Footprints in the sand

As I walked on, almost every print I tried turned out to be an incorrect fit.

Calangute beach was as crowded as always. My friend was having an extended siesta following a hefty Goan lunch that we had binged on at one of the popular shacks. We were to meet on the beach at sunset. For the moment, I was on my own, one among the many walking along the shoreline.

The sand was warm, this late afternoon, and the waves deliciously cool as they swept up and down the shore. They were in a flirtatious mood, those waves, now tentatively kissing my toes, now taking me unawares with a mischievous wallop on the shins. I enjoyed the sensation of sands shifting underfoot as the waves went out after a frivolous flounce up the shore.

My sandals in one hand and beach pants rolled up to the shins, I had walked slowly up the beach from the Baga end towards Candolim. Where the waves wet the sands and turned them to silk, I watched my slow moving feet leave deep impressions of  round, splayed toes, narrow half-moons indicating my high insteps and deep round bowls scooped out by my heels. Other feet made deep prints in the sand too. I stopped a while and looked back along the path I’d walked, wondering which ones were mine in the midst of the maze created by so many. It was hard to tell, from where I stood; there were so many, hundreds really, crisscrossing the sands.

On a whim, I decided to walk back the way I’d come and see if I could find my own set of footprints. The first few I tried didn’t fit. The toes of one were too long to have been made by my stubby ones, the breadth of another almost certainly made by a pair of very flat feet, without the sort of high arches that mine had. A third was undoubtedly masculine, huge and very deeply imprinted, indicating a heavy frame and plodding gait.

As I walked on, almost every print I tried turned out to be an incorrect fit, till, just as I was about to give up, I finally fit my foot into a print that was clearly mine. Each of my stubby toes settled comfortably into a set of indentations of exactly the right size. My heel sank comfortingly into a deep round bowl that now held sea water like a little cup holds tea. The narrow stretch along the side of my instep fit perfectly.

Yay!!! I had found myself! I had made a mark after all, at least one among the many that crowded the shore. In the next few hours, the waves would wash my footprints away into the infinite vastness of the sea. But for now, there was something to say I had passed that way. I located the trail made by my feet, and had fun following it all the way back up the beach.

I wondered how I might have felt had I not been able to find my footprints in the sand. Would I have had an uneasy feeling of being lost on shores where everyone seemed to have left their mark except myself? Would my little game of ‘self” discovery have turned into existential angst, a disorienting sense of having lost track of myself somewhere along the way?

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