A short story by Sacha Waldron
‘Kutubdia’ he told me ‘is vanishing’. He looked back out to the Bay of Bengal. ‘My house used to be out there’, he gestured to a point out to sea. I looked hard at the spot but saw nothing except glaucous blue. The same as every other patch of sea, right or left. The sea rolled inwards but seemed calm, there was no wind.
‘There?’ I wanted to be encouraging, I wanted to see what he saw.
‘A whole street used to be there, further is the place where I went to school for a while, kindergarten.’
I looked at him, his eyes focused on the water, not knowing what to say. We were sitting on the beach, the sea about 15 yards in front of us. I was still in London mode, bewildered by Bangladesh and overwhelmed by everything I had seen and eaten since I stepped off the plane at Shah Amanat airport the day before. We had rented a car and driven to Baru, he had driven and I had stared out of the window time trying not to ask too many questions, to reveal myself as so naive. I’m terrible with new places, completely enthralled by the idea of being somewhere different. I didn’t want him to know what a big deal this trip was for me, how quickly he and it had changed the course of my life.
The previous night he had taken me out ‘on the town’ with his cousins. Baru only had a handful of tea and coffee places open late on the main drag but we walked past these, turning several dark corners until we came to a small red door. The man who opened it seemed pleased to see us and ushered us into a backroom, a bar of sorts that reminded me of the small living-room sized pubs that littered towns in the West of Ireland. Someone handed me a glass of beer and there was a toast to something I did not understand, probably ourselves, the great visit. The proprietor, Antu, led us further into the house where we could hear bad crooning voices in a rendition of ABBA’s 'Waterloo'.
‘Do you want to sing?’ asked Antu, ‘we have lots of English songs’. I made a face ‘I don’t, I really don’t’, which made everyone laugh. Someone else took to the miniature makeshift stage and thankfully diverted attention away as I melted into a dark corner to drink my beer and watch.
He found me when my glass had been refilled for the fourth or fifth time. I was hot, I felt strange. ‘Are you okay, sorry I left you for so long’, his finger found a small space above my jeans that revealed skin and stroked it with his index finger. ‘I’m fine, I’m just watching. I am tired though, I might have had too much to drink already’. He nodded at me and I touched my forehead to his chest. We stood there for just a minute before he went to make his excuses and we headed back out into the night. From the road we could still hear singing from the Karaoke machine, a couple this time doing a duet … ‘Islands in the Stream … that is what we are … No-one in between … How can we be wrong’ … as we turned another corner I heard the last faint ‘a-ha’. ‘Dolly Parton’ I said, to no-one in particular. ‘And Kenny Rogers’ he said, ‘but it’s too late to sing now’.
I woke up the next morning with the song still in my head.
Later, he packed a small plastic container with the roti and dahl from breakfast and dragged me to my feet. ‘Come on, it’s time for a trip’.
That’s how we came to be sitting on the beach of Kutubdia. Cross legged, shoulder to shoulder for a while. Eventually I moved away to smoke a cigarette. It felt wrong to smoke, somehow, against the backdrop of beach and sea but, finally he took it from me and took a long drag, releasing the smoke from his nose in a long dragon stream. His dark eyes focused on me but I could not read them. He stubbed the cigarette out into the hollow of a small pearly pink shell.
He looked back out to the water and his whole body seemed to go still.
‘There’s an island near Germany’, I said ‘that appeared ten years ago out of nowhere’. He did not turn to look at me. ‘It was just sea and then sandbanks started to appear. They say it’s the size of 25 football pitches and all this wildlife has established already. I read that tourists have been visiting on cruise ships’.
There was silence, just the sound of the sea, my breathing.
‘In 20 more years all of this, where we’re sitting, will be long gone’, he finally said, ‘where we’re sitting will be far out to sea.’
I thought about this for a minute, looking down at the sand. He cleared his throat slightly.
‘Maybe we will come back, after all that time, and I’ll show you where we are today and you will look where I point and see only sea, the same as every other patch of sea, right or left.’
Sacha Waldron is a writer and curator based in the UK.
Photograph by Nireekshit [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.