In the year 1998 I bought a retirement home in the former Portuguese colony of Goa in West India. In latter years it had become very popular in the tourist industry with several charter flights flying daily into Dabolim Airport which is an hour North of the civilized beach area in the South and an hour South of the not so civilized hippie communes in the North. The place I was eventually to buy was six hundred metres up the hill from Vagator Beach in the North. I'd originally wanted a place about twenty minutes drive away in the humdrum of one of the tourism areas of Baga or Calangute but the apartments I viewed there weren't up to much.
After leaving the last show house in Baga it seemed to make sense to tag along for the ride when the developer suggested that I see his new development in Vagator. Vagator is a stones throw away from the hippie market in Anjuna and Anjuna, as its market name suggests is full of hippies. Everybody who lives in Anjuna lives in a time warp. The population seems to exist on unemployment or sickness benefits that are cashed in their home country and forwarded to a Goan address. At every turn there's left over saddos from the sixties, drug taking losers clinging onto something that was never there in the first place. I'd been there and done it all more than thirty years before and didn't have the need or desire to relive any of it. No, I didn't want to live in Anjuna, or anywhere near to it for that matter. Until that is when we drove into the complex.
As a rule of thumb I have no vision when it comes to realising future potential but there was something about the half finished building site that we entered that day. The pool was no more than a hole in the ground, only two of the four apartment blocks had been built, and the only evidence of the seven yet to be built villas was on an artists impression on the wall of the builders site hut. The apartment I was to buy was on the ground floor of the block furthest from the road and at that time the bathroom was being used as a store room for the builders plaster so I saw it at its very worst. But I had a good feeling about the place, despite my reservations about living in a small village out in the sticks.
Vagator only had a handful of buildings around the central crossroads area outside Jaws Restaurant which was a meeting place for the backpackers who dwarfed the local population in the tourist season due to the ridiculously low rates that were charged for rooms. The development I bought into was within spitting distance of the crossroads where you can either walk down to the beach or take the other turning to Chapora which remains to this day quite unique. It was like the epicentre of the drug infected earthquake called Anjuna. Anything went. If you wanted smoke or coke or heroin or horse tranquilizer or simply wanted to die then Chapora was the place to be. Of course nobody really wants to die but a lot of people do while they're there. I didn't want any of those things but still had a good feeling about the apartment half a mile up the road in Vagator
Within an hour the deal was done. For the first time in my life I was a property owner, albeit a twelve hour flight from my roots, but a property owner all the same. From the moment I'd first visited Goa a year earlier I'd fell in love with the place and now I had somewhere I could call my home. I took every opportunity to visit it and over the years watched my local Vagator Beach transform from a deserted hideaway to the new tourist spot of Goa. When I first arrived in 1997 Vagator Beach was very basic, catering only to those who wanted peace and quiet and wanted to get away from it all, but now it had a few dozen shacks that sold everything from beer and food and sarongs and beads and trinkets to plain rubbish that only a tourist would ever buy.
I was on my fifth such trip and nursing my head after an obligatory heavy night on the vodka. It was the morning after my birthday celebrations so on that particular occasion I was a little more delicate than usual. It didn't stop me eying the rather attractive lady in the blue bikini sipping a fruit juice outside the Sunset Beach Bar though. I guessed her to be in her late forties despite looking younger. She'd obviously taken care of herself but still seemed to be without a partner. Actually I'd seen her there for the previous few days but it had been from a distance as I wandered up and down the beach with my headphones on so I hadn't got around to saying anything to her.
Whatever, on that afternoon I figured that with it being the first day of my fifty five years on the planet that alone would make a good talking point so I ambled over and introduced myself. As she spoke back to me I still couldn't see her in focus as I was facing the sun and as she wore a wide brimmed straw hat to protect her from the same I could only see the bottom half of her face. Without looking up she told me that she'd been staying at a fancy hotel in Baga with her son who she'd treated to a nice holiday because he'd just graduated with an honours degree. This was her last chance to do the mother son thing before he ventured into the big wide world on his own. She told me that it was her first time in Goa and I told her about buying my place at the top of the hill and we seemed to be getting on like a house on fire when the conversation was broken by the new arrival. Hi I'm Dave I said, and shaking my hand she replied Dave, this is my son Toby, and my name is Magdalen.
It was the first time she looked me straight in the face and we should have recognised one another immediately but didn't. Instinctively I looked for the scar on her chin that she got from the exploding ashtray in her apartment so long ago. Despite occasional visits back to Newport we never crossed paths. It was more than thirty three years since our last meeting. When she removed the large designer sunglasses I could see that her face hadn't changed that much but her long flowing blonde hair had been cropped short and dyed brunette. It was the first time I'd ever seen her wear any support for her breasts and despite a lot of the tourists going topless she later told me that she didn't think it was the done thing for her in front of Toby. I guess we'd all grown and changed over the previous decades but I still loved the new her as much as I had the Magdalen I'd met all those years ago in sixty eight.
It would have been impossible to go into the ins and outs of our past in front of Toby so we went up into the back of the Sunset. First though she wanted to borrow my mobile phone. She'd been having a lot of trouble with the tour guide and needed to clarify the finer details of her travel arrangements the next day. Toby and Magdalen were due to take a flight from Goa's Dabolim Airport to Mumbai domestic the next afternoon before transferring to Mumbai International to continue their return journey to Europe. However, there'd been some kind of chaos that had disrupted all the flights so it was a case of putting her mind at rest before picking up where we left off.
She hung up with a smile on her face announcing that all was OK. I asked why she hadn't gone to JC's funeral and why she'd disappeared after it. She was in the middle of explaining to me that she'd had more than her share of police and reporters and photographers and everything else when Toby came back to join us. He wanted to return to Baga to say goodbye to some friends he'd met. "I just want to tell them I said" he announced. Magdalen and I looked at one another and laughed. Thirty three years and some things never change. With that I shook Toby's hand again and gave Magdalen a big hug. There was so much I wanted to talk to her about. I'd managed to rekindle friendships with most of who I wanted to from the early days but she was the missing link.
We arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning at her hotel and I was really looking forward to filling in the gaps in what had happened since JC's untimely death. So much of that period had been wiped from my mind for whatever reason and I needed her to jog my memory in much the same way as Hornpipe had each time I went back to Newport. And the stories he told were never mundane run of the mill events. Magdalen had as many stories to tell as anybody but she'd never sold her soul. Her face didn't appear in the papers as JC's woman when he left this world. The way I seen it she was very dignified about the whole affair, keeping herself to herself and mourning in private. I wanted to know where she went, why she hadn't kept in touch, who was in her life other than Toby, and Toby! Who was his father? As he'd just graduated that would make him in his early twenties and it was now two thousand and five. Twenty two years after JC's death.
The next day I waited in vain. I sat at the side of the hotels pool until about eleven before going to reception. Her flight was at three and it would take an hour to get to the airport where they had to check in at two-thirty so that only left us two and a half hours to catch up. Not knowing her room number I described Magdalen and Toby to the hotel receptionist. "Mister and Mrs Christianson and Toby checked out this morning" was the answer. She hadn't told me she was married and when we'd met the day before I'd looked at her fourth finger as guys instinctively do, but she hadn't worn a ring. Where was the so called Mr C for the previous few days while Magdalen was on the beach? And why had she taken JC's surname? He was an only child so its not even as if his brother had vowed to look after her when he passed on. My mind was racing. Now the thousand questions I wanted to ask her were tenfold.
I was tempted to go to the airport to catch up with her there but I knew from past experience that with Dabolim being an Indian Air Force airport you have produce your ticket to get inside its walls. And besides, she obviously had a reason for not wanting to talk to me. Nonetheless, I tried to phone with the excuse that I'd just like to say goodbye properly, but her mobile that had run out of credit in wasted calls to her travel agent the previous day had been switched off.
The plane departures were back to normal. The sun as usual was high in the sky so I went back to Vagator to top off my tan before returning to the UK the following day myself. I lay on the lounger outside The Sunset and ordered another fresh orange juice. As the waiter came with it I moved the towel from my face and noticed the jet fuel trails behind a Spice Jet Boing 737-800 overhead. Her flight was at three and it was quarter past.
They say that when you drown your whole life flashes before you. That's how I felt then. But I was drowning in emotion. I was on my own. It was the only way to be. Nobody else would have understood. Well, maybe one person would have. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. But most of all I just wanted to be with Carla. I hadn't given her a thought in so long and as I watched the 737-800 disappear into the distance I wondered what she was doing now. I knew in my heart of hearts that if she was still alive she'd be the same but I was looking for a happy ending. Life's not like that though. We always look for something we can't have.
In my fifty five years on this planet I had wasted a potentially good education, had a youth that would be envied by most, embraced the extreme highs and suffered the extreme lows of drug abuse, did pretty much the same with drink, went to the brink of death on several occasions, and had passed the half way stage to becoming a centenarian. And I was still on my own. Magdalen had a partner and son, Hornpipe was married with a son, Mr Wha and his wife were childless deciding that there were probably enough lunatics in the world without them feeling the need to contribute. And I was on my own. I was feeling very sorry for myself.
With my whole life behind me and no surprises left I decided to leave, but not before saying goodbye. My flight was at ten the following morning so I'd be up and gone at six to make the international check-in on time. I had to say my farewells to the beach vendors and all the other faces I'd acquainted myself with over the past few weeks. One of the other faces was Yoda, a very attractive Israeli girl who'd just finished her national service and like so many others in her position had escaped to Goa to unwind.
It wasn't so much a I've got nothing to lose as a I really need to talk to somebody that made me open up to her. I'd been out with her a few times but nothing heavy. She was less than half my age and whilst I fancied her like crazy I was under no illusion that it was going anywhere. At the end of the night I'd take her home and get to first base then after ten minutes she'd go inside the house she was renting with three guys. She wouldn't come back to my place so to all intents and purposes we were nothing more than good company for one another.
As I told her about of the events of the last twenty four hours I touched a nerve. She was a good listener and before we knew it we were watching the sunset. In that part of the world it gets dark fast after the sun goes down so we decided to leave. Climbing the hill from the beach up to the crossroads she held my hand and squeezed it gently. When we got to the top, instead of turning right into the dead end lane where her house was we carried straight on to my place. Though I didn't tell her, I thought back to my weekend of enlightenment at the Phun City Festival three and a half decades before. I was grateful to Carla or whatever it was that stirred in me that weekend for turning me into a man. I didn't want to be a fumbling teenager saying the wrong things or doing something too fast or too slow. I still had a lot of goodbyes to say but they could wait. Every night I'd said goodnight to Yoda at the end of the lane or outside her house but as we entered my apartment it was just the two of us.
Standing almost six feet tall without shoes and with everything else in proportion Yoda was a sight to behold. She always wore a shawl night and day, on the beach to protect her from the mid-day sun and in the evening to protect her from the mosquitoes. Casting it aside we caressed in the dim evening light. I could barely see much more than her silhouette and it was getting darker by the minute. But there was no sense of urgency. All in all it had been a funny old day. What with the lows of Magdalen and the highs of my final hours with Yoda I couldn't remember experiencing such mixed feelings for a very long time.
I heard the key turn in the main door and seconds later Ashok the night watchman entered the bedroom. Because of the unearthly hour that I had to get up to make my morning flight back home on time I'd got into the habit of giving my spare key to the night watchman to wake me the following morning. "Sorry sir" he apologised, glancing at Yoda by my side. I'm not usually a sentimental person but the previous twenty four hours had been quite emotional. We didn't say much as we walked through the complex to the main gate. Ashok opened the side gate for us and saluted me in a military fashion. It was a mark of respect that I'd grown accustomed to in my Asian hideaway. In return I shook his hand and said I'll see you when I return.