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He loved the sea

Manish Nandy |

The Malliks, our neighbors, were an affluent family and every year they went on a family vacation. Roy, their eldest son, was in my class and would tell me of the exotic places they visited. I must have evinced some interest – my family could only afford to visit relatives for vacation! – because one summer Roy startled me by inviting me to join him on his family jaunt. My parents were hesitant, but once they had spoken to Roy’s dad, a hearty sociable businessman, they felt reassured and let me go. I was thrilled, for I had never spent two full weeks on a beach, living in a five-star hotel.

Roy had some of his dad’s disposition and in no time made dozens of friends in the hotel and on the beach. It meant I too had a glorious time in the company of new and exciting friends. We ate delectable food, played games and went on excursions to local tourist spots in two large cars Roy’s family had rented. I also enjoyed the quiet, lazy hours I spent with Roy in our double room overlooking the sea, chatting about our life and dreams.

Roy said he didn’t want to be an engineer like his father; nor did he want to run a business. Rather he wanted to be a forest officer, like my uncle he had met, live in a quiet rural town, explore the woods every day and come home in the evening and listen to folk music. He loved the sea, he said, and would take every vacation on a beach. He said he liked the sea so much that he would one day like to die right next to it. We spent our days swimming long hours and then relaxing on the beach under a large umbrella and reading.

We went our different ways after school and I heard that Roy had joined his dad’s company, which surprised nobody. Within two years, however, he found a job with the government’s forest service and went to work in a remote corner of India. We exchanged an occasional letter and, five years later, we met up for a drink. Roy loved his work and lived the way he had dreamed, except that he had now a wife and baby. He said his pay wasn’t good enough for his family to vacation on the beach, but he expected shortly to save enough to be able to take his wife and child for a vacation on the beach we had been together.

Seven years later I had a letter on familiar hotel stationery: Roy had taken his wife and daughter to the beach where we had spent a summer together and was staying in the same hotel. Believe it or not, he was in the same room overlooking the sea. It had taken him some time, but he had fulfilled his project of a family vacation on the beach. I felt happy for him.

It was quite a shock to get the notice of a funeral service for Roy a few days later. I called his wife and expressed my sympathy, but could not bring myself to ask her how his end had come. She volunteered it was ‘sudden’ but did not explain whether it was an accident or an unexpected health problem.

That left me free to imagine: Roy was swimming in the ocean, his athletic body glistening in the late-afternoon sun, his arms moving rhythmically as his ears echoed the folk music he enjoyed, his eyes on the beach he so loved, his heart peaceful and jubilant.

 

The writer is a Washington-based international development advisor and had worked with the World Bank. He can be reached at [email protected]