Building the castle.
‘Mom! Look what my silly brother is doing!’ Arun shouted, heading towards his parents. They were sprawled comfortably on beach chairs, soaking up the warm sun.
Arun’s parents were lost in their separate worlds. It had been a lot like that lately. Komal and Pramod had been too busy going in different directions. They had hoped that a lovely holiday in Goa would make a difference, but so far, they both felt marooned in the silence between them.
‘Mom! You’re not listening,’ Arun frowned, stamping his foot.
‘What is it?’ Mom slowly asked.
‘Arya is breaking all my sandcastles… He isn't letting me make a BIG sandcastle. He’s stomping all over every one I build.’
Mom rolled her eyes. ‘When will you boys stop grumbling and whining all the time? This is only the second day of our holiday, and look at the two of you.’
Arya and Arun hung their heads.
‘He started it,’ Arun exclaimed.
‘Arya, stop bullying your little brother. Why can’t you both just play nicely for once,’ Mom replied. ‘Now run along and make your sand castles’
‘But he’s going to break them again,’ Arun frowned.
‘Then dig a hole together. You two are just driving me crazy,’ Mom replied.
‘Oh, yes! Let’s dig a really big hole,’ Arya jumped around. ‘The deepest hole ever!’
The two brothers ran towards the shore and started their new project. Komal looked at the waves, coming and going, at her kids busy running around finding the perfect spot to dig a hole, at her husband, who seemed pretty lost in his own distracted bubble.
‘Let’s dig the deepest hole,’ Arya said excitedly.
‘If you ruin it this time, Arya, I swear I will bury you in the hole,’ Arun replied.
‘No, no. I promise. I won’t do anything. Let’s start digging.’
About an hour later, Arya and Arun trudged back to their parents, who were still sitting in the same spot.
‘Mom!’ Arya said.
‘Have you finished digging your hole?’ Mom asked, tucking her sunglasses on her head.
‘No. We’re tired, but we want to dig deeper. Can you help us?’ Arun asked.
‘Pleeeeeease,’ Arya pouted his all-time favourite puppy face. ‘Come on, Mom.’
Mom was silent. She was so comfortable in her own space she didn’t want to budge. ‘Ask your father.’
‘Dad! Come on,’ Arya said. ‘Pleeeeeease!’
Dad and Mom exchanged looks and remained silent.
‘It will be done faster if we work together,’ Arun said. ‘That’s what they tell us in school. Come on; we're a team.’
Mom was impressed with her ten-year-old’s way of thinking. She agreed to help and sat up on the beach chair.
She poked her husband. ‘Get up, daddy dear,’ Mom said. ‘Be a sport.’
‘Come on, Dad!’ Arya jumped up and down excitedly.
‘Oh, alright!’ Dad sighed.
Soon, the whole family was busy digging a hole. Together they managed to dig much deeper into the ground until the tide changed and the sun began to set. Slowly the seawater started filling in the hole.
All their hard work and labour was going to waste.
‘NO!’ Arya screamed. ‘This isn’t happening! I told you we were too close to the shore.’
‘I told you we should have just made sandcastles,’ Arun announced. ‘But you just won’t listen to me.’
Mom gave her sons a soulful look; an inexplicable sadness came over her. And suddenly, at that moment, Komal felt that the hole they dug was like her marriage. She looked at her husband in search of comfort. But the silences between husband and wife had reached the sky. It was the hollow silence of a midlife marriage. A marriage in which the ceaseless noise of everyday living threatened to drown out their original music of intimacy.
‘Now now, calm down. We’ve dug the hole. I’m sure you boys are exhausted. Why don’t we go back to our room, freshen up and get something to eat,’ Dad suggested.
‘Finally, he said something,’ Mom thought to herself and sighed.
They gathered their beach belongings. Then the family made their way back to their fancy hotel room. One by one, they shook off the sand, showered and changed into clean clothes.
After getting a bite to eat, the boys settled down in front of the television for a movie night. Luckily this time, they agreed on the same movie rather than fighting over the remote.
Having the kids glued to the television gave their mother some time to herself. Komal picked up a book she had bought at the airport and made herself comfortable on the cane chair on the balcony.
A while later, Pramod stepped out of the washroom and found their room to be awfully quiet.
His sons had dozed off to sleep while watching the movie. ‘I wonder where Komal is?’ he thought to himself as he wandered around the room.
‘Hey, there you are…I was looking for you,’ Pramod said, stepping out onto the balcony.
Komal looked over her shoulder and saw Pramod all dressed up. ‘Are you going somewhere?’ she asked.
‘Yes, didn’t I tell you. My friend is coming to see me,’ Pramod smiled. ‘You remember Sanjay?’
‘Oh yes... I forgot,’ Komal nodded, raising her eyebrows.
‘We’re going to be sitting at the hotel bar, or maybe we might step out. I don’t know. But I’ll keep in touch,’ Pramod said.
Komal saw her husband disappear and looked up into the dark blue sky, admiring the sparkling stars and letting out a long sigh.
About an hour later, Pramod let himself through the door with his key card. As before, he found Komal sitting on the balcony, sipping a glass of red wine.
‘Oh! Wine huh!’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s unusual.’
‘Well, I am on holiday. And how come you’re back so early?’ Komal asked, taking the next sip.
‘Actually, I kind of felt like a jerk leaving you behind,’ he admitted. ‘I realized it was a bit of a selfish thing to do, leaving you here alone when we could have had some time together.’
‘Well, it gave me some time to think,’ she replied.
‘About what?’ he asked.
‘About us. About our lives. About our relationship, our professions, our kids,’ Komal said. ‘Is this how you always wanted it to be?’
‘Like what? What are you talking about?’ Pramod asked.
‘Our marriage. Is this how it is always going to be?’ Komal asked.
‘What’s wrong with our marriage? I think we have a very committed relationship,’ he replied.
‘Sometimes, I feel like commitment is all we have. I feel like we are just strangers living under the same roof, always heading in opposite directions with this great hole silence between us.’
‘What do you mean, Komal?’ Pramod asked, sounding perplexed.
‘Come. Sit down and let me explain,’ she said, pulling the other cane chair towards her.
Pramod poured himself a glass of whiskey and took the seat.
Komal took a deep breath and said, ‘I feel as though our relationship is a sinking ship. It's being pulled apart by all the demands of our day to day living. I feel like we are taking our marriage for granted.’
‘Well…’ Pramod interrupted.
‘Wait, let me finish,’ Komal said. ‘When was the last time you and I sat down and spent some time together? Or when we really laughed together? I feel as though we are so distant from each other? Why don’t we have those interesting conversations we used to have? It all feels so dry to me. And really, why don’t we make love anymore?
Pramod felt a pang in his heart as he listened to his wife. He knew what she was talking about. But he never wanted to bring it up.
‘I guess you’re right. It seems like we lost ourselves and the joy we had with one another long ago. Maybe after Arya was born?’
‘I was so overwhelmed then and so focused on the children. I lost touch with us. But that’s just an excuse,’ Komal responded.
‘You know, on some days, we go to work without exchanging a single word. And the silence between us lingers on till the end of the day. I feel we’re both just so caught up in the business of our lives that we have forgotten everything that really matters.’
‘You know, none of this has ever struck me before. I guess I’ve been too involved with my work and myself,’ Pramod admitted.
‘But what do you think we should do?’ Komal asked. ‘I’m really not happy living a life like this. When I wake up in the morning, I have such a heavy heart. I feel so frustrated and lost that I feel I could just break down at any moment.’
‘I didn’t realize that you felt that way. I just thought you were angry or upset most of the time,’ Pramod said.
‘Well, actually, I’ve been really lonely. I realize I’ve been missing you. A lot.’ Komal sighed.
‘Do you think we can make some changes?’ he asked. ‘Maybe we can have one night just for us. You know, to rekindle and spice things up. It could be like a date night.’
‘I like the sound of that,’ Komal smiled, leaning forward and kissing Pramod on the cheek. She pulled her chair close and rested her head on his shoulder. They both gazed into the dark blue sky. They spoke of many things, the crazy things they did in the past, the crazy things their children do, the crazy things they could do together in the future.
The following morning, the boys were up early. After breakfast, they dove into the pool, splashing around and making the most of their morning.
‘Hey Mom, do you think the hole we dug yesterday would still be there?’ Arya asked curiously.
‘I don’t think so, Beta. I’ll tell you what…let’s go down to the beach and find out after lunch.’
The boys could not contain their excitement and quickly finished their food.
‘Hey… since it’s our last day in Goa, let’s dig another big hole together,’ Arun suggested.
His parents gave each other a long look and rolled their eyes.
‘But…. but… we aren’t going to come back for another holiday until next year. And we did such a good job together as a team yesterday,’ Arun exclaimed. ‘Dad kept digging. Mom kept shifting the sand. I was a big help, and obviously, Arya even did a little.’
‘Hey! I did my part!’ Arya protested.
‘Ok, ok, relax, boys. Let’s dig another hole together today as a family,’ Dad smiled and took Komal’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
‘I have a better idea,’ Arya said. ‘Let’s build a sandcastle together.’
‘But we will start small,’ Mom added.
‘And step by step, we’ll make it bigger and better,’ Dad smiled.