Gayatri tried to tame her long hair, greying at the ends, she stood at the edge of a small hallway leading to the deck of the ship. The deck had been the setting of several farewell parties in the past 7 years but she had never imagined that she or Vidya would ever be the recipients. And yet, the next resident of Tempora to leave was Vidya.
Voices containing cheerful conversations carried through the air towards her. Exhaling silently, she stepped with a smile. Vidya was near the punch table, cornered by a three girls who were talking animatedly.
“I’ll catch up with her sometime later,” she thought to herself. In the meantime, she turned to a nearby huddle of her friends, maintaining a glance in Vidya’s direction out of the corner of her eye.
“Hey Gayatri,” Isha said, as the circle adjusted to include her. “We were talking about the time Vidya jumped out the side of the ship because of it was “like satan’s sauna in here”.”
Gayatri laughed as she recalled the memory. “That was quite unlike her,” she said, picking a cheese roll as a tray floated past her.
“I remember she gave you quite a scare,” chimed in Jay.
“She didn’t know how to swim. I don’t think she still does.”
“I wish I had been there,” said Rita, one of the recent passengers of the Tempora.
“Gayatri, you should tell her about the time Tempora first found Vidya,” said Isha.
“Yeah, Gayatri has been on board for as long as anyone can remember. She knows all the stories.”
Gayatri smiled fondly at the expecting faces in front of her.
Gayatri clenched her fists, kicking at pebbles as she walked along the beach side. Her short hair stuck to her neck with beads of sweat. Frustration bubbled inside her, scarlet like the flowers peeping through the stones. A pebble landed in the sea, creating ripples through the clear water and sunk silently between the seaweed. Small fish and crabs were her sole companions.
Gayatri sat down in a huff once she was far away from her clean white house. She could just see the tips of the coconut tree that stood in her backyard. Brushing the sand off her dress, she turned towards the calm water body save the hoping it would inspire similar feelings within her.
“A hotel? On this tiny island? Have you lost your mind? You aren’t a child anymore trish, stop living in your fantasies.”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees little girl. You need to get a real job.”
Picking up another pebble, she flicked it in the water.
For the past three years, she had been building her dream, piece by piece. The walls of her hotel would be a coral blue. It would be near the beach and the rooms would smell of salt water. She would organise treks and exploration activities along the cliff side. The food would be authentic; a slice of the island and prepared only by the best chef in the place – Raghu uncle. It would be nothing like smelly old Kamla’s little shack near the fish market. It would be a proper hotel.
She watched the ripples as they swam towards the horizon. She put her face in her hands, gently rubbing her temples with her thumbs. She could envision the half filled business registration forms on the back of her eyelids.
At some point in those three years, her dream had become her goal and now, she was ready to take the first step. But her parents disapproved. She didn’t blame them; she would be the first to open a hotel on the island in over 3 decades. The last one had swept away in a freak storm. She didn’t blame them but she had hoped for more.
She looked up suddenly as she heard waves splashing. Towards her right, in the water was a big ship. The deck was painted coral blue and smelled of the sea. On its side was the word printed in block – TEMPORA.
“Maybe mum was right,” she thought as she stood up and kicked off her sandals. “A hotel? On this island? It was impossible.” Waving her hands, she stepped into the water.
Gayatri leaned on the railing, a drink in her hand as she watched the water foam towards the tail of the ship. She glanced sideways as she felt a presence behind her.
“Can’t believe the hostess is shirking her duties,” said Vidya.
Gayatri smiled and turned to face her friend.
“Can’t believe the guest of honour is ditching her party,” she shot back.
“You know, I don’t think I want to go after all. I mean, the pair of us, we’ve built a life on this ship haven’t we.”
“You know that isn’t how it works.”
“Maybe the ship made a mistake. It was bound to happen sometime.”
“Maybe,” said Gayatri. “Or you have a place you need to go. I remember how happy you were when that sapling showed up on your windowsill. It’s a good thing too. You deserve a real life.”
“I am going to miss you.”
“And I am going to miss you too.”
“I just wish I could know for sure that you would be okay. I would feel much better about leaving then.”
“I am going to be okay.”
“I want you to find a place too and have a real life. You deserve it just as much.”
A comfortable silence engulfed the pair as the sun slowly sank. The sky was a mixture of orange and red.
“Do you think you’ll ever leave Gayatri?” Vidya asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know where I want to be so the ship can’t take me there. I thought it was a phase for the initial months but it has been almost a decade since I climbed aboard.”
“I am sure there is a place where you belong and I promise you, it isn’t this boat.”
“I really will miss you,” Gayatri whispered her voice thick as she hugged her friend.
Gayatri walked to her room later that evening lost in her thoughts. The ship had started moving again, leaving behind Vidya forever; there were no returning passengers when it came to Tempora. The ship that had become her home for so many years was suddenly feeling inadequate. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she lay down on her bed.
The next morning rose with a commotion on the deck and the smell of wet earth in her room. Sitting up straight, Gayatri stared at the small sapling sitting on her desk. She rushed out to the deck to take in the view in front of her.
It was a small beach with clear water. Fish swam in its depths. The beach was coloured with scarlet flowers. A faded white house was visible in the distance with a grove of coconut trees swaying in its green backyard. Gayatri let out a long breath and turned around to pack her things. It was time to take her first step.