“What are we all celebrating today everyone?” Shouted the petite Indian woman standing next to the huge picnic table, her hand raised to gain the attention of the small group of people gathered around her. A chorus of equally excited voices responded. ‘Anniversary’. ‘Honeymoon’. ‘Birthday’.
I exhaled deeply, unaware that I was holding my breath all this while.
What are you celebrating today Julie?
Three weeks ago
I sat on the sofa, holding the glossy, picturesque Goa Holidays brochure my best friend Maria ‘accidentally dropped’ on her way out. Maria and her husband just got back from their two-week long belated honeymoon cum first anniversary Goa trip. She had stopped by earlier, looking exhausted, yet glowing with happiness. It was impossible to listen to her raving about the trip without feeling a pang of envy. I love Maria. I really do. But I can’t help comparing my life with hers once in a while. We have been friends since childhood and together, we started off chasing our dreams. Somewhere along the journey, I had slowed down while she went ahead and achieved what she had always wanted– a well paying job, doting husband and a nice home. There was a time I thought I too had all that– a few years ago when I was still married to Joe. Granted, Joe and I had our differences, loads of them in fact. Then again, marriage is all about loving each other despite the differences, or at least that’s what I thought. But what happens when the love dies? What happens when one of them turns into a monster?
At the beginning, the arguments were less frequent and Joe would always shower me with apologies afterwards.
Sorry Julie. I drank too much.
Please forgive me my dear. I had a nasty day at work today.
I would accept his apologies because a part of me was still hopelessly in love with him. Eventually the arguments turned into full-blown fights...and the apologies were conveniently forgotten. One fine day, I came home from work to see all his belongings gone, and there was a sealed envelope on the dining table with my name on it.
I shook my head disapprovingly, not liking where my thoughts were going. I recollected Maria’s words from before. You are so obsessed with your pain and it’s unhealthy. You need to let it go Julie.
She is right. I need to let it go, for once and for all. On a whim, I turned on my laptop and spent the next few hours religiously reading and researching about India in general and Goa in particular. Too many options, too many reviews. In the end, it made sense to choose the same travel consultancy Maria went for. After emailing them to book me for a 10-day guided trip, I sent out a text to Maria informing her of the path-breaking step I just took. Her reply came immediately. Oh my God Julie! I am so happy you decided to take that step. Let me know after you receive the confirmation email. We need to plan!
The excitement oozing out of her words proved my suspicions right. It appears that the brochure wasn’t dropped accidentally. The meddling, little devil.
A small pessimistic part in me was still a bit skeptical. Is India really safe? What if I get robbed, or worse gets kidnapped and raped? That passing thought did invoke an involuntary shudder. But then there was the rest of me, buzzing with energy as the rush of adrenaline takes over. No matter what, I am doing it!
As promised, Maria came to help with the packing, and spent most of her time making comments about my boring choice of clothes. I had to remind her that this was not a honeymoon trip.
So what is it then? I asked myself.
This is going to be my eat, pray, let it go moment. 10 days of sun, sand and umbrella drinks. 10 days of not having to fake a smile every time I see my ex-husband at work, 10 days of not having to touch the piled-up paperwork on my desk, 10 days of not having to listen to my mom pushing me for a reconciliation with Joe.
The bubble of enthusiasm in me shrank a little while watching the line of people waiting outside the departure gate. I was the only solo traveller, rest all were either couples or small groups of men and women of different ages.
Stop overthinking Julie. My inner voice whispered harshly. Yes, I agree.
I walked towards the dark-haired Indian man waiting at the arrivals with a sign displaying my name. He introduced himself as Naren, my tour guide. He looked about my age, handsome features, almost resembling the main lead of the Bollywood movie I watched sometime back.
As I stepped out of the airport, I closed my eyes, inhaling the fresh, salty Goan air, all my tensions melting away in the warm, tropical sun. The moment– it’s finally here.
On the way to the hotel, Naren briefly repeated the travel agenda for the coming days. I simply nodded my head, strangely feeling tongue-tied. In the past two years since the divorce, I haven’t talked to a man for more than 15 minutes, let alone go on a date.
Naren turned out to be a great guide, witty and well read. I even let my hair down a little, getting used to the idea of having a man around, tour guide or not. Although the trip was meant to be therapeutic, I wasn’t ready to do anything adventurous like paragliding or scuba diving. I stuck to the typical tourist routine– sightseeing, walking along the beach, trying out different cuisine etc. And I did have a memorable time except that one night where I made a complete fool out of myself.
I had invited Naren to watch the sunset with me at the private beach in the hotel where I was staying. We were sitting on the golden sand, watching the waves crash into the shore, a glass of wine in our hands when a wedding party joined us. Seeing the young bride in a georgette-wedding gown gazing lovingly at her husband, something broke in me. Five years ago, that girl was me, starry eyed and giddy with happiness. Before long, one glass of wine turned into one full bottle. My mind was in frenzy and I had this sudden burning desire to be brutally honest with someone. Through muddled words, I confided in Naren. About Joe, my marriage, my divorce. At first, he was taken aback at my weird behavior, but soon he sat back and listened quietly. Then I came to the final part– the violent side of my marriage, which I haven’t even told Maria. His eyes registered shock at my revelation and then in one surprise move, his hands were around me in a comforting gesture. I pressed my face on his chest and let the tears fall. Once the flood of tears stopped, I was mortified by what I did. I pulled away abruptly, mumbled a vague ‘ I am sorry’ and quickly walked back to my room.
Next day morning, I was ashamed to face him, for two reasons. First, the awkward moment at the beach. Second, I had developed a huge crush on him overnight. But I decided I was not going to act on my feelings. Naren reminds me of Joe in many ways, a charmer and a smooth-talker. When I met Joe for the first time at the office party, I was so infatuated with his good looks and charisma that I immediately said yes when he asked me out. I thought I was lucky, because out of all the gorgeous women present in the same room, he asked me out. But luck is nothing but a misconception. Some people figure it out so easily whereas for some people like me it takes a little above half a decade.
Naren acted normally, like the previous evening didn’t happen at all –another reason to believe that I shouldn’t be reading too much into my crush. Moreover, I didn’t come here to fall in love. Once the trip is over, I would be going back to my reality. But I am glad that Naren made me feel something. I am glad that I took this solo trip. I am glad that I followed my instinct instead of the items in a bulleted list. And in a twisted way, I am also grateful to Joe for making me realize that life is full of sunshine and roses, thorns included.
“Julie.” Someone spoke my name, waking me up from the scattered thoughts.
“You are the only one who hasn't said anything. We are waiting for your answer. What are you celebrating today?”
I glanced at the one dozen or so eager faces watching me expectantly, all of sudden interested in what I have to say. With a smug smile, I faced them…
Today, I am celebrating my promises – the promises I made to myself – that tomorrow will be a better day.