Goa : A Lesson in Life. Final Chapter : The Journey Home
It was now mid-afternoon in Anjuna. I trudged back to Anjuna Palms for the last time with great sadness, it had only seemed like yesterday when I first explored this place. The gang at the bike shop waved as usual, but as I announced my departure they dropped their usual sales pitch immediately, posing for a photograph. For the last month I’d passed them at least once every day, always with a friendly hello, some days they’d even been my only human contact, so as I and the ancient-looking man struck a pose I felt a connection breaking for good. Maybe he’d seen my type, the lone British traveler, lost in the world, a thousand times before. Maybe he understood me more than I’d ever know. He offered me his hand and a surprisingly firm handshake, along with a knowledgeable look that re-assured me it was time, no regrets.
Felix’s whole family were waiting for me when I arrived back at the hostel. His wife had been like a mother to me at times, doing my laundry, advising me on the pitfalls of everyday Goa life and generally looking after me in general, always with a welcoming smile. Their two children had looked at me partly in fear, partly as some form of entertainment, but here they seemed generally sad to see me go, the young boy even showing me some of the moves he’d picked up whilst watching me train on the roof.
Felix, as ever, seemed detached, as he patiently waited for the formalities to cease. I took one last glance at the terrace, my adopted home, and pictured us all sat around the table, drinking and putting the world to rights from our perch like faded ghosts. A snapshot in time captured forever. Now though, everything had been cleared away, ready for the next round of hopefuls, ready for a brand new set of memories to be made. Goodbye Anjuna Palms.
I just about managed to squeeze myself into Felix’s tiny box of a car, and we were on our way, the scenery passing by like a video tape in reverse. Munchies, the internet cafe over the road, the bike shop, and onto the leafy main strip. A mild panic took hold, I’d never see this place again would I? Felix was a man of few words, but, just as he did on arrival, he brought a calming focus to the situation “Did you enjoy your stay ?”
Of course I couldn’t answer, I hadn’t the words do it justice.
After a mostly politely silent but relaxing journey, we again found ourselves back at Goa Airport. Felix, despite my protests, fulfilled his final duty of removing my case and guitar from the boot. As we stood shaking hands I looked upon him with some envy. Here was a man fully in control of his life, a fantastic family and his own business in an amazing part of the world, whereas I was returning back to the drizzle of North Shields to an empty house and a job I hated. True, he probably struggled to make ends meet, but he had something I didn’t have, happiness. And right at that moment in time I would’ve gladly swapped places with him.
The departure lounge was small, but unlike most things in Goa, welcomingly modern and clean. My progress through security was completely unhindered until a smartly uniformed lady unceremoniously dumped my bottled products into a square plastic container for confiscation. There was no argument, no bureaucracy or further delay , simply a matter of I’d gone over the allowed limit, and with a polite smile I was moved along to the gate.
The plane itself was virtually empty, bar a few business types. Usually I fly economy class, the lowest of the low, crammed in with the commoners, but here I had all the space in the world, all three seats to myself and spaces all around. The air hostess was dressed in the same beige hues as the security attendant, and like most Goan ladies, absolutely immaculate. The lack of passengers made her job easier of course, but I’ve never know an air-stewardess to be more in control and responsive to everyone’s requests.
As the beautiful landscape of Goa faded from view forever, the path ahead seemed gloomy, and a whole lot less colourful, so to distract myself I grabbed a publication tucked away in the seat in-front. The very first article was a commentary on the values of the West vs the East. The smuggle against capitalism and greed and of our forgotten human values and standards. If Goa had taught me one thing, it’s that we’d become detached from the things that really matter; joy, happiness, love and kindness, in favour of a constant push to selfishly further our careers and earn more money. I was reminded again of the picture display in Old Goa, but also, contrary to that, the young men I’d met wanting to better themselves, of essentially yearning to be more western. Who was right? India is a poor country, some would say a failing country, but on who’s judgement? It certainly taught me a lot about my attitude towards life and others.
As night fell, I found myself once again in the international terminal of Mumbai airport, a place which didn’t hold many fond memories. Out of self-protection I restricted my movements to a set of waiting chairs and settled in for a long night before my flight in the late hours. Here, I was safe from the parasites I’d encountered on arrival and I could just relax and people watch. As I gazed up at the flickering noticeboards and observed the general hectic activity, I could feel my eyes slowly beginning to close, still with thoughts of Goa buzzing around my head. It was as though I’d left it’s comforting bubble where time had stood still and now I was back in the real world like a new born baby exposed to the cold air for the first time.
As I began to fade out of the room, a blob of pastel-shaded colour caught the corner of my eye. Now fully alert, a group of Geishas glided across the floor in front of me. Years of training had ironed out any imperfections in their movement as, to the casual eye, they seemed to float across the room with no leg or arm movements at all, as though suspended on a cushion of air. The group of eight were identical in height and appearance, moving as a synchronized whole like pristine, precious china dolls. They seemed to be super-imposed onto the backdrop of the murky rabble behind them. As I gazed in appreciation a tall thin man reminiscent of the guard on arrival stood directly in my line of site and issued a simple question to all present. “Air France?”
A number of us, including myself acknowledged him, as that was our connecting flight back to Charles DeGualle before home, and with that he directed us away, giving no explanation. I never did find out if the domestic terminal was closed on my arrival in Mumbai, but as the man proudly ushered us into a restaurant I could see this was the compensation. A few of the others questioned him on what all this was about. “Complementary” said the man. I sat down to enjoy my last meal in India. A buffet of sorts, watered down from incomparable Goan food, but still a fine feast, and one last, kind gesture from a nation I’d taken into my heart. I poured myself one last glass of Kingfisher and raised my own, personal, private toast.
At the gate opened, an animated English women, probably in her fifties, was brazenly pushing her luck with a collection of bottled alcohol and a colossal, but strangely skinhead ginger, armed guard, very similar to the guy back in Anjuna He handled her like a true professional, calmly stating the law but also, despite his frightening size, connecting with her and even making her smile. He made her out to be the aggressor, the enemy of the piece as the crowd turned against her with sighs of disapproval. Again, this was the difference between us and them right here. I can only imagine a similar situation back home, a jobsworth, an escalation, delays mixed in with a good helping of frustration and bad blood. Here, none of that mattered. As a total anti-climax, my last action in Goa was to offload all of my remaining money at a ridiculously expensive excuse for a duty free, and so, cleared out with my newly acquired bottle of water in hand. I boarded the plane home.
Charles DeGaulle airport was more like a small city, with huge jumbos passing over bridges of an intricate internal road network. I was back in the cold modern, technological world. The comfortable departure lounge quenched my strange cravings I had back in Goa, all the chrome and glass I could handle and more. Something was missing though. The colour and smells were gone in place of clean air and grey. I was a number again, here to be processed, stamped and moved along the conveyor belt. Bright modern adverts for aspirational living once again clambered for my attention. For the first time in my life I could see the shallowness of it all, the meaningless daily pursuit of money and status by mobile toting suits with laptops. I suppose being in Goa had shown me more about humanity in a month than I’d seen for most of my adult life, but with each passing moment I was getting further away.
The call for the final leg back to Newcastle airport snapped me out of my private pity-party, as the very mention of my birthplace filled me with an unexpected but very familiar sense of pride. As we set off I recalled my darkest days in Goa where I questioned myself and my motives. I was simply an Englishman returning from a holiday, nothing more. I couldn’t have coped any longer in the place, boredom had kicked in, I’d seen it and done it., but the experience had still been “A lesson in Life”.
In the years that followed I always wanted to put into words the events and experiences of my trip to Goa in August 2006 and, ten years later, I’m now about finish the story.
I really hope you enjoyed the journey.
Looking out over the horizon the sun was now blindingly high in the sky.
Next stop: Home.