“This started when I moved to Amy’s house,” Judy said, as she and James set out for their evening stroll. It was the same stretch of the East Coast Park that they had walked every evening, for the last forty-seven years. James was still in his work clothes, a navy-blue Coast Guard uniform. Judy wore a beige top over black trousers.
“A churning in the stomach. Heart hammering loudly into my chest, drowning all other sounds. It grows faster, like going downhill on a roller coaster. My hands shake and go cold. See…”, she halted and held out her trembling hands.
James looked at them sadly and said, “I’m sorry, dear.”
They came to their usual patch of sand and sat down with some effort.
“No, don’t be. The only time the pounding stops is when you visit. When I see you, I can breathe. And think.”
James picked up a handful of sand and poured it over her fingers.
“You must come and see Amy. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her that we still go for walks. You know the way she lowers her eyes when she’s holding back something, she does that. “What did Baba say?” she asks. I told her to come here today and see for herself.” She leaned back to see if Amy was in sight. “There she comes”, she pointed to a blurry figure at distance, walking towards them.
James’s gaze followed Judy’s hand. “She is still angry. “Baba shouldn’t have gone after the little girl. The guard on duty was already there” she says. And she worries about me. Says I don’t sleep well ever since that day.” Her eyes started to feel heavy. “I don’t know…I look forward to sleep. Sometimes you come in my dreams. Of course, you’re always in this uniform.” The new Gallantry Medal glowed in the light of the setting sun.
“But there, it’s just the two of us. You don’t talk much, and when you do, you repeat the same things. That scares me more than anything”, she said, sucking in the warm air urgently. “And when it’s time for you to leave, the thud-thudding starts again, gently, from far away…I wish Amy would walk faster… and gets closer, and louder…why is she turning back? I reach out to hold you, but my hands feel heavy.” A flutter of alarm rose in her chest as James patted her hands firmly, deep under a mound of sand, and stood up.
“I call after you, but there’s no sound, only a wheezy sort of gasp. Once Amy heard it and came rushing into my room in the middle of night. But not you.”
“I’m sorry, dear”, he said, brushing sand off his clothes. He gently stepped over her buried hands and walked towards the water, footsteps in perfect rhythm with the deafening pounds that grew faster with every beat, and disappeared into the waves, again.
Nidhi was born and raised in India and currently resides in Singapore with her family. She is a business consultant by training and a writer by passion. She writes short fiction, poetry, essays and reviews. Her work has been published in Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Open Road Review, Mothers Always Write and Thrice Fiction and an anthology of fiction in Singapore. https://www.facebook.com/nidhi.arora.52206