you it’s not pity.”
“Why the hell would a girl like you, want to spend time with an old man and a cripple?”
“Stop it! You’re not a cripple!”
“Why, the fuck, do you care?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know why I care! But when I see you, it hurts me!”
He reared back, shocked by the unexpected confession.
“I’m sorry about your brother, I’m sorry about your loss, but you’re still alive, Arnav!”
“Maybe I’ll be better off otherwise.”
Khushi was startled by the rage that swept through her. “What a stupid thing to say! Do you honestly think that you’d be better off dead?”
“Yes,” he said bitingly. “Better that than being a useless cripple for the rest of my life.”
“Who says you will be? Your spinal cord wasn’t severed. I know people who’ve had suffered worst injuries and they’re far from useless. They’re productive human beings with jobs and families. It’s all in the attitude you take.”
“Will this lecture cost me?”
“No, it’s gratis for the stupid, for the ignorant, for those with bad attitudes!”
“The doctor told me I may never walk again.”
“That doesn’t mean you won’t ever walk again, Arnav.”
“Yeah, he said pray for some luck.”
“Would it be so bad to hope?”
“Yes! It fucking hurts to hope, because it makes the inevitable even worst.”
“We all die eventually, Arnav,” she said softly, “but while we’re still alive, shouldn’t we at least try to live to the best of our ability?”
“I can’t exactly get up and do the fucking tango.”
“No,” she acknowledged, “but there is so much you can still do.”
“Yeah? Like what?” he challenged.
“You have two capable hands, Arnav. And a working mind. I’m sure once you’re ready to end your pity party of one, you’ll discover something useful to do,” Khushi bit down on her lips, afraid she’d overstepped.
Arnav surprised her when he didn’t immediately give her a verbal flaying. Instead, he looked… was that laughter? The sound wasn’t bitter, it was startlingly rich.
“You don’t hold back when you’re riled sweetheart,” he stated.
“I didn’t mean to imply that you’re… not useful.”
“Yeah, you did,” he gave her a grin.
A wall had tumbled. How exactly did it happen? She wasn’t sure, but her heart felt lighter.
They sat in front of his home and talked, of everything and nothing. Arnav realized that he had never taken the time to have a real conversation with a woman before. It was enlightening.
But he was a man. As the night draped them in intimate darkness, he became increasingly aware of her. The slope of her shoulders, her firm breasts. In the dusky shadows she was … familiar. Was she the dancing angel he’d seen on the beach? His body stirred to life, and cursing it he finally gave in to her request just so he could send her home.
As she turned to leave, it occurred to him he spent a great deal of time starring at her back. The stubborn chit had a very nice backside.
Entering the house, he met Pop’s raised eyebrow.
Impossible old man, he thought, but a smile hovered on his lips.
At two in the morning, he was still too restless to sleep. His mind skipping like a stone over water. He wheeled towards his desk, firing up the laptop. With a frown marring his brow, he began to type.