SHORELINE • by RK Biswas

The wind blew in from the ocean. It bit and stung all that were in its way. The thin man’s nipples pushed up through his rough cotton shirt. His face was pinched beneath his beard’s wiry bush. But his hair rippled, and at times stood up and waved like victorious gladiators. His toes were ten pale shrimps upon the beach, clutching the sand, as if waiting for their turn on the surf.

The moon would be up soon for our party. We had wanted only the moon; no trees with trimmings and shiny wrapped gifts, no cake, no chatter gathered at a laden table. We had packets of Bombay Mix, and some spicy batter fried fish on plantain leaves bought from the vendors at the beach. We had shots of vodka ready for the green coconuts with their tops lopped off. We hoped the women were ready too, and as eager as us.

The women were the ones that had brought us to this beach. But the man had gotten in the way or so it seemed now. We didn’t know when he had appeared. Perhaps we hadn’t noticed him in the crowd, and he’d had his eyes on us all the time. Tourists attract all kinds of people. Besides, the beaches of India are always crowded; even the smaller, more secluded and unimportant ones like ours. One has to be wary of pick pockets, beggars, insistent vendors and urchins. Then there are the little piles of faeces along the line of the ocean. One has to be wariest of those, and of course the God men.

The evening deepened as we watched him. We tried to be discreet even though nobody seemed to care. The man’s white sarong or lungi as they call it here, had caught the spray, and now clung to his legs like a fragile shell. It excited us in a strange way. We took care not to look at each other. Instead we let our eyes drill holes into him.

He stood facing the sky, the portion where the horizon arced back and the moon rolled in. The pointed edge of his beard curved out like a sickle from his tilted chin. He looked as serene as the saints did in pamphlets and calendars. Maybe even more because of the slow way his eyes braced the wind that flew up and whirled, flinging sand and droplets of seawater everywhere. He seemed oblivious of us, even unafraid. He made us uncomfortable. We had not gone to the beach to be serene.

We saw the women shedding their slippers, and also their inhibitions. Their soft titters were easily shushed by the ocean and the wind. They left shallow prints on the sand as they went into the water. They didn’t look at us. But we circled the shoreline, ready with our offerings.

By the time the moon had ridden up the sky’s dome, the women had swum deeper into the ocean. We knew, with the hopelessness of men who try too hard, that they were watching him. The movement of their heads jerking in his direction betrayed their interest. We didn’t have to utter it. We could feel our blood rising on a vodka tide. We circled closer. We moved as a single entity. But the thin man ignored us. Some of us growled. Some of us sucked in the salty air, holding it in our mouths until it grew warm and dissipated into saliva.

There was something about him that defied the logic of war, and even anger. He ambled towards the women without appearing to be conscious of them. They could have been a flock of sea birds bobbing about. His eyes were fixed on the far horizon when he stepped into the water. He walked as he would have on solid ground. Right there, before our astonished eyes! Light-footed, and with practised ease, he walked towards the women, never once slackening his pace. Never once sinking to his ankles in the water. And the women tread water in a circle. They seemed like sirens without tongues. Their bodies wrapped in phosphorescent waves; their faces aglow with the anticipation that comes from having waited for long and with much longing. They waited as if they’d been waiting an eternity for this moonlit evening to arrive. And for the man to walk on the water for them.


RK Biswas has been published in countries in all the five continents in both online and print journals and anthologies. She is the author of two books: Culling Mynahs and Crows, a literary novel, and Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women, a collection of short stories. She won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Competition 2012.


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 average 4.3 stars • 43 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I may have to come back when I’ve recovered from the exquisiteness of this. So gentle, mysterious, and micro-cosmic. So many whys and whats just outside the window you’ve given us to look through and all of them just bit players for this remarkable unexplained scene. Wow.

    • Carl Steiger
      I don't know what just happened here, but it was remarkable.
      • Rk Biswas
        Thank you Carl
    • Rk Biswas
      Thank you so much Suzanne!
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Now that was pretty amazing.

    • Rk Biswas
      Thank you Paul
  • Oonah V Joslin

    Lovely Rumjhum!

    • Rk Biswas
      Thanks a bunch Oonah!
  • Lisa Walpole Finch

    I seem to get more out of this each time I read it. Beautiful and yes, exquisite. Very.

    • Rk Biswas
      Thanks Lisa. Appreciate your words a lot
  • This is a mighty fine piece of writing. Mighty fine.

    A couple of comments:

    I thought this description – “and at times stood up and waved like victorious gladiators.” – was too heavy, out of place for the locale, and frankly not needed. And, I had difficulty aligning such a comparison with someone who I take it to be a devout man of peace.

    “Tourists attract all kinds of people”- not sure it is a logical statement. Tourist spots attract people, but do tourists themselves?

    My dirty mind did a double take at “soft titters” 🙂

    But these comments pale in the overwhelming preponderance of writing of the highest caliber.

    Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

    • MPmcgurty
      Tourists attract pickpockets.
      • Thanks. I get it now :)
      • Rk Biswas
        They do! :)
    • S Conroy
      Yes, I think soft laughter there would have been a better choice.
      • Thanks S Conroy, I'll keep this in mind. I didn't realize titter would sound, er, different.
    • Rk Biswas
      Thanks Jeff. Appreciate your comments. I hope the gladiator sentence didn't offend. In my head it was more about the hostility (to put it mildly) Jesus had to endure in Judea under Roman rule, but readers decide the final outcome. I'll think about this, there's always room for correction. Regarding tourists, well in India they do. And its not just the foreign tourists who are literally mobbed, anyone seen as an outsider, and I have experienced this a lot of times here, in my own country (!), is likely to attract all kinds of people.
      • MPmcgurty
        If you don't mind me butting in...I was so taken by the imagery that I hadn't a clue as to who the man might be until quite late. The contrast between the still, serene figure and the image of violence evoked by "gladiators" was surprising, in a wonderful way.
      • Offend? Heck no. I just thought it didn't fit. Re tourists. thanks for the info. Often I am up very early and somewhat awake when I link to EDF. Often I miss some fine points. My bad. (Can writers actually get away with saying that?).
  • S Conroy

    This feels quite unique. Can’t think of anything to compare it with.

  • Michael Stang

    God-man knows how to score eh? Okay you’re right, enough levity. I kept my eye on old shrimp toes just like everyone else, waiting for him to do something. The Pan Indian Holiday reminded me of an explanation from Joseph Campbell from his mythology books. But as personal as Campbell can get, RK Biswas (lovely name) makes me feel I am walking on my soul, every step a celebration. Wonderful.

  • MPmcgurty

    Lovely.

  • Wow did this one go over my head. Two readings and I have no clue. Some really great writing in there, but it did nothing for me as far as the story goes. I have absolutely no idea what this is about or what happened.

  • Anna

    The descriptions of the first paragraph felt a bit overly florid. (Perhaps it was the idea of toes-as-shrimp that rubbed me the wrong way.) Really, the density of descriptors here was, for me, cumbersome in those first few lines.

    However, the piece really hit its stride after that. I enjoyed the use of imagery and subtlety in the story-telling, and the way that not every detail of the back-story leading to this is hammered into the reader.

    Well-crafted. 5 stars.

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