At the beach

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on June 25, 2020 Published on June 25, 2020


After weeks of lockdown, Elsewhere starts to open up. “We can go to the beach,” says Muriel, “but we can’t use the parking lot.” There’s metered parking along the road of course. And we can walk down to the sand, if we want to. We can swim in the sea, too, but there are no life-guards on duty. There will be no sales of water or cotton candy. The toilet and shower facilities will not be available.

It’s been three months, though, since we sat together anywhere except in a parking lot! So we decide to Go To The Beach. It has to be early in the morning or else we’ll have to wait in line to get a parking space. It’s a thing that Muriel doesn’t care to do so we’ve got to set out at 6 am. Eek! I’m not awake at that hour! Still, by the time I see her shiny black car gliding up the Dunkin Donuts parking lot, towards my building, I’m ready for her! That tells you how very keen I am to Go To The Beach.

Fortunately, it’s the second week of June. The waterfront is barely 10 minutes away. By the time we get there, the sun is up and open for business. Even so, only three spaces remain at which to park. Muriel slides in to the very first one. Ahead of us, we have a clear view of at least three other cars. Beyond them, there are perhaps ten more. I am reminded, as always, that the hardworking people of Elsewhere are no slug-a-beds. They’re ready to jump into their cars and hit the roads, regardless how early it is, rain or shine. Especially to Go To The Beach.

Beside us, on the right, is the sidewalk. Along the sidewalk is the low wall that rims the sand. And in the middle distance, there’s the sea. It’s perhaps 30 yards from where we sit. The tide is coming in. A few adventurous souls are ignoring the nip in the air, wearing bikinis and bouncing beach balls. Seagulls are sliding about on their invisible air-currents, prospecting for snacks.

Then Muriel rolls the windows down and the throaty murmur of the waves floods into the car. Is there a more peaceful sound than this? For long minutes, the two of us sit without talking, as we drink in this sound, this pulse-beat of our watery planet. On the sidewalk, joggers, amblers and dog-walkers drift by. Most are wearing face masks. Some, as they pass us, nod a silent greeting. “Yes,” their eyes say. “Isn’t it wonderful? To be out in the open? With the breeze in our faces? Even though we’re all wearing masks?”

Muriel has brought home-made muffins, one each, still warm. Tiny containers of jam and fresh berries. Plastic spoons. Paper napkins. Small water bottles. We spend two hours chatting and enjoying the scene. Then at eight, we brush away our crumbs and she drops me home.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on June 25, 2020
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