Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Night Swimming

moon and man at night in marina beach, chennai Funny how 23 years of your life fit in a small car. There you were, on the Interstate 5 on the way to Vancouver, B.C.. Your temporary home on the beach was waiting. You were just out of college and got a job at a tape-duplicating house for the broadcast TV networks. Your supervisor at the interview described it matter-of-factly as a “dead-end” job. It didn’t really matter to you because you needed a change of scenery- just had a colossal breakup with your girlfriend of five years and couldn’t stand Seattle. Everywhere you went, it reminded you of her.

You found the new home in the local newspaper. It was a whole basement of a house on the other side of the water from downtown Vancouver, near the University of British Columbia. The main attraction was of course, the beach. Traditionally, the water in the Pacific Northwest was too cold to swim no matter what season, but the inlets in Vancouver area were calm and not too cold during the height of Summer. You were never a good swimmer, but there was nothing like floating in the water. It seemed only in the water you felt secure enough you could completely relax. Water therapy is no joke. There is something about just being in the water, on a primordial level, that soothes us.

After going through the U.S./Canada border and getting a 2 year work Visa stamped on your passport, you felt officially out of the grim shadow of your past. Vancouver back then, as it is now, was a very beautiful city; a great combination of the splendid outdoors and the comfort of cosmopolitan living. Rumble in the Bronx, a Jackie Chan movie shot in Vancouver made you laugh, seeing the city with majestic mountains in the background doubling as the Bronx.

You picked up the house keys on the way to the city. When you pulled up there, you couldn’t believe your luck. The two-story house was beautiful and it was only two blocks from the beach. There was even a basketball hoop on the side, right outside the entrance to your new home. You could already see yourself shooting hoops against the setting sun. Life was going to be good.

Then through the veiled narrow windows on the lower side of the house, you saw something inside your new residence. It was as if someone was still living there. You opened the door to your own private entrance in the back of the house. To your great surprise, the room was filled with someone else’s life: a bed, computer, TV, dresser, dining table, all the kitchen utensils, books and magazines, complete with an ashtray with cigarette butts. It was as if someone who was living there just stepped out to get a cup of coffee somewhere. You panicked and shouted empty hellos but no one replied. After you checked every nooks and crannies of the room and found no one, you called the landlady.

Upon hearing what you had to say, she sounded just as surprised as you were. “All his stuff are still there?” she kept asking. You told her that you didn’t have anywhere else to go. And that your whole life was in that beat up small Chevy of yours. She told you she’d send someone and hung up on you. Ten minutes later, Gerri, a daughter of your landlady pulled up. Before you got a chance to open your mouth, she glanced at the room and got on the phone with her mother right away. After a heated exchange, she got off the phone and told you what was up; the man who had been living there stopped paying rent 3 month ago. Having a lot of different properties in various parts of the city and busy taking care of them, they just assumed the man simply moved out, and they never actually came to check the place before renting it out to you. You were beyond mad at this point and demanded the situation rectified right away. Gerri got on the phone again. Then she handed the phone to you. “Why don’t you move everything out of the room?” the landlady asked you. You were flabbergasted. “You need a place to sleep tonight, don’t you? Why don’t you start moving stuff out of the room? Gerri will help you.” You tell her that you’d do no such thing. You weren’t about to touch another person’s personal belongings. You didn’t want to be responsible for any of that. She assured you that the man was MIA and she would be one hundred percent responsible for any hassles in the future.

You don’t know why you went ahead the way you did. You were young and stupid you suppose. Maybe it was your landlady’s promise of one rent-free month or you were too exhausted with the ordeal, you wanted to get it over with. You started to move the stuff out of the room with the help of Gerri. “Just put stuff in these large garbage bags.” She instructed. What about all the personal stuff? “We’ll put them in boxes and store them in the shack.” There was indeed a storage shack in the back of the house. Gerri and you worked well into the evening when the early June sun was finally setting. It was ridiculous any way you looked at it, there you were, throwing away someone’s life out on to the curb in huge black garbage bags- about 12 in all. Photos, documents and computer were going into the shack. Gerri took some with her as she left, never to be seen again.

You started unloading your life from your car. It was late, and you slept on the carpeted floor surrounded by boxes. Obviously, this wasn’t a good way to start out in a new city, but life is not that dramatic. It went on- this little incident becoming a distant memory, a little blip in your life. Indeed, life went on its course, the job was dull but it paid the rent. You got to work on some films that were shot in Vancouver (the Hollywood up north) and even managed to make a documentary on the side. There was even a brief romance with a French intern you met at a movie set. Your life in the new city was pretty good. But most of all, you like the beach the best. Just a couple of blocks from the house, the not so crowded beach was a perfect place to hang out in the 3 gorgeous summer months that only the Pacific Northwest could produce. You swam daily in that cold water. The best time to take a dip was at night. You lunged yourself into the cold Pacific Ocean. You floated alone, among the thousands of blinking stars in the sky and the city lights on the horizon. The dark water wasn’t scary, but calming. You had aspirations. You had a future out in the open with limitless possibilities. You were restless. But when you were in that dark water, all the worries and anxiety melted away. You let yourself go and surrendered yourself to the flow of water.

* * *

It had been more than a year since you’d been living in the new city. It was a rainy autumn afternoon. You were doing some freelance editing work, transcribing and logging the dialog for a documentary project. There was a knock on the window and you looked up. A gaunt, tall middle-aged man was looking through the window. He was wearing a baseball cap to hide his baldness and had thin eyebrows. “I used to live here,” He said. Your heart skipped a beat.

You helped him retrieve what was left of his life from the shack. He had AIDS and had been deathly ill. He’d been in the hospital all this time. You offered him a cup of tea. He reminisced as he held up a picture of himself from the rubble for you to see- him as a young man: a nerdy looking teenager with a big Jew-fro.

“I was in a coma for the last six months.” He said.
“What was it that made you to wake up?” You asked.
“Don’t really know. It was about time I suppose.” He responded.
“Welcome back.”
“What was it like, being in a coma?” You asked him. He thought about this a bit before answering.
“It was like swimming at night. Like you are back in your mother’s womb, feeling completely secure…”

He no longer had the contact number for the landlady. You gave it to him. You exchanged good-byes.