It was seven in the evening; I heard a bicycle bell ring outside my house. It must be Arun; we had planned to go out tonight. Our annual exams finished today and I had already made huge plans for the long summer vacation this year. I ran outside, and yes it was Arun.
“Come on let’s go” he said.
“Wait a minute, I will be back”, I replied hurriedly.
I ran inside and took my bicycle key from the study table. I shouted back to my mom to inform her, as I ran outside, “Amma, I am going out with Arun, I will be back later”. I heard my mom say something from the kitchen, but I didn’t care to listen, as I was already excited about the summer holidays and the plans I made.
Arun and I raced through the perfectly straight streets of Pondicherry. We had no idea where we were heading, but we kept racing until we reached the beach. The streets in the old town were perfectly planned by the French in the past. Every street leads to the beach or to the main road in the centre of the town. This might be the other reason why most of the parents in the old town never bother about their children getting lost. Arun and I whooped as we rode our bicycles along the straight streets.
Arun and I studied in the same class. I had known him as far back as I remember. I don’t exactly know how we became friends, but it seemed like we hit the chord perfectly. Somehow we knew what was on each other’s minds. Arun was more experimenting than I am. Arun never hesitated to do anything new, even if he had no idea what he was getting into. I mostly observed, and would soon join him, not wanting to miss the fun of doing something weird.
We reached the beach, and hopped off the bicycles. We panted heavily. We didn’t want the fun to end, the unplanned, unknown fun we were having – it might be the excitement we had about our summer vacation. We parked the bicycles against the wall of the platform opposite to the beach. The breeze was warm in the evening, unlike the hot summer wind during the day. The beach was not crowded, there were people scattered here and there. We ran across the road and climbed the dike to have a clear view of the sea. It was full a moon, and the sea looked beautiful with the moon’s light on it.
“Ice cream?” asked Arun, and without waiting for my response he walked across to the ice cream vendor. I followed him. We bought two Kulfis. We walked towards the rocks as we sucked the Kulfis.
We sat on a rock and enjoyed the view. Arun said, “I have never seen something like this.”
He lied; we have seen many full moons, more beautiful than this. I watched the patrolling ships at the far end moving towards each other. They looked like small spots of light from the shore.
Arun continued, “Do you know what is on the other end of the sea? Across from the patrolling ships?”
“I don’t know, maybe the lost land?” I replied
“What lost land?” puzzled Arun.
“Something; I don’t remember the name. But I heard my cousins talk about it”
“Yes, they had book, it was huge and old with amazing pictures and maps in it!”
“Do people live there? How to get there?”
“I don’t know; it’s lost! But the book had beautiful pictures of beaches, gardens, castles, mountains…”
“Do people live there?” Arun repeated. I nodded and said “Yes people live there.”
Arun said,” Come on, it might not be lost. How can a land get lost? It must be right there across the sea somewhere; it must be out there behind the patrolling ships.”
I didn’t say anything for sometime; but looked at the vast sea reflecting on Arun’s question.
“But if it is not lost; the men in the patrolling ships should have found it”, I replied, not wanting to accept that I was wrong.
Arun looked at me and continued, “If it is really lost, maybe we can find it!”
We starred at each other for some moments. I sensed what was running through Arun’s mind.
“How do we go there?” I questioned.
“Swim!” I exclaimed “How far, and we are not that good at swimming – we started swimming class just six months ago”
“But we do swim, right? What is the difference between the pool and the sea?”
I was excited, but I was not as adventurous as Arun, at the same time I wanted to find the lost land. I didn’t want to miss the fun Arun would have without me.
“We have two months vacation and I have 15 rupees left with me right now, even if we get lost our parents will find us. We are getting down only on our beach.” Arun said with confidence.
“I have 12 rupees” I said.
Arun stood and climbed down the rocks towards the sea, “Wait!” I shouted. He didn’t listen to me. He kept climbing down the rocks. “We don’t know where the lost land is!” I continued as I followed him.
We heard people shouting from afar. We turned around and saw some men running towards us.
“Fast, fast!” shouted Arun.
We climbed down as fast as we could; Arun was ahead of me and I had stopped talking. The waves hit the rocks and drenched us. Arun jumped into the sea, I was not sure whether he swam or was taken by the waves. Arun had made it and I saw him move ahead. I jumped into the sea and followed him. I swam as well as I could, but the current took me before I could really follow Arun. The waves hit me hard. I was not able to breath, hear or see. The water was salty, sand was swirling. Every time I tried to spit out what I swallowed, more water gushed into my mouth. I felt somebody catch me by the hair and pull me out. I heard faint voices around me. I felt that I was cold and drenched with water. I was on a hard surface, felt rough, strong hands rub my feet and palms. Someone pressed their hands hard against my stomach. I couldn’t see anything nor say anything or even move at all.
I felt warm; the surface was not anymore hard – It was soft and I was not wet. There was a weak humming sound. I tried to move, but failed. It was still dark; I was not able to open my eyes. It felt as if somebody kept me from moving my eyelids. They were heavy like lead. I heard faint voices in and out. I didn’t understand what they were talking, but their voices sounded familiar, the sounds they made were familiar. Slowly, the voices faded. There was silence all around me, except for the humming sound.
I don’t know how long I lay like that. At a time I heard those familiar voices again, I tried to open my eyelids, and they were not heavy any longer. I was able to open my eyes. A strong light hit my eyes when I opened them a fraction. I closed my eyes again, my eyelids fluttered, the bright white light flashed as my eyes squinted to let in a bit of light. I slowly got used to the light and opened my eyes a bit more. I saw people standing around me; they were blurred, I was no longer wet. I moved my hands on the soft surface I was laying on. I slowly realised that I was on a bed. The images standing around me became clear, I knew them.
I saw my parents and a few other people standing near the bed. The room was not familiar to me. My mom would have cried, she looked weak and exhausted. There were trail of tears on her cheeks.
“Why did you get into the sea?” My dad asked me in a firm voice which was unfamiliar to me.
I tried to speak, I stammered; my dad’s eyes was fixed on me.
“To find the lost land” I said in a weak voice.
The room went silent.
“Was Arun with you?” I turned towards the voice speaking. I recognised the man, he was Arun’s father!
“Yes.” I mumbled.
I realised I was not in the lost land. I was in hospital. I looked around; there was grimness in everybody’s face.
I looked around with a little strength, Arun was not there. I realised they did not pull Arun out. I felt lost; my friend must be in the sea in search of the lost world. It made me feel terrible. I was about to cry and I tried to control my tears.
I blurted out, “Who pulled me out? You spoiled our plans to find the lost land. Now Arun must be in the sea in search of the lost land without me, I am going to miss everything.” Tears were rolling down on everybody’s cheeks as I saw them starring at me in horror.
This story was first posted on my blog on 3rd May 2010. This is the enhanced version of the same short story.