After being tipped off that the only place to experience pure paradise in India was Om Beach in Gokarna, we headed there. Me, a 47-year-old woman in the throes of her midlife crisis, her confused husband and their two hormonal teenagers. All trotting around the world on a year-long adventure. Writing a travel diary about how I never seem to have enough money for wine.
And paradise Gokarna was.
White sands, crystal blue waters and lots of loving goodness. 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. Women like me.
Beach huts, coconuts, starry nights, wonderful food and cheap. So cheap, in fact, that for a brief moment on one hot afternoon, I dismissed our tight budget and threw caution to the wind. The Gokarna generosity was washing off on me. I was about to share the love.
The Travel Diary of a Woman in the Throes of a Midlife Crisis.
It was on a scorching day, as I lay on the beach and observed a young lad, a beach hawker, lugging his ton of necklaces and sarongs along the hot sand to sell to tourists, past the lines of sunburned bodies all rejecting his offer of ‘beautiful necklace you buy Mrs?
That was when it came to me. A pang of guilt. A surge of unnatural maternal generosity. I actually wanted to spend some money on the boy.
‘Go into the café now and get that boy a cold coke’ I ordered my daughter, Tessa ‘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 Thumbs up 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 life-saving drink would be warm and his sarong ladened arms would be two twigs trailing in the sand behind him.
I had it all planned what was to happen.
“Little beggar boy” I would call heroically, “take this cold drink as a token of my affection and may the god of beads 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 to be.
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 with the 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 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, I muttered to myself, everyone’s staring at you. And hold your 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. 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 did not know. I think it was in a ‘fill a bag for a dollar’ at the charity shop.
I started wondering what I’d look like in a thong.
I noticed a French girl lying on her towel next to mine, watching me while she caressed her little brown tummy. Fingers swirling. 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 returned 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? Or is it just her spider veins?’
But I couldn’t be sure, not wanting to appear bitter and twisted 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 manky 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, wailing as she struggled to keep up with the huffing Armadillo that was her mother – on her way to save the little boy.
‘Shut up’. I wanted to say; 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 slightly hot. The beads of ice that had dressed the bottle were now tepid trickles of water that were making the label peel off. We’d trecked for 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.
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. Home to his Indian father in the cave. Telling him the tales of 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.
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 my son order because of the expense. “Get the dry roti” I bark. “It’s only twenty rupees. And stop being a greedy pig. We’re on a budget”
The boy. Shovelling it in. Washing it 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!”. And flashing his smile, he took a swig. Of Coke.