Andy though drenched in his sweat was still running on one of the finest beaches of Goa, Arambol beach. He never preferred working out with heavy weights in closed confinements of the gym, he felt that’s full of monotony for him. He preferred the open sky and the beads of sweat shining on his forehead while he stood under the burning sun.

Arambol beach was kinda different from the other beaches of North Goa. It was the only beach that had a sweet water lake opposite the beach at a distance of 100 yards which differentiated the beach and lake with white sand. What a mesmerising piece of art by nature!!!

Andy had all the reasons in this world to be there. He owned a beach shack with stay-over rooms for tourists. The shack covered miles of ocean as well as the calm and peaceful lake behind it.

Though it was not a much-hyped property, it was cozy enough to stay that turned happening during the weekends with DJ nights. Andy used to allow only foreigners to book these rooms as he felt they are more decent when you have your soul and heart attached to the walls. With moderate rates and the beauty around, it soon became the most preferred place for stay.

Andy wasn’t Goan by birth. He belonged to the running city, cement jungle of India, Mumbai. Born and brought up in a city full of people, Andy completed his education with commerce as his majors from one of the most prestigious colleges of the city.

His dad had a small manufacturing unit and few properties in the suburbs. Andy started working with his dad and it was just the beginning when a tragic accident wiped out the family. His mom and dad made their way to heaven, leaving him alone in this cruel world. He could not cope up with the loss and the house which was once a heaven started haunting him.

Finally, he decided to wrap up his dad’s business and sell out all the inherited property. With all (the funds) the gathered legacy, he moved to Goa and that was how he entered into the world of his shacks, under the label “The Grace”. Life moved slowly as he managed to live without his parents. Though there wasn’t a day when the memories didn’t take him in their arms, sometimes sweet sometimes sour. 

Not like dreamers and achievers, strugglers and winners did Andy have a bag full of dreams. He just for the sake of livelihood started this new chapter of his life named Goa. He was not bothered about whether his business will work or not. He had enough money to let his life go on smoothly.

Andy was very peculiar in choosing everything for his shack, he wanted it to different and decent if not the best. The interiors, the staff, and everything else were handpicked and customised by him. With his kind and courteous nature, few locals had been quite helpful to him in setting up this new chapter of his life.

Foreigners travelling to India with Goa on their map preferred “The Grace”, Andy’s shack. Few among them had also started being frequent visitors. Amongst all the services that others offered, Andy never left a chance to amaze his guest with his travel itineraries which gave them a complete package of peace and solace.

It was a normal Saturday night with DJ that deafened Andy by its loud music but that was what was the visitor’s demand. Everything was just the way it should be, the food, the drinks, the music, the dance floor, etc. 

Everyone had now left the shack and the cleaning process was getting done. The staff, one by one started calling it a day. Andy was also done for the day when he took his glass of favorite malt and made his way to his spot which solaced him the most. 

The moonlight was illuminating the otherwise crashing waves, like Beethoven symphony. This was the best time of the day for Andy. He always sat on his lounge chair and enjoyed the last drink of the day with his smoke along with the serenity. No human soul was there to disturb this mesmerising unison. 

He finished his drink and smoke and allowed the calmness of night to sink into him. Pouring another large single malt, he lit the fresh smoke for him. The sip and long drag of smoke had closed his eyes. The smoke rising through his breath as he watched the waves of the ocean was the only movement visible.

Andy was now feeling dizzier and everything around him was getting blurred, his head too had started spinning though slow enough to manage. Raising from the chair he slowly dropped the smoke and clenched his temples.

“What’s this, why is this happening to me…?” Andy could not understand anything that was triggered all of sudden. He tightly closed his eyes to get rid of this his giddiness and throbbing temples. Slowly it started subsiding but his eyes were still tightly shut.

A roaring sound in the sky woke him of his silence. Andy tried to figure out what it was. It was an old fashioned combat plane even and before he could figure it out it exploded leaving a huge fireball which accompanied shrilling noise. Everything happened like a quick run of a scary movie but the debris left behind screamed the truth of the incident

Without any second thoughts, Andy rushed to find any survivors but… everything disappeared like it was never there. Andy was shivering with what he had just seen and had all chills running down his spine. His body had unlimited jolts and was hit by an unquenchable thirst. This was just a beginning of a big mess, Andy fell on the sand unconscious. A whole big sky and the twinkling stars were with Andy today. 

Some good deeds do follow you and so did they follow Andy, few security people and coast guards found his body with the heart still beating and the traffic of beach still on and took him to be a drunkard. They were generous enough to drop him back to his own shack unknown of the fact that Andy was the owner of the shack.

Andy woke up late that afternoon with a heavy head. He called the manager and enquired about what had happened last night. He stayed longer in the shower today, contemplating the last night’s events. He had thoughts running helter-skelter but couldn’t pick a single string out of them. 

“Damn… It was definitely not a dream. I had seen it and I am sure …, it can’t be a dream.” He murmured to himself. 

“Am I hallucinating, am I high on drugs or anything…”

Days kept passing and everything was back to routine. Only Andy wasn’t able to brush off those memories of that night. It was a weekend cocktail party this time and Andy was enjoying his bartending skills along with his guest, he juggled the bottles in a way no one could. 

After two hours of the nonstop show, Andy took a break and passed the task then to his finest bartender. He walked to the lake behind the shack with Jack in one hand and his favourite cigar in the other. He rolled up his trouser to knees and sat on a wooden bench with cold water kissing his feet and the dark background was all that he longed for.  

Memories of the traumatic night were stored in his brain and used to jump out regularly. A plane passing, the sudden explosion, the debris lying, and getting washed by the waves brought sweat all over. The way he finished his drink during these flashes used to hurt his gut but he felt good for the effect of alcohol used to soothe him. 

“Gosh, not again…” Andy bend to fetch the glass which was trying to hide in the water. 

Just then he could feel something tickle him, he tried to grab it for the waves were in no mood to leave it there. He strongly grabbed it and tried pulling it to him. To the heavens mercy, it was nothing but a charred body with no clues left for recognition. 

Andy at once screamed as he fell back and suddenly everything changed. Everyone heard the scream and ran towards Andy. He was pushing himself away from the lake with his feet landing on the sand. Hearing Andy’s scream, everyone at the party rushed to the backside of the shack where Andy was still screaming, his face pale white and his heart pounding hard in his ribs.

Andy could not take his eyes off the water, he was frozen. Few of his staff who were good swimmers slipped in to check if there was anything to worry about. Andy was shivering but there were no traces left of the body that he saw some moments before. 

“Sir there is nothing inside… No dead body…” One of the staff said.

“No it is, it was there, a body, a badly burned body… I saw it… Damn it I did touch it with this very hand…” Andy was furious, baffled up, never knew what to do, how to explain what it was, how could it vanish???

“All well Andy? I did see all, there is nothing, maybe you hallucinated.” It was Grace, an American who had been staying at Andy’s shack for more than four months now. Andy lifted his head to find the faint smile of Grace along with a glimpse of assurance.

Andy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Without saying anything more, he went back to his room. Everyone there had a lot to talk about, the moment he left.

“Isn’t he behaving weird since a few days…?”

Andy ignored the ruckus and banged his door loud enough to reveal his anger and frustration. Laying on the bed Andy had all his eyes on the ceiling as if it had all the powers to understand him. 

“What’s happening to me…? Why this is happening to me…? God…” Andy cursed under his breath, his fist clenched tightly.

Grace followed Andy to his room even thought of knocking on his door to ask him if he was fine but then when it comes to Andy, people knew once in a shell it’s better not to disturb him. 

“Will talk to him some other time.” She smiled at Andy’s closed door and turned to her room.

Grace was a backpacker, a wanderlust. She had been travelling to various continents, exploring life and people there. She somehow felt she is being called somewhere. To find her calling she ditched her job and packed bags to travel across the globe.

Grace finally found her calling in India. Like Andy, she too loved the vast oceans. Sitting for hours and looking at those tides running back and forth was what gave her life. This was the sole reason behind the extended stay of Grace at Goa. When she had first visited Andys place she was like, yes this is what I had been searching for…

Bond between Andy and Grace was more than that of the customer and an owner. They had turned out to be good friends now. Andy had always been helpful to her with small things which she too adored.

A couple of days had passed and slowly the crowd was turning into few knows and few unknowns, today the crowd was the least. The next day they had planned a leave and the shack was to be kept closed for maintenance as well as a break for the staff.

Andy walked to the beach and lost in his thoughts seating on his favourite chair with his favourite single malt and cigs. Grace saw Andy and walked to him 

“So Andy is enjoying his ‘ME’ time.” She asked with a tint of sarcasm. Andy looked at her and scoff. They sat in silence staring at the vastness of the ocean till Andy finished his drink.

Andy now offered her drink “Only if you wanna share…” Grace smiled and took the glass from him.

“I guess I am already sharing.” Andy smiled and their glasses clinked.

“You know what I am talking about?” Sipping her drink, Grace spoke peeping into his eyes.

Andy knew where this was going. He hesitated and was kind of reluctant but that pretty smile of her always had melted his heart. Andy narrated the weird disturbing incident to Grace for he was confident that no one but she had all ears to him. 

“I feel, I mean are you ignoring something…? Maybe it’s, something…” Grace uttered as Andy lit the smoke for both.

“I don’t have anything to ignore. My life is an open book… It’s all here, in this place.” Andy took a long drag and spoke between the clouds of smoke.

Grace stayed quiet, lost in her thoughts. Andy poured another round of drink and they both sipped in silence with the sound of ocean waves crashing far away. Only moonlight, faintly illuminating the otherwise dark beach.

“Think over what I said. You might be missing something….” Grace kept gazing at the waves. Andy held his drink high at the sea in agreement with her words. They had bottoms up and Grace took the final drag of her cigarette before gently stabbing the butt of smoke in the sand.

“I am leaving tomorrow, will be back in few days.” Grace stretched her hands and got up from the chair.

Andy turned to her with raised eyebrows. He now knew that after four months of being with Grace it’s gonna be the same place other than Goa in India. 

“I am going to Rishikesh, in Uttarakhand.”

“And I guess it’s not your first visit.” Andy replied looking into her beautiful eyes.

“You are right, I had been there thrice and it’s so peaceful and mesmerising.” Grace closed her eyes. 

“What’s so special about that place…?” Andy was kind of curious to know what was the real meaning of peace for Grace.

“I don’t know but it feels like Hrishikesh is calling me. I don’t know why, what, how but there is something that is connecting me with it.” Grace replied with her arms wide open. Andy refilled the glasses for them and said.

“Night is still young.” He passed her a drink and leaned back on his chair.

“I had been travelling to different regions in the world. And it all started cause I was not able to get that mental peace in whatever I was doing.” 

“I ditched my job and packed my bags in search of that peace… The place where I can find my calling… In search of my calling…” Grace took a generous sip of her whisky and was in a different world. Andy was now lost, the way she talked and the way she smiled. 

“I finally found my calling… It’s here, in Goa and Rishikesh. Whenever I am here, I find my peace and I feel myself. The peace… I had been longing for I don’t know how long.”

Grace finished her drink and got up. She walked close to Andy and bend to place a peck on his cheek.

“Find your calling, go grab it, it’s all your’s baby…” She whispered in his ears and left for her room. Andy could not respond and he just kept staring as Grace faded away.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Written by: Hemang
Edited by: Pratishtha Shyam
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha

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