This story is by Journey Brooklyn and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
BAM!! BAM!! BAM!! Our plane bounced its landing on the tarmac and I’m jolted awake. It was a Tuesday, heading into evening hours, monsoon season and along with Dawali underway as we land: Mumbai airport. We taxi and my eyes dart around this new scene. I rub my locket between two fingers. It’s worn down and tarnished; a keepsake my mother had given me when I was only eight. Millions of shanty homes, connected by sun-faded, tattered, colored tarps, like patchwork, whipping in the wind. The more upscale tent square adorned with cable receivers. Even here, there were noticeable divides between the haves and the have nots.
The 17-hour flight from Chicago left us craving a cigarette. Two young guards sporting camouflage with their semi-automatics, fingers on the trigger, speaking little to no English and scanning us for inconsistences escorted us to a seemingly deserted corridor that opened to the outside world; the bay of a loading dock. Only lighting coming from the faint tarmac ahead.
“This is awkward,” James sleepily stated as he let his back hit the wall, adjusting his foot against it to stabilize. We could feel the oppressive locked eyes of the guards responsible for only the wellbeing of the airport. “I know J. Just have to make our connection down to Goa,” I responded. Goa was, supposedly, a safe & overly friendly resort town, located about four hundered miles south of Bombay. The small jet we loaded held too many passengers with too much luggage.
Exhausted, we started the last leg: an hour-long trek via taxi to the resort hotel where a holy sheik bungalow awaited us. Pictures illustrated a large pool with private jacuzzies in a spa-like atmosphere imbedded in a lush, tropical setting. J surprised me with tickets, only two weeks prior. We were impulsively curious at times, something I cherished about the relationship. Frequently jolted awake by cracks or stops in the road we kept one eye opened, from time to time, drinking in the festival of lights being celebrated in every village along the way.
Unable to stand a moment more in the clothes I’d been marinating in, I made a B line for the shower after we’d finally arrived. A long steam, in silence. Fresh little packets of toiletries sat ripped into after I’d my way with them, tossed to the side, as I let the hot water wash away the familiar sent of home. J lay asleep and snoring, still clothed, shoes dropped to the floor and sunken into the duvet. There was no budging him at 6’2” and 180 pounds. I slipped into the sheets on the other side.
Strong coffee and a large dosa sat across the bed, devoid of J. The front door was left open, bringing in fresh air, sunlight and sounds from unusual birds. Hearing the shower running, I shook with a long stretch that cracked my cramped, over traveled joints. As I sipped my coffee, I slumped into a position that allowed me to stare outside where shadows of stray cats and vacationers lazily walked by.
“Common’ kid! Let’s check out that pool. It’s fucking gorgeous out there!” J yelled from the cloud of steam escaping the bathroom. “Yea! Totally!” Slamming the lukewarm joe, I unzipped my luggage and slipped my bikini out of its pocket. “I love that thing on you!” J grabbed my whole self, smooshing his face to mine, with open eyes, me staring wildly back. We kissed hard and then he pushed me away onto the bed. We laughed like kids getting away with something.
It was nicer than we’d expected… the weather, food, vegetation and staff were some of the friendliest strangers. We grew bored easily. Anticipating this, I snatched some brochures, or “show guides” as my mother called them, from the front desk on our way back to the room. “Hey!! We can rent mopeds?!” I relayed. “Seriously? Well, yea! Hook it up baby!”
We made our way out of the resort and the vast Arabian sea presented itself. We immediately ran into some kids, standing around, waiting for tourists to rent out their bikes for a few hundred rupees. We took off to the ferry to cross the bay and tore off after we docked. Slowing down as the road narrowed, we approached a group of cattle sleeping on the warmest terrain they could find, we idled our bikes, switching through them like orange cones.
Standing tall at the top of a steep hill with arms crossed, was a bald man with earrings lining both lobes; couldn’t help but to think of Mr. Clean. Later learned he was the owner of this local’s favorite seaside eatery. “Hungry?” he shouted down to us. We nodded to one another and sped up a steep incline. Placing our rides in park, we jumped off in his direction. He was jovial. Feeling at home as he effortlessly whipped out menus and popped open a cold bottled water into our glasses. “You know,” he said (with impeccable English) “I’ve just caught a huge rock fish this morning! I’ll cook in the tandoori: bread and vegetables, no?” “Yes, please!” Jumping at the opportunity and as J sat back in his chair, tossing the menu onto the table. “Done,” he said.
I was shocked. I’d been secretly waiting for things to go wrong, it being J’s first time he’d organized a trip, ever. I confessed this to him as we sat in the cheap plastic chairs, our feet grounded in gravel, stuffing ourselves with a platter of some of the freshest food, sea glistening and shooting laser beams of sunlight into our eyes.
“I see you’ve experienced the joix da vie of Goa!” spoke an unfamiliar voice. Trying to choke down the massive bite just taken, I scanned him up from the snake skin boots, up a make shift suite, untailored. “Ugh, yea, quite the luxury out here, uhh….,” J answered. “Doctor Anand. You can call me Ben.” There was an uncomfortable silence as three shot glasses arrived. “Please, take these as a welcome to our paradise we call home. It’s called Feni. Commonly used to celebrate Indian weddings. I assume you two are on honeymoon?” “Ahhh, no, hehem,” I spoke, sheepishly, wiping my mouth with the paper napkin. “Auck, no need for politics! Let’s celebrate!” Ben cut me off at the jaunt, raising his glass, cheering us, one by one, making eye contact and trying too hard.
We finished our long, late lunch as well as a few more friendly shots sent over from Ben. We waved back at him, thanking him and starting our way back. The sky was swollen with dark clouds, but we fired up our rides anyway, only having to seek refuge under the underpass as it was downpouring now. We looked at each other, shrugged and stared down at our handlebars, getting ready for the boredom to sink in. With dark helmets on, three mopeds swung into our space to escape the storm or so I thought. I noticed the snakeskin boots, “Holy shit! Dr. Anaa…?”
I awoke like this: bloody, confused and in a cautious state. I knew nothing about him- the man that bludgeoned me, standing above me now, ready to make another crack at my skull, had I made another move. He must have strangled me so quickly when we were parked under the underpass; unguarded from the free shots and the relaxing time there…I blacked out. This wasn’t my type A inner circle back home and probably hallmarks of a small-time criminal. Red flags left unchecked earlier with Ben. Was that even his real name? Was he even a doctor?
I was in it now and I’d accepted I’d be murdered, but still scrapping my fingernails against flesh, wallpaper and hardwood floors that left splinters. I could feel no pain. I was only looking to leave my mark; some way for my family or J to find me, albeit, he survived this, somehow. As a last-ditch effort, I ripped the locket off my neck and tossed it over the veranda of this strange house. The eye-hook caught, just barely, on the chandelier below. I saw it swing there as if to say ‘good-bye’ as I was dragged into the back room.
Leaving my mark, meaning you’ve lived a long, happy, enriched existence and have had the wherewithal to leave a legacy for those left behind. This wasn’t supposed to mean getting ripped from your current underappreciated, unacknowledged and unlived life to become a martyr, leaving your message, your destined message behind for those to find you, some 9,000 miles away from home, on a whim.
Yet, there I was, laying in a pool of blood, bright eyed and nothing bushy-tailed about me. They harvested my organs and they were sold for top dollar to the highest bidder, ironically, back home, on the black market. There lay my corpse, like the toiletries I’d thrown to the side, just the night before, with such indifference.