It was framed in a window. As if someone had said ‘pause’ or ‘freeze’ as a part of a game, and it had indeed paused. The cloak of blue, spread out, frozen in mid motion.
The day before we were to start living in our rented apartment in Dublin, we took a cab and moved all our boxes. And put in a few basics in place – a mattress protector, a bedsheet, tissues, dishwashing liquid and some bread and butter.
We also unpacked a couple of things so that it would be easier for us when we moved in the next day. In doing so we generated rubbish – bubble wrap, paper tags and plastic film. We had forgotten to buy garbage bags so I popped in to a neighbour’s a few floors up the block to borrow one. We hadn’t really met; we had connected on Facebook and she had kindly offered that if I needed any help on moving day, I could ask her.
She had an apartment on the 7th floor, which I later found out was a penthouse. So I went upstairs for the garbage bag. On my way back, I froze. I had pressed for the lift, but when it arrived, I quite didn’t hop into it. Rather, I stood there transfixed, the two garbage bags clinging on to my wrist. For to my right, a window in the common passage had caught the sea. A beautiful slice of it – a calm, mellow blue laid out as a backdrop to a block of flats.
I went closer. There was no mistake. It was the sea. Why was I so surprised? Maybe I hadn’t done my research about the flats and how they were placed. Maybe I didn’t really expect to bump into the sea while on an errand.
You see, I have never lived by/near to the sea. Living by the sea, having a room that gave you a view of the sea or the harbour was meant for holidays, to be precise, special holidays. As a treat. To mark an anniversary, a big occasion.
I have grown up middle class, in a single income family. While we did take holidays to beach destinations, where we stayed at was always modest. I remember that when we went to Bombay, my father would often book a room in a community guest house and sometimes we would get a room with an attached bathroom, and there were times when all those ‘special’ rooms were booked and we had to share a bathroom. I hated that.
In fact, this is the second time that the sea has taken me by surprise. The ‘first’ was many years ago. I was working with The Times of India and our team from Ahmedabad and Baroda had been sent to Mumbai. We were to stay overnight in a company apartment and make way to Neral the next afternoon.The flat was on Napensea Road – an upmarket area in the South of the city. When we arrived, it was almost night. We had our dinner, and then retired to our rooms. The living room had a beautiful Indian styled indoor swing (jhula) and behind it were a set of long curtains, their trimmings trailing the floor.
When I woke up in the morning, for some reason, I drew back the curtains. I wasn’t expecting anything grand. I wasn’t expecting the sea. But there it was. I remember gasping and waking up my colleague and roommate and another colleague who was in a room opposite to us. We had all made a run for the living room and behind those enormous curtains – there was the sea as well. All night long, it had stayed hidden and we had slept ignorant, not sensing it, not hearing it.
We should have known. This was the South of the city. South Bombay. When we had alighted from our taxi the previous night, a woman had shared the lift that had taken us to the apartment. In her ear lobes were a cluster of diamonds taking the shape of a full moon. They shone as if they were lampposts, and when she held out her hand (to who I assumed was her grandchild), I had noticed that her bangles were encrusted all the way around with diamonds as well. Like little girls in glittering frocks, it seemed that the diamonds held hands and sat on a merry-go-round.
We are in the South of another city now – South Dublin. I steal glimpses of the sea – sometimes an hazy outline from the guest room window. But there are tall trees that stand in the middle and you can only make out the distant, wide-blue strokes. The best views are from the common passage on the seventh floor. There are of course, other flats as well where there must be views to rival those from the penthouse corridor.
Somehow, the blurred expanse of blue from the guest room window comforts me. It is enough for me, it is enough for the both of us. Maybe this is the closest that we will ever get to living in a place where the sea fits into a window and that is alright as well. I was brought up middle class and I married middle class and so far it has been a good thing.
When we grow old, and reminisce about the years gone by, perhaps we will say to each other ‘Remember the time we could get a glimpse the sea?’