We are staying on Om beach in the town of Gokarna in India.
Gokarna. A place where only beautiful, kind and temple worshipping women come to. Women who are looking to find inner peace and be at one with the universe and their teenagers and with aubergines.
Gokarna. White sands, crystal blue waters and lots of loving goodness.
Where you will find lots of vegans who worship the cow, leather bags, beads, and wooden elephants with holes in their trunks so you can burn a jasmine joss stick and feel calm and beautiful and nice. Like me.
After being tipped off that the only place to go to in India if you want to experience pure paradise was Om Beach in Gokarna, we headed there.
And paradise it was. If you want to check it out for your next holiday and to see where we stayed you can click here. Beach huts, coconuts, starry nights, wonderful food and cheap. Very cheap. So cheap in fact that for a brief moment on one hot afternoon, I forget that we were on a tight budget and threw caution to the wind. The Gokarna generosity was washing off on me and I was about to share the love.
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A maternal kindness swept over me as I lay on the beach that is paradise and watched a young boy lugging his ten ton of necklaces and sarongs along the hot sand to sell to tourists.
Heading my way, he wiped his brow with his dirty little baseball cap, and I felt a pang of guilt – me – lolling around in India on a world trip – and a surge of unnatural generosity. Not an emotion that visits me often I’ll admit. Certainly not where children are concerned.
As he walked past the lines of sunburned bodies all rejecting his offer of ‘Beautiful necklace you buy Mrs?’ he approached me and my daughter. Tessa and I. Estelle and Mrs Havisham.
I wanted to ask him in my caring voice – because that’s what I am – caring “Are you hot my lad?”
But instead, I poked my finger into the air toward the sun and as if the boy was a half-wit, mouthed out “H-o-t!”
My, Liz. You really are eloquent.
I think he said something like “Yes, it’s a sweltering day. My, it must already be in the thirties if I’m not mistaken.” Or else he might have just trudged on past us, muttering to himself not to bother with this one. She pretends she’s reading her book whenever I approach her and she seems like a nutter.
That was when it came to me. The generosity. I was visited by the ghost of Christmas present. I actually wanted to spend some money on the boy. To cleanse my soul and to please the elephant God.
“Go into the café now and get that boy a cold coke “ I ordered Tess “ He needs refreshment.”
Tessa’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.
“What? Real coke? The expensive one?”
I quickly reassessed the dent in the budget that this random act of generosity would make and readjusted accordingly.
“Just buy the Thumbs up one then. And be quick! I don’t want to miss this opportunity”
Thumbs Up. India’s answer to Coke.
After getting over the shock that her mother was going to spend 40 rupees and it wasn’t even dinner time, she flew over to the café on the beach clutching the note with the mothballs flying from the sides.
But she was taking too long.
I started to get frustrated.
The boy was disappearing further and further down the beach. At this rate, by the time I reached him the cold refreshing life-saving drink would be warm and his heavy ladened arms of sarongs would be like two twigs trailing in the sand behind him.
I had it all planned in my head what I was about to do.
“Little beggar boy” I’d call, heroically. “Take this cold drink as a token of my affection and may the god of beads and sarongs and wealth go with you. And don’t forget to say thank you, please little beggar boy. Nobody likes bad manners.”
That’s how it was to be. Come hell or high water that is how it was going to be.
Why not have a child showing thanks and gratefulness toward my Mothering acts? It would make a change, I thought.
As much as Id love to be one of those multi-millionaires who give anonymously at charity events, I’m afraid that wouldn’t be me. Sorry. No.
If I gave a thousand dollars, I’d want my name imprinted on a plaque somewhere. For Sonny and Tessa to see. It would say; ‘Liz is kind. Liz provided cold refreshment to the sarong beach boy seller. And you’d never guess Liz was just forty-seven years old would you?’.
This boy would be no different. I could see it now. He would collapse in the midday sun in front of all the veggie do-gooders on the beach, unable to carry his tie-dye sarongs one step further, and I would be there.
Like a goddess.
In my grey washed out speedo swimming costume that has go faster cross over straps, bounding over to him. Cold Thumbs Up in hand.
Me. A cross between Mother Theresa and Pamela Anderson. In a grey speedo costume that has unfashionably high cut sides and has too much skin oozing from the tight pinching, elasticated legs.
By the time Tessa emerged from the café I had worked myself up into one of my frenzies and was becoming increasingly sweaty and agitated.
Sit down on your towel Liz. Everyone’s staring at you. And hold your bloody tummy in. Nobody likes an angry Mother.
But I didn’t want to lose sight of the pin-prick figure disappearing slowly out of view up the golden beach. The boy. The beggar. The child who I was put on this earth to save. The faster than lightning waif with arms full of goodies. My child in need.
I was feeling self-conscious standing by my towel in the grey swimsuit.
Whatever possessed me to buy this disgusting piece of swimwear I didn’t know. I think it was in a ‘fill a bag for a dollar’ at the charity shop. I made a note to myself to burn it that very night.
I started wondering what I’d look like in a thong. And if I should have chicken Korma for my dinner.
I saw the French girl lying on her towel next to mine, watching me while she caressed her little brown tummy. Fingers swirling. She was giggling to her boyfriend who had dreadlocks and a mushroom tattoo on his ankle.
I think I heard her saying “look at her big pot”, but she might have just been discussing what they were going to indulge in when they got back to their love shack.
I huffed and self consciously felt my thighs.
Her, with her looped -at- the -sides bikini bottoms. No more than two little pieces of cotton triangles hiding her electrolysis modesty.
Me. Hands on my hips, belly protruding and scowling. Me, with a grey speedo all in one. Digging into my back. Not very Mother Theresa-ish. Certainly not Pammyish.
I’m sure I heard Frenchy say “Oh my Sheeba. Is that woman going to buy the Indian sarong seller child a cold drink? What a perfect woman and Mother she is. And is that a tattoo of India on the back of her legs? Oh no. It’s just her spider veins.’
But I couldn’t be sure, I didn’t want to appear bitter and twisted so I just smiled and said ‘Lovely day isn’t it?’
Tessa came out of the cafe looking flustered when she saw my beetroot face. I knew she’d been playing with the kitten inside with no sense of urgency.
I wanted to say “Hurry up my love! The little beggar boy will surely be dying of dehydration by now, “but I was having a hot flush, and a fly kept landing on my lip, so instead I snapped;
“Where have you been you idiot and I hope you washed your hands after stroking that filthy dirty cat”
I nearly yanked her arm out of the socket as I pulled her along the beach to find the beggar boy who was last seen disappearing into the next cafe along the stretch of boiling sand.
“Why can’t I just drink the thumbs up? I’m thirsty. I’m hot. What time is it? I’m sunburned.” Tessa wailed as she struggled to keep up with the huffing Armadillo on her way to save the little boy.
‘Shut up’. I wanted to say; ‘You can drink the water that’s back in the room. The one that we use to clean our teeth. The one with the rim that smells of Colgate.’
But instead, I asked ‘Can you remember where I got this swimsuit from Tessa? You can borrow it if you like.’
We finally reached the café that the boy had disappeared into and the token drink was verging on being hot. The beads of ice that had initially dressed the bottle were now warm trickles of water that were making the label peel off. The straw was limp. We’d trecked bloody miles up that beach. My moment of glory was fading fast.
Not a soul outside the café. No audience to applaud my oncoming act of kindness. Just that dog that keeps following me around with the big swinging tits. The one that has been pregnant forever. The one whos belly brushes the sand when she walks. She reminds me of someone I know but I didn’t have time to think of that. I had a child to save.
After arguing with Tessa about who would go into the café to see if the boy was selling his goods or whether he had collapsed on the floor begging for water and shade, I poked my sweaty scowling head into the café.
And There he was. The boy. The beggar that had needed my help so badly. The boy, who, that night might have gone home to the open fire with a cast iron pot bubbling with peas, and cumin and curry and rat. Home to his Indian father in the cave. Telling him the tales about the heroic woman on the beach.
‘No, not that woman father’, he’d say. Not the one you keep oggling in the white bikini. That woman is smoking pot back at the love shack with her tattooed mushroom lover untieing her triangles with his teeth’.
‘I’m talking about the other women Father’.
The one in that weird disgusting grey swimsuit who is on a world trip with her two kids.
The one who keeps saying; ‘I’ll tell you what. You’ll never forget this. This is a once in a lifetime experience this is. It’s costing us a bloody fortune this trip is.”
But he never got to tell his tale. Because when I craned my neck into the café, I saw him. Sitting with a big group of friends. Dirty baseball cap off. Sarongs and ankle bracelets cast aside like tourist tat, tucking into the biggest dinner you’ve ever seen in your life.
Laughing, laughing, laughing. Eating his curry and rice. And garlic butter naan. The same garlic butter naan that I won’t let Sonny order because it’s too expensive. “Get the dry roti” I bark. “It’s only twenty rupees. And stop being such a greedy pig. We’re on a budget”
The boy. Shovelling it all in. Washing it all down with glugs of freezing cold Coke.The real thing. Not even cheap thumbs up.
He spotted me in the doorway and his little eyes lit up.
Through mouthfuls of food, he beamed: “You want sarong Madam? Good price. No tourist price. You from New Zealand? Good cricket eh mate!”.
I wanted to shout at him to stop being so bloody cheerful. To fall for mercy at my feet. Beg me for the bottle of warm, sugar-filled imitation Coke. I wanted to tell him that without the British Empire he would be eating banana leaves and drinking dahl spit juice. But instead, I asked:
‘How much is this sarong please?’