This story is by Anuradha and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I close my eyes. It takes a few seconds and I am where I want to be in the middle of a deep ocean. I look at the sun, the golden expanse of the sky, the water’s openness, and the mysteries within. Taking in everything, I jump into the water.
I marvel at the miracle that is nature. How I first traverse into the water, deep, and then as if I have outlived my welcome, the waters throw me out.
I pant when I reach the surface and look back at the ship’s grandeur that brought me here—a five storey cruise with a swimming pool at the top. There is an auditorium that plays adult broadway shows on weekends and a casino. I tried my hand at gambling. It turns out, it’s still not my thing. One single ticket of mine cost a fortune, but I don’t feel guilty.
In the midst of an ocean, there are no boundaries. But then how do you define boundaries? It’s different for everyone, and for some, they are such a part of their lives that they don’t see it.
As a woman born in the nineteen seventies in India, boundaries were everywhere. Married into a conservative Indian family, I adjusted well because of my background. Kids came, and boundaries expanded. My life is a series of duties and expectations fulfilled. Of course, I get to entertain myself when my husband gets the time or kids are in a good mood. But it’s okay. I love them.
I do get the time to day-dream, in the night, when everyone is in bed.
Every night it’s a different dream.
Today it’s ‘what I would do, if I was, ‘boundless’?’ I think of all the things that are holding me back. I would like to think it’s my husband and kids, but I know that it’s not true. What’s keeping me back is my fears. I could have graduated from a prestigious college in Mumbai if I were not scared of living alone in the city. I could have had a love story if I were not scared to fight for what I want. I could have gone on a vacation alone if I were not scared of what my family and friends would think. I could have learned diving if I were not scared I am drowning every time I found myself at the deep end of the pool.
But in my dreams I am fearless.
I go underwater and open my eyes. The water is clear. A person who hasn’t been in the water can never know how many colors are hidden under the pale blue surface. The world within is alive with fishes, coral reefs, jellyfishes, a giant stingray, seahorses, and turtles. I go deeper and touch the coral reefs. The surface is rough. Oh, the disparity between the looks and the feel.
I come back to the surface to catch my breath. The ship has moved far from me.
I flip, and am on my back, floating in the water. Wearing a yellow-colored bikini. Another first I have always wanted to do. Although I could have imagined myself to be much younger with a firmer body, I keep my body. The imperfect, stretch mark stained and flabby thighs, owning body.
Lying in the water, relaxing as if it’s my bed. Both my hands and legs are at the mercy of the water. Sun burns my skin, but I don’t care. I doze off.
I get out of my slumber to find a bird is flying over me. It looks at me and moves on. I want to be this bird: a traveler, a lone traveler. No attachments, only the objective view of the world.
I flip back and look for the cruise. I can see it, but it’s further from me. I see a small island and start swimming towards it. The island reminds me of the dining table at my home. It is the same size, and it has a tree with apples on it. I am hungry.
I climb the island, and before sitting under the tree, I pluck an apple from the tree. A speed boat is coming my way. I hope the people on the Cruise haven’t realized that I am missing.
A shirtless guy with sunglasses is sitting at the driving panel. He stops the speed boat and gives me a hand. He doesn’t look pleased. I wouldn’t have taken his grasp, but he looks like a dish. He reminds me of heroes of all the romance novels I have read all my life. Tanned torso, muscular shoulders and a mouth compressed in a hard line.
He pulls me in the boat, and I crash into his chest. I breathe him in. He doesn’t look a day more than thirty.
I steady myself and move away from him. His jaw is set. “Why the hell did you jump from the cruise?”
“Because I wanted to,” I say. I am living in a world where this sentence explains everything, but he isn’t.
“Do you know how difficult you make our lives by being so irresponsible?”
I ignore his denunciation and sit on the floor of the boat with my knees drawn in.
“Do you want to die, Mrs. Dev?” He asks.
“It’s Anna,” I say ignoring his question.
“Because if you want to, there are many cheaper ways. This Cruise is one of the most expensive ones in the world.”
“No, I don’t want to die. I want to experience life.” I throw my head back and let the sun shine on my face. My eyes close on their own accord.
I wait for him to say something. When he doesn’t, I open my eyes and watch him studying me with interest.
“Don’t you have someone waiting at home?” He says finally as if he has given up trying to reason with me. He sits beside me.
“I am not the person they are waiting for.” I turn my face to him. I want to touch him, so I do. Taking his hand, I turn his palm towards me and look at it. He is startled but doesn’t say anything.
Tracing a line on his palm with a finger, I say, “You see this line in the middle, that’s coming down. It’s the lifeline. I want to change this line of mine.”
“I need to add more life to my lifeline. It’s faint and shallow.”
“You can read palms?” He raises an eyebrow.
“No, I got some general info through Youtube videos. I like your heartline. You are verbally dextrous, and not afraid to go after what you want.” I move my finger over his heartline and say, “See, it’s so bold and curvaceous.”
He is amused. “I could say the same about you.”
His attempt at flirting validates my attraction to him. But this is not what I want.
I stand up, go to the end of the boat, and stoop to touch the waters.
“Ah, I miss being in the water,” I say.
He comes behind me and whispers in my ear as if there is anyone else who can hear him, “Anna, you remind me of a mermaid.” My name sounds like an endearment.
I grin at him and lean into the water to splash a handful on him. He stumbles back.
“A mermaid should be in the water.” And I jump into the water headfirst. I keep going deep into the water. But then I had to breathe. I wish I were a fish. Even ‘boundless’, I am still human.
I open my eyes and look at sleeping Mr. Dev. Moving my fingers over his thick mane of hair, I smile at the memory of the lifeguard. Some boundaries you can’t cross, even in your dreams.